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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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Conclusion The revitalization of Beirut in the nineteenth and early twentieth cen- turies led to the emergence of a distinct—Levantine—type of a Jewish community there. In its modern form, the Jewish community of Beirut resulted from a complex process involving an array of economic, so- cial, political, and ideological factors. Contemporary scholarship has emphasized the roles of both the Ottoman tanzimat and numerous Eu- ropean organizations in the modernization of Jewish society in the Middle East. This study emphasizes the influence of urban change on the development of Beirut’s Jewish community. Indeed, the Ottoman State and European powers played important parts in the revitaliza- tion of Levantine port cities; some major port city characteristics, however, fell outside their control. For example, although diversity comprised a central characteristic of Levantine port cities, it did not result from any intentional policy of the Ottoman State or, for that matter, any European state. More than anything else, it developed as a social condition forced on the city’s inhabitants, one caused by com- plex economic, social, and political developments. The Jewish community of Beirut was formed within this socially and culturally diverse urban setting which it clearly mirrors. In the field of education, for example, Beiruti Jews had four different for- mats from which to choose: traditional (heder), Jewish-national (Tal- mud-Torah), Jewish secular (the Alliance), and various Christian al- ternatives that appealed to local Jews. Since Beirut did not have a Jew- ish high school, students who wished to continue their studies...

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