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Crowd on the Dock at the Port, Alexandria, Egypt, 1936
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Crowd on the Dock at the Port, Alexandria, Egypt, 1936

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Crowd on the dock at the port, Alexandria, Egypt 1936. Photo: Rolf M. Kneller
The Oster Visual Documentation Center, ANU - Museum of the Jewish People, Kneller collection.

Photo period:
1936
Photo period:
1936
Photo period:
1936
Photo period:
1936
Photo period:
1936
Photo period:
1936
Photo period:
1936
Photo period:
1936
Photo period:
1936
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18867310
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Alexandria

Alexandria, الإسكندرية  - Al Iskandariyah, in Arabic

A city on the Mediterranean sea, northern Egypt.

Jews settled in Alexandria at the beginning of the third century b.c.e. (according to Josephus, already in the time of Alexander the great). Synagogues existed in every part of the city. The Jews of Alexandria engaged in various crafts and in commerce. They included some who were extremely wealthy (moneylenders, merchants, alabarchs), but the majority were artisans. From the legal aspect, the Jews formed an autonomous community at whose head stood at first its respected leaders, afterward - the Ethnarchs, and from the days of Augustus, a council of 71 elders. The Jews energetically began to seek citizenship rights, for only thus could they attain to the status of the privileged Greeks. The Alexandrians vehemently opposed the entry of the Jews into the ranks of the citizens. In 38 c.e., during the reign of Caligula, serious riots broke out against the Jews; anti-Semitic propaganda had paved the way for them. In 66 c.e., influenced by the outbreak of the war in Eretz Israel, the Jews of Alexandria rebelled against Rome. The revolt was crushed by Tiberius Julius Alexander and 50,000 rebellion of Jews in the Roman empire in 115-117 c.e. the Jews of Alexandria again suffered, the great synagogue going up in flames.

The Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria were familiar with the works of the ancient Greek poets and philosophers and acknowledged their universal appeal. They gave Judaism an interpretation of their own, turning the Jewish concept of God into an abstraction and his relationship to the world into a subject of metaphysical speculation. Alexandrian Jewish philosophers stressed the universal aspects of Jewish law and the prophets, de-emphasized the national Jewish aspects of Jewish religion, and sought to provide rational motives for Jewish religious practice. The basis of Jewish-Hellenistic literature was the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the bible, which was to become a cornerstone of a new world culture. The apologetic tendency of Jewish-Hellenism is clearly discernible in the Septuagint. Alexandrian Jewish literature sought to express the concepts of the Jewish-Hellenistic culture and to propagate these concepts among Jews and gentiles. Among these Jewish writers there were poets, playwrights, and historians; but it was the philosophers who made a lasting contribution. Philo of Alexandria was the greatest among them.

By the beginning of the Byzantine era, the Jewish population had again increased, but suffered from the persecutions of the Christian church. In 414 in the days of the patriarch Cyril, the Jews were expelled from the city but appear to have returned after some time since it contained an appreciable Jewish population when it was conquered by the Muslims.

According to Arabic sources, there were about 40,000 Jews in Alexandria at the time of its conquest by the Arabs (642), but 70,000 had left during the siege. These figures are certainly exaggerated, but they indicate that in the seventh century there was still a large Jewish community.

In this period the community of Alexandria maintained close relations with the Jews of Cairo and other cities of Egypt, to whom they applied frequently for help in ransoming Jews captured by pirates.

Under the rule of the Mamluk sultans (1250-1517), the Jewish population of Alexandria declined further, as did the general population. Meshullam of Volterra, who visited it in 1481, found 60 Jewish families, but reported that the old men remembered the time when the community numbered 4,000. Although this figure is doubtless an exaggeration, it nevertheless testifies to the numerical decrease of the community in the later middle ages. In 1488 Obadiah of Bertinoro found 25 Jewish families in Alexandria. Many Spanish exiles, including merchants, scholars, and rabbis settled there in the 14th-15th centuries. The historian Sambari (17th century) mentions among the rabbis of Alexandria at the end of the 16th century Moses Ben Sason, Joseph Sagish, and Baruch Ben Chabib. With the spread of the plague in 1602 most of the Jews left and did not return. In 1700 Jewish fishermen from Rosetta (Rashid), moved to Alexandria and formed a Jewish quarter near the seashore.

This Jewish quarter was destroyed by an earthquake. At the end of the 18th century the community was very small and it suffered greatly during the French conquest. Napoleon imposed heavy fines on the Jews and ordered the ancient synagogue, associated with the prophet Elijah, to be destroyed. In the first half of the 19th century under the rule of Muhammad Ali there was a new period of prosperity.

