Jews, Arabic-Speaking - Orientation

Identification. From the beginnings of the Diaspora until 1948, there were substantial Jewish communities throughout southwestern Asia. The Jewish communities in Arabic-speaking areas of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt, as well as those in southeastern Anatolia, were predominantly Arabic speaking, as were some Jews in pre-1948 Palestine. No single name encompasses these communities. They are ritually Sephardic. Jews in most locales have Arabic speakers of other religions as coresidents-In southeastern and south-central Anatolia, coresidents include Turks and Kurds. Formerly, there were also considerable numbers of Armenian Christians in Anatolia and Aleppo. The Jewish communities are discontinuously distributed.

Location. Arabic-speaking Jews lived in villages, towns, and cities in an area extending from Baghdad (33°20′ N, 44°30′ E) to Cairo (30°01′ N, 31°14′ E) in the west and south, and as far as Diyarbakir (37°55′ N, 40°18′ E) in the north.

Demography. Figures for the premigratton period are in dispute, but the early twentieth century was marked by lowering infant-mortality rates, and also by emigration and high death rates in the period from 1910 to 1920, owing to war, famine, and influenza. The Ottoman census in 1893 can serve as a baseline, although it may be an underestimate. Females sometimes were not counted, and the considerable number of minority members carrying foreign passports were not included with local Jews or Christians. For the Arab provinces (excluding Egypt), there were 32,867 Jews out of a total population of 1,965,085. Estimates of the numbers of Jews in Iraq, Egypt, and Syria-Lebanon total 180,000 in 1917, 261,000 in 1947, and 5,700 in 1972 (5,000 of whom were in Syria and Lebanon). After the almost total emigration from Lebanon, this population is lower today. Figures for the earlier period include the Jews of Iraqi Kurdistan and the Ashknenazic Jews in Egypt but exclude the Jews in Palestine/Israel.

Linguistic Affiliation. The traditional domestic language was Eastern Arabic. The dialects that were spoken by Jews in Syria and Egypt were urban dialects of those areas, whereas an Iraqi urban dialect was spoken in Baghdad and by eastern Anatolian Jews. The dialects spoken by the Jews were also based on Hebrew as a source of vocabulary. Because of immigration, large numbers of Jews in Egypt and Palestine were non-Arabic speakers. After 1920, Hebrew became the language of Palestinian Jewry.

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