Babylonian Judaism

Doctrines Babylonian Judaism adheres to the basic tenets of the Jewish faith: belief in one creator God; belief that Israel is God's chosen people from whom the Messiah, or anointed one of God, will come to unite the Jewish people in the land of Israel; and the authority of the Torah.
From the Babylonian community came the Babylonian Talmud. This is a commentary on the Mishnah (a collection of rabbinic laws compiled in about 200 CE by Rabbi Judah). The Babylonian Talmud was edited at the end of the 5th century. Talmudic material consists of two components: Halakhah, which is concerned with legal and ritual matters, and aggadah, which is concerned with theological and ethical matters. Traditional Jews are required to observe the halakhah of the Babylonian Talmud.

History The history of the Babylonian Jews begins with the Babylonian Exile that began in the final decades of the 6th century BCE. In 588-7 Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, besieged the walls of Jerusalem, laid waste to the city and ordered the deportation of a large portion of the Jewish population to Babylon. In Babylon the Jewish deportees fared reasonably well. They retained their freedom and were allowed to pursue and develop their professions. Since they had brought with them their sacred scriptures they were able to retain their distinctive religious identity rather than experience assimilation with the surrounding population.
With the fall of the Babylonian empire to the Persian King Cyrus in 538 BCE the Jews were allowed to return to Palestine. While the thousands of Jews who returned to Palestine came back to a region utterly devastated by war, those who remained in Babylon continued to fare well under their new Persian rulers. The Jews participated fully in the business life of the Persian empire, on occasion attained high political office and, although probably without a temple as the focal point of religious life, avoided the temptation to abandon traditional Jewish belief
Difficulties emerged in the second decade of the second century of the common era when the Jews rose in Babylon rebellion against the Roman empire. Following this rebellion a more serious one led by Simeon Ben Kocheba broke out in 132 as a consequence of the decision made by Emperor Hadrian (117-138) to build a temple to Capitoline Jupiter on the site of the ruins of the second temple. When the rebellion inspired by Ben Kocheba was crushed by the Romans in 135 many Jews fled to Babylon thus revitalising the Jewish community there.
In 226 the Babylonian Jews came under the rule of Zoroastrian Persian kings of the Sassanid lineage. Conditions were from ideal for the Jews. The Jews' political rights were restricted; from time to time they were subject to persecution and prevented from practising their faith. Under King Yezdegerd (438-457) observance of the Sabbath was prohibited; under his successor Firuz (459-486) many Jews were slaughtered and the children forced to adopt Zoroastrianism. In 520 the Jewish exilarch (the leader of the Babylonian Jewish community) was put to death by crucifixion after leading an unsuccessful revolt against the Persian ruler Kobad.
Under the Muslims, who conquered Persia in 634, the situation of the Jews improved since they were regarded as people of the Book and entitled to protection within Islamic law. The Exilarch was revived and made the secular head of the Jewish community. The Jews acquired positions of influence and importance in various parts of the Muslim empire. This was particularly true of the Babylonian Jews when the capital of the Muslim caliphate was moved from Syria to Baghdad in the middle of the 8th century. However, following the divisions within the Muslim empire the middle ages many were drawn from Babylon to Ummayad Spain where they contributed significantly to the development of Spanish cultural life.
Relations between Babylonian Jews and Muslims remained relatively good until the 20th century. Following the establishment of the modern state of Iraq in 1932 discriminatory laws were implemented against the Jews. Repeated acts of persecution against the Jews in Iraq during the 1940s encouraged many to emigrate to the state of Israel following its establishment in 1948. Between 1948 and 1951 the Jewish community in Iraq dwindled from 150,000 to 6000. The inherent problems which the small residual Jewish community in Iraq faces have been exacerbated in recent years now that Israel and Iraq are officially at war with one another following the scud attacks against Israel during the Persian Gulf war of 1991.

Symbols Babylonian Jews do not identify themselves through the use of any form of distinctive symbolism. However, traditional Jewish symbols form part of their religious expression. Examples of outward symbols are the fringed garment (tzitzith), the 'phylacteries' (tefillin), and the sign on the doorpost (mezuzah). The fringed garment, which is worn inside the clothes, reminds the Jews to consecrate themselves to the service of God. The phylacteries, which are worn on the head and arm, during morning prayer contain texts from the Scriptures. The mezuzah consists of scriptural texts exhorting the Jew to love God.

Adherents There are an estimated 2,500 Jews in Iraq today (Europa Publications Ltd. I 1997,1696).

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