The development of commerce brought great wealth to the Jews, as to the other merchants in the town. The community was reorganized and established schools, hospitals, and various associations. During World War I many Jews from Palestine who were not Ottoman citizens were exiled to Alexandria. In 1915 their leaders decided, under the influence of Jabotinsky and trumpeldor, to form Jewish batallions to fight on the side of the allies; the Zion Mule Corps was also organized in Alexandria.

In 1937, 24,690 Jews were living in Alexandria and in 1947, 21,128. The latter figure included 243 Karaites, who, unlike those of Cairo, were members of the Jewish community council. According to the 1947 census, 59.1% of Alexandrian Jews were merchants, and 18.5% were artisans. Upon the outbreak of the Israel war of independence in 1948, several Jews were placed in detention camps, such as that at Abukir. Most of the detainees were released before 1950. There were several assaults on the Jewish community by the local population, including the throwing of a bomb into a synagogue in July 1951. With Nasser's accession to power in February 1954, many Jews were arrested on charges of Zionism, communism, and currency smuggling. After the Sinai campaign (1956), thousands of Jews were banished from the city, while others left voluntarily when the Alexandrian stock exchange ceased to function. The 1960 census showed that only 2,760 Jews remained. After the Six-Day War of 1967, about 350 Jews, including chief Rabbi Nafusi, were interned in the Abu Za'bal detention camp, known for its severe conditions. Some of them were released before the end of 1967. The numbers dwindled rapidly and by 1970 very few remained.

The first Hebrew press of Alexandria was founded in 1862 by Solomon Ottolenghi from Leghorn. In its first year it printed three books. A second attempt to found a Hebrew press in Alexandria was made in 1865. Nathan Amram, chief Rabbi of Alexandria, brought two printers from Jerusalem, Michael Cohen and Joel Moses Salomon, to print his own works. However, these printers only produced two books, returning to Jerusalem when the second was only half finished. A more successful Hebrew press was established in 1873 by Faraj Chayyim Mizrachi, who came from Persia; his press continued to operate until his death in 1913. A total of over 100 books for Jews were printed in Alexandria, most of them in Hebrew, the others in Judaic-Arabic and Ladino. Most of them were works by eminent Egyptian rabbis, prayer books, and textbooks.

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Crowd on the Dock at the Port, Alexandria, Egypt, 1936

Crowd on the dock at the port, Alexandria, Egypt 1936. Photo: Rolf M. Kneller
The Oster Visual Documentation Center, ANU - Museum of the Jewish People, Kneller collection.

Image Purchase: For more details about image purchasing Click here, make sure you have the photo ID number (as appear above)

Alexandria

Alexandria

Alexandria, الإسكندرية  - Al Iskandariyah, in Arabic

A city on the Mediterranean sea, northern Egypt.

Jews settled in Alexandria at the beginning of the third century b.c.e. (according to Josephus, already in the time of Alexander the great). Synagogues existed in every part of the city. The Jews of Alexandria engaged in various crafts and in commerce. They included some who were extremely wealthy (moneylenders, merchants, alabarchs), but the majority were artisans. From the legal aspect, the Jews formed an autonomous community at whose head stood at first its respected leaders, afterward - the Ethnarchs, and from the days of Augustus, a council of 71 elders. The Jews energetically began to seek citizenship rights, for only thus could they attain to the status of the privileged Greeks. The Alexandrians vehemently opposed the entry of the Jews into the ranks of the citizens. In 38 c.e., during the reign of Caligula, serious riots broke out against the Jews; anti-Semitic propaganda had paved the way for them. In 66 c.e., influenced by the outbreak of the war in Eretz Israel, the Jews of Alexandria rebelled against Rome. The revolt was crushed by Tiberius Julius Alexander and 50,000 rebellion of Jews in the Roman empire in 115-117 c.e. the Jews of Alexandria again suffered, the great synagogue going up in flames.

The Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria were familiar with the works of the ancient Greek poets and philosophers and acknowledged their universal appeal. They gave Judaism an interpretation of their own, turning the Jewish concept of God into an abstraction and his relationship to the world into a subject of metaphysical speculation. Alexandrian Jewish philosophers stressed the universal aspects of Jewish law and the prophets, de-emphasized the national Jewish aspects of Jewish religion, and sought to provide rational motives for Jewish religious practice. The basis of Jewish-Hellenistic literature was the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the bible, which was to become a cornerstone of a new world culture. The apologetic tendency of Jewish-Hellenism is clearly discernible in the Septuagint. Alexandrian Jewish literature sought to express the concepts of the Jewish-Hellenistic culture and to propagate these concepts among Jews and gentiles. Among these Jewish writers there were poets, playwrights, and historians; but it was the philosophers who made a lasting contribution. Philo of Alexandria was the greatest among them.

