History of the Jews in Egypt

Egyptian Jews
اليهود المصريين
יהודים מצרים
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 Israel 57,500[1]
 Egypt <50[2]
Hebrew, Arabic
Related ethnic groups
Mizrahi Jews
"Jews of Egypt" redirects here. For the film, see Jews of Egypt (film).

Egyptian Jews constitute both one of the oldest and youngest Jewish communities in the world. The historic core of the indigenous community consisted mainly of Arabic-speaking Rabbanites and Karaites. After their expulsion from Spain, more Sephardi and Karaite Jews began to emigrate to Egypt and their numbers increased significantly with the growth of trading prospects after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. As a result, Jews from all over the territories of the Ottoman Empire as well as Italy and Greece started to settle in the main cities of Egypt, where they thrived. The Ashkenazi community, mainly confined to Cairo's Darb al-Barabira quarter, began to arrive in the aftermath of the waves of pogroms that hit Europe in the latter part of the 19th century.

In the late 1950s, Egypt expelled its Jewish population and sequestered Jewish-owned property. As of 2014, the Jewish population of Egypt was estimated at less than 40, down from between 75,000 and 80,000 in 1948.[3]

Slaves hauling bricks, tomb of Rekhmire, a noble and official of the 18th dynasty.
Egyptian Alexandria Jewish girls during Bat Mitzva.

Ancient times

Main article: Biblical Egypt

Genesis and Exodus

Aramaic. Marriage Document of Ananiah and Tamut, July 3, 449 B.C.E. Brooklyn Museum

The Book of Genesis and Book of Exodus describe a period of Hebrew servitude in ancient Egypt, during decades of sojourn in Egypt, the escape of well over a million Israelites from the Delta, and the three-month journey through the wilderness to Sinai.[4] Historical evidence contradicts this account. There were no Jews in Bronze Age Egypt because, until the rise of the kingdom of Judah in the Iron Age, there were no Jews at all. Israelites first appear in the archeological record on the Merneptah Stele from between 1208-3 BCE at the end of the Bronze Age. A reasonably Bible-friendly interpretation is that they were a federation of Habiru tribes of the hill-country around the Jordan River. Presumably, this federation consolidated into the kingdom of Israel, and Judah split from that, during the dark age that followed the Bronze. The Bronze Age term "Habiru" was less specific general than the Biblical "Hebrew". The term referred simply to Levantine nomads, of any religion or ethnicity. Mesopotamian, Hittite, Canaanite, and Egyptian sources describe them largely as bandits, mercenaries, and slaves. Certainly, there were some Habiru slaves in ancient Egypt, but native Egyptian kingdoms were not heavily slave-based.[5]

Later ancient times

In the Elephantine papyri, caches of legal documents and letters written in Aramaic amply document the lives of a community of Jewish soldiers stationed there as part of a frontier garrison in Egypt for the Achaemenid Empire.[6] Established at Elephantine in about 650 BCE during Manasseh's reign, these soldiers assisted Pharaoh Psammetichus I in his Nubian campaign. Their religious system shows strong traces of Babylonian polytheism, something which suggests to certain scholars that the community was of mixed Judaeo-Samaritan origins,[7] and they maintained their own temple, functioning alongside that of the local deity Chnum. The documents cover the period 495 to 399 BCE.

The Hebrew Bible also records that a large number of Judeans took refuge in Egypt after the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah in 597 BCE, and the subsequent assassination of the Jewish governor, Gedaliah. (2 Kings 25:22-24, Jeremiah 40:6-8) On hearing of the appointment, the Jewish population fled to Moab, Ammon, Edom and in other countries returned to Judah. (Jeremiah 40:11-12) However, before long Gedaliah was assassinated, and the population that was left in the land and those that had returned ran away to Egypt for safety. (2 Kings 25:26, Jeremiah 43:5-7) The numbers that made their way to Egypt is subject to debate. In Egypt, they settled in Migdol, Tahpanhes, Noph, and Pathros. (Jeremiah 44:1)

Ptolemaic and Roman

Further waves of Jewish immigrants settled in Egypt during the Ptolemaic era, especially around Alexandria. Thus, their history in this period centers almost completely on Alexandria, though daughter communities rose up in places like the present Kafr ed-Dawar, and Jews served in the administration as custodians of the river.[8] As early as the 3rd century BCE, one can speak of a widespread diaspora of Jews in many Egyptian towns and cities. In Josephus's history, it is claimed that, after the first Ptolemy took Judea, he led some 120,000 Jewish captives to Egypt from the areas of Judea, Jerusalem, Samaria, and Mount Gerizim. With them, many other Jews, attracted by the fertile soil and Ptolemy's liberality, emigrated there of their own accord. An inscription recording a Jewish dedication of a synagogue to Ptolemy and Berenice was discovered in the 19th century near Alexandria.[9] Josephus also claims that, soon after, these 120,000 captives were freed of their bondage by Philadelphus.[10]

