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The Jewish Community of Libya


In Arabic: ليبيا‎
Official name: دولة ليبيا - State of Libya
A country in North Africa

21st Century

There are no Jews living in Libya.

Place Type:
ID Number:
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
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Surnames derive from one of many different origins. Sometimes there may be more than one explanation for the same name. This Jewish family name derives from a personal nickname or characteristic. It may also be interpreted as a votive name.

This surname is derived from tammam, an Arabic term meaning "integrity", "wholeness", "plenitude".

As a Jewish family name, Temmam is documented with Adjila Juliette Temmam, b. in Batna, Algeria, in 1913. The variant Tamam is documented with Gora-Pnina Tamam, b. in Tripoli, Libya, in 1872, who was killed in her house during an artillery attack on Tripoli in 1940.

Surnames derive from one of many different origins. Sometimes there may be more than one explanation for the same name. This family name is a toponymic (derived from a geographic name of a town, city, region or country). Surnames that are based on place names do not always testify to direct origin from that place, but may indicate an indirect relation between the name-bearer or his ancestors and the place, such as birth place, temporary residence, trade, or family-relatives.

The surname Ben Ghozi may indicate the place of origin of the family: Ghuz, an ancient port near the mouthpiece of the Tensift river in Morocco; Al Ghuza, an ancient city in the vicinity of Kairouan (Al-Bekri), in eastern Tunisia, or the city of Benghazi in Libya. The surname Ben Ghozi is recorded among Jewish families from in Algeria, but it is quite rare among the Jews of Morocco. Distinguish bearers of the family name Ben Ghousi include the Moroccan-born Israeli musician Shlomo Bar (born 1943), whose original name was Shlomo Ben Ghousi.

Surnames derive from one of many different origins. Sometimes there may be more than one explanation for the same name. This family name is a toponymic (derived from a geographic name of a town, city, region or country). Surnames that are based on place names do not always testify to direct origin from that place, but may indicate an indirect relation between the name-bearer or his ancestors and the place, such as birth place, temporary residence, trade, or family-relatives.

Gouetta is associated with Goeta, the name of a tribe in Garinan, western Libya, and with the Arabic term for "sharp/cutting/piercing". Gouetta and similar Jewish surnames are also linked to Guete, the ancient name of the town of Huete (Huepte) in Castile, central Spain, which had a prosperous Jewish community in the 13th century.

Distinguished bearers of the Jewish family name Gouetta include the Italian Talmud scholar and author Isaac Gouetta (1777-1857), also known as Guetta, whose ancestors came from Huete, Spain.



Surnames derive from one of many different origins. Sometimes there may be more than one explanation for the same name. This family name is a toponymic (derived from a geographic name of a town, city, region or country). Surnames that are based on place names do not always testify to direct origin from that place, but may indicate an indirect relation between the name-bearer or his ancestors and the place, such as birthplace, temporary residence, trade, or family-relatives.

This name is derived from Zanzur, also known as Janzur, a city in north-western Libya, situated on the Libyan coastline of the Mediterranean Sea, located in the west of the capital Tripoli. Places, regions and countries of origin or residence are some of the sources of Jewish family names. But, unless the family has reliable records, names based on toponymics cannot prove the exact origin of the family.

Zanzuri is documented as a Jewish family name with the 21st century Israeli musicians and reality television personalities Shay and Tzlil Zanzuri. .


Surnames derive from one of many different origins. Sometimes there may be more than one explanation for the same name. This family name is a toponymic (derived from a geographic name of a town, city, region or country). Surnames that are based on place names do not always testify to direct origin from that place, but may indicate an indirect relation between the name-bearer or his ancestors and the place, such as birthplace, temporary residence, trade, or family-relatives.

This family name is derived from Serouss, the name of a region in Jebel Nafusa (Nafusa Mountain) in western Libya. The area is located some 150 southwest of Tripoli close to the Tunisian border. Jebel Nafusa was home to some of the oldest Jewish settlements in Libya.

Places, regions and countries of origin or residence are some of the sources of Jewish family names. But, unless the family has reliable records, names based on toponymics cannot prove the exact origin of the family.

Distiguished bearers of the Jewish family name Seroussi include the Uruguayan-born Israeli musicologist Edwin Seroussi (b. 1952), winner of 2018 Israel Prize for the study of culture, art and musicology. 

Jenny Zanzuri of Miami, FL, recounts her life in an interview of her with her grandchildren David and Steven Beiner in Miami, 2018. Jenny Zanzuri nee Goldfarb was born in London, UK, in 1920. Conscripted into British Army in WW2, she served in War Office as telegraph operator deciphering encrypted Morse code messages. In 1946 she joined the United Nations, and was stationed in Tripoli, Libya, in 1948, where she married Clement Hamus Zanzuri. 

This testimony is part of a project initiated and coordinated by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Miami.

The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of Yoram Millman, President of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Miami, and Andrew Wolf, Miami, FL.


Regina (Gina) Waldman nee Bublil, a resident of Tiburon, CA., recounts in this testimony from 2010 her life in Libya, Italy, and USA.  

Gina Waldman was born in Tripoli, Libya in 1948. Her ancestors had been living in Libya for over 2000 years and during Gina’s childhood the Jewish community was about 46,000, when she left it was only 6,000, and today there are no longer any Jews left in Libya. Although Gina grew up in an environment that was very difficult to be Jewish, her family was very economically successful and she has some fond memories of her friends and the beautiful port in Tripoli. However, the Libyan Jews were often persecuted by local authorities, they did not have citizenship or passports, and if they wanted to travel outside of the country they could never leave for more than three months if they wished to return. In 1967 when the war broke out between Israel and its neighboring Arab countries, riots erupted in Tripoli and mobs of Arabs would shout “slaughter the Jews” in the streets. This was a terrifying time for Gina and her family: Gina was kept hidden by her British employer for a month and her family was locked in their home which was almost burnt down by a mob had they not been rescued by their Muslim neighbor.

In July of 1967, a month and a half after the Six Day War, Gina and her family left for Rome on conditions that they would never return to Libya; all of their homes, businesses, assets, and belonging were confiscated and they were only allowed to leave with one suitcase and $20 each. Once in Rome, Gina worked for an American company and two years later she applied to come to the United States through HIAS. In addition to HIAS the Jewish Family Service of San Francisco helped her come to the States and absorbed her into San Francisco culture. Gina became an activist for human rights after she attended her first demonstration in San Francisco and was so inspired by it. She began volunteering for The Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews and eventually took over the organization as well as worked closely with Amnesty International, campaigning to free prisoners and was award the Martin Luther King Rights Award for all of her work.

After the tragedy of 9/11, Gina wanted to expose the hate that was and is widespread throughout the Arab World and she started by telling her story of exile. Gina established the organization JIMENA and her goal in doing so was to expose the intolerance and exodus of one million Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries. There is very little known about these Jews as their narratives are not in history books. JIMENA’s mission is to tell the story of these one million Jews and share what their life and culture was like.

This film is part of the Testimonies produced by Sarah Levin for JIMENA's Oral History and Digital Experience.  JIMENA - Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa - is a San Francisco, CA., based non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of culture and history of the Jews from Arab Lands and Iran, and aims to tell the public about the fate of Jewish refugees from the Middle East.

The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of JIMENA.

Joseph Maimon, a resident of Ramat HaSharon, Israel, was born in Tripoli, Libya, in 1935. He spent all of his childhood in that town. His mother was originally from France and his father like him was also born in Tripoli and owned the largest pasta and bread bakery in the city, which employed about 250 people. Needless to say, Joseph’s family was very well to do. However, Joseph explains that he has very few positive memories of living in Libya as a Jew, but the good memories he does have are of friends and family. Two of Joseph’s closest friends were actually Muslim and the Jews in Tripoli at the time had very good relations with their Muslim and Christian neighbors alike.

In 1945 a pogrom struck the streets of Tripoli for four days; the Jews were shocked and completely unaware and unprepared for this massacre and about 300 Jews were killed, countless were injured amongst the injured was Joseph’s father. Fortunately, one of the family’s very close friends was Muslim and he was able to protect them by taking them out of the city to his country home where Joseph’s father was able to heal. Another pogrom devastated the Jewish community in 1948 but this time they were prepared and fought back with the help of the British who mandated during this time. After this incidence and because Israel had finally become an independent state many Libyan Jews emigrated there in 1948, only 4,000 Jews remained in Libya after this emigration.