By the beginning of the Byzantine era, the Jewish population had again increased, but suffered from the persecutions of the Christian church. In 414 in the days of the patriarch Cyril, the Jews were expelled from the city but appear to have returned after some time since it contained an appreciable Jewish population when it was conquered by the Muslims.

According to Arabic sources, there were about 40,000 Jews in Alexandria at the time of its conquest by the Arabs (642), but 70,000 had left during the siege. These figures are certainly exaggerated, but they indicate that in the seventh century there was still a large Jewish community.

In this period the community of Alexandria maintained close relations with the Jews of Cairo and other cities of Egypt, to whom they applied frequently for help in ransoming Jews captured by pirates.

Under the rule of the Mamluk sultans (1250-1517), the Jewish population of Alexandria declined further, as did the general population. Meshullam of Volterra, who visited it in 1481, found 60 Jewish families, but reported that the old men remembered the time when the community numbered 4,000. Although this figure is doubtless an exaggeration, it nevertheless testifies to the numerical decrease of the community in the later middle ages. In 1488 Obadiah of Bertinoro found 25 Jewish families in Alexandria. Many Spanish exiles, including merchants, scholars, and rabbis settled there in the 14th-15th centuries. The historian Sambari (17th century) mentions among the rabbis of Alexandria at the end of the 16th century Moses Ben Sason, Joseph Sagish, and Baruch Ben Chabib. With the spread of the plague in 1602 most of the Jews left and did not return. In 1700 Jewish fishermen from Rosetta (Rashid), moved to Alexandria and formed a Jewish quarter near the seashore.

This Jewish quarter was destroyed by an earthquake. At the end of the 18th century the community was very small and it suffered greatly during the French conquest. Napoleon imposed heavy fines on the Jews and ordered the ancient synagogue, associated with the prophet Elijah, to be destroyed. In the first half of the 19th century under the rule of Muhammad Ali there was a new period of prosperity.

The development of commerce brought great wealth to the Jews, as to the other merchants in the town. The community was reorganized and established schools, hospitals, and various associations. During World War I many Jews from Palestine who were not Ottoman citizens were exiled to Alexandria. In 1915 their leaders decided, under the influence of Jabotinsky and trumpeldor, to form Jewish batallions to fight on the side of the allies; the Zion Mule Corps was also organized in Alexandria.

In 1937, 24,690 Jews were living in Alexandria and in 1947, 21,128. The latter figure included 243 Karaites, who, unlike those of Cairo, were members of the Jewish community council. According to the 1947 census, 59.1% of Alexandrian Jews were merchants, and 18.5% were artisans. Upon the outbreak of the Israel war of independence in 1948, several Jews were placed in detention camps, such as that at Abukir. Most of the detainees were released before 1950. There were several assaults on the Jewish community by the local population, including the throwing of a bomb into a synagogue in July 1951. With Nasser's accession to power in February 1954, many Jews were arrested on charges of Zionism, communism, and currency smuggling. After the Sinai campaign (1956), thousands of Jews were banished from the city, while others left voluntarily when the Alexandrian stock exchange ceased to function. The 1960 census showed that only 2,760 Jews remained. After the Six-Day War of 1967, about 350 Jews, including chief Rabbi Nafusi, were interned in the Abu Za'bal detention camp, known for its severe conditions. Some of them were released before the end of 1967. The numbers dwindled rapidly and by 1970 very few remained.

The first Hebrew press of Alexandria was founded in 1862 by Solomon Ottolenghi from Leghorn. In its first year it printed three books. A second attempt to found a Hebrew press in Alexandria was made in 1865. Nathan Amram, chief Rabbi of Alexandria, brought two printers from Jerusalem, Michael Cohen and Joel Moses Salomon, to print his own works. However, these printers only produced two books, returning to Jerusalem when the second was only half finished. A more successful Hebrew press was established in 1873 by Faraj Chayyim Mizrachi, who came from Persia; his press continued to operate until his death in 1913. A total of over 100 books for Jews were printed in Alexandria, most of them in Hebrew, the others in Judaic-Arabic and Ladino. Most of them were works by eminent Egyptian rabbis, prayer books, and textbooks.