The history of the Alexandrian Jews dates from the foundation of the city by Alexander the Great, 332 BCE, at which they were present. They were numerous from the very outset, forming a notable portion of the city's population under Alexander's successors. The Ptolemies assigned them a separate section, two of the five districts of the city, to enable them to keep their laws pure of indigenous cultic influences. The Alexandrian Jews enjoyed a greater degree of political independence than elsewhere. While the Jewish population elsewhere throughout the later Roman Empire frequently formed private societies for religious purposes, or organized corporations of ethnic groups like the Egyptian and Phoenician merchants in the large commercial centers, those of Alexandria constituted an independent political community, side by side with that of the other ethnic groups.

For the Roman period there is evidence that at Oxyrynchus (modern Behneseh), on the west side of the Nile, there was a Jewish community of some importance. Many of the Jews there may have become Christians, though they retained their Biblical names (e.g., "David" and "Elisabeth," occurring in a litigation concerning an inheritance). There is even found a certain Jacob, son of Achilles (c. 300 CE), as beadle of an Egyptian temple.

The Hellenistic Jewish community of Alexandria translated the Old Testament into Greek. This translation is called the Septuagint. The translation of the Septuagint itself began in the 3rd century BCE and was completed by 132 BCE,[11][12][13] initially in Alexandria, but in time elsewhere as well.[14] and has become to the basis for the Old Latin, Slavonic, Syriac, Old Armenian, Old Georgian and Coptic versions of the Christian Old Testament.[15]

The Jewish community of Alexandria was "extinguished" by Trajan's army during the Jewish revolt of 115–117 CE.[16]

Arab rule (641 to 1250)

The Arab invasion of Egypt at first found support from Jewish residents as well, disgruntled by the corrupt administration of the Patriarch Cyrus of Alexandria, notorious for his Monotheletic proselytizing.[17] In addition to the Jewish population settled there from ancient times, some are said to have come from the Arabian Peninsula. The letter sent by Muhammad to the Jewish Banu Janba in 630[18] is said by Al-Baladhuri to have been seen in Egypt. A copy, written in Hebrew characters, has been found in the Cairo Geniza.

Many Jewish residents had no reason to feel kindly toward the former masters of Egypt. In 629 the Emperor Heraclius I had driven the Jewish population from Jerusalem, and this was followed by massacres of Jewish residents throughout the empire—in Egypt, often aided by the Coptic population, who may have been trying to settle old grievances against Jewish groups, dating from the Persian conquest of Amida at the time of Emperor Anastasius I (502) and of Alexandria by the Persian general Shahin Vahmanzadegan (617), when some of the Jewish residents sided with the conquerors. The Treaty of Alexandria (November 8, 641), which sealed the Arab conquest of Egypt, expressly stipulated that the Jewish residents were to be allowed to remain in that city unmolested; and at the time of the capture of that city, 'Amr ibn al-'As, in his letter to the caliph, relates that he found there 40,000 Jews.

Of the fortunes of the Jewish population of Egypt under the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates (641-868), little is known. Under the Tulunids (863-905), the Karaite community enjoyed robust growth.

Rule of the Fatimid Caliphs (969 to 1169)

The rule of the Fatimid Caliphate was in general favorable for the Jewish communities, except the latter portion of al-Ḥakim bi-Amr Allah's reign. The foundation of Talmudic schools in Egypt is usually placed at this period. One of the Jewish citizens who rose to high position in that society was Ya‘qub Ibn Killis.

The caliph al-Ḥakim (996-1020) vigorously applied the Pact of Umar, and compelled the Jewish residents to wear bells and to carry in public the wooden image of a calf. A street in the city, al-Jawdariyyah, was designated for Jewish residency. Al-Ḥakim, hearing that allegations that some mocked him in verses, had the whole quarter burned down.

