History of the Jews in Bahrain

Bahraini Jews
اليهود البحرينيون
יהודים בחריינים
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Arabic, Hebrew
Related ethnic groups
Jews (Arab Jews, Iraqi Jews, Yemenite Jews)

Bahraini Jews constitute one of the world's smallest Jewish communities. Today the community has a synagogue and small Jewish cemetery and numbers thirty-seven persons.[1]

Early history

There are Talmudic references made of a Jewish community dating back in the geographic areas of present-day Bahrain, as well as references in Arabic texts to a Jewish presence in Hajar (eastern coast of inland Arabia) during Mohammed's time.[2]

Benjamin of Tudela recorded in the 12th century that nearly 500 Jews lived in Qays and that a population of 5,000 resided in al-Qatif. Benjamin also recounted that these Jews controlled the local pearl industry.

Bahraini Jewish author Nancy Khedouri has written a book, From Our Beginning to Present Day[3] about the Bahraini Jewish community:

...it purports to trace the history of modern Bahrain's Jewish community from its origins in the 1880s, with Iraqi Jewish traders from the Yadgar family, through the 36-member Jewish community of today. Bahraini Jews are well integrated into the life of the 700,000-person island kingdom, with Jewish government officials such as former Shura Council member Abraham David Nonoo and Khedouri's own family, Bahrain’s leading importer of tablecloths and linens.[4]
Khedouri explained, "Most of the Jewish men were traders and the women worked as teachers, nurses, and from the very start developed strong bonds of friendship with the local citizens."
Ms. Khedouri was quoted by the Gulf News as saying that her book "shows how Bahrain has practiced religious tolerance all these years and how privileged everyone should feel to be living in this beautiful Kingdom, which has always offered and will continue to offer peace and security to all its citizens." In an earlier interview, with the Bahrain Tribune, Khedouri said, "The peaceful co-existence we have with the Bahrainis is proof of the religious tolerance advocated by His Majesty the King, Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa."
...Before the establishment of the State of Israel, nearly 600 Jews lived in Bahrain, but many fled in the wake of anti-Semitic rioting in 1947-48 and again in 1967. Currently, Bahraini Jews are not allowed to visit Israel, although, officially, Bahrain agreed to cease adherence to the economic boycott of Israel in exchange for a free-trade agreement with the United States in 2004.

According to a Jewish Virtual Library entry by Jewish researcher, Ariel Scheib, Jews have lived in what became the modern kingdom of Bahrain since the times of the Talmud. He further stated that it is mentioned in Arabian sources that Jews lived in Hajar, the capital of Bahrain, in 630 AD and refused to convert to Islam, when Muhammad sent an army to occupy the territory.[4]

Modern times

The modern Jewish community in Bahrain dates from the beginning of the twentieth century, when families immigrated from the large Iraqi Jewish community in Baghdad. By 1948, there were 1,500 Jews living in Bahrain. On December 5, 1947, riots broke out against the Jewish community in Manama in the wake of ongoing violence in Palestine. A mob looted Jewish homes and shops, destroyed the city's synagogue, physically assaulted Jews, and murdered an elderly Jewish woman. However, Houda Nonoo told The Independent newspaper: "I don't think it was Bahrainis who were responsible. It was people from abroad. Many Bahrainis looked after Jews in their houses." This view is supported by Sir Charles Belgrave, formerly a political adviser to the government of Bahrain – which at the time was subject to treaty relations with Britain – who recalled in a memoir: "The leading Arabs were very shocked ... most of them, when possible, had given shelter and protection to their Jewish neighbours... [the riots] had one surprising effect; it put an end to any active aggression by the Bahrain Arabs against the Bahrain Jews." Following the riots, as well as the establishment of Israel and the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, many Bahraini Jews emigrated to Israel, the United States, or United Kingdom. Some 500-600 remained behind, but after riots broke out in the aftermath of the Six-Day War in 1967, Bahraini Jewry emigrated en masse.[5][6]

Various sources cite Bahrain's Jewish community as being from 36 to 50 people,[7] and Bahrain is the only Arab Persian Gulf state with a synagogue. Jews are one of several communities that form the core of the liberal middle classes and several are even active in politics: a Jewish businessman, Ebrahim Daoud Nonoo, sat on the appointed upper house of parliament (Shura Council). In 2005, he was replaced by a Jewish woman, his niece, Houda Ezra Nonoo. Ms. Nonoo also heads the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society[8] which has campaigned against the reintroduction of the death penalty in the tiny Kingdom. Neither is considered a controversial figure, even among Salafist politicians.

As of 2007, the Jewish population of Bahrain numbered 36.[4] At this time, the tolerance extended to the island's Jewish community is the result of the policy of its leader, King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa. The island's boycott of Israeli products was in effect until 2004, when a free-trade agreement with the United States put an end to the official boycott.

At present, there have been no acts of physical violence or harassment of Jews or vandalism of Jewish community institutions, such as schools, cemeteries, or the synagogue. Although the Government has not enacted any laws protecting the right of Jews to religious freedom, Jews practice their faith privately without governmental interference. Nevertheless, the Government has made no specific effort to promote antibias and tolerance education. Some anti-Semitic political commentary and editorial cartoons continue to appear, usually linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.[9]

In 2008, Bahrain's king nominated Houda Nonoo, a Jewish woman who served in the nation's 40-member upper house of Parliament, as its ambassador to the United States.[10]

In November, 2010, Nancy Khedouri[11] was appointed to replace Nonoo in Parliament.[1]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Chana Ya'ar (2010-11-28). "King of Bahrain Appoints Jewish Woman to Parliament". Arutz Sheva. Retrieved 2010-11-28.
  2. Delew, Burhanaldeen. Jazirat Al-Arab Qabl al-Eslam. Beirut: Dar-alfarabi publishing house, 1989. volume 2, page 219-220
  3. Khedouri, Nancy Elly (2008)From our beginning to present day Bahrain: Al Manar Press. ISBN 9789990126044.
  4. 1 2 3 Nissan Ratzlav-Katz (2007-07-03). "A Book on the History of Bahraini Jews Debuts in the Gulf State (with photo)". Arutz Sheva. Retrieved 2011-05-31.
  5. The Unlikely Emissary: Houda Nonoo
  6. Donald Macintyre (2007-11-02). "Low profile but welcome: a Jewish outpost in the Gulf". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
  7. Habib Toumi (2007-04-04). "Bahrain defends contacts with US Jewish body". gulfnews.com.
  8. Habib Toumi (2005-09-04). "Bahraini Jewish woman elected rights body head". gulfnews.com. Retrieved 2011-05-31.
  9. "Bahrain: International Religious Freedom Report 2006". United States Department of State. Retrieved 2011-05-31.
  10. "Bahrain names Jewish ambassador (with photo)". BBC News. 2008-05-28. Retrieved 2011-05-31.
  11. Bahrain King emphasises religious tolerance. By Habib Toumi. Gulf News
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