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Ezekiel's Tomb

Twenty-five centuries have passed since exiled Jews first wept for Zion by the waters of Babylon. Today only eight Jews are left in Iraq. Their story is not as well known as that of their European brethren, but in the Babylonian Talmud, for starters, Babylon-Iraq was home to the most influential post-biblical book in Jewish history. That it would become so was due to the Geonim, another extraordinary set of Iraqi rabbis who flourished in early Islamic times and whose most significant figure was Saadya ben Joseph (882/892–942).

Relevant Links
Who Was Saadya?  Sarah Pessin, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The towering figure embodied in his person, and created the template for, a synthesis of law, philosophy, poetry, and linguistics.
What the Geonim Wrought  Robert Brody, Printing the Talmud. Their stewardship made the Talmud into what it remains: the quintessential statement of rabbinic Judaism.
Iraq Reclaims Its Jewish Past  Rebecca Santana, Associated Press. Should a vast archive, rescued from the sewage and restored by American expertise, be returned to an uncertain fate?
The Making of an Arab Jew  Judith Roumani, Covenant. Sasson Somekh’s memoir reconstructs a complex and suggestive identity.
Erasing Ezekiel's Identity  Ksenia Svetlova, Jerusalem Post. The prophet’s tomb is being destroyed and its Hebrew inscriptions obliterated; it is not the only such monument in peril.
The Making of an Arab Jew  Judith Roumani, Covenant. Sasson Somekh’s memoir reconstructs a complex and suggestive identity.

After the Middle Ages, creativity extended outward as well, with Iraqi Jews founding other Jewish communities in India, Burma, and Shanghai. Not until 1941 did pogroms definitively shatter the peace of this cosmopolitan community, whose members would be largely expelled en masse after the establishment of the State of Israel.

Many of the books and records they left behind were secreted by Saddam Hussein's secret police, to be discovered, in terrible neglect, by the American army and taken to the U.S. for restoration. Today, even as some Iraqis go about razing Jewish tombs and pilgrimage sites, the state's national archivist wants these documents back, as reminders of his country's multiethnic past. A recent memoir by a Baghdadi-born Israeli scholar masterfully conjures up that past, and the distinctively Arab-Jewish identity it fostered.

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