The intellectual leadership of the Baghdadi Jewish diaspora has been prolific, publishing reams of texts in printing houses from Italy to China. The major centers of activity included Baghdad itself as well as Jerusalem, Calcutta, Bombay, and Shanghai; and a large amount of Iraqi Jewish publications were sent to the Sephardi presses at Leghorn. This page aims to showcase some of their work to help preserve and celebrate our heritage.
Rabbi Yosef Haim of Baghdad is popularly known by the title of his most famous work, the “Ben Ish Hai.” From the age of 25, he was a significant figure in the private rabbinate of Iraq, publishing prolifically and weighing in on the issues of his day but without being employed by the formally organized Jewish community. He is Kahal Joseph’s preferred legal decisor, and the list below captures only part of his vast intellectual legacy:
Rabbi Hussein was a legal decisor, liturgical poet, journalist, translator, and printing house owner who was one of the outstanding Babylonian rabbis in the second half of the 19th century.
He founded his Hebrew press in Baghdad in 1867 and published several works of Iraqi Jewish liturgy and ethical literature. Several of them are available for free download at Hebrewbooks.org
As the title indicates, this 32-page pamphlet is devoted to “Publicizing the Miracle” of Hanukkah, which is the primary mitsva of the holiday and the reason we light candles each night. Written for an audience that used Judeo-Arabic as its language of daily life, it presents the blessings for lighting the Menorah in Hebrew and Arabic, alongside an Arabic treatise of 138 rules and customs for the holiday as practiced by Iraqi Jews.
Dating the book from the title page is misleading because the phrase meant to show the year of publication, “Terahem Tsiyon,” produces the impossible result of 2044. However, the colophon was written on Hanukkah in 1887, which means that only the word “Terahem” contributes to the calculus of the year.
On Parashiyot Shemot and Bo each year, Iraqi Jews read a Haftara that is different from the custom of most of the rest of the Jewish community. These Haftarot are known so little that they are not even mentioned in most Humashim, including the ones we have at Kahal Joseph. Our custom of passing them out on special sheets has been a tradition of Babylonian Jewry for more than 100 years. We are pleased to make this text available for download, along with another Haftara pamphlet from the Iraqi tradition for Tisha Be’av:
This Babylonian-rite Haggada was published in Hebrew with Arabic and English translations by the ancestor of Ronald Einy, our past synagogue president (2011-2017). By presenting it in these three languages, the author felt that it would be guaranteed to be understood by all Baghdadi Jews living in his day. Editing the text from his home base in Calcutta, he sent it to Jerusalem for publication, possibly as a nod of piety to the Holy City.
Click HERE to download the entire text. Note the special additions of the Babylonian rite, as well as the parenthetical notations in Birkat Hamazon which women are instructed to skip.
Rabbi Einy also published a booklet of Rosh Hashana Simanim with a separate treatise on Haftarot
This book represents the beautifully detailed art and other items donated at Kahal Joseph.