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Family Tree of Sasson Adjami's Family from Aleppo, Syria
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Family Tree of Sasson Adjami's Family from Aleppo, Syria

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The family tree of Sasson Adjami's family
from Aleppo, Syria.
The family tree was made by Rabbi Joseph Sasson Adjami.
Drawing by Isaac Sasson Adjami.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Isaac Sasson Adjami, Israel)
Photo period:
between 19th century and 20th century
Photo period:
between 19th century and 20th century
ID Number:
241557
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Aleppo

Arabic : Halab - ﺣﻠﺐ‎‎ -Hebrew ( Biblical) ארם צובא- Aram Zoba / Tzova .  French – Alep, Turkish  - Halep, Kurdish – Heleb. Aleppo was the name given by Italian merchants in the Middle Ages.
The largest city in Syria before the civil war (over 4 million), in 2018 second in size to Damascus.

Early  History of Jewish community

Biblical reference in the book of II Samuel (8;3-8) and Psalms 60 includes Aram Zova as part of the kingdom of the tribes of Israel.  Tradition  relates the origins of the community to King David's General, Yoav ben Seruya, from the 10th century BCE.

Jewish settlement in Aleppo is said to date back to the Roman and later Byzantine Empire in the 4th century CE . The original building of the Great Synagogue dates back to the 5th century. It was constructed  in the form of a basilica , 3 storeys high, while the earliest existing inscription on the oldest section dates from 834 CE. 

With the Arab conquest of the Middle East in 636 CE ,the Jewish community was granted autonomy in religious and judicial matters. They received military protection, but in return were required to  pay a poll tax and were considered on a lower level (dhimmis) than the ruling Moslems.

900 – 1300 CE

During this period Aleppo became well-known for its Torah scholars. Evidence is given by Sa'adiya Gaon  who visited the community in 921,  as well as from manuscripts found in the Cairo Geniza  which were attributed to Rabbi Baruch ben Isaac, community leader at the end of the 11th century.

Improved security during the rule of Nur al Din from 1146 resulted in prosperity for the community. The Spanish Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela  visited Aleppo in the 12th century and estimated the Jewish population at 5,000 during his time.  Scholars from Aleppo maintained contact with the famous Torah centre of Baghdad, and corresponded with Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Rambam). One of his disciples, Rabbi Joseph ben Yehuda Aknin ,(1160-1226) who was both a doctor and merchant in addition to his Torah scholarship, lived in Aleppo for 30 years.

In a letter to the Jews of Lunel, in the South of France , Rambam(Maimonides 1135-1204) wrote: "In all the Holy Land and in Syria, there is one city alone and it is Halab in which there are those who are truly devoted to the Jewish religion and the study of Torah."  In 1217, Judah Al-Harizi visited Aleppo and reported that there were several Jewish scholars, physicians,  as well as government officials, active there at the time.

In 1260 the city fell to the Mongols, who slaughtered the Jews, but were defeated in the same year by the Mameluks who ruled Syria for 250 years.

1300 – 1517 CE (Ottoman conquest)

During the period of Mameluk control the Jewish community suffered from discriminatory laws as non-Moslems, as well as  demands for payment of heavy taxes. In 1327 the Sultan of Cairo approved the transformation of the synagogue into a mosque. 

The siege of Aleppo in 1400 by the Timurid rulers was followed by destruction and bloodshed. The community gradually  recovered from the disaster so that by the middle of the 15th century Jewish merchants were trading with India, and Torah studies were resumed.

An event of great importance to the Aleppo Jewish community in particular, and to the Jewish world in general, relates to the Aleppo Codex (Keter Aram Zova). This special manuscript of the Bible was written in the 9th century in the land  of Israel by the scribe Shlomo ben Buya'a, and was verified, vocalized and pointed in Tiberias by  Aaron Ben Asher. It was, and still is,  considered the most authoritative Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible, and found its way to Aleppo via Egypt in the 14th century. It was closely guarded in the Ben Seruyah Synagogue for 500 years.

