The Third Session of the Congress:
Babylonian Jewry Research Students:
Was the year 1839 a turning point
in Children’s Education in the Baghdad and Aden Jewish
Similar and dissimilar aspects in Jewish Education in the
Baghdad and Aden communities From Mid-19th Century to Mid-20th
1839 was supposed to be a turning point in Aden and Iraq
in general, and within their Jewish communities, in particular.
Aden was conquered on this year by Britain, which turned
it into an international port, opened it to the world, and
permitting the penetration of modern influences. With the
British occupation the low-class rank (d’ems) of the
Jews was abolished and the Jews became fully eligible citizens.
Throughout the Ottoman Empire and within it Iraq, the Ottoman
rule continued via the Wallis. On this year - 1839 (and
later on the years 1856 and 1876), the Ottoman rulers published
the judicial, socio-economic and military reforms called
the tanzimat. These were published, inter-alia, to prove
to Europe the sincerity and good intentions of the Ottoman
government. These reforms increased the equality between
Muslims and non-Muslims and enabled non-Muslims (the milets)
to be incorporated into the administrative and public system.
The greatest achievement of the reform initiators was in
the field of the Muslim and Jewish education. This period
created, in the field of religious Jewish education and
in the field of general Jewish education, different conditions,
which enabled the continuation and further development of
a religious Jewish education system, and the founding of
a general Jewish education system.
How did the Jews of Iraq and Eden use these opportunities?
The Jews of Baghdad wisely took advantage of the reforms
and started founding modern schools in the 1860s (in 1864
and practically since the 1830s, the Traditional Religious
Education underwent extensive improvements, by founding
a multi-level, extensive organizational structure in the
form of “the public heder (room)” or “Midrash
The Jews of Aden did not respond, for a very long period,
to the “window of opportunity” opened to them
with the British Occupation and kept running just a Traditional
Education system till the first decade of the 20th century
This is a 50-year gap in the founding of a modern education
system between the two communities. A similar gap (approximately
40 years) existed in the founding of a girls’ education
system between the two communities. In the Baghdad community
the girls began studying in organized schools in the 1890s
(1893) while the Aden community girls began studying in
the late 1920s (1928).
Several external and internal inhibiting factors in the
Aden community, on the one hand, and external and internal
accelerating factors in the Baghdad community, on the other
hand, contributed to this situation.
Let’s start with external factors in the two communities:
The British Rule of Aden did not feel it had a role encouraging
education among the local population. Rather, it left this
task to the initiative of private or religious factors.
On the other hand, in the Baghdad community, most of the
Ottoman rulers’ influence was on education. Under
the advanced Walli Madhat Pasha rule of Baghdad (1869-1872)
the Muslim education system in general, and the new modern
AIU-run Jewish School in particular, expanded and grew stronger.
The “Young Turks” revolution (1908) also promoted
the development of the Muslim and Jewish school networks
We now continue with internal factors in the two communities:
During the 19th century there existed within the leaders
and most of the people in the Aden community traditional
thought patterns that sought to preserve the current lifestyle.
At the head of the community stood for decades a conservative
and aggressive leadership, the family of Rabbi Menahem Moshe
(Misa). The head of the family and of the community, president
Benin, did not permit, either due to conservatism or due
to fear of losing his firm stature, change in various areas,
and particularly not in education. The president did not
take note of the criticism against the degenerated traditional
education – neither criticism coming from visitors
nor criticism coming from some of the community members
– that were on a low key. In consequence, the Jews
of Aden remained with no modern education throughout the
19th century. On the all-powerful and wealthy president
Benin says writer Mahalel from Aden in his book “Between
Aden and Yemen”: “the president rules the Aden
community unrestrained, his word like a King’s word
and his leadership an army general’s leadership, he
screams and shouts and overcomes his opponents”. Therefore
it is clear that any proposal for change, and particularly
in Education, brought by external factors such as various
envoys visiting Aden, was thrown out - since “A tradition
should be preserved and be sacred to the entire community”.
Therefore it is not surprising that under these circumstances
of total control no significant oppositional forces rose
to challenge the authority of the Misa family. Faint criticism
of the Educational system in the Jewish community of Aden,
if spoken by internal Jewish factors, was low key and flatly
rejected by the leadership. This factor joined another internal
factor – the low tendency of the Aden community towards
change and their reserved manners. And so adds writer Mahalel
of his people “tied up in their traditions which isolate
them in life. They refrain from change in their prayer,
commerce and work”.
On the other hand, in the Baghdad community there were
many voices calling for change in the Education domain,
both among the community’s members and among its leaders.
The words of traveler Wolf Shore in his essay “The
Plays of Life” indicate the community members’
openness: “Another thing I found in the Jews of Baghdad:
The tolerance because even if they grasp traditionalism
with all their might, they do not persecute nor hate the
man whose thoughts have risen higher then their thoughts”.
This community expressed openness and acceptance to opening
a modern school, and the AIU was even asked to help run
such a type of school. At the leadership of this community
stood several rabbis possessing overwhelming influence shaping
world of its sons. These saw the flaws in the traditional
education, sought to improve the education state and even
encouraged the studies at the AIU School. Important rabbis
such as Rabbi Abdallah Someh (1813-1889) and Rabbi Joseph
Haim (1835-1909), saw no contradiction between religious
education and modern education, and did not perceive in
this education a threat to their religious status or the
rank of religion in the community.
As a result of these differences between the two communities,
most of the Jewish public in the Aden community remained,
despite the many opportunities opened to it, lacking in
modern education, a fact that contributed to the non-promotion
of Jews in the socioeconomic field; However the socioeconomic
status of the Baghdad Jews was immensely improved due to
their modern education and the study of European languages.
This advanced education brought the integration of many
of the Jews into public and administrative positions in
the Ottoman Empire, and with the British Occupation turned
them into an intermediary between the British rule and the
Muslim population. As Wolf Shore says: “this school
opened the eyes of many of the Jews to see and grasp the
great benefit for every educated man who speaks the languages
and sciences essential in our times, and therefore here
they send their boys happily to listen in studies and learn
a good lesson in the mentioned school […] because
there exist already in Baghdad many young people who had
knowledge in the language of France and in various sciences”.
The Jews of Iraq had the sense to understand that the way
to untangle themselves from the traditional Jewish professions
and improve their status, is by means of acquiring modern
education, sciences, languages, professional training, while
keeping the connection to Jewish tradition and culture.
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