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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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4 Who Controls Jewish Education? 149


CHAPTER FOUR Who Controls Jewish Education? . . . control of the Alliance must not pass to the community council; a French institution must not become the institution of a community in the Levant. (French Official) From now on, we will have only one goal: To free ourselves from the yoke of your [the Alliance] society. (Kemal Helwani as cited by Sidi) In January 1927, the Jewish newspaper Al-‛Alam al-Isra'ili (The Jewish World) published a piece entitled, “Union and Merger between the Alliance Schools and Selim Tarrab School.”1 Its writer questioned the need for the community’s Talmud-Torah school, which provided free education to poor children. The school had become, he argued, a heavy financial burden on the community budget. The community council had made great efforts to finance the school. Therefore, the Alliance had agreed to admit poor students in return for a small fee that the community would pay. The writer suggested that merging the two institutions and unifying their educational programs would release the community from its heavy financial burden. The newspaper published this piece as part of a wider debate sur- rounding the question of Jewish education that developed in the Jew- ish community throughout the 1920s. Beirut had two Jewish schools. Inspired by the revival of Jewish nationalism, the Talmud-Torah de- veloped as a Hebrew national school that emphasized Modern He- brew.2 The Alliance school, on the other hand, emphasized French language and culture. Moreover, it followed the idea that Jews should integrate with their host societies...

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