It was not until 1957 that Joseph initially left Libya when he was 18 to go study at a university in Italy; his good Muslim friend, who happened to be the nephew of the Libyan prime minister accompanied him there. Joseph married in Italy and had a son there with his wife but in 1966 his father begged Joseph to come back to Libya and help him with his business. During the Six Day War in 1967 things became very dangerous for the Libyan Jews; once again they were slaughtered and their homes were destroyed. Joseph’s Muslim friend was able to help Joseph’s wife and son escape to Italy where Joseph himself was lucky to be able to follow them soon after.

Almost immediately after arriving in Italy, Joseph realized that he would have to take his family to Israel as he felt it was the only place for Jewish life. He went to Israel on his own, found a job very quickly because he was an engineer and Israel was in great need of engineers. After he settled in his job and new apartment, Joseph sent for his family to join him in Israel. For many years Joseph did not find a Libyan community in Israel, so he and his immediate family would keep up their own Jewish traditions. Today he is a great part of a Libyan Jewish organization and feels very connected to its members. 

This film is part of the Testimonies produced by Sarah Levin for JIMENA's Oral History and Digital Experience.  JIMENA - Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa - is a San Francisco, CA., based non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of culture and history of the Jews from Arab Lands and Iran, and aims to tell the public about the fate of Jewish refugees from the Middle East.

The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of JIMENA. 

Asher (Masud) Naim (1929 - 2016), a former Israeli ambassador, recounts his childhood in Libya and then his life in Israel. He was born in Tripoli, Libya, and immigrated to Israel in 1944. In 1953 he joined the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry and served as Israeli ambassador to Finland, Ethiopia, and South Korea. He retired in 1995.  

This film is part of the Testimonies produced by Sarah Levin for JIMENA's Oral History and Digital Experience.  JIMENA - Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa - is a San Francisco, CA., based non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of culture and history of the Jews from Arab Lands and Iran, and aims to tell the public about the fate of Jewish refugees from the Middle East.

The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of JIMENA.

Penina Meghnagi Solomon, a resident of Valley Village, CA., was born in Tripoli, Libya. In this testimony of 2013 she recounts her childhood in Libya.

Pnina Meghnagi Soloman was born in 1949 in Tripoli, Libya. Her name, Pnina, means “precious stone” in Hebrew. Pnina has happy memories of being a young girl in Tripoli, Libya where she spent her childhood soaking the city’s warmth nearby the ocean, always surrounded by friends and family. Some of her earliest memories include guests coming in and out of her house talking around two long tables with a white tablecloth, eventually cementing her values of family and being welcoming.

The Jewish neighborhood was known as “Hara,” which was located behind a castle that oversaw the walled city of Tripoli. Pnina’s house was near a white church, and her synagogue was just down the block from her house. The importance of the Jewish religion was instilled deeply within Pnina, as her mother comes from a long line of rabbis and religious court judges known as diyanim from the Island of Djerba (in Tunisia). 

The family’s Shabbat custom was to eat couscous with either  chicken soup, along with spicy fish called hairame and special meatballs called mafrum, containing slices of potatoes with meat inside, fried and cooked in sauce. Dessert was always cakes and fruits. 

The residents in Pnina’s neighborhood generally lived among each other in harmony, no matter which religion they practiced. Her neighborhood included Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Italians, Egyptians, Libyans, and Maltese. Libya’s diversity at the time nurtured Pnina’s friendship with her Italian, Egyptian and American neighbors, as well as the children of the Sheikh from her neighborhood. In her city of Tripoli, Pnina was exposed to the whole world. 

Despite the blend of differing religions and ethnicities, Pnina says that there was always a worry in the back of her mind that she or her family may be harassed or attacked for being Jewish. In November 1945, during the infamous anti-Jewish Tripoli pogrom, Pnina''s Uncle Gabriel Menaghi had had been slaughtered at his doorstep. He was one of an estimated 140 Jews who were killed during the violent pogrom. 

There was also a fearful mindset within the Jewish community as a whole. Jews thus refrained from wearing Maghen David jewelry, they also refrained from displaying the Star of David or the Israeli flag in any form. Jews were considered second-class citizens. 

“The true Muslims who really knew the religion of Islam always had respect for the other,” she recalls. “But, as Jews we had a fear that there was a certain boundary we could never cross. We were called dhimmis, we were degraded and we were always a step down from the Muslims.” While Zionist organizations were officially prohibited, some Jews, including Pnina, participated in the underground B’nei Akiva Zionist youth movement. She remembers learning the famous Hebrew Tu’bishvat Higiyah song in Tripoli despite the fact that the movement was prohibited from displaying any flags. 

The most devastating problems, which led to the end of the Jewish community in Libya, started in 1967 with the break out of Israel’s Six-Day War with its Arab neighbors. At the time Pnina was working part-time and going to school. One day she was suddenly instructed to go home; the radio had announced that there was a war in Israel. Mobs of Libyans turned their rage towards Israel against their fellow Jewish Libyan citizens. They pillaged, burned and destroyed the neighborhoods and killed innocent Jewish people. 

Pnina had to go into hiding and she counted on her neighbors to bring her family kosher food. One day, a crowd armed with machetes descended on her neighborhood looking for the Jews. Her local Sheikh came out on the street and told the crowd “mafich Yehud, no Jews here.” The Sheikh’s lie caused the mob to leave, saving the lives of the Jews still hiding throughout the neighborhood.

None of the Jews knew what they were going do and Pnina’s mother, a widow with four children, began to panic. Pnina remembers an official from a local government office had already once indicated to her mother that the day was coming where her throat would be cut. Unlike many other Libyan Jews, Pnina’s mother had a Tunisian passport, as she predicted that if the Jews needed to one day flee Libya, it would be easier to do so with a foreign passport. On June 30th, 1967 at 4:30am a government Jeep came and took the family to the airport. Pnina remembers that it felt strange to her as she underwent a full body search. The Jews were only allowed to take one suitcase and 20 Libyan Sterling.

Since Libya had been an Italian colony, her family spoke Italian. The organized Jewish community in Rome welcomed her family in Italy.

At the time, there was an international refugee camp. Communism was prevalent and refugees from Poland, Hungary, Romania and other communist nations would flee to refugee camps in Italy. The two most famous ones were known as Latina and Cerata. Her family moved to Latina where they received extra clothing and assistance in finding mediocre jobs to get back on their feet. Pnina had been taking an English class in Tripoli and she was able to continue it in the same school in Latina. Her family was able to slowly rebuild their life in Rome. 

Back in Tripoli, Pnina’s mother washed the dishes and made the bed before their departure to Italy, though she knew that they would never return to Libya. They had left behind a home with furniture, toys, and everything that was their old life. Pnina’s Arabic teacher was also a close friend of her mother’s. As the family was preparing to leave, Pnina’s teacher visited and offered to do anything she could do to help them. Pnina’s mother gave Pnina’s Arabic teacher her silverware for safekeeping, hoping that they would meet again. Just one year later the Arabic teacher’s son visited Italy, which is when he returned the silver to Pnina’s family. Even now, Pnina remembers it as a most caring gesture during a time of great darkness.

Despite the Arabic teacher’s kindness, Pnina still laments on the loss of her family’s belongings and the memories they represented. As the Libyan government froze the bank accounts of all departing Jews, they had little with which to start their new lives elsewhere. Their departure to Italy meant that they would have to rebuild their lives from scratch. 

While the memory of starting her life over is difficult, most painful to Pnina is the destruction of Tripoli’s Jewish cemetery. Pnina muses that if the Jewish cemetery still existed, she would go back to Tripoli to visit the graves of her father, grandparents and hundreds of other Jewish Libyan ancestors. With the Jewish cemetery destroyed, Pnina says, it symbolizes that even the dead Jews are prevented from resting in peace in Libya. 

Leaving Libya also shattered the dynamic in Pnina’s family. Pnina was the oldest in a family of five children, and served as a second caretaker to her siblings after her grandmother had moved to Israel in 1951. Pnina’s mother decided it would be better for the older children to get out of the refugee camp and settle into a normal life. The younger children, however, were moved to Israel to live with their grandmother after the first year in Italy when the family was altogether. The older children then learned to speak Italian but not Hebrew, while the younger children learned to speak Hebrew but not Italian. With a new language gap to overcome, the family began to communicate with one another in Judeo-Arabic.

This film is part of the Testimonies produced by Sarah Levin for JIMENA's Oral History and Digital Experience.  JIMENA - Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa - is a San Francisco, CA., based non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of culture and history of the Jews from Arab Lands and Iran, and aims to tell the public about the fate of Jewish refugees from the Middle East.

The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of JIMENA.