In the beginning of the 12th century a Jewish man named Abu al-Munajja ibn Sha'yah was at the head of the Department of Agriculture. He is especially known as the constructor of a Nile sluice (1112), which was called after him "Baḥr Abi al-Munajja". He fell into disfavor because of the heavy expenses connected with the work, and was incarcerated in Alexandria, was soon able to free himself. A document concerning a transaction of his with a banker has been preserved. Under the vizier Al-Malik al-Afḍal (1137) there was a Jewish master of finances, whose name, however, is unknown. His enemies succeeded in procuring his downfall, and he lost all his property. He was succeeded by a brother of the Christian patriarch, who tried to drive the Jews out of the kingdom. Four leading Jews worked and conspired against the Christian, with what result is not known. There has been preserved a letter from this ex-minister to the Jews of Constantinople, begging for aid in a remarkably intricate poetical style.[19] One of the physicians of the caliph Al-Ḥafiẓ (1131–49) was a Jew, Abu Manṣur (Wüstenfeld, p. 306). Abu al-Faḍa'il ibn al-Nakid (died 1189) was a celebrated oculist.

In this century a little more light is thrown upon the communities in Egypt through the reports of certain Jewish scholars and travelers who visited the country. Judah Halevi was in Alexandria in 1141, and dedicated some beautiful verses to his fellow resident and friend Aaron Ben-Zion ibn Alamani and his five sons. At Damietta Halevi met his friend, the Spaniard Abu Sa'id ibn Ḥalfon ha-Levi. About 1160 Benjamin of Tudela was in Egypt; he gives a general account of the Jewish communities which he found there. At Cairo there were 2,000 Jews; at Alexandria 3,000, whose head was the French-born R. Phineas b. Meshullam; in the Faiyum there were 20 families; at Damietta 200; at Bilbeis, east of the Nile, 300 persons; and at Damira 700.

From Saladin and Maimonides (1169 to 1250)

Saladin's war with the Crusaders (1169–93) does not seem to have affected the Jewish population with communal struggle. A Karaite doctor, Abu al-Bayyan al-Mudawwar (d. 1184), who had been physician to the last Fatimid, treated Saladin also.[20] Abu al-Ma'ali, brother-in-law of Maimonides, was likewise in his service.[21] In 1166 Maimonides went to Egypt and settled in Fostat, where he gained much renown as a physician, practising in the family of Saladin and in that of his vizier al-Qadi al-Fadil|Ḳaḍi al-Faḍil al-Baisami, and Saladin's successors. The title Ra'is al-Umma or al-Millah (Head of the Nation or of the Faith), was bestowed upon him. In Fostat he wrote his Mishneh Torah (1180) and The Guide for the Perplexed, both of which evoked opposition from Jewish scholars. From this place he sent many letters and responsa; and in 1173 he forwarded a request to the North African communities for help to secure the release of a number of captives. The original of the last document has been preserved.[22] He caused the Karaites to be removed from the court.[23]

Mamelukes (1250 to 1517)

Under the Baḥri Mamelukes (1250–1390) the Jews led a comparatively quiet existence; though they had at times to contribute heavily toward the maintenance of the vast military equipment, and were harassed by the cadis and ulemas of these strict Moslems. Al-Maqrizi relates that the first great Mameluke, Sultan Baibars (Al-Malik al-Thahir, 1260–77), doubled the tribute paid by the "ahl al-dhimmah." At one time he had resolved to burn all the Jews, a ditch having been dug for that purpose; but at the last moment he repented, and instead exacted a heavy tribute, during the collection of which many perished.

An account is given in Sambari (135, 22) of the strictness with which the provisions of the Pact of Omar were carried out. The sultan had just returned from a victorious campaign against the Mongols in Syria (1305). A convert from Judaism, Sa'id ibn Ḥasan of Alexandria, was incensed at the arrogance of the non-Muslim population, particularly at the open manner in which services were conducted in churches and synagogues. He tried to form a synod of ten rabbis, ten priests, and the ulemas. Failing in this, he endeavored to have the churches and synagogues closed. Some of the churches were demolished by Alexandrian mobs; but most of the synagogues were allowed to stand, as it was shown that they had existed at the time of Omar, and were by the pact exempted from interference. Sambari (137, 20) says that a new pact was made at the instance of letters from a Moorish king of Barcelona (1309), and the synagogues were reopened; but this probably refers only to the reissuing of the Pact of Omar. There are extant several notable fatwās (responsa) of Muslim doctors touching this subject; e.g., those of Aḥmad ibn 'Abd al-Ḥaḳḳ, who speaks especially of the synagogues at Cairo, which on the outside appeared like ordinary dwelling-houses, a fact which had occasioned other legal writers to permit their presence. According to Taki al-Din ibn Taimiyyah (b. 1263), the synagogues and churches in Cairo had once before been closed. He filled his fatwās with invectives against the Jews, holding that all their religious edifices ought to be destroyed, since they had been constructed during a period when Cairo was in the hands of heterodox Muslim, Ismailians, Karmatians, and Nusairis.[24] The synagogues were, however, allowed to stand.[25] Under the same sultan (1324) the Jews were accused of incendiarism at Fostat and Cairo; they had to exculpate themselves by a payment of 50,000 gold pieces.

