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The Jews of Beirut

The Rise of a Levantine Community, 1860s-1930s

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Tomer Levi

The Jews of Beirut: The Rise of a Levantine Community, 1860s-1930s is the first study to investigate the emergence of an organized and vibrant Jewish community in Beirut in the late Ottoman and French period. Viewed in the context of port city revival, the author explores how and why the Jewish community changed during this time in its social cohesion, organizational structure, and ideological affiliations. Tomer Levi defines the Jewish community as a «Levantine» creation of late-nineteenth-century port city revival, characterized by cultural and social diversity, centralized administration, efficient organization, and a merchant class engaged in commerce and philanthropy. In addition, the author shows how the position of the Jewish community in the unique multi-community structure of Lebanese society affected internal developments within the Jewish community.

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Introduction 1

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1 rut in passing.39 A notable exception is Luc-Henri de Bar’s work on the religious communities of Lebanon.40 The author includes a seven- page chapter consisting of a historical survey of the Jewish communi- ty of Beirut from antiquity to modern times. While this chapter re- veals some new information otherwise unreported, it is also limited in its scope and lacking in its conceptual quality. In conclusion, the literature examines the Jews of Lebanon within a primarily political context, resulting in a highly imbalanced histori- ography. The literature ignores fundamental issues such as the influ- ence of social and cultural forces in late Ottoman Beirut on the Jewish community, the Jewish community’s organization, and the develop- ment of its institutions. No study to date has tried to examine the his- toric development of the Jewish community and its institutions. As a result, the current literature is rife with historic distortions. For exam- ple, we read the following assertion: “During the time of the French mandate, life for the Jewish community was culturally vibrant. Many of the community structures were laid down during this time, such as the committees, the community council, and some of the charities.”41 However, upon examining the process of communal organization, our study demonstrates that the founding of fundamental community structures—and the community council in particular—occurred be- tween 1908 and 1914, during the Ottoman period—not during the French period. This study makes a major contribution to the history of Beirut’s Jewish community during...

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