Wuachad Gadya -  Had Gadya, the piyut at the end of Haggadah on Passover Seder, sung in Arabic in the tradition of the Jews of Libya by cantor Haim Lachmish, Israel, 2021

The Oster Visual Documentation Center, ANU – Museum of the Jewish People, courtesy of Haim Lachmish.

Classroom at "Rosh Pinnah" Secondery
School, Libya 1933.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of the Cultural Center of Jews of Libya, Tel Aviv)
Rabbi Hammus Fellah,
Tripoli, Libya, 1900s
He was born in Tripoli and died in Benghazi in 1941
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Janet and Dino Naim, London)
Women mourners at the gate of the Jewish
cemetery in Tripoil, Libya 1913.
(From the Beit Hatfutsot Exhibition "Libya: An Extinct Jewish Community" 1980)
The Jewish Quarter,
Tripoli, Libya, 1920's
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Pedazur Benattia, Israel)
Leaders of the Tripoli Community board,
Tripoli, Libya, 1908
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Cultural Center of Libyan Jews, Tel Aviv)

Jenny Zanzuri nee Goldfarb was born in London, UK, in 1920.. Conscripted into British Army in WW2, she served in War Office as telegraph operator deciphering encrypted Morse code messages. In 1946 she joined the United Nations, and was stationed in Tripoli, Libya, in 1948, where she married Clement Hamus Zanzuri. 

The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of Yoram Millman, President of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Miami.

Ben-Zion Halfon (1930-1977), politician, born in Tripoli, Libya. He joined the Zionist movement as a teen and in 1947 tried to immigrate to Eretz Israel on board of Medinat HaYehudim ship, however the ship was seized by the British Mandatory authorities and Halfon was deported and then detained for one year in Cyprus.

He arrived in Israel in 1948 and immediately joined the Yiftach Brigade of the Palmach taking part in Israel's War of Independence. Halfon was active in organizing the immigration to Israel of the Jews of Libya. In 1949 he was among the founders of Moshav Hatzav in central Israel.

In 1969 he was elected to the Knesset on the Maarach list and became Agriculture Deputy-Minister, a post he kept until 1973. Halfon was not re-elected in 1977 general elections. He was killed in a traffic accident in September 1977.   


In Arabic: طرابلس‎‎

The largest city in Libya. Includes the Port of Tripoli.

Tripoli was founded in the 7th century B.C.E by the Phoenicians in the 7th century BCE who named the area Wiat (Oea in Latin). Towards the second half of the 2nd century BCE Oea was ruled by the Romans who designated it as part of Africa, and referred to the region as Regio Tripolitana, "region of three cities:" Oea (modern Tripoli), and its neighbors Sabratha and Leptis (modern Homs). A Roman road map from the 4th century indicates a Jewish neighborhood named Scina (or Iscina), Locus Judaeorum Augusti ("Scina, Locality of the Jews of the Emperor") in the vicinity of Oea; they were probably captives.

During the second half of the 11th century, there was a beit din in Tripoli that was independent from the Palestinian beit din. The Jewish community went through a difficult period under the rule of the Knights of Malta and Spain (1510-1551), but the Ottoman conquest in 1551 once again allowed the community to flourish, and many Jews from small rural communities began settling in Tripoli; there is evidence that at the end of the 16th century descendants of Spanish Jews who were expelled from Christian Europe also settled in Tripoli. During the 17th century Jews from Leghorn (Livorno) Italy, most of whom were merchants, also began to settle in Tripoli. During the reign of the Turkish Qaramanli Dynasty (1711-1835), Tripoli became a haven for Jewish refugees from Tunis and Algiers. The Jews of Tripoli played an important role in trade with Europe and Africa; others held diplomatic and consular positions.

The Jews of Libya were under the sole jurisdiction of the community of Tripoli. From the middle of the 18th century the presidents of the community represented Libyan Jewry before the government; during the period of Turkish rule, these presidents attended the governor's council meetings. They were also authorized to implement prison sentences, and to inflict corporal punishment on offenders.

In 1549 Rabbi Simeon Labi, a kabbalist from Morocco of Spanish origin, stopped in Tripoli on the way to Eretz Yisrael. Finding the population woefully ignorant of Torah, he decided to stay as a teacher; he is generally credited with the revival of Jewish learning in the city, and is considered to be one of Tripoli's greatest scholars. Abraham Miguel Cardoso, who would later become one of the leaders of the Sabbatean movement, settled in Tripoli in 1663. Beginning in the mid-18th century, the dayyanim and the prominent chakhamim of Tripoli mostly arrived from Turkey and Palestine, returning home after holding office in Tripoli.

In 1749 Rabbi Mas'ud Hai Rakah, an emissary from Jerusalem, arrived in Tripoli. He was joined by his son-in-law, Rabbi Nathan Adadi, who was born in Palestine and later returned there. Rabbi Rakah's grandson, Abraham Chayyim Adadi, settled in Tripoli after the 1837 earthquake in Safed and accomplished a great deal as the community's dayyan and chakham; he also retired to Safed. After his death in 1874, the Ottoman government in Istanbul issued a royal order appointing Elijah Hazzan as chakham bashi (chief rabbi); Rabbi Hazzan also represented Tripolitanian Jewry before the government. Subsequently, the Italian government continued this tradition after they first came to power and appointed Rabbi Elia Samuele Artom as chakham bashi.

In 1705 and 1793 the Jews of Tripoli were saved from the danger of extermination by foreign invaders. Two local Purim days were fixed to commemorate these events: Purim ash-Sharif on 23 Tevet in 1705, and Purim Burgul on 29 Tevet in 1793.

In 1835, Tripoli was again under Ottoman rule and the Jewish community once again flourished. Meanwhile, the Kingdom of Italy, which was established in 1861, attempted to exert its influence Tripoli, especially within the Jewish community. Indeed, the first European school in the city was established in 1876 by Italian Jews, responding to Jews in Tripoli who wanted to increase their economic and social ties with Italy. The community became divided between the conservatives, who generally supported the Turks and Ottoman rule, and those who favored Italy and were drawn to European culture. After the Italo-Turkish War (1911-1912), Tripoli became part of the Kingdom of Italy. During the period of Italian rule (1911-1943), the Jews of Tripoli enjoyed complete emancipation until World War II. They worked as craftsmen, traders, builders, carpenters, blacksmiths, tailors, cobblers, and wholesale and retail merchants; the textile trade and gold and silversmithing were exclusively Jewish professions.

The Paris-based school Alliance Israelite Universelle was opened in 1890 and ran until 1960 when it was closed after the mass immigration to Israel. By 1950 the city also had a Talmud Torah, a Youth Aliyah school, and a school for the children of Jews who had moved from villages to Tripoli. There were also Jewish children who attended Italian schools. There was also a branch of the Zionist sports and culture organization, Maccabi, which ran from 1920 until December 1953.

Until 1929, when internal conflicts prompted the Italian authorities to appoint a non-Jewish Italian official to take charge of the community's affairs, the Jewish community of Tripoli was run by a committee. Subcommittees were responsible for providing services for the poor. The community was funded through taxes on kosher meat, matzah sales, and community dues. In 1916 Zionists made up 11 of the 31 seats on the committee.

By 1931 there were 21,000 Jews living in Libya, most of whom lived in Tripoli. Their socioeconomic status was generally good until 1939 when the Fascist Italian regime began passing anti-Semitic laws. Jews were consequently fired from government jobs, Jewish students were not allowed to attend public or private Italian schools, and citizenship papers belonging to Jews were stamped with the label "Jewish race."

During World War II, the Jewish quarter in Tripoli was often used to store Italian anti-aircraft, and so was bombed by British and French forces; one attack left 30 Jewish people dead, and destroyed 4 synagogues. Jewish graves were stripped of their tombstones to provide fortifications, and the Jewish cemetery was also used for anti-aircraft positions and bombed. Nonetheless, the Jews of Tripoli were relatively fortunate. Those holding British or French citizenship were deported to the concentration camp Jado; the rest were required to supply workers for labor camps building roads and railroads. Though the living conditions in these labor camps were poor, the workers nevertheless received adequate food and medical care.

In spite of the war's hardships, in 1941 there was still a large Jewish community in Tripoli; 25% of the city's population was Jewish, and there were 44 active synagogues. In 1943, when the British liberated the city, the Jews of Tripoli numbered approximately 15,000.

The worst anti-Semitic violence in Tripoli would actually occur after World War II. In 1945, following Libyan independence, there was a pogrom in the city. During these riots 120-140 Jews were killed, hundreds more were injured, and property was looted; the British, who at that point were occupying Tripoli, were blamed for their slow response to the violence. A secret armed Jewish defense movement was formed after the pogrom. The pogrom would also set into motion the emigration of Jews from Libya.