Under the Burji Mamelukes the Franks again attacked Alexandria (1416), and the laws against Jewish customs were once more strictly enforced by Sheik al-Mu'ayyid (1412–21); by Ashraf Bars Bey (1422–38); by Al-Ẓahir Jaḳmaḳ (1438–53); and by Ḳa'iṭ-Bey (1468–95). The lastnamed is referred to by Obadiah of Bertinoro (O. p. 53). The Jewish community of Cairo was compelled to pay 75,000 gold pieces.

Ottoman rule (1517 to 1922)

On January 22, 1517, the Ottoman sultan, Selim I, defeated Tuman Bey, the last of the Mamelukes. He made radical changes in the governance of the Jewish community, abolishing the office of nagid, making each community independent, and placing David ibn Abi Zimra, at the head of that of Cairo. He also appointed Abraham de Castro to be master of the mint. It was during the reign of Salim's successor, Suleiman II, that Aḥmad Pasha, Viceroy of Egypt, revenged himself upon the Jews because De Castro had revealed (1524) to the sultan his designs for independence (see Aḥmad Pasha; Abraham de Castro). The "Cairo Purim," in commemoration of their escape, is still celebrated on Adar 28.

Toward the end of the 16th century Talmudic studies in Egypt were greatly fostered by Bezaleel Ashkenazi, author of the "Shiṭṭah Meḳubbeẓet." Among his pupils were Isaac Luria, who as a young man had gone to Egypt to visit a rich uncle, the tax-farmer Mordecai Francis (Azulai, "Shem ha-Gedolim," No. 332); and Abraham Monson (1594). Ishmael Kohen Tanuji finished his "Sefer ha-Zikkaron" in Egypt in 1543. Joseph ben Moses di Trani was in Egypt for a time (Frumkin, l.c. p. 69), as well as Ḥayyim Vital Aaron ibn Ḥayyim, the Biblical and Talmudical commentator (1609; Frumkin, l.c. pp. 71, 72). Of Isaac Luria's pupils, a Joseph Ṭabul is mentioned, whose son Jacob, a prominent man, was put to death by the authorities.

According to Manasseh b. Israel (1656), "The viceroy of Egypt has always at his side a Jew with the title 'zaraf bashi,' or 'treasurer,' who gathers the taxes of the land. At present Abraham Alkula holds the position." He was succeeded by Raphael Joseph Tshelebi, the rich friend and protector of Shabbatai Zevi. Shabbetai was twice in Cairo, the second time in 1660. It was there that he married the ill-famed Sarah, who had been brought from Leghorn. The Shabbethaian movement naturally created a great stir in Egypt. It was in Cairo that Miguel (Abraham) Cardoso, the Shabbethaian prophet and physician, settled (1703), becoming physician to the pasha Kara Mohammed. In 1641 Samuel b. David, Karaite, visited Egypt. The account of his journey (G. i. 1) supplies special information in regard to his fellow sectaries. He describes three synagogues of the Rabbinites at Alexandria, and two at Rashid (G. i. 4). A second Karaite, Moses ben Elijah ha-Levi, has left a similar account of the year 1654; but it contains only a few points of special interest to the Karaites (ib).

Sambari mentions a severe trial which came upon the Jews, due to a certain "ḳadi al-'asakir" (="generalissimo," not a proper name) sent from Constantinople to Egypt, who robbed and oppressed them, and whose death was in a certain measure occasioned by the graveyard invocation of one Moses of Damwah. This may have occurred in the 17th century (S. 120, 21). David Conforte was dayyan in Egypt in 1671. Blood libels occurred at Alexandria in 1844, in 1881, and in Jan., 1902. In consequence of the Damascus Affair, Moses Montefiore, Crémieux, and Salomon Munk visited Egypt in 1840; and the last two did much to raise the intellectual status of their Egyptian brethren by the founding, in connection with Rabbi Moses Joseph Algazi, of schools in Cairo. At the turn of the 20th century, a Jewish observer noted with 'true satisfaction that a great spirit of tolerance sustains the majority of our fellow Jews in Egypt, and it would be difficult to find a more liberal population or one more respectful of all religious beliefs.’[26]

According to the official census published in 1898 (i., xviii.), there were in Egypt 25,200 Jews in a total population of 9,734,405.

