Kurds and Jews

Jewish Communities in Kurdistan

Israel has maintained discreet military, intelligence and business ties with the Kurds since the 1960s, seeing in the minority ethnic group a buffer against shared Arab adversaries. The Kurds have seized on recent sectarian chaos in Iraq to expand their autonomous northern territory to include Kirkuk, which sits on vast oil deposits that could make the independent state many dream of economically viable. The Kurds have long held aspirations for independence, but have said seeking nationhood is not realistic at the current time. The international community, including neighboring Turkey as well as the US and other western countries, are opposed to the breakup of Iraq.
 

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After all, besides the affinity between the two nations, they have common interests in the continued existence of each other.

Relations between Israel and the Kurds have been complex. To unravel them, it is necessary to differentiate between several aspects: people to people versus official relations; relations between the Kurds of Iraq and those of Turkey; and between secret and open relations.

A comparison between Jews and Kurds shows many similarities. Both are relatively small nations (15 million Jews and 30 million Kurds), traumatized by persecutions and wars. Both have been leading life and death struggles to preserve their unique identity, and both have been delegitimized and denied the right to a state of their own. In addition, both are ethnically different from neighboring Arabs, Persians, and Turks, who represent the majority in the Middle East. Interestingly, recent research has shown that genetic connections between Jews and Kurds are more pronounced than those between Jews and Arabs.[4] This echoes the famous legend about the origins of the Kurds. In this telling, King Solomon, who ruled over the supernatural world, called his angelic servants and ordered them to fly to Europe and bring him five hundred beautiful women. When his servants returned, they learned that the king had passed away, but they retained the women for themselves, who

then gave the birth to the Kurdish nation. Whatever the case, similarities have brought about certain affinities between the two peoples.

By DENNIS WASKO

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Between the Babylonian and the Kurdistan Jews
Evolution of a Genetic Disease in an Ethnic Isolate
Genetic evidence links Jews to their ancient tribe
History of Judaism in Kurdistan
Israel and the Kurds
Jews as part of the genetic landscape of the Middle East
Kulano – Jews of Kurdistan
Kurdish Jewry – Hebrew
Kurds and Jews: Language and Contact 
Nash Didan Community
Saved by “Operation Ali Baba”
The Genetic Bonds Between Kurds and Jews
The Jews of Kurdistan
The Jews of Kurdistan Daily Life, Customs, Arts and Crafts The Kurds and Islam

Kurdish Jews have a long history filled with ups and downs, Chef Dennis Wasko retells their story as well as explores their unique cuisine.   >>>


Jews remained a populous group in Kurdistan until the middle of the present century and the creation of the state of Israel. At home and in the synagogues, Kurdish Jews speak a form of ancient Aramaic … and in commerce and the larger society they speak Kurdish. Many aspects of Kurdish and Jewish life and culture have become so intertwined that some of the most popular folk stories accounting for Kurdish ethnic origins connect them with the Jews. Some maintain that the Kurds sprang from one of the lost tribes of Israel, while others assert that the Kurds emerged through an episode involving King Solomon and the genies under his command (see Folklore & Folk Tales).Hajj Khalil is the last Muslim with Jewish roots in the Iraqi Kurdish village of Akre. One of his dearest wishes is to travel to Israel to apologise to his cousins for failing in his duties as a host when they visited him five years ago.


The Jewish Roots of Kurdistan

The history of Judaism in Kurdistan is ancient. The Talmud holds that Jewish deportees were settled in Kurdistan 2800 years ago by the Assyrian king Shalmaneser. As indicated in the Talmud, the Jews were given permission by the rabbinic authorities to allow conversion from the local population. They were exceptionally successful in their endeavor. The illustrious Kurdish royal house of Adiabene, with Arbil as its capital, was converted to Judaism in the course of the 1st century BCE, along with, it appears, a large number of Kurdish citizens in the kingdom (see Irbil/Arbil in Encyclopaedia Judaica)

Judaism in Kurdistan

The history of Judaism in Kurdistan is ancient. The Talmud holds that Jewish deportees were settled in Kurdistan 2800 years ago by the Assyrian king Shalmaneser Ill (r. 858-824 BC). As indicated in the Talmud, the Jews eventually were given permission by the rabbinic authorities to convert local Kurds. They were exceptionally successful in their endeavor.   