Approximately 20,000 Jews lived in Tripoli in 1948. That year there were more anti-Jewish riots that broke out in Tripoli. This time the Jewish self-defense units, which had been organized after the previous pogrom, enabled the Jews to fight back against the Muslim rioters. In the end, 13-14 Jews and 4 Arabs were killed, 38 Jews and 51 Arabs were injured; there was also major property damage. What had been a trickle of Jewish emigration to Palestine after the riots of 1945 quickly became a flood of Jews leaving Tripoli for the new State of Israel.

According to the 1962 census, taken after the mass emigration to Israel during the late forties and early fifties, only 6,228 Jews remained in Tripoli (3% of the city's population of 19,000). The majority of Jews who remained after 1962 were wealthy merchants who were closely connected to Italy and lived there for part of the year. Further riots after the Six Day War in 1967 prompted most Jews to leave for Italy and Israel.

After Muammar Gaddafi came to power in 1969 he expelled the remaining Jews from Libya. He also confiscated all property belonging to Jews, and cancelled all debts owed to Libyan Jews. In 1970, there were only several dozen Jews living in the town. By 1974 there were no more than 20 Jews in Libya. By the end of the 20th century there were no more Jews in Tripoli; the last Jew left in Libya was granted permission to leave for Italy in 2003.


In Arabic: بنغازي‎ 

Port city in the district of Cyrenaica, Libya.

In ancient times it was called Hesperides, but was later renamed Berenice. After 74 B.C.E. it was part of Roman Cyrenaica, but according to an inscription of 13 B.C.E., found at Benghazi, the Jews of Berenice were considered citizens (as in the rest of Cyrenaica) but were ruled by their own Jewish archons and not by an Ethnarch as in other parts of the diaspora. Furthermore they are described as a "municipal community," and appear from the inscription to inscription found in 1938, gives thanks to certain donors for helping to dedicate a synagogue in Berenice in 56 B. C.E.

In both this and the previous inscription the majority of the names mentioned are non-Jewish, testifying to a fair degree of Hellenization, as in Egypt. During the revolt of the Jews of Cyrene in 115 and during the Byzantine Era the Jews of Berenice suffered the same fate as those of Cyrene in general. After the Arab conquest in 660, Berenice was mostly deserted. In the 14th century it was called by its Arabic name Benghazi. In the beginning of the 16th century, many Jews from Tripoli helped to repopulate it, earning their livelihood by trade with North Africa and the Mediterranean area, or as smiths or tailors.

Following the Turkish occupation of 1640, Jewish families from Tripoli were attracted to the city. In 1745 epidemics and poverty drove out the inhabitants, but about 1750 some members of the previous Jewish community returned and reorganized the community, which began to flourish about 1775 with the arrival of Jewish families from Italy. In the 18th and 19th centuries Benghazi had 400 Jewish families surrounding region (Kahal Benghazi) and those who were born in Tripoli and Italy. Although both groups recognized the authority of one rabbi, each had its own synagogue. The Muslim brotherhood of the Sanusiya, whose influence was considerable in the country, was well disposed toward the Jews of Benghazi. They enjoyed complete freedom and were not forced to live in a special quarter. They lived in affluence, and because of their commercial activity the town became an important trading center for Europe and Africa. Several wealthy families occupied high positions in the service of the Turkish authorities.

Among scholars of this community were Elijah Lavi (1783-1883), author of "Sefer Ge'ullot Adonai" (1864) and other works written in Hebrew or Judeo-Arabic; Moses Hakmon; and Isaac Khalfon. The Talmud Torah was organized under the leadership of Elia Juili (1890), Hai Teshuba, and many others. In 1909 when a large fire broke out in the bazaar, the Turkish soldiers who were supposed to extinguish it, looted and attacked the population, especially the Jews. Because of this, several families moved back to Tripoli. From 1911 Italian rule attracted more Jews from the interior of the country, as well as from Italy, to Benghazi, and in 1935 the Jewish population numbered 2,236.

Until 1936, life under Italian rule proceeded peacefully for the Jews. In 1936, however, the Italians began to enforce Fascist legislation. Jews were removed from municipal councils and their papers stamped with the words "Jewish race". When Benghazi fell to the British on Feb. 6, 1941, the Jews were
Overjoyed, but suffered in attacks by hostile Muslim youth when the city was recaptured by the Italians on April 3, 1941. On Dec. 24, 1941 the British retook the city but Italian-German forces once again conquered it on Jan. 27 1942. This again resulted in anti-Jewish attacks, the systematic plunder of all Jewish shops, and the promulgation of a deportation order. Almost all the Benghazi Jews were deported to Giado, 149 miles (240 km.) south of Tripoli, a camp in the desert where they were forced to perform hard labor in road construction under severe conditions. 562 of them died of starvation and typhus. The condition of the Jews in Giado improved only when the British entered the camp in January 1943. In 1945 and 1948 the community suffered anti-Jewish pogroms at the hands of Arab nationalists. Thereafter, the majority of the community of 2,500 persons immigrated to Israel. Before the six-day war of 1967, there were approximately 200 Jews left in Benghazi.

Unlike other areas of Jewish settlement in Libya, the authorities reacted fairly rapidly to protect the Jews in Benghazi. Almost immediately after word of Israel-Arab fighting came, the Jews were rounded up and put into protective custody in army barracks outside the city. Subsequent to the six-day war most of the remaining Jews in Benghazi emigrated.


Arabic: زليتن‎

A town in the Murqub District of Libya


A Jewish settlement existed in Zliten in the 2nd century, during the Roman period. It ceased to exist during the period of the Muwahidun dynasty, which persecuted the Jews during the 12th and 13th centuries the extremist Islamic dynasty in the 12th and 13th centuries and led to the destruction of the Jewish communities in North Africa. The Jewish settlement in Zliten was revived in the 16th century, after Spain occupied Tripoli in 1510 and many of Tripoli’s Jews escaped to Zliten.

More specific information about the Jews of Zliten is available from the period of the Karamanali dynasty (1711- 1835), which ruled the area under the auspices of the Ottomans. During this period Zliten’s Jews worked in the oil and date trade. Following the establishment of direct Ottoman rule in 1835, more Jews arrived at Zliten and settled in streets near the governor’s palace, outside the Muslim Quarter. Many Jews began working in the esparta (also known as halfah; a type of grass in north Africa and southern Europe) plant, which was used to manufacture paper.

The community’s income came from the taxes on kosher slaughter and kosher wine, and from money donated by those who were called up to the read the Torah. Additional income came from the annual Lag Ba-Omer celebrations around the synagogue Bu-Shaif. So many people participated in these celebrations that the community rented two buildings to accommodate visitors.

The relationship between Zliten’s Jews and their Muslim neighbors was fraught, with tensions based on religious and economic differences. The town’s Muslims strongly resented the commercial relations between the Jewish and European merchants. Meanwhile, religious tensions grew around the synagogue Salat Bu-Shaif; Salat Bu-Shaif became a pilgrimage site, and it was located near the tomb of Sidi Abd Al-Salem, a sacred site for Muslims. Tensions reached a climax when the synagogue was set on fire in 1867. A cornerstone for a new building for the synagogue was laid in the 1870s, after sustained pressure on the authorities in Istanbul.

However, the new building did not spell peaceful times for Zliten’s major synagogue. In 1897 the synagogue was looted, and in 1903 another attempt was made to set the building on fire. The synagogue was eventually burned down again, in 1915. It was rebuilt in 1918 with the help of the Italian authorities, as well as Nahum Khalafu, one of the prominent members of the Jewish community of Tripoli. Once the new synagogue building was built, the annual pilgrimage to the Bu-Shaif synagogue became an established tradition.

In 1906 Prof. Nahum Slouschz visited Zliten. He reported that the local Jews worked mostly as artisans, while the wealthier members of the community worked in trade. The head of the community during the early 20th century was Saul Shtiwi; he was assisted by a number of notable members of the community, including Shalom Zanzuri, the clerk of the managing committee. The managing committee itself was formed in the Ottoman period, and during the Italian period it consisted of five members. The last head of the community before the Italian occupation was Moshe Rubin. Rubin’s successor, Huwato Salhub, was appointed by the Italians in 1918, and he served until 1935, when he was succeeded by Hai Glam. Rabbis who served the community from the end of the Ottoman period included David Salhub, Huwato Ganish, and Jacob Kahlon. Makhluf Shakir of Msellata, was the community’s last rabbi, and served until the community dissolved.

