Baghdadi Jews

Further information: History of the Jews in Baghdad
Baghdadi Jews

Prominent Bagdadi Jewish patriarch David Sassoon (seated) and his sons Elias David, Albert (Abdallah) and Sassoon David
Total population
(4,000 (est.))
Regions with significant populations

India 250 (chiefly Mumbai, Madras, Gujarat and Calcutta)

Israel, Europe, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Australia, Canada, and the United States.
Traditionally, Arabic and Persian, now mostly English, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali and Hebrew
Related ethnic groups
Iraqi Jews, Arab Jews, Persian Jews, Syrian Jews

Baghdadi Jews, also known as Iraqi Jews, are Jewish emigrants from Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, which not only includes Jews from the Iraqi capital city of Baghdad, but from other areas of Iraq, as well as Jews from Syrian and Yemenite origin.[1] Many of them were merchant traders who settled on trade routes and formed immigrant communities in their new homelands. Baghdad and Iraq in general used to have one of the largest, if not the largest Jewish community in the Middle East and Central Asia, and these new immigrant communities also included Jews as part of the Mughal courtiers.[2] Records of Jewish tradesmen traveling from Baghdad can be found from the early 17th century, and around the mid-19th century a large portion of the community started immigrating to South and Southeast Asia as well as to the west, creating new communities while preserving their unique traditions.

Baghdadi Jews presence in Asia

The main Baghdadi Jewish communities in Asia are found in India,[3] Yangon (Rangoon), Singapore, and Shanghai. The majority of Baghdadi Jews lived in the Indian cities of Mumbai (Bombay) and Kolkata (Calcutta). The ethnic Jewish community in Penang is now extinct with the death of its last member in 2011. Some smaller Jewish communities, such as the one in Bangkok, trace their first founders to Baghdadi Jewish traders who worked and settled down in the region. There are only one or two remaining Baghdadi Jews in Bangladesh.[4]


Though there had been significant Persian Jewish communities in India since early Mughal times, the first Arabic-speaking Iraqi Jews arrived in the 18th century. In 1730, Joseph Semah arrived in Surat from Baghdad and established the Surat Synagogue and Cemetery. There was already an established Baghdadi Jew community by then with its center in Surat. Surat was a main trading port in the 16th and 17th centuries; the East India Company used the city as a trade transit point, beginning in 1608. Surat is located in Western India, in Gujarat State, and is the modern commercial capital of Gujarat. Arab Jews came to India as traders in the wake of the Portuguese, Dutch and British. These "Baghdadis," as they came to be known, especially the Sassoons of Bombay and the Ezras of Calcutta, eventually established manufacturing and commercial houses of fabulous wealth.[5] The majority came from Iraq, thus giving the community its name, though smaller groups came from other countries such as Syria and Afghanistan and assimilated into the Baghdadi group. Unlike other Indian Jewish communities, whose oral traditions attest to their presence in India as long as 2000 years ago, the Baghdadi communities were established comparatively recently (in the past few centuries).[6]

Sir David Sassoon is the most illustrious name of this community of Jews.[7] In Mumbai, the Jewish community was concentrated in the Jacob Circle (now renamed Gadge Maharaj Chowk) area in Central Bombay. They had totally integrated themselves with the society around them. Their dress used to be traditionally Indian. Their womenfolk wear saree; and bangles. Their surnames and family names were like those of other Indians. Their culinary habits are also influenced by Indian.[3]

Persian speaking Jews closely related to Baghdadi Jews from Afghanistan and Iran came with the Ghaznavad, Ghori and Mughal invasions of Mahmud (11th century), Muhammad (12th century) and Babur (16th century). The most obscure of Indian Jews, they were traders and courtiers of the Mughals. Jewish advisors at the Court of Akbar the Great in Agra played a significant role in Akbar's liberal religious policies and built a synagogue there. In Delhi, one Jew was tutor to the Crown Prince, Dara Shikoh; the teacher and student were later assassinated by Aurangzeb. These Jews got assimilated in the local population as no trace or community remains.[2]

The community largely emigrated abroad following Indian independence following Zionism.[8] They primarily feared that an independent India would become hostile to Jews like Pakistan, and also emigrated out of economic concerns, fearing that India would become communist once the British left.[9] After Indian independence, there was a continuous migration of Baghdadi Jews to Israel. Many others went to the United States and United Kingdom.[10]


Indian Baghdadi cuisine is an Indian hybrid cuisine, with many Arab, Turkish, Persian and Indian influences.[11] Famous Baghdadi dishes include Beef curry, Baghdadi Biryani and Baghdadi Jewish parathas. A Baghdadi version of Tandoori chicken is also popular (using lemon juice to cook the chicken instead of cream used in the usual Indian recipe). Other Jewish Baghdadi communities have mixed their original Iraqi Jewish dishes with influences from the local cuisine where they settled.

Notable Baghdadi Jews

See also


  1. "The virtual Jewish world". Retrieved 22 February 2015.
  2. 1 2 ""The Last Jews in India and Burma" by Nathan Katz and Ellen S. Goldberg". Retrieved 23 March 2016.
  3. 1 2 Weil, Shalva. 2009 India's Jewish Heritage: Ritual, Art and Life-Cycle, Mumbai: Marg Publications [first published in 2002; 3rd edn.].
  4. Weil, Shalva. 2012 “The Unknown Jews of Bangladesh: Fragments of an Elusive Community”, Asian Jewish Life, 8:16-18.
  5. Lentin, Samuel Sifra (ed) Shalva Weil. " The Jewish Presence in Bombay." India's Jewish Heritage: Ritual, Art and Life-Style. Marg Publications:Mumbai. 2009.
  6. Weil, Shalva. 2009 'The Heritage and Legacy of Indian Jews' in Shalva Weil (ed.) India’s Jewish Heritage: Ritual, Art and Life-Cycle, Mumbai: Marg Publications [first published in 2002; 3rd edn.], pp. 8-21. Weil, Shalva. 2008 'Jews in India', in M.Avrum Erlich (ed.) Encyclopaedia of the Jewish Diaspora, Santa Barbara, USA: ABC CLIO.(3: 1204-1212)
  7. 2014 “The Legacy of David Sassoon: Building a Community Bridge”, Asian Jewish Life, 14:4-6.
  8. Weil, Shalva. 1994 'India, Zionism In'; 'Indian Jews in Israel', in Geoffrey Wigoder (ed.) The New Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel, Associated University Presses, pp. 651-653.
  9. Kamin, Debra. "A Childhood Passage to Israel for Baghdadi Jews of India".
  10. Weil, Shalva. 2013 "Jews of India" (1: 255-258); "Ten Lost Tribes" (2: 542-543), in Raphael Patai and Haya Bar Itzhak (eds.) Jewish Folklore and Traditions: A Multicultural Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, Inc.
  11. Cooper, Judy. Cooper, John in (ed) Shalva Weil "The Life-Cycle of Baghdadi Jews of India" India's Jewish Heritage: Ritual, Art and Life-Cycle, Mumbai: Marg Publications [first published in 2002; 3rd edn.], 2009. pp. 100-109.

12. ^Rabbi Ezekiel Nissim Musleah author of "On the Banks of the Ganga"

External links

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