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The Jews of Beirut

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


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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3 Competing Ideologies 123


CHAPTER THREE Competing Ideologies During the interwar period, the stratification of the community struc- ture became one of the main factors characterizing the modernization process of Middle Eastern Jews. Various associations and local branches of international Jewish organizations emerged as providers of ideologies, reforms, and political or cultural activity. After the Young Turk Revolution, these groups evolved as “opinion groups”— each trying to increase its influence in the community and direct the community according to its ideology and values. In other words, the Jewish community served as the arena where various “opinion groups”—each representing a different Jewish-reformist current— competed for political power and influence within the community. Esther Benbassa examines this process in Istanbul’s Jewish com- munity between 1908 and 1920, a period of vibrant and overt political activity of Ottoman Jewry. She focuses on three major “opinion groups” in the Jewish community: the Alliance, the Chief Rabbinate, and the Zionists. To protect and secure its educational work, the Alli- ance relied on the support of both the chief rabbi and the Westernized Jewish elite. Through enlightenment and education, the Alliance sought to ‘regenerate’ the Jewish masses. It advocated the emancipa- tion of Jews in Ottoman society and encouraged the learning of Turk- ish as a vehicle of integration. Furthermore, it contributed to the crea- tion of a French-speaking middle class, which would join forces with the local Jewish bourgeoisie. However, the Alliance’s ideology of emancipation did not appeal to the Jewish masses, who were only partially Westernized. In...

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