1517 – 1917 Ottoman Empire

Following the Ottoman conquest the Aleppo community resumed regular contacts with the Jewish centres in Constantinople and other towns in Turkey, in addition to further development of trade routes with Persia and India.

Another highly significant event which contributed to the Aleppo community was the migration of Jewish refugees who had been expelled from Spain,  and were fleeing from the Inquisition . Among these exiles   were several outstanding Rabbinical scholars, who contributed much to the spiritual and intellectual leadership of the community.  In addition, there was a marked influence of the Kabbalists of Safed. . The Jewish population according to the 1672 census stood at 385 persons, and in 1695 included 875 families.  In the year 1700 Rabbi Moses ben Raphael Harari from Saloniki became chief rabbi of Aleppo.

A second wave of migration  to the town in the early 18th century included Jewish merchants from France and Italy. They conducted trade with Southern Europe and Persia and enjoyed the protection of European consuls. The Aleppo community called them "Francos", and although they supported the communal institutions financially, the Francos refused to recognize the authority of the Aleppo  rabbinical leaders and pay taxes. This caused  considerable friction between the two groups, where the chief Rabbi of the Spanish community came into conflict with the Rabbi who supported the Francos, who wished to continue the customs brought with them from Europe. Towards the end of the century, as trade with Persia decreased, most of the Francos left the town.

Important events in the second half of the 19th  century included the opening of the two printing presses; in 1865 by Abraham Sasson and in 1887 by Isaiah Dayyan.  In 1869 and 1889 the Alliance organization opened  schools, first for boys and  then for girls, based on European teaching methods.  This period also saw increased hostility between the various religious  communities,  with three Christian blood libels against the Jews of Aleppo between 1841 and 1860, and Moslem anti-Jewish violence in  1850 and 1875.  Despite the latter events, the community grew in size during the 19th century from 3,500 in 1847 to 10,200 in 1881. The Aleppo community was larger than that of Damascus at this time.  Most of the Jews were of the middle class, with many merchants as well as doctors and religious leaders.

1900 – 1947

The turn of the century saw the seeds of nationalism in  various parts of the Ottoman Empire. In 1908 the Young Turks  seized control from the Ottomans and began conscripting Jews to the army. This resulted in  the emigration of  Syrian Jews to the USA and South America prior to World War I.(1914-1918)  During the war emigration was impossible. With the  final collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1917 , the Syrian cities of Damascus and Aleppo became part of the French Mandate. 

Aleppo's Jewish community numbered 6,000 at the end of WWI. Emigration of Jews from Syria continued until the world- economic depression of the mid -1920's .

After Syria gained independence from France in 1946, the Jewish communities suffered many attacks from the  local Arab population.  Pogroms resulted in the destruction of all the synagogues, including where the Aleppo Codex was hidden. Fortunately the community managed to save it and  smuggle it  from Syria to Israel in 1957.  Jewish shops and homes were vandalized and burned   so that approximately 6,000  of Aleppo's 10,000 Jews fled the country . Many crossed the border secretly into Turkey, some settled there while many others emigrated to the USA and Israel.

1948-1990's

 After the establishment of the State of Israel  in 1948, the Jews who remained in Syria suffered discrimination and persecution. They were not permitted to own property, travel. Those who tried to leave without permission were punished. Businessmen who received  travel permits had to leave family members in Syria.

In 1950 the Syrian authorities closed the Alliance schools, leaving open only the Talmud Torah (religious school ). This ,too, was eventually closed as the community dwindled in size.

By 1968 only 1000 Jews remained in Aleppo, living in two separate quarters of the city. Over the following 20 years  Jewish life in Syria in general, and Aleppo in particular, became impossible so that today no Jews remain. During the 1980's and 90's Syrian Jews in America bribed the Syrian government in order to smuggle family members out of the country. Many religious texts and ancient manuscripts were also smuggled out via Turkey to Israel.