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The articles in this issue have been divided up into the following categories







The Old Jewish Quarter of Baghdad

Excerpts from the book: "Mine Was The Last Generation In Babylon"

by Kenneth R. Kattan M.D.

Families and relatives lived in the same neighbourhood. In some cases the adult sons and their spouses stayed with parents even after they married and had children. Each couple had one or two rooms in the big house. All shared the same kitchen. Most of these families lived in harmony, or at least tolerated each other.

In the thirties and forties many started to move to the more modern neighbourhoods in the South part of Baghdad. Some of the houses were above the shops of the market (hanging houses).

My wife's father, Ezra Rahima, used to dress in zeboon (gown), abaya (cloak) and tarboush (fez). He slept usually near the window facing the street to hear the call of the Shamash to early morning prayers, shouting Abu Rahmin "Time for Shahrit." During weekdays very few boys accompanied their fathers to the synagogue.

About one hour later, the same men came home with their purchases from Souk Hinnouni, the food market, carrying food in wicker baskets. Men bought the meat, vegetables, eggs, bread and whatever food was needed every day. By this time the wife had prepared breakfast. Women did not do the buying. It was a man's duty.

Half an hour later, after having their breakfast, Mr Rahima emerged again, this time to go to work. Children started going to school. During holidays the alleys became noisy with boys playing and shouting. Jewish boys could play outside their houses in this area. Muslims were not around to harass them. Girls played inside the house. It would be difficult to imagine the Jewish neighbourhood without knowing Souk Hinnouni.

Souk Hinnouni (Hannoon market) was the heart of the Jewish neighbourhood. It was the main food market for more than sixty thousand people who lived in this area and it was situated inside this residential area. All the vendors and the customers were Jews. There was even a synagogue situated in its middle. It consisted of multiple intersecting alleys, each not more than 3 metres in width. They were unpaved, and they became muddy during the rainy days, autumn and winter.

In one alley there were four butcher shops next to each other. They sold mutton and other parts of the sheep, mainly liver, spleen, lungs, heart and sweetbread. The stomach, the intestines, the head and lower parts of the legs were sold in a different shop. The butcher went to the slaughterhouse after midnight, bought the number of sheep he thought he would need the next morning, had them slaughtered and took the carcasses to his shop. Each butcher bought four to ten sheep each day. Since there was no storage or refrigerator, the butcher had to sell all the merchandise by noon, which he usually did.

There were four or five shops that sold river fish from the Tigris. They were sold fresh. There was the shabboot and the binni that were sold whole. The bizz was very large fish up to 2 metres in length, so it was sold by the kilo.

In another alley of the souk there were shops selling live chickens. Nobody bought slaughtered or dressed chicken. A full chicken was bought. Customers felt the chicken for fat. A fat chicken was considered better and tastier. In the same alley there was the shohet (ritual slaughterer). After buying the chicken, it was brought to him for slaughter. He checked the animal for a defect or for a broken limb. Then he held the neck with his left hand, removed a few feathers from the neck, looked for the windpipe and the blood vessel. Then he cut with one stroke the windpipe and the blood vessels supplying the head. He had to do it in one stroke according to the Jewish law. After that he threw the chicken on a container containing ashes, in order to absorb the blood. The knife had to be very sharp so that when it cuts the animal it would not be felt. The artery had to be cut so that the brain would be denied the blood supply. The animal would loose consciousness in no time. Not everybody could be a shohet.

After passing a test, was licensed by the "Jewish authority" who would check his knife at regular intervals.

In another alley there were the vegetable and fruit vendors who sold the seasonal product. In the same alley there were the shops that sold cheeses. Feta cheese was the most consumed cheese in Iraq. The vendor sold thick yoghurt and butter, and qaimer (thick cream).

All sorts of other products and cooked food were sold in souk Hannouni. The people who crowded the souk and brought life to it are no more there. They and their children have been transplanted into the promised land: Israel.

It is God's will and the way of all flesh.


Abraham Ben-Elyahou

Above: Street scene in a Jewish section of Baghdad

Above: Selling cooked fava beans in the alleyways


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