Modern times (since 1919)

Demonstration in Egypt in 1919 holding the Egyptian flag with Crescent, the Cross and Star of David on it.
Former Jewish school, Abbasyia, Cairo

Since 1919

During British rule, and under King Fuad I, Egypt was friendly towards its Jewish population although between 86% and 94% of Egyptian Jews did not possess Egyptian nationality whether they had been denied it or opted not to apply. Jews played important roles in the economy, and their population climbed to nearly 80,000 as Jewish refugees settled there in response to increasing persecution in Europe. Many Jewish communities had extensive economic relations with non-Jewish Egyptians, as noted by Joel Beinin:

'The Qattawi family maintained extensive business relationships with all the leading Muslim families in the emerging Egyptian bourgeoisie of the interwar period. Such intercommunal business alliances were common among wealthy and powerful bourgeois Jews, including the Adès, Aghion, Goar, Mosseri, Nahman, Pinto, Rolo, and Tilche families. Other bourgeois Jewish families, especially the elites of the Karaite community, operated within an “ethnic economy”: Their business associates and customers were mostly other Jews.'[27]

A sharp distinction had long existed between the respective Karaite and Rabbanite communities, among whom traditionally intermarriage was forbidden. They dwelt in Cairo in two contiguous areas, the former in the harat al-yahud al-qara’in, and the latter in the adjacent harat al-yahud quarter. Notwithstanding the division, they often worked together and the younger educated generation pressed for improving relations between the two.[27]

Individual Jews played an important role in Egyptian nationalism. René Qattawi, leader of the Cairo Sephardi community, endorsed the creation in 1935 of the Association of Egyptian Jewish Youth, with its slogan: 'Egypt is our homeland, Arabic is our language.' Qattawi strongly opposed political Zionism and wrote a note on 'The Jewish Question' to the World Jewish Congress in 1943 in which he argued that Palestine would be unable to absorb Europe's Jewish refugees.[27]

Synagogue in Abbasyia, Cairo

Nevertheless, various wings of the Zionist movement had representatives in Egypt. Karaite Jewish scholar Murad Beh Farag (1866–1956) was both an Egyptian nationalist and a passionate Zionist. His poem, 'My Homeland Egypt, Place of my Birth', expresses loyalty to Egypt, while his book, al-Qudsiyyat (Jerusalemica, 1923), defends the right of the Jews to a State.[28] al-Qudsiyyat is perhaps the most eloquent defense of Zionism in the Arabic language. Farag was also one of the coauthors of Egypt's first Constitution in 1923.

Another famous Egyptian Jew of this period was Yaqub Sanu, who became a patriotic Egyptian nationalist advocating the removal of the British. He edited the nationalist publication Abu Naddara 'Azra from exile. This was one of the first magazines written in Egyptian Arabic, and mostly consisted of satire, poking fun at the British as well as the Monarchy which was a puppet of the British. Another was Henri Curiel, who founded 'The Egyptian Movement for National Liberation' in 1943, an organization that was to form the core of the Egyptian Communist party.[27] Curiel was to play an important role in establishing early informal contacts between the PLO and Israel.[29]

In 1937, the government annulled the Capitulations that gave foreign nationals a virtual status of exterritoriality the minorities groups were mainly from Syrian, Greece, Italy, Armenia (this also affected some Jews who were nationals of other countries). The immunities from taxation to foreign nationals mutamassir (minority groups) trading within Egypt had given them highly favourably trading advantages.[30] Many European Jews used Egyptian Banks as a common destination for transferring money from central Europe, and a for those Jews escaping the Fascist regimes.[31] In addition to this, many Jewish people living in Egypt were known to possess foreign citizenship, and those possessing Egyptian citizenship often had extensive ties to European countries.

'The Qattawi family claimed residence in Egypt since the eighth century, and Yusuf ‘Aslan Pasha identified himself as an Egyptian of Jewish faith. Under his leadership, the Cairo Sephardi Jewish Community Council adopted a consistent non-Zionist position. Though his grandfather apparently acquired Austrian citizenship, Yusuf ‘Aslan Qattawi must have been an Egyptian citizen because this was a condition for membership on the board of Bank Misr. His French education was not a marker of otherness or a political liability. It was a prestigious symbol of modernity and progress common to the sons of the landed elite, the business community, and many leading intellectuals of the early twentieth century, Muslims and Christians as well as Jews.'[27]