Hajj Khalil
Hajj Khalil is the last Muslim with Jewish roots in the Iraqi Kurdish village of Akre. One of his dearest wishes is to travel to Israel to apologise to his cousins for failing in his duties as a host when they visited him five years ago.”In 2000, several of them came to see me and I didn’t even greet them, let alone invite them to stay. Despite the autonomy enjoyed by Kurdistan, Saddam Hussein had spies everywhere,” says Khalil Fakih Ahmed, a 74-year-old wearing the traditional Kurdish headdress.In Akre, a large cluster of hillside houses some 420 kilometres (260 miles) north of Baghdad, near the border with Turkey, place names are one of the few reminders of the former Jewish presence.The last Jews in the region left Iraq between 1949 and 1951, just after the creation of the state of Israel.One block of houses is still called Shusti — or ‘Jewish town’ in Kurdish — but the old synagogue was destroyed long ago.In the mountains overlooking the town lies a plateau called Zarvia Dji (Land of the Jews) where the Jewish community used to gather for celebrations.”My grandmother converted to Islam when her husband died and my father had just turned 10,” Hajj Khalil recalls, sitting in his garden with his children and grandchildren around him.”When the Jews left, we stayed because we had become Muslims.”But in the streets of Akre, Khalil and his family are still called “the Jews”.”If you ask for Izzat or Selim in the street, nobody will know who you’re talking about,” says the old man’s 19-year-old grandson. “But if you say ‘Izzat the Jew’, they’ll know immediately.”According to the United Nations, some 150,000 Jews still lived in Iraq just after World War II, several thousand of them in Kurdistan.Former Israeli defence minister Yitzhak Mordechai was born in Akre.In 1999, Khalil’s cousin Itzhak Ezra, who lives in the northern Israeli city of Tiberias, arrived in Akre.”We told the neighbours he was a Turkish trucker who needed a place to sleep. But Itzhak met an old friend who recognised him after half a century.””Luckily, his friend said nothing and the story was kept secret,” he says.A few weeks after returning to Israel, the long-lost cousin sent a letter to thank Khalil for his hospitality.”Saddam’s spies found out and arrested our brother-in-law who lived in Mosul,” southwest of Akre, says Saber, one of Khalil’s sons.Saber went to see the intelligence services in an attempt to secure his relative’s release but was arrested and detained for a month in Baghdad.”They interrogated me, I pretended to be illiterate and demented. Then they offered me a passport to go and spy for them in Israel before eventually releasing me,” Saber says.Between 1991 and the March 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, some Israelis were able to reach this area in autonomous Kurdistan through the Turkish border. But Saddam retained intelligence agents in the region until the fall of his regime.”When my cousins came to visit me” in 2000, “they didn’t understand why we would not meet them but I could not explain it to them. They were very offended and left,” Hajj Khalil remembers.Since then, he has had no contact with his relatives. “My father is hoping to go and see them to resolve this misunderstanding,” his son Izzat says.

JUDAISM

The history of Judaism in Kurdistan is ancient. The Talmud holds that Jewish deportees were settled in Kurdistan 2800 years ago by the Assyrian king Shalmaneser Ill (r. 858-824 BC). As indicated in the Talmud, the Jews eventually were given permission by the rabbinic authorities to convert local Kurds.
The relative freedom of Kurdish women among the Kurdish Jews led in the 17th century to the ordination of the first woman rabbi, Rabbi Asenath Barzani, the daughter of the illustrious Rabbi Samuel Barzani (d. ca. 1630), who founded many Judaic schools and seminaries in Kurdistan. For her was coined the term tanna’ith, the feminine form for a Talmudic scholar. Eventually, MAMA (“Lady”) Asenath became the head of the prestigious Judaic academy at Mosul (Mann 1932).