Community institutions included two synagogues (including the Bu-Shaif synagogue), as well as a Talmud Torah that enrolled 45 students. There was also a chevra kaddisha, the Chevrat D’Rabbi Gershon; among its activities was building a wall around the Jewish cemetery in the 1930s. Charitable organizations included Ezrat Evionim, Hachnasat Kallah to provide for poor brides, and Chevrat Shirei David, a boys’ choir that sang psalms in public events that was established in the 1930s under the auspices of the Talmud Torah.

During World War I (1914-1918), Arab insurgents attacked the town and looted Jewish property. The Jews evacuated Zliten under the protection of the Italians. They remained in a camp in the suburbs of the town, and returned to their homes only after the Italians reoccupied the town in 1918. Indeed, the economic and security situation of the Jews under the Italian regime improved significantly.

Most Jews worked as traders in dates, agricultural produce, and cattle during the interwar period. Others worked as peddlers, shopkeepers, artisans, moneylenders, and landowners. Wealthy and prominent families within the community included the Tayar, Shtiwi, Kahlon, Davosh, and Ganish families.

Zionist activity began in Zliten in 1934 with the establishment of the Ben Yehuda. Ben Yehudah was influenced by the Jewish community of Tripoli, and led by Hai Glam until his appointment as the head of the community. Glam was succeeded in his role at Ben Yehuda by Saul Shtiwi. By the end of the 1930s there were about 100 young people involved in the Zionist youth movement. They studied Hebrew and were involved in Zionist activities at their club.


WORLD WAR II (1939-1945)

In 1940, all Zionist activity ceased, as a result of fascist racial laws. Though only a few Jews from Zliten were conscripted for forced labor, the town’s Jews faced a number of restrictions. Many lost their jobs, and their children were not accepted into secondary school. As a result of the discrimination that they faced, most of the Jews left Zliten in 1942. They returned in 1943, after the British occupation, and a few began serving in the British police force.

The Ben Yehuda club reopened in 1943. Its activities included a drama circle, Hebrew classes, and hosting Jewish soldiers from Israel. Eventually Ben Yehuda joined the Brit Ivrit Olamit, the World Association for Hebrew, and Hebrew textbooks began arriving from Palestine. Another club, the Hebrew scouts, was founded in 1944.


On November 5, 1945, a pogrom broke out against Jews throughout Libya, including Zliten. Though Zliten’s Jews were not physically hurt during the riots, a number of houses were looted or destroyed. In 1948, particularly after the establishment of the State of Israel, the relationship between the Jews and the local population deteriorated significantly. Most of Zliten’s Jews left for Tripoli in 1949. From there they continued to Israel, where they settled in Moshav Zeitan.



Zawiyah; in Arabic: الزاوية‎

An urban settlement on the coast of the Mediterranean, about 45 km west of Tripoli, north-west Libya.

The place is an oasis, with a rich fertile land, and it has a small port. Jews settled at the place apparently in the 17th century, following the destruction of the nearby Jewish community Sorman. At first the Jews settled at a place called Al Sharafa, which today is a suburb of Zawia. The Jews enjoyed the protection of the heads of Bedouin tribes in the area, and the relationship with the Moslems was good. With time, Zawia became the center of the Islamic scout movement in the district, and with the rise of Islamic fanaticism in the locality hostility and persecution against the Jews set-in in the 18th century.

In 1780 the old synagogue, which stood on the limit of the Jewish quarter, collapsed. The Jews began to rebuild it but the Moslems turned to Ali Pasha, the then ruler of Tripoli, and complained that the Jews were building without the necessary permit. The work stopped. In 1798 the Jews started the building of a synagogue in the house of Joseph Srur, one of the rich persons of the community. But the Moslems again approached the ruler, rioted in the Jewish quarter, destroyed what had already been built and tore the scrolls of the torah. The Jews of Zawia demonstrated in front of the ruler’s palace in Tripoli. They declared they would leave Zawia if they had no synagogue in the place. The ruler then allowed them to continue with the work. In the course of the 19th century the place calmed down and the traveller Benjamin II who visited Zawia in the 1850’s reported having found proper relationships with the Arabs and an operating synagogue . In 1879 there were again riots against the Jews. The synagogue was desecrated, scrolls of the torah were thrown out to the street and some of them were set on fire. In the 1890’s the Jews sought to build a synagogue on the site where the old synagogue, which collapsed in 1780, had stood. The fanatic Moslems again obstructed but the Jews succeeded in keeping on the reconstruction and the synagogue was completed in 1895. The Jews of Zawia now had two synagogues.

The Jews of Zawia were merchants, peddlers, and artisans. The principal families at that time were Sheleg, Arbiv, Srur, and Hayoun. More Jewish families came from neighboring communities - Djerba (Tunisia), Gharian, Amrutz, Zuara and others. The prominent families of the new-comers were Cohen, Jarbi, and Bukhritz from Djerba, Hajaj from Gharian, and Makhluf from Amrutz.

The synagogue was the centre of the community’s life. Acute disputes in the community brought about two rival factions - Mubahiriya, the northerners, and Muqabiliya, the southerners, corresponding to their place of residence. Each faction had it own shohet. At that time, Rabbi Itzhak Houri, of Djerba, was the community’s rabbi and judge. After his death in 1868 the rabbis came from outside Zawia. The rabbis until the 20th century were Rahamim Magidesh from Iffren, Khalifa Jarmun from Gharian, Khamus Hazan from Djerba, and David Cohen Jonathan from Tataouine, who held the position until 1912.

Troubles against the Jews of Zawia occurred also at the beginning of the 20th century. The researcher Nahum Slouschz who visited Zawia in 1906 reported desecrations of the Jewish cemetery and heavy taxation on the Jews. The head of the community, Farajalla Sheleg, was assassinated in that year, when leaving the synagogue. He was one of the rich men in the area and the governor of the district Jalil Bey was looked upon with suspicion. Upon the intervention of Nahum Slouschz, the authorities of Tripoli arrested the killers and removed the governor.

The Italian occupation in 1911 did not bring respite to the Jews. In 1915 Jews fled from Zawia following the events of the Arab revolt against the italians. Some of them found refuge with the Bedouin tribes. A number of Jews were caught by robbers and all of them were killed. The Sheikh Iubay Ubayda gave shelter to 30 Jewish families and provided them with food until the insurrection was suppressed. In 1923 Jews began to return to Zawia and in that year 120 Jews were living at the place.

After the revolt the community began to reform its organization and rehabilitate its economy, but the strife between the two factions continued. In 1922 Rabbi Khamus Sofer of Zarzis in south Tunisia was appointed chief rabbi. He served as rabbi and teacher until the emigration of the community to Israel in 1949. He fostered the life of the community, refurbished the Al Bahariya Synagogue, formed reading circles, a choir, and a team of teaching assistants.

During World War II (1939-1945) Zawia served as a refuge for the Jews of Tripoli, accommodated them in public buildings and even rented apartments for them from Arab residents. The chief rabbi of Zawia was exiled by the Italian authorities to his town in Tunisia.

The economic condition of the community deteriorated following the British occupation of Libya at the beginning of 1943. Many moved to Tripoli and Benghazi in search of a living. Jewish welfare organizations such as the Joint and Oze extended help and set up a soup kitchen and a clinic. Rabbi Khamus Sofer returned from exile. Both heads of the rival factions, Gavri Ezra and Saul Bukhritz, were active in the managing committee. The head of the community at that time was Rahamim Ba’adash.

The widespread pogroms against the Jews of Libya in November 1945 struck also the community of Zawia. Arab youth set fire to Jewish homes and shops and 10 Jews were murdered and 18 wounded in the course of one night. An army captain by the name of Granoth, who served in a Jewish company of volunteers from Eretz Israel in the British army, then stationed in Zawia, came out into the streets, saved many lives and attended to the wounded. As soon as the riots subsided Jewish youth of the community began looking for ways to organize illegal immigration to Eretz Israel but actually the Jews of Zawia made Aliyah to Israel only after 1949, following the arrival from Israel of the Aliyah emissary Baruch Duvdevani. By 1951 all the Jews of Zawia settled in Israel, most of them in the Moshav Alma.


In Arabic: أجدابيا‎

An oasis settlement south of Benghazi, some 25 km from the Mediterranean coast, Cyrenaica, eastern Libya.

The beginnings of the Jewish settlement at Ajdabiya coincided apparently with the emergence of Islam. In the 11th century the settlement dwindled and most of its inhabitants, including the Jews, left.

