A Chumash dating back to 1568 and a Babylonian Talmud from 1793 are amongst items to be displayed as part of an exhibition of Jewish artefacts from Iraq at the National Archives building in Washington. The exhibition will open on 11 October 2013 and run until 5 January 2014. It could be the last time these items are seen in the US before they are shipped back to Iraq.
On May 6, 2003, just days after the Coalition forces took over
Baghdad, 16 American soldiers from Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, a
group assigned to search for nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons,
entered Saddam Hussein’s flooded intelligence building. In the basement,
under four feet of water, they found thousands of books and documents
relating to the Jewish community of Iraq – materials that had belonged
to synagogues and Jewish organizations in Baghdad.
The water-logged materials quickly became moldy in Baghdad’s intense
heat and humidity. Seeking guidance, the Coalition Provisional Authority
placed an urgent call to the nation’s foremost conservation experts at
the National Archives. Just a week later, National Archives Director of
Preservation Programs Doris Hamburg and Conservation Chief Mary Lynn
Ritzenthaler arrived in Baghdad via military transport to assess the
damage and make recommendations for preservation of the materials. Both
experts share this extraordinary story and take you “behind the scenes”
in this brief video
[http://tinyurl.com/IraqiJA]. This video is in the public domain and
not subject to any copyright restrictions. The National Archives
encourages its use and free distribution.
Given limited treatment options in Baghdad, and with the agreement of
Iraqi representatives, the materials were shipped to the United States
for preservation and exhibition. Since then, these materials have been
vacuum freeze-dried, preserved and photographed under the direction of
the National Archives. The collection includes more than 2,700 Jewish
books and tens of thousands of documents in Hebrew, Arabic, Judeo-Arabic
and English, dating from 1540 to the 1970s. A special website to launch
this fall will make these historic materials freely available to all
online as they are digitized and catalogued. This work was made
possible through the assistance of the Department of State, National
Endowment for the Humanities, and Center for Jewish History.
The Jews of Iraq have a rich past, extending back to Babylonia. These
materials provide a tangible link to this community that flourished
there, but in the second half of the twentieth century dispersed
throughout the world. Today, fewer than five Jews remain.
Display highlights include:
- A Hebrew Bible with Commentaries from 1568 – one of the oldest books in the trove;
- A Babylonian Talmud from 1793;
- A Torah scroll fragment from Genesis – one of the 48 Torah scroll fragments found;
- A Zohar from 1815 – a text for the mystical and spiritual Jewish movement known as “Kabbalah”;
- An official 1918 letter to the Chief Rabbi regarding the allotment of sheep for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year);
- Materials from Jewish schools in Baghdad, including exam grades and
a letter to the College Entrance Examination Board in Princeton
regarding SAT scores;
- A Haggadah (Passover script) from 1902, hand lettered and decorated by an Iraqi Jewish youth ; and
- A lunar calendar in both Hebrew and Arabic from the Jewish year
5732 (1972-1973) – one of the last examples of Hebrew printed items
produced in Baghdad.