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  • "When Time Stopped":Ishaq Bar-Moshe as Arab-Jewish Writer in Israel
  • Reuven Snir (bio)

In the sixth century, when Arabic reached its full development with the appearance of poetry of high standing, Jewish communities were flourishing throughout the Arabian Peninsula. Jews as an integral part of Arab society participated in the making of the local culture, and Arab-Jewish tribes had distinguished poets. One such poet, al-Samaw'al ibn 'Adiya', even became proverbial for personal integrity and has been commemorated by the saying awfa min al- Samaw'al (more loyal than al-Samaw'al).1 After the emergence of Islam, Jews (together with Christians) became protégés of the new community as Ahl al-Dhimma (People of the Pact). Deeply influenced by the emerging Islamic culture, they gradually became thoroughly Arabicized; the great majority of them adopted Arabic as their language— by the tenth century, the Jews from Spain to Iraq were speaking Arabic. Between the eleventh and the thirteenth centuries, Jews in al-Andalus became so integrated into Arab culture that many of them were able to achieve widespread recognition for their Arabic poetry. The most outstanding representative of this elite class was Ibrahim ibn Sahl al- Ishbili al-Isra'ili (1208–59), who became famous for his panegyrics and love poems.2

In the modern period, Jews were nowhere as open to participation in the wider modern Arab culture as in Iraq, where the Jewish community lived without interruption for two and a half millennia. Out of a desire [End Page 102] to integrate into the surrounding society as Arabs of the Jewish faith, Iraqi Jews in the first half of the twentieth century had great motivation to show extensive activity in local society; Arabic language and its culture, according to writer and physician Salman Darwish (1910–82), "have penetrated to our own blood."3 More than once the fluent Arabic style of the Jews was deemed superior to the average among their non- Jewish counterparts.4 From the Syrian educator 'Ali al-Tantawi (1909– 99), who taught in Baghdad in the 1930s, we learn that even a decision to integrate instruction in literature with instruction in Muslim religion did not prevent the Jews' excelling in the new curriculum.5 The Jewish intellectuals' cultural vision was inspired by the eloquent dictum "Religion is for God, the Fatherland is for everyone";6 the reality in which they lived and worked was one of close contact with the wider Arab Muslim culture. On July 18, 1921, one month before his coronation as the king of Iraq, the Amir Faysal (1883–1933) declared before the Jewish community leaders that "there is no distinction between Muslim, Christian, and Jew."7 As an organic and vital part of Iraqi society, the Jews were numbered among the front ranks of the intelligentsia. Pioneers of modernization and Westernization, they even participated in the national Arab movement,8 all in the belief that the Jewish community in Iraq would endure "to the days of the Messiah."9

Jewish writing in literary standard Arabic (fusha) began in the first decade of the twentieth century, predominantly in journalism, which developed as a result both of the liberalization in the Ottoman Empire after the revolution of July 1908 and of secularization and modern education. Arabic belles lettres flourished from the beginning of the 1920s among the Jews.10 Their works—"Arabic in essence and expression"11— quickly became part of the mainstream of modern Arabic literature and gained the recognition of writers and scholars.

Following the escalation of the national conflict in Palestine, the distinctions made by early Arab nationalists between the Jewish religion and political Zionism began to blur, especially after 1936, with the infiltration of Nazi propaganda and when Iraqi support for the Palestinians coalesced with pan-Arab foreign policy. In June 1941, following the attempted coup d'état by the pro-Nazi Rashid 'Ali al-Kaylani (1892–1965), they were victims of the Farhud (pogrom), when more than 150 of them were killed in Baghdad and Jewish property was looted.12 Following the obfuscation of their role in Iraqi society by implying doubts about their loyalty, and as their life became increasingly intolerable...


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