Yazdanism

Most non-Muslim Kurds follow one of several indigenous Kurdish faiths of great antiquity and originality, each of which is a variation on and permutation of an ancient religion that can loosely be labeled the “Cult of Angels,” Yazdni in Kurdish. The actual name of the religion is all but lost to its modern followers, who retain only the names of its surviving denominations. The name Yazdnism or Cult of Angels is a variation of the Kurdish name of one of its isolated branches, Yezidism, which literally means “the Anglicans.” There are some indications that Yazdnism was in fact the name of the religion before its fragmentation. An even older name for this creed may have been Hk (or Haq), which is the name given by this religion to its pre-eternal, all-encompassing deity, the Universal Spirit.SUFI MYSTIC ORDERS

An overwhelming majority of Muslim and non-Muslim Kurds are followers of one of many mystic Sufi orders (or tariqa). The bonds of the Muslim Kurds, for example, to different Sufi orders have traditionally been stronger than to orthodox Muslim practices. Sufi rituals in Kurdistan, led by Sufi masters, or shaykhs, contain so many clearly non-Islamic rites and practices that an objective observer would not consider them Islamic in the orthodox sense.Yarsanism

The center of Yarsanism is deep inside the Guran region at the town of Gahwara (or Gawara), 40 miles west of Kirmashan. The shrine of Baba Yadigar, in an eponymous village 50 miles northwest of Gahwara, now serves as one of Yarsanism’s holiest sites. Two days before the festival of the New Year, or New Ruz (see Festivals, Ceremonies, & CaIendar), believers visit the shrine and participate in chants that assume the form of a dialectic on the principles of Yarsanism.
The followers of Yarsanism are now found in one large concentration in southern Kurdistan and many secondary concentrations outside Kurdistan proper, in the Alburz Mountains, Azerbaijan, and Iraq.
Alevism

A majority of the Dimila Kurds of Anatolia and some of their Kurmnji speaking neighbors are followers of another denomination of the Cult of Angels.The Alevis believe in Ali as the most important primary avatar of the Universal Spirit in the Second Epoch of the universal life), hence their exaggerated feelings for this first Shi’ite Muslim imam.
Despite the importance of Ali in the religion and its modern communal appellation, Alevism remains a thoroughly non-lslamic religion, and a part of the Cult of Angels. Like other branches of the Cult, the fundamental theology of Alevism sharply contradicts the letter and spirit of the Koran in every important manner, as any independent, nonSemitic religion might.

The followers of this religion constitute roughly 20% of all Kurds.


The European Jewish Congress warns that some Jewish comunities in Europe are.idque,teetering on the brink,rdque due to national endorsement of neglect of Anti-Semitizm.     Next >>>

The Kurds and Islam
The Jews of Kurdistan
Kulano – Jews of Kurdistan
History of Judaism in Kurdistan
Kurds and Jews: Language and Contact 
The Genetic Bonds Between Kurds and Jews
The Jews of Kurdistan Daily Life, Customs, Arts and Crafts
The forced conversion of the Jewish community of Persia and the beginnings of the Kurds
Much, if not most, of this information has been passed to me via Mizgin, whose blog about Kurdish and current events in the middle east is highly recommended. Be prepared to have your comfortable theses challenged there!
 The history of Judaism in Kurdistan is ancient. The Talmud holds that Jewish deportees were settled in Kurdistan 2800 years ago by the Assyrian king Shalmaneser Ill (r. 858-824 BC). As indicated in the Talmud, the Jews eventually were given permission by the rabbinic authorities to convert local Kurds. They were exceptionally successful in their endeavor.

[…]
Jews remained a populous group in Kurdistan until the middle of the present century and the creation of the state of Israel. At home and in the synagogues, Kurdish Jews speak a form of ancient Aramaic … and in commerce and the larger society they speak Kurdish. Many aspects of Kurdish and Jewish life and culture have become so intertwined that some of the most popular folk stories accounting for Kurdish ethnic origins connect them with the Jews. Some maintain that the Kurds sprang from one of the lost tribes of Israel, while others assert that the Kurds emerged through an episode involving King Solomon and the genies under his command (see Folklore & Folk Tales).
The relative freedom of Kurdish women among the Kurdish Jews led in the 17th century to the ordination of the first woman rabbi, Rabbi Asenath Bârzâni, the daughter of the illustrious Rabbi Samuel Bârzâni (d. ca. 1630), who founded many Judaic schools and seminaries in Kurdistan. For her was coined the term tanna’ith, the feminine form for a Talmudic scholar. Eventually, MAMA (“Lady”) Asenath became the head of the prestigious Judaic academy at Mosul (Mann 1932).Read more at Kurdistanica
Those of you into contemporary Iraqi events will note the name “Bârzâni”, an old and illustrious name in the area even today!