During the Italian period, beginning in 1911, a small Jewish community existed at Ajdabiya. There was a synagogue at the place, but hardly a minyan for public prayers. The Jews of Ajdabiya had come from Benghazi, in search of livelihood. In 1935 54 Jews were living at the place.

The community of Benghazi, about 100 km to the north, was the nearest to Ajdabiya, and it provided the local Jews with religious and other services. In 1932 Huri Amram was the head of the community. His two deputies were David Barda and David Zered. The local shohet (ritual slaughterer) served also as a hazzan (cantor) and teacher for the small children. The Jews of Ajdabiya were dependent on the chiefs of the tribes in the area, who granted them protection.

During World War II the Italians imposed the racist laws of Nazi Germany on the Libyan Jews, but the Jews of Ajdabiya were not particularly hurt.

After the war the local Jews moved to Benghazi and from there most of them emigrated to Israel.


Alternate name: El Merj; Arabic: المرج‎ 

A city in northeastern Libya. Marj is believed to be the site of the ancient city of Barca (alternate name: Barce).


Jewish settlement in Marj began during the 4th century BCE, during the Macedonian dynasty of Ptolemy. During the 2nd century, when the Jewish revolt broke out in Israel, most of Marj’s Jews were pushed westward. They returned to Marj in the 7th century, following the Muslim occupation, and a well-established Jewish settlement existed in Marj until the 12th century. Then, in the 16th century, Jewish exiles from Spain arrived at Cyrenaica, and some settled in Marj.

The modern Jewish community of Marj was formed only at the end of the 19th century, with most of its members arriving from Benghazi and Tripoli. Professor Nahum Slouschz visited Marj in 1906 and found 3 Jewish families who made their living as peddlers and artisans. Community institutions included a walled cemetery, which was consecrated in the 19th century.

The Jewish community expanded after 1923, following the Italian occupation of the coastal area, which prompted Jewish merchants from Benghazi to come to Marj to do business with the Italian residents. The Italians built a modern residential quarter for themselves, after which a few dozen Jewish families moved in.

Prominent families included the wholesale merchants Lavi, Na’im, Bugthus, Romano, and Lahiani. In addition to those who worked as merchants, there were also Jews who were retailers in the market, employees of the Italian hotel, and traditional craftsmen, including shoemakers, carpenters and tailors.

Until the mid-1920s, the community of Benghazi provided the Jews of Marj with religious and communal services. The managing committee of the community was composed of three members who were elected every two years from among the wealthy or notable families. At the beginning of the 1930s the head of the community was Yehezkel Romano. He was followed by Rafael Arbiv, formerly from Tripoli, who led the community until the outbreak of World War II (1939-1945). Gabriel Na’im, a wealthy merchant, led the community during the war.

The rabbis who served Marj’s Jewish community also served as the mohel for circumcisions, the kosher butcher, cantor, and melamed (children’s teacher). During the interwar period the community’s rabbis were Rabbi Joseph Hadif, a native of Marj, and Rabbi Khlafo Shtewi from Tripoli; Rabbi Shtewi served during the late 1930s, until the Italians entered the war in 1941. While the head of the community and the secretary were responsible for representing the community before the Italian authorities and the local Arab leaders, the rabbis represented the traditional Jews, who opposed modernization.

A synagogue, built in the same style as the synagogue in Benghazi, was dedicated in February 1935. A Talmud Torah was located near the synagogue, and formed the center of community life. Children attended the Italian school. The community’s income came mainly from the kosher slaughter tax, from the fees on the registration of marriages, and from funeral fees.

In addition to its religious institutions, the Jewish community of Marj was culturally active. The Shirei David society was founded in 1934 for the purpose of reviving the Hebrew language. The society opened two Hebrew and modern Hebrew culture classes, staged theatrical plays in Hebrew, and was in close contact with the Ben Yehuda movement of Tripoli. The Zionist society HaNoar HaYehudi was formed in 1935 and worked closely with the Zionist youth of Benghazi. A Jewish soccer team, Harzl, was organized toward the end of the 1930s.

In 1938 the fascist Italian authorities began enacting racial laws against the country’s Jews. Jewish officials in the Italian administration were dismissed, including the head of the community, Rafael Arbiv, the head of the community. Anti-Jewish slogans also began appearing in the streets.



After Italy entered the war, the economic situation of Libyan Jews worsened. Jews from Benghazi sought refuge in Marj, thus increasing the local Jewish population.

In April 1941, following the first retreat of British forces from the area, German and Italian youths looted four Jewish shops. The head of the community was accused of collaborating with the British; he was arrested and his property was confiscated. Another British retreat took place at the end of 1942, which further worsened the situation of Marj’s Jews. The local Arab residents attacked the Jews. Meanwhile, the Italian authorities began registering of all the Jews of Marj. Most were subsequently deported to labor camps in Jado, Gharian, and Iffren; a few rich families who had connections with the authorities escaped the deportations. However, those who remained were subject to violence by the Germans and the Arabs, and were often placed under curfew.

During the period after the Italian forces retreated, but before the British entered Marj, the Jews were still the victims of violence from their Arab neighbors. In December 1942 Arabs threw a bomb into the house of a Jewish family; a mother and her baby were killed, and a few others were injured in the attack. Though the eventual British occupation brought a certain measure of relief to the Jews of Marj, their economic condition did not improve. Additionally, the Jews who had been deported returned from the camps and found that their houses, shops, and property had been looted. All told, there were 230 Jews living in Marj during this period, half of whom were ill, poor, and in need of help.

Jewish soldiers in the British Army who were stationed around Marj began welfare assistance and educational programs for the Jews of Marj. Clandestine Zionist activity began, and study classes were established. A Hebrew school opened in the spring of 1943, taught by soldiers of the 544 R.E.M.E. Company. The school expanded, in spite of opposition from the British authorities, and it continued to function even after the British forces left the country at the end of 1944, and the Jewish soldiers were posted elsewhere.



In 1945 Libyan officials replaced the Italians, at which point the government began aligning itself with the Arab nationalist movement. Tensions between the Jews and Arabs intensified, particularly following the UN partition decision of November 1947. Marj’s local Zionist youth movement continued its activities, and the Hebrew school began a program to train its students for settlement in Israel. At the end of 1948 the Jews of Marj began immigrating to Israel via the ports of Benghazi and Tripoli, with increasing numbers leaving in the following years.  


Zuwara, Zuwarah; in Arabic: زوارة

An urban settlement in an oasis, on the Mediterranean coast, about 120 km west of Tripoli, north-western Libya.

The Jewish settlement at Zuara was revived toward the end of the 19th century. In ancient times Jews had lived in the place, but detailed information is not available. Jews came to settle at Zuara and other places along the coast following the consolidation of the Ottoman regime and the improvement in safety that followed. The main motive for their settlement in the area was economic-commercial.

In the census of 1906 40 Jewish families were counted at Zuara. The Italian occupation in 1911 and the revolt against it in 1915 caused many Jews from inland to move to the coast and some of them settled at Zuara. They made their living by supplying the local Italian garrison with food and clothing. The wealthier Jews lived at the town centre in stone houses with an internal court, the poor lived in the suburbs, in clay houses.

In 1931 621 Jews were counted at Zuara, forming 9% of the total inhabitants. Until 1939, when World War II broke out, the number of Jews at Zuara varied between 600 and 800. They made their living mainly as petty traders within the town. The big merchants, from the wealthy families like Atiya, Said, Madar, Kakhlon, had business connections as far as Tripoli and Khoms.

At the head of the community stood the wealthy families who maintained connections with the authorities and the notables of the Arab population. The position enabled them to render help and negotiate on behalf of the community. From the beginning of the 20th century until 1938 Atiya Said and Shalom Madar, sons of rich families, stood at the head of the community.

Zuara had one magnificent synagogue which was built by donations of Jews from Tripoli who had settled at Zuara. A Talmud torah functioned at the synagogue in the afternoons. From the beginning of the 1920’s the rabbi of the community was Rabbi Zion Cohen Jonathan of Djerba. His intensive activity as rabbi influenced the cultural and religious life of the community in a conservative direction. He conducted torah lessons and printed sacred books. The managing committee of the community, which assisted the rabbi, included six members of the Jews of Iffren who had escaped to Zuara in 1915 and settled down at the place. The children attended the local Italian school. The community had a mutual benevolent fund.

