The Jews Of Lebanon

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Jews from Lebanon made essential contributions to the country's diversity and culture. Their ancestors originated from various regions, including the Jewish Kingdom from the time of King David. They established communities primarily in Beirut, where a small Jewish population remains today. Passages from the Torah suggest that wood from trees in southern Lebanon was used when building Solomon’s temple.

Historians note that Jewish settlements first appeared in Baalbeck in 922, Tyr in 1170, and Saida in 1522.

By the start of the 20th century, Jewish influence could be felt in the area. Two Jewish newspapers were founded: “Al Alam Israeli” (The Israeli World), and “Le Commerce du Levant” (Business News in the Levantine Region). These outlets appeared sometime during the French Mandate period and continued through independence.

The Jewish community even played a role in the movement for Lebanon’s independence, which Lebanon gained from France in 1943. For the Jewish community, Lebanon was an essential part of their heritage.

Unlike other parts of the Middle East, which expelled their Jewish citizens after Israel declared independence in 1948, Lebanon’s Jewish population increased after exile from Iraq and Syria. However, the war that followed triggered the start of Jewish immigration from Lebanon.

Like the rest of the Middle East, Jewish life in Lebanon was never stable, but roughly 7,000 Jews lived in Beirut in the mid-1950s, most of whom fled in 1967.

Beirut's Jewish quarter was at the center of the Muslim-Christian Civil War, which lasted between 1975-1976.

As a result, Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues were destroyed, and most of the remaining population, roughly 1,800 at the time, fled to the US, Canada, and France.

In the following decade, Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia Islamist political party and terror group, kidnapped several well-known Jews from Beirut. They were leaders of the small remaining Jewish community. Four were later discovered murdered.

Jewish community expert Nagi Georges Zeidan stated, "Since they kidnapped nine Jews in 1985, executed them, and their burial place… [wasn’t] known, every Jew in Lebanon began to fear for their fate.”

Nearly all Jews that remain in Lebanon are in Beirut. Since the 1990s, the political climate has made it difficult for Jews to practice Judaism freely, and many hide their Jewish identity.

An elderly Shiite woman tends to the neglected Jewish cemetery in Beirut. The gravestones inscribed in French and Hebrew are a reminder of a once vibrant Jewish community in Lebanon. As of 2020, it is estimated that less than 30 Jews are living in the country.

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In 1948, there were 20,000 Jews living in Lebanon; in 2020, there were only 29 Jews still there. According to Jewish Virtual Library, "Nearly all of the remaining Jews are in Beirut, where there is a committee that represents the community.2 Because of the current political situation, Jews are unable to openly practice Judaism. In 2004, only 1 out of 5,000 Lebanese Jewish citizens registered to vote participated in the municipal elections. Virtually all of those registered have died or fled the country. The lone Jewish voter said that most of the community consists of old women."

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Jews have lived in Lebanon since ancient times. According to tradition, in the 1st century c.e., King Herod the Great had a temple constructed in the city of Tyre for his Jewish subjects living there and also supported the Jewish community in Beirut. The community grew, and by the 6th century, synagogues had been built in both Beirut and Tripoli. In the late 18th and 19th centuries, Jews mainly settled in villages in Lebanon, and most Jewish communities were interspersed with those of the Druze.During the first half of the current century, the community expanded tremendously due to immigration from Greece and Turkey, and later from Syria and Iraq. This continued immigration resulted from Lebanon's fairly tolerant attitude, as was evidenced when Lebanon granted residency permits and sometimes even Lebanese citizenship to Jews fleeing persecution in Syria. Nevertheless, there were incidents of rioting and incitement around the time of the establishment of the State of Israel. Only after the Six-Day War and the outbreak of the civil war of 1976 did Jews feel compelled to emigrate en masse.In the past two decades, the political climate has radicalized, and the remaining Jews are left in a tenuous and vulnerable position.

Communal And Religious Life

Nearly all of the remaining Jews are in Beirut. Because of the current political situation, Jews are unable to openly practice Judaism. In Beirut there is a committee that represents the community. Prior to 1976, there had been two schools and two synagogues in Beirut, and a school in Sidon.

Relations With Israel

Between 1976 and 1982 the PLO occupied an area in South Lebanon and launched attacks from this location. The Lebanon War was fought by Israel in 1982, in order to destroy this terrorist base. Israel supports the South Lebanese Army which is mainly composed of local Christians, and continues to maintain a presence in South Lebanon; skirmishes between the IDF and the radical Islamic movement Hizbollah are frequent occurrences. Aliya: Since 1948, 4,062 Lebanese Jews have emigrated to Israel.

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