Culture

What Remains of the Jewish Community in Hilla, Iraq?

Iraq

This video report recounts the history of the Jewish community in Hilla and the brotherly relations they enjoyed with other local communities.

The region of Babylon holds a special place among Jews as a centre of the development of the Jewish faith and scripture. Indeed, the very history of the Jews in the region has been documented ever since the Babylonian captivity of the 6th century BC. The current capital of the Babylon Province in Iraq, Hilla, has a rich history of a Jewish presence, with a formerly vibrant Jewish community that lived side-by-side with other religious communities for centuries.

The older residents of the city remember their Jewish neighbours well and continue to think of them fondly as communal relations between the various communities were intimate and intertwined.

“Our relations between us and them were very good. We were one home”, recounted Abu Ali, a local resident of Hilla. “Saturday was for the Jews and Sunday for the Christians. All the days of the week were ours. But Saturday was a special day for them [the Jews]. They would come in groups to pray together. The Torah was greatly respected.”

The remains of the Jewish community can still be found in Hilla despite its decline and eventual demise over the past few decades. Those Jews who left Hilla allegedly possess documents that prove that some of these remains belong to them. Nevertheless, the infrastructure of those remains are currently in a poor state due to the negligence of the local authorities.

“The Directorate of Frozen Assets haven’t taken care of the places of worship that belong to Jews in this city. It has simply abandoned them. People in need and with little means have seen these abandoned sites and have simply taken them over”, remarked historian and writer Abd al-Rada Aud with a sentiment of regret.

The great majority of Jews in Iraq left for Israel after the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948, after which Iraqi Jews faced persecution in their homeland. The Jews of Iraq left behind properties, shrines and other forms of heritage, including written archives. There are still certain sites with Jewish origins that hold great importance for Muslims in Iraq, including the tomb of Ezekiel, a Jewish shrine which is situated in a mosque in al-Kifl. Such sites have survived the test of time due to their inter-communal significance.