In 1926 Moshe Zuaretz, a Zionist emissary, the head of Degel Zion society, visited Zuara. He had then just come back from a visit to Eretz Israel and came to Zuara to relate his impressions. At the end of the gathering, money was collected for the Jewish national fund. However, the visit did not arouse any desire to emigrate to Eretz Israel. In the course of World War II (1939-1945) Zuara served as a place of refuge for the Jews of Djerba and later also for a few hundred Jews of Tripoli. The head of the community at that time, Abraham Kakhlun, sold part of his property to finance their stay in Zuara. Apart from these events, the Jews of Zuara were not affected by the racist laws which the Italian authorities imposed. Abraham Kakhlon was the head of the community from 1918 until 1948. He had good connections with the Italian authorities as well as with the British, who liberated the region in December 1942, recognized him as the head of the community and reappointed him officially.

Zionist activity at Zuara began in the course of the war. Members of Jewish volunteer companies from Eretz Israel in the British army, who were stationed in the place, helped to set up a Hebrew local school.

Following the wave of pogroms against the Jews that started in Tripoli in 1945, the Jews of Zuara began to acquire arms and set up a local branch of the Hagana. Zuara served as a transit station for groups of young Jews on their way to Eretz Israel via Tunisia. In 1949 the Jews of Zuara began to emigrate to Israel and most of them left by 1951. The community was thus liquidated.

Also known as Gharyan 

Arabic : غريان

A city in northwestern Libya


Jewish settlement in this region dates from the 16th century and includes a group of three settlements: the town Gharian, Tigrina ( 4-5km/3 miles to the south) and Beni-Abbas (14 km/9miles to the north). The first settlers were refugees from Tripoli who fled to Gharian in 1510 when the capital city was occupied by the Spanish.  

One of the most unique aspects of the Jewish community of Gharian is the fact that the Jews lived in underground caves in the mountains. These homes were dug 6 meters (about 20 feet) into the rock, and surrounded a central courtyard.  One cave was inhabited by the same family for centuries, dating from 1616. Both the Jewish and Muslim inhabitants of the region used the caves to protect themselves and their animals from Bedouin marauders, and throughout the 16th century the Gharian cave community served as a safe haven for Jews escaping from persecution; among those who fled to Gharian was a Jewish man named Hajj'aj' who fled from Oran, in Algeria, and became a respected member of the Gharian community.



During this period two synagogues were built in Tigrina, one in Beni-Abbas, and another in Gharian. Additionally, cemeteries were consecrated in all three locations. The land and the buildings were officially recognized as property of the Jewish community.

In 1837 an outbreak of the bubonic plague claimed the lives of large numbers of Jews. As a result, most of the inhabitants of Beni-Abbas abandoned their homes and moved to Tripoli, leaving only a few families in the village.

Between 1839-1855 local Muslims and Jews participated in the rebellions against the Ottoman authorities; Jewish metalworkers repaired the rebels' weapons and a local Jewish doctor treated their wounded. The rebellion was squashed by Ottoman forces in 1855, after which the Jews were pardoned and the doctor was appointed as head of the Gharian community. In addition, he became the official doctor for the Ottoman soldiers that were stationed there.

Gharian’s strategic location on a crossroads resulted in the city’s development as a commercial and administrative center. The Jewish community benefitted from the city’s increasing prominence. Many worked as tradesmen and artisans. A smaller number owned and worked plots of land, but during the latter part of the 19th century their crops were subject to high tax rates and many sought other forms of work.

In 1885 the Jews of Tigrina were permitted to build a new synagogue above the ground, in addition to the older one in the cave.

The community was governed by a committee of elders and notables who also acted as judges for minor offences (serious crimes were referred to the Ottoman governor). The governor appointed the president of the Jewish community, the sheikh, or hakham; the president acted as mediator between the Jewish community and the authorities, and was responsible for collecting the poll tax that exempted the Jews from military service.  The hakham also served as the religious leader of the community, and appointed the kosher butcher (shohet), the mohel who circumcised the baby boys, and the children’s teacher in the synagogue.

In 1906 Nahum Slouschz visited the Gharian community where he found a class of 20 children who studied reading and Bible with the teacher, Agbani Hajjaj.

In 1886 the Jewish population of the Gharian area totaled 550. Bu the turn of the century, however, the population had dropped to approximately 300.  


ITALIAN RULE (1911-1943)

Towards the beginning of Italian rule, in 1914, the Jewish population of Gharian was 300.  

Following the Italian invasion of Libya, the Muslim population revolted which led to a period of instability and suffering for the Jewish community. Because of the revolts, Italian authorities sealed off the region from the coastal area, which resulted in epidemics, famine, and draught. However, with the final consolidation of Italian control over the inland region in 1922, the Gharian community began to enjoy political stability, along with improvements in security and public services.

Italian influence of the Jewish community was minimal. Gharian’s Jews continued to live in their cave dwellings, wear traditional clothes, and center their social lives around the synagogue. Most of the adult population learnt to speak Italian only for business reasons, though many of the children were sent to Italian elementary schools where they studied the language. The resistance to learning Italian on the part of the adults was also partially economic; the Jewish community depended on the purchasing power of the local Muslims, and so preferred not to show public support for the Italians.

During the 1930s a large Italian defense force was stationed in Gharian to protect residents from Bedouin marauders; as a result, a number of Italian farmers settled in the region. These newcomers provided an additional source of income for the local Jewish tradesman and craftsmen, who opened new shops and workshops.

Berchani Zigadon served as the hakham during this period, and functioned as the head of the community until the British conquest in 1943. Though his role as a mediator between the Jewish community and the authorities was minimal, since the rights of the Jewish community were recognized by law, he was wealthy and popular and was therefore accorded the respect of a community leader. Zigadon encouraged members of the community to study in yeshivas in Tripoli in order to become qualified to act as kosher butchers and mohels for circumcisions. He also provided the community’s children with a teacher, who taught daily.  

Gharian’s adult male population had a basic Jewish religious education. The synagogue contained 32 Torah scrolls in 1923, which were written by religious scribes from Tripoli or other distant communities. Printed Jewish books were also brought in from Tripoli, Djerba, or Livorno, in Italy. Towards the end of the 1930s, many of the community’s leaders began to embrace Zionism, and books were sent from Palestine to teach Hebrew in the synagogue school.

In 1936 the Jewish population of Gharian was 419. In 1943 it was 520 (approximately 1% of total population of the Gharian region).


WORLD WAR II (1939-1945)

After Italy allied with the German forces in 1940, discriminatory racial laws began to be enforced in Libya, and many Libyan Jews were imprisoned in forced labor camps. The largest of these camps was Giado, where many Jews from Tripoli and Cyrenaica were held as prisoners, while several hundred were taken to camps in Gharian and Tigrinna due to lack of space in Giado. Additionally, a garrison of General Erwin Rommel's Africa Corps was stationed in Gharian.

Beginning in 1942 a number of Jews fled to Gharian in order to escape the Allied bombing of Tripoli as the war against Germany in North Africa progressed. The Jewish population of Gharian reached 520 in 1943. These Tripolitanian Jews brought Torah scrolls and other religious objects with them. The Gharian community gave them shelter in the caves, and also tried to provide food for Jewish prisoners in labor camps.


BRITISH RULE (1943-1952)

In January 1943 British forces reached Gharian and released the Jewish Cyrenaican prisoners from Giado. After providing them with food, the former prisoners were gradually returned to their homes in Benghazi and the surrounding area.

The British authorities pressured Zigadon, who was, by then, elderly, to appoint a successor. The community’s next hakham was Khlafu Huga Hassan, who held the position until the exodus of the community to Israel. Relations between the Jews, the Muslims, and the British authorities were very tense as a result of the violence in Palestine, and Khlafu was required to exercise diplomacy to the best of his ability in order to protect the Jewish population. He managed to forge good relationships with the British by entertaining soldiers in his restaurant, and his economic status enabled him to provide supplies to the British authorities.

During the violent riots that erupted in 1945 against Jewish communities throughout Libya, Khlafu succeeded in preventing loss of life in Gharian. On the night of November 7, when major pogroms broke out, Jewish property was vandalized and burned, but many of Gharian’s Jews were able to find refuge in the home of the local Muslim sheikh.

After Israel declared statehood in 1948, the vast majority of Libya’s Jews, including those from Gharian, left for Tripoli en route to Israel.  



Ifrin, Jefren, Yifran, Ifrane; in Arabic: يفرن‎ 

The core of a number of Jewish mountain settlements in the Tripolitanian highlands, Jabl Nefusa plateau, about 170 km south-west of Tripoli, north-west Libya.

