Why don’t Jews remember their Sephardi heroes?

 We need to  restore Sephardi heroes to Jewish history, argues Ben Judah in the Jewish Chronicle. Heroes like the Baghdadi Jew General Jacob, who was both Indian military hero and diplomat:

 General JFR Jacob, pictured at a Kolkata rally in 2012.

There are many unsung heroes of the Jewish people. I just feel most
of them are Sephardic. The further south and east you go from the shtetl
in our collective memory the less the warrior-queens, rabbis,
commanders of amazing deeds are remembered.

Sephardic history is
not properly taught in Jewish schools. It is given little respect in our
yeshivas. Even in Israel, when designs for new banknotes were proposed
in 2013, they omitted any Sephardic heroes — even though Jews whose
roots lie in North Africa and the Middle East make up nearly half of
Israeli Jews.

Sephardic Jews are not without heroes. Ignoring
them leaves us poorer. Our story is so much richer — and unexpected. Who
remembers General J.F.R. Jacob? Outside of India, Pakistan and
Bangladesh — no small place — the story of one of the greatest Jewish
generals of the 20th century is practically unknown. It was the tactical
genius of a Jew that liberated Muslim Bangladesh. Yet Israel and the
Diaspora barely took notice of him as he did it.

Born in Calcutta
in 1924, at the heart of the Baghdadi Jewish community, streets away
from my grandfather, Jacob Farj Rafael (“J.F.R.”) Jacob signed-up in the
Second World War when news of Holocaust first reached him. The Jacob
family, which like the Judah family, left Iraq for India in the 18th
century, sheltered Ashkenazi refugees in Calcutta in 1942. Their stories
from Germany and Poland spurred the young man into the war against

Devoted to the British Indian Army, which in 1947 became
the army of the new India, J.F.R. was the mastermind of the Indian
invasion, which liberated the 65m Muslims of what was then known as East
Pakistan and later became Bangladesh.

Convinced that victory lay
in fighting through the monsoon and in circling the big Bangladeshi
cities, Jacob spread his forces through the marshes and riverine swamps
which form the Ganges delta and secured a total victory. The 93,000
Pakistan forces surrendering to him in Dhaka marked the largest military
surrender since the Second World War.

Across India, Pakistan and
Bangladesh, General Jacob is seen to this day as a military hero and a
Jew unflinching in his devotion to India. Why have we done so little to
remember his memory for ourselves?

Read article in full

More about General Jacob


  • Sylvia, Thanks for your detailed analysis. I accept that Haaretz is not always the most reliable of sources (although David B Green is pretty good) and the cause may have been incitement in the service of a loftier aim of destabilisation, but it is interesting that they used the principle of Islamic supremacy over the non-Muslim (who should always be humble) and other tropes as the means to fuel the incitement.

  • I explain it as incitement against the regime and a call to action to foment riots and destabilize the kingdom of Granada. And that (well-known) poem wasn't the only expression of incitement. There were the rumors running about those Jewish leaders poisoning babies and masters of intrigues and how they held power over the Muslim King (which the king's grandson and heir denied in his memoirs).

    Those imams preaching war against non-Muslims today in the Uk what do you think they're after? Just indulge in hate and antisemitism? No. By calling to harass the population they will eventually destabilize the country. Greed and thurst for power is what motivates them. Islam is just a pretext. And any excuse, any lie, any slander will be used to incite and enlist.

    To understand, one has to look at the political context of the day. The Berbers revolted against the Arab califate of Cordoba, brought it down and seized power in Andalusia. Only that every Berber chieftain took a piece of territory or taifa of which he became king and started a dynasty. Soon there were some 33 taifas each waging war on the other and trying to expand at the other's expense.

    This was a situation where those kings had against them the Christians kings, the Arab segment of the population, the Mozarabes, and their Berbers rivals all at the same time.

    The problem of those kings was to secure the loyalty of their close collaborators, hence the non-Muslim military commanders. To defeat Badis, one had to defeat his loyal advisers.

    The Arab author of the poem used Islam to incite the population and unite Muslim Arabs and Berbers against Badis. Arabs and pro-Arab never lost hope of restoring the Arab califate of Cordoba. What they had at the end was the Sahraoui Almoravid emirate who took it all.

    The text of Haaretz is based on information by Ibn Daoud, who wrote one century after the events. I was intrigued by this Haaretz passage you quoted which supposes some sinister activities by Samuel in order to crown Badis:

    When Habbus died, in 1038, Shmuel arranged for the king’s older son, Badis, to succeed him, even though the royal court and other Jewish courtiers supported another son, Buluggin.