The impact of the well-publicized Arab-Jewish clash in Palestine from 1936 to 1939, together with the rise of Nazi Germany, also began to affect the Jewish relations with Egyptian society, despite the fact that the number of active Zionists in their ranks was small.[32] The rise of local militant nationalistic societies like Young Egypt and the Society of Muslim Brothers, who were sympathetic to the various models evinced by the Axis Powers in Europe, and organized themselves along similar lines, were also increasingly antagonistic to Jews. Groups including the Muslim Brotherhood circulated reports in mosques and factories that Jews and the British were destroying holy places in Jerusalem, as well as sending other false reports that hundreds of Arab women and children were being killed.[33] Much of the anti-Semitism of the 1930s and 40’s was fueled by a close association between Hitler’s new regime in Germany and anti-imperialist Arab powers. One of these Arab authorities was Haj Amin al-Husseini. al-Husseini was influential in attaining Nazi funds that were appropriated to the Muslim Brotherhood for the operation of a printing press for the distribution of thousands of Anti-Semitic propaganda pamphlets.[33]

By the 1940s, the situation worsened. Sporadic pogroms took place in 1942 onwards. In 1945, the Jewish quarter of Cairo was severely damaged. As the Partition of Palestine and the founding of Israel drew closer, hostility strengthened, fed also by press attacks on all foreigners accompanying the rising ethnocentric nationalism of the age. In 1947, the Company Laws set quotas for employing Egyptian nationals in incorporated firms, requiring that 75% of salaried employees, and 90% of all workers be Egyptian. As Jews were denied citizenship as a rule, this constrained Jewish and foreign owned entrepreneurs to reduce recruitment for employment positions from their own ranks. The law also required that just over half of the paid-up capital of joint stock companies be Egyptian.

The Egyptian Prime Minister Nuqrashi told the British ambassador: “All Jews were potential Zionists [and] ...anyhow all Zionists were Communists".[34] On 24 November 1947, the head of the Egyptian delegation to the General Assembly, Muhammad Hussein Heykal Pasha, said that “the lives of 1,000,000 Jews in Moslem countries would be jeopardized by the establishment of a Jewish state."[35] On 24 November 1947, Dr Heykal Pasha said: "if the U.N decide to amputate a part of Palestine in order to establish a Jewish state, …Jewish blood will necessarily be shed elsewhere in the Arab world… to place in certain and serious danger a million Jews. Mahmud Bey Fawzi (Egypt) said:"Imposed partition was sure to result in bloodshed in Palestine and in the rest of the Arab world".[36]

After the foundation of Israel in 1948

Egyptian Alexandria Jewish choir of Rabbin Moshe Cohen at Samuel Menashe synagogue. Alexandria.

After the foundation of Israel in 1948, and the subsequent 1948 Arab–Israeli War, in which Egypt participated, difficulties multiplied for Egyptian Jews, who then numbered 75,000. That year, bombings of Jewish areas killed 70 Jews and wounded nearly 200, while riots claimed many more lives.[37] During the Arab-Israeli war, the famous Cicurel department store near Cairo's Opera Square was firebombed. The government helped with funds to rebuild it, but it was again burnt down in 1952, and eventually passed into Egyptian control. As a result, many Egyptian Jews emigrated abroad. By 1950, nearly 40% of Egypt's Jewish population had emigrated.[38] About 14,000 of them went to Israel, and the rest to other countries.

The 1954 Lavon Affair was an Israeli sabotage operation designed to discredit and overthrow the then Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and to end secret negotiations with Egypt being pursued by then Israeli prime minister Moshe Sharett, who did not know nor approve of the operation. Sharett did not learn of the truth before he had denounced the charges by the Egyptian government in a speech in the Knesset as a blood libel, which caused him to feel deep humiliation that he had lied to the world and was one factor in Sharett's resignation as prime minister. The operation also blew up Western targets (without causing deaths), led to deeper distrust of Jews, from whose community key agents in the operation had been recruited and led to sharply increased emigration of Jews from Egypt. In his summing up statement Fu’ad al-Digwi, the prosecutor at their trial, repeated the official government stance:

'The Jews of Egypt are living among us and are sons of Egypt. Egypt makes no difference between its sons whether Moslems, Christians, or Jews. These defendants happen to be Jews who reside in Egypt, but we are trying them because they committed crimes against Egypt, although they are Egypt's sons.'[27]

Though not one person was killed in the Lavon affair, two members of the ring, Dr. Moussa Marzouk and Shmuel Azzar, received a death sentence. By contrast, six members from Dr. Marzouk's extended family were killed in the 1948 massacres, and yet no one was arrested. In 1953, a cousin of Dr. Marzouk, Kamal Massuda, was killed, and the authorities did not make arrests. Other members of the sabotage rings had families who lost their livelihood after the notorious 1947 Company Law was implemented.