In the past a dense Jewish settlement existed in the Jabl Nefusa Plateau, one of the oldest in Tripolitania. According to their tradition, the Jews had come to the region after the destruction of the Second Temple. In the 4th and 6th centuries Jews from the coastal towns arrived and settled at Iffren following oppressions. Later, Judaism spread among the Berber tribes in the area owing to their special relationships with the Jews. In the 16th century most of the ancient Jewish settlements disappeared, leaving only ruins of synagogues and inscriptions on gravestones. Three settlements however remained, all in the region of Iffren: El-Me’aniyin, El Qsir, and Disir. In these settlements, stone buildings were densely built on the steep slopes, which prevented easy approach and thus provided some protection. Under the Ottoman occupation (1835-1911) safety in the mountain region improved, and the Jews enjoyed economic well-being. They played a central role in the trade with places across
the Sahara and with central Africa, particularly in spices, coffee, tea, honey, perfumes, sugar and tobacco. The majority of the Jews were peddlers who handled groceries, jewelry and embroideries of the Jewish women. The wandering Jewish peddlers enjoyed the protection of the Berbers. The women extracted olive oil, weaved carpets, knitted woolens, and made wine and spirits from figs. Many Jews were expert in slaughtering animals also for the Moslems, and some specialized in natural medicine. The first estimate of the number of Jews in the three settlements, 100 in all, is of the year 1851. In 1886 the figure was 785 and rose again to 1,000 in 1902. The number in 1917 was 900. In 1931 the number diminished to 302 and in 1944 it was 400 Jews in the three settlements.

The Jews and the Berbers lived in the same quarters. The houses had no windows and olive branches covered the arched ceilings. At the head of the Jewish community stood the president, who was also called sheikh. He was responsible for collecting the poll tax for the authorities. During the period of the revolts against the Ottomans (1837-1856) the Jewish doctor Atiya was the president. Khalifa Amar was the president of the village Disir. The Jewish sheikh in 1850 was Rabbi Itzhak Ma’adina. At the time of Nahum Slouschz’s visit in 1906, Rabbi Jacob Magidish was the hakham bashi (chief rabbi). Each of the three communities had a community fund, whose income came from donations. The funds kept the synagogues and the religious functionaries. Iffren had a number of synagogues, some of them ancient. The oldest and most famous was El-Gariba, named after the synagogue at the island of Djerba. This synagogue was inside a dug cave at El-Me’aniyim and in 1742 it was rebuilt above ground. In 1858 the structure was enlarged. The income from an olive grove next to it served to maintain the synagogue. Another synagogue was built in 1714 at disir by Moshe ben Shimon. Some of the Jews of El-Me’aniyin came from a Jewish village called Taqerbos that was abandoned in 1850, but they continued to hold their public prayers at their old synagogue in Taqerbos. The synagogue at El-Qsir was built only in 1904 and until then the local Jews used to go to El-Me’aniyin for praying.

When the Italians occupied the region (1911) many Jews escaped to the coastal region, especially to Zuara, and never returned to Iffren. Those who stayed continued in their traditional way of life and did not learn Italian. Most of them made their living as before, as traders and craftsmen. Thanks to the improvement in security, there were Jews who bought lands and grew olives and wheat.

In the course of World War II (1939-1945) many of the Jews of Tripoli escaped to the mountains and some reached also Iffren. The italians set up in the area a small detention camp, where Jews from Cyrenaica were held. In 1943 the camp was vacated and until the pogroms of 1945 the local Jews continued their former style of life. Following the pogroms the Jews of Jabl Iffren left their homes and moved to Zuara, Gharian and Tripoli, and from there emigrated to Israel after 1949.

Also known as Al Khums

Arabic: الخمس‎

A city on the Mediterranean coast in the province of Tripolitania, northwest Libya


Khoms is located near the ruins of the Roman town Lebda (formerly the Phoenician Leptis Magna), a port that served the entire region. The Jews came to settle in Lebda from Israel, Mesopotamia, and Alexandria during the post-Second Temple Period. Additionally, the Roman emperor Septimus Severus (193-211) brought Jews to Lebda from Tripoli and allowed them to hold important positions there. A well-developed Jewish settlement is recorded during the Roman period, beginning in the 2nd century.

Lebda’s Jewish settlement continued to flourish during the period of Muslim occupation, and through the 11th and 12th centuries there were wealthy Jews who traded across the Sahara. In records found in the Cairo Genizah, Jewish merchants, mainly from Lebda, are mentioned, and referred to as Al-Labadi. The Jewish settlement of Lebda ceased to exist at the end of the 12th century, possibly as a result of persecutions by the rulers of the Al-Muwahidun dynasty.

Another Jewish settlement was established at the end of the 18th century, this time in Khoms. Jewish merchants, mostly from Tripoli, settled there and renewed the local trade in the halfa (esparto) plant. Muslims cultivated the plant inland, while the Jews arranged for it to be delivered to Khoms, where they processed and exported it, mostly to Britain, for the paper industry.

Following the 1835 Ottoman occupation, Jewish settlement was revived in a number of places throughout Libya, and the Jewish community of Khoms became well known in the second half of the 19th century for its economic activity. Most of the Jews who had arrived from Tripoli in search of better economic opportunities became successful merchants. In fact, local trade was dominated by the Jews, and on Shabbat all economic activity ceased. Jews were also engaged in traditional crafts, and some worked as blacksmiths, tinsmiths, silversmiths, goldsmiths, tailors, cobblers, and carpenters.

The community had one small synagogue in the attic of a rented Muslim house. At the end of the 19th century Mas’ud Nahum led the building of a new synagogue, which was completed in 1905 by his brother Raphael Nahum. The new synagogue was richly decorated, with marble floors and columns, and the Ark was carved in wood by master craftsmen from Malta. The building also included a study room and a guest room for visitors from Israel. Additional community resources and institutions included a cemetery, which was consecrated at the beginning of the 19th century, and a charity organization that functioned under the auspices of the Bikkur Holim Society.

In 1886 there were 150 Jews living in Khoms. By 1902 that number had grown to 300.

The community flourished during the Italian occupation (1911), particularly after two businesses for processing the halfa plant were established by two Jews from the Nahum and Hasan families. One Jewish family, the Dgedegs, worked in farming.

Prominent members of the community appointed a committee that managed the community’s affairs. In 1906 the head of the committee was Khamus Mimon, who held the title of Hakham Bashi (chief rabbi). During the period between the two World Wars the heads of the managing committee were Emilio Baranes, Saul Mimon, and Shimon Hasan.

The community’s income came from the tax on kosher slaughter, donations, contributions from people called up for the reading of the Torah, and from a tax on imported merchandise (a special Khoms tax).

Khoms’ Jewish community employed a rabbi, a shohet (kosher butcher), a hazzan (cantor) and a melamed (teacher of children). In 1928 Rabbi Frija Zuertz was sent to Khoms from Tripoli to serve as the community’s rabbi and Hebrew teacher. He occupied the post for twenty years, and was very influential on the Jewish education in Khoms.

Among Rabbi Zuertz’s activities was initiating Zionist activities in Khoms at the beginning of the 1920s. Susu (Joseph) Baranes became the local representative of the Jewish National Fund, and in 1926 Moshe Zuertz came from Tripoli to Khoms to raise money for JNF. In 1934 Rabbi Zuertz established a local branch of Ben Yehuda in order to spread knowledge of Hebrew and information about Palestine. Ben Yehuda operated out of Khamus Mimon’s house, and the club held evening classes, holiday parties, and theatrical performances—Rabbi Zuertz himself wrote some plays for the club’s drama circle. A local branch of Gedud Meginei Ha-Safah (Hebrew Language Protection Legion) was founded in 1936.

During the 1930s the Italian authorities began placing increasing restrictions on the Jewish population. The authorities decreed that shops were required to be open on the Sabbath, and attempted to restrict the teaching of Hebrew.

WORLD WAR II (1939-1945)

Khoms’ rabbi was imprisoned following the outbreak of World War II. The bombing of Tripoli and the surrounding areas led to a food shortage, and the Italian authorities instituted rationing. The community’s managing committee extended help to the poor.

The Italians issued a decree in June 1942 conscripting Jewish men for forced labor. Several dozen men were taken from Khoms to the Sidi Azaz camp, which was located about 6 miles (10 km) south, for work connected with the war.

Once the British occupied Khoms the socioeconomic situation of the Jews improved. A Jewish unit of the British Army from Palestine was stationed at Khoms, and its soldiers became involved with the community, including courses to study English.

In 1945 anti-Jewish riots broke out in Tripoli. Fearing that the riots would spread to Khoms, the Torah scrolls were moved from the synagogue and hidden in a church.



The situation of Khoms’ Jewish community deteriorated after the war. Most of the Jews immigrated to Israel between 1950 and 1951.




A city in the Misrata District in northwestern Libya.