The following excerpt of an article by Josh Goodman of Yale provides more background in relation to Kurdish Jews and also investigates the relationship between Israel and Kurdistan today:


A Fading Generation: The Jews of Kurdistan
 By the early 1950s, virtually the entire Jewish community of Kurdistan—a rugged, mostly mountainous region comprising parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and the Caucasus, where Jews had lived since antiquity—had been completely relocated to Israel. The vast majority of Kurdish Jews, who were primarily concentrated in northern Iraq, left Kurdistan in the mass aliyah (immigration to Israel) of 1950-51, which brought almost all Iraqi Jews to Israel and signaled the end of thousands of years of Jewish history in the lands once known as Assyria and Babylon.


In general, the native language of the Jews of Kurdistan was neither Arabic—like most Iraqi Jews—nor Kurdish. Instead, the Jews (and Christians) of Kurdistan spoke dialects of Aramaic—a Semitic language, similar to Hebrew. Aramaic, the language of the Talmud and parts of the Bible, was the international language of trade and commerce in the ancient Middle East with a status similar to that of English in the modern world. The Kurdish Jews spoke their own unique dialects of the language, however, which possessed many words borrowed from Kurdish.3 The Kurdish Jews in Israel, along with a small number of Assyrian Christians, are among the last remaining Aramaic speakers in the world; many scholars believe the language will disappear as a spoken language within a generation.

Israel and the Kurds
Kurdish Jewry – Hebrew
Saved by “Operation Ali Baba”
Between the Babylonian and the Kurdistan Jews
Genetic evidence links Jews to their ancient tribe
Evolution of a Genetic Disease in an Ethnic Isolate
Jews as part of the genetic landscape of the Middle East

The Jewish Palate: The Jews of Kurdistan


By DENNIS WASKO
03/28/2011 12:11


Kurdish Jews have a long history filled with ups and downs, Chef Dennis Wasko retells their story as well as explores their unique cuisine.
Talkbacks (1)
It is believed that Jews have lived in the area of modern Kurdistan since the 8th century BCE. Also known as Assyria and Mesopotamia, the area now encompasses parts of Iran, northern Iraq, Syria, and eastern Turkey. The first Jews arrived after the Assyrian conquest of the Kingdom of Israel and the subsequent exile of the ten tribes during the period 858 – 824 BCE. An ancient Kurdish tradition relates that Kurdish Jews are the descendants specifically of the tribes of Dan, Naphtali, and Benjamin.

In his travel memoirs, Benjamin of Tudela related that there were about 100 Jewish settlements and substantial Jewish population in Kurdistan in 12th century. It is also from Benjamin of Tudela’s memoirs that we learn of David Alroi, the messianic leader from central Kurdistan, who rebelled against the king of Persia and had plans to lead the Jews back to Jerusalem. Benjamin of Tudela also reports of wealthy Jewish communities in Mosul, which at the time was the commercial and spiritual center of Kurdistan. During the crusades many Jews fled from Syria, the Levant, and Judea to Babylonia and Kurdistan.

The Kurdish Jews were craftsmen by trade. They were traditionally farmers, gold and silversmiths, and weavers. Though skilled craftsmen, life was hard for the Kurdish Jews and economic distress and isolation from the outside world plagued the communities. Life was dangerous and murder was common. Jews were often sold into servitude up to the beginning of the 20th century. Due to these hardships and the rise of oppressive Islamic regimes the Kurdish Jews became a close knit community.

Judaism flourished in Kurdistan and many Kurdish Jews played a part in the compilation of the Babylonian Talmud. Among the most important Jewish shrines in Kurdistan are the tombs of Biblical prophets, such as that of Nahum, Jonah, and Daniel. There are also several caves supposedly frequented by the Prophet Elijah. All are venerated by Jews today.

Kurdish Jews began immigrating to pre-state Israel in the early 20th century after a series of brutal murders. The majority of Kurdish Jews immigrated to Israel in 1950-51. This period is known as the Great Exodus. The Kurds have always had strong Zionist leanings and one of the most famous members of the Lehi, Moshe Barazani, was of Kurdish descent. There are approximately 150,000 Kurdish Jews living in Israel today. They are very proud of their heritage and work to maintain their customs and language, Aramaic.

The dumpling, koobe, is the unique specialty of Kurdish cuisine. Some are