In the immediate aftermath of trilateral invasion during the Suez Crisis of 1956, on November 23 by Britain France and Israel, a proclamation was issued stating that 'all Jews are Zionists and enemies of the state', and it promised that they would be soon expelled. Some 25,000 Jews, almost half of the Jewish community left for Israel, Europe, the United States and South America, after being forced to sign declarations that they were leaving voluntarily, and agreed with the confiscation of their assets. Some 1,000 more Jews were imprisoned. Similar measures were enacted against British and French nationals in retaliation for the invasion. In Joel Beinin's summary: "Between 1919 and 1956, the entire Egyptian Jewish community, like the Cicurel firm, was transformed from a national asset into a fifth column."[27] After 1956, prominent families, like the Qattawis, were left with only a fraction of the social clout they had once enjoyed, if they could remain in Egypt at all. Ironically Jews like Rene Qattawi were in full support of establishing an Arab-Egyptian nationalism, and were opposed to the rise of Zionism and the establishment of the State of Israel. Nonetheless, even this social elite of the Jewish population was not believed to have any place in the new Egyptian regime.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Auguste Lindt stated in his Report to the UNREF Executive Committee’s Fourth Session (Geneva 29 January to 4 February 1957) “Another emergency problem is now arising: that of refugees from Egypt. There is no doubt in my mind that those refugees from Egypt who are not able, or not willing to avail themselves of the protection of the Government of their nationality fall under the mandate of my office.”[39]

The last chief Rabbi of Egypt was Haim Moussa Douek, who served from 1960 until he left Egypt in 1972. After the Six-Day War in 1967, more confiscations took place. Rami Mangoubi, who lived in Cairo at the time, states that nearly all Egyptian Jewish men between the ages of 17 and 60 were either thrown out of the country immediately, or taken to the detention centers of Abou Za'abal and Tura, where they were incarcerated and tortured for more than three years.[40] The eventual result was the almost complete disappearance of the 3,000-year-old Jewish community in Egypt; the vast majority of Jews left the country. Most Egyptian Jews fled to Israel (35,000), Brazil (15,000), France (10,000), the US (9,000) and Argentina (9,000). A letter published by the Jerusalem Post from Dr. E. Jahn, of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees stated: “I refer to our recent discussion concerning Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries in consequence of recent events. I am now able to inform you that such persons may be considered prima facie within the mandate of this Office.”[39]

According to a 2009 report by the Anti-Defamation League, anti-semitic [41] and anti-Israel sentiments continue to run high. Israel and Zionism are frequently associated with conspiracy theories of subverting and weakening the state.[42] The last Jewish wedding in Egypt took place in 1984.

The Jewish population of Egypt was estimated at less than 200 in 2007,[43] and less than 40 in 2014.[42][44] Marriage restriction has caused many members to convert to other religions, mainly Jewish women who convert to Islam, due to being married to Egyptian Muslim men. Because a Jewish man cannot marry an Egyptian Muslim woman, but an Egyptian Muslim man may marry a Jewish woman, the community has lost many male members who are no longer Jewish on official documents.