    So I went to check the source and here is what Ibn Daoud really said

    The Jews, too, and among them Rabbi Joseph ibn Migas, Rabbi Isaac ben Leon, and Rabbi Nehemiah, who was called Escafa, three Granada notables, favored Bulukkin, but Rabbi Samuel Ha­Levi favored Badis.

    There is a big difference between "favors" and "arrange"

  • So how would you explain what happened, Sylvia?
    B. Lewis quotes Abu Ishaq's poem: They have violated our covenant with them…./ How can they have any pact when we are obscure and they are prominent? / Now we are humble, beside them, as if we were wrong and they were right!”
    It seems to me that the Jew had ceased to know his place, and this is what riled the Muslims. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that this feeling had been mounting over the years.

  • You can't be serious :). This reminds me of the Niturei Karta who say they won't recognize the State of Israel because "the Jews broke the pact with the nations" by returning.

    Samuel would have broken the pact more surely had he refused to heed his protector's orders to lead his military, with dire immediate consequences for him and his community. One has only to read his poems to realize it was not a job he particularly relished.

    Besides, he was already vizir in 1027. Why wait 40 years and 10 years after his death to punish his son and his community? It doesn't make sense.

    Most importantly, he was not the only non-Muslim to lead a Muslim military in those days of the taifas. Many Christians did exactly that, the most famous –and most sung– being no other than the Cid Campeador of fame, who worked for several Muslim kings as military commander to Muslims and ended up taking over the Kingdom of Valencia becoming himself a King to Muslims!.

    But while the Spanish and practically every European country sing the prowesses of the Cid –after all a traitor to Christians- what do we do? We quote Haaretz, who has never mentioned a Sephardi Great it didn't belittle.

  • He broke the dhimmi pact by commanding Muslims and that is why they took revenge on his'arrogant' son

  • But what did Samuel do, specifically, that supports what you you said, that "Joseph paid the price for what Samuel did – and so did the Jews of Granada, massacred in 1066"?

  • From Haaretz, 30 December 2012:

    Joseph Ibn Naghrela was the son of the legendary Shmuel Hanagid (993-c – 1056), rabbi, poet, grammarian and political sage, who in recognition of his rare talents (he began his professional life as a spice merchant), had been advanced to the position of assistant vizier to the Berber king Habbus al-Muzaffar. When Habbus died, in 1038, Shmuel arranged for the king’s older son, Badis, to succeed him, even though the royal court and other Jewish courtiers supported another son, Buluggin. In appreciation, Badis named Shmuel his vizier (“nagid,” roughly, in Hebrew).

    When Shmuel died, his place as vizier was taken by his son Joseph. A near-contemporary Jewish historian, Abraham Ibn Daud, wrote of Joseph that, “Of all the good traits of his father, Joseph lacked but one. He was not humble…. He was proud to his own hurt, and the Berber princes were jealous of him.”

    Another historian reported that Abu Ishaq, an Arab jurist who aspired to a position at the court, wrote a poem accusing Joseph and his fellow Jews of plotting against Badis with the intention of betraying him to a nearby rival, al-Mutasim. The king was not impressed by the charges, but they whipped up the sentiment of the populace of Granada against the city’s Jews.

    In his book “The Jews of Islam,” Bernard Lewis quoted from Abu-Ishaq’s poem, in which he urged action against Granada’s Jews: “Do not consider it a breach of faith to kill them, the breach of faith would be to let them carry on. / They have violated our covenant with them, so how can you be held guilty against the violators? / How can they have any pact when we are obscure and they are prominent? / Now we are humble, beside them, as if we were wrong and they were right!”

    On December 30, 1066, which fell on the Sabbath, an angry Muslim crowd attacked the palace in Granada and grabbed Joseph, who had taken refuge there. They crucified him, and then proceeded to butcher other members of the Jewish community.

    read more: http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/this-day-in-jewish-history/1066-massacre-in-granada-spain.premium-1.490809

  • Samuel ibn Naghrila's son Joseph paid the price for what Samuel did – and so did the Jews of Granada, massacred in 1066

  • -Samuel Ibn N'Aghrila (Shmuel HaNagid)(993-c.1056)
    Vizir and General for the Berber King of Granada, who led himself his troops in the battlefield. The only Jew ever to lead a Muslim army.

    -Uriah Levy (1792-1862)
    First Jewish Commodore of the US Navy


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