Works by Egyptian Jews on their communities

See also

Ancient history

Modern history



  1. "Jews, by Country of Origin and Age". Statistical Abstract of Israel (in English and Hebrew). Israel Central Bureau of Statistics. 26 September 2011. Retrieved 19 December 2015.
  2. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/egjews.html
  3. The 1947 census gives 65,639, possibly too low. See Joel Beinin. The Dispersion of Egyptian Jewry: Culture, Politics, and the Formation of a Modern Diaspora. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. Introduction.
  4. James Weinstein, "Exodus and the Archaeological Reality", in Exodus: The Egyptian Evidence, ed. Ernest S. Frerichs and Leonard H. Lesko (Eisenbrauns, 1997), p.87
  5. Moore, Megan Bishop; Kelle, Brad E. (2011). Biblical History and Israel's Past: The Changing Study of the Bible and History. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-8028-6260-0.
  6. Ibrahim M. Omer, "Briefly Investigating the Origin of the Ancient Jewish Community at Elephantine: A Review."
  7. A. van Hoonacker, Une Communité Judéo-Araméenne à Éléphantine, en Egypte, aux vi et v siècles avant J.-C, London 1915 cited, Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, vol.5, (1939) 1964 p125 n.1
  8. Aryeh Kasher The Jews in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt: The Struggle for Equal Rights, Mohr Siebeck, 1985 pp.107-8
  9. Sir John Pentland Mahaffy The History of Egypt under the Ptolemaic Dynasty, New York 1899 p. 192.
  10. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, in The Works of Josephus, Complete and Unabridged, New Updated Edition (Translated by William Whiston, A.M.; Peabody Massachusetts:Hendrickson Publishers, 1987; Fifth Printing:Jan.1991 Bk. 12, chapters. 1, 2, pp. 308-309 (Bk. 12: verses 7, 9, 11)
  11. Life after death: a history of the afterlife in the religions of the West (2004), Anchor Bible Reference Library, Alan F. Segal, p.363
  12. Gilles Dorival, Marguerite Harl, and Olivier Munnich, La Bible grecque des Septante: Du judaïsme hellénistique au christianisme ancien (Paris: Cerfs, 1988), p.111
  13. "[...] die griechische Bibelübersetzung, die einem innerjüdischen Bedürfnis entsprang [...] [von den] Rabbinern zuerst gerühmt (..) Später jedoch, als manche ungenaue Übertragung des hebräischen Textes in der Septuaginta und Übersetzungsfehler die Grundlage für hellenistische Irrlehren abgaben, lehnte man die Septuaginta ab." Verband der Deutschen Juden (Hrsg.), neu hrsg. von Walter Homolka, Walter Jacob, Tovia Ben Chorin: Die Lehren des Judentums nach den Quellen; München, Knesebeck, 1999, Bd.3, S. 43ff
  14. Karen H. Jobes and Moises Silva (2001). Invitation to the Septuagint. Paternoster Press. ISBN 1-84227-061-3.
  15. Ernst Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, trans. Errol F. Rhodes, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. Eerdmans, 1995.
  16. Schwartz, Seth (2014). The Ancient Jews from Alexander to Muhammad. Cambridge University Press.
  17. Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades 1951 vol.1 pp.18-19
  18. Julius Wellhausen, Skizzen und Vorarbeiten IV = Medina vor dem Islam, Berlin 1889.p.119
  19. Jewish Quarterly Review ix. 29, x., p.430; Zionist D. M. G. li., p.444
  20. B.A. § 153
  21. B.A. ibid. § 155)
  22. M. xliv. 8
  23. J. Q. R. xiii. 104
  24. Review of Egyptian Jewry. xxx. 1, xxxi., p.212; Z. D. M. G. liii., p.51
  25. Weil l.c. iv., p.270
  26. Aron Rodrigue, Jews and Muslims: Images of Sephardi and Eastern Jewries in Modern Times, University of Washington Press, 2003 p.163, quoting a document by S.Somekh of 1895
  27. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Joel Beinin, The Dispersion of Egyptian Jewry: Culture, Politics, and the Formation of a Modern Diaspora.
  28. Mourad El-Kodsi, The Karaite Jews of Egypt, 1882–1986, Lyons, NY: Wilprint, 1987.
  29. Uri Avnery, 'Two Americas,' CounterPunch 24 March 2009
  30. Gudrun Krämer (1989) The Jews in modern Egypt, 1914-1952 I.B.Tauris, ISBN 1-85043-100-0 p 8
  31. Gudrun Krämer (1989) The Jews in modern Egypt, 1914-1952 I.B.Tauris, ISBN 1-85043-100-0 p 158
  32. Joel Beinin, op.cit. Introduction
  33. 1 2 Küntzel, Matthias (Spring 2005). "National Socialism and Anti-Semitism in the Arab World". Jewish Political Studies Review. 17: 1–2.
  34. Morris 2008 p. 412
  35. Benny Morris (2008). 1948: a history of the first Arab-Israeli war. Yale University Press. p. 70. Retrieved 13 July 2013.
  36. 29th Meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine: 24 November 1947: Retrieved 31 December 2013
  37. Mangoubi, Rami, "A Jewish Refugee Answers Youssef Ibrahim", Middle East Times, October 30, 2004.
  38. Shindler, Colin. A history of modern Israel", Cambridge University Press 2008, pp. 63-64
  39. 1 2 Who are the Jewish refugees? Under international law, Jews displaced from Arab countries were indeed bona fide refugees, subject to full UN protection, Stanley A. Urman, Jerusalem Post, 2012
  40. Mangoubi, Rami (May 31, 2007). "My Longest 10 Minutes". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved May 8, 2010.
  41. Anti-Semitism in the Egyptian Media
  42. 1 2 "Egypt's Jewish community buries deputy leader". Al Jazeera. 12 Mar 2014.
  43. "Egypt International Religious Freedom Report 2007". BUREAU OF DEMOCRACY, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND LABOR. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
  44. "Egypt's Jewish community's lost future". BBC. 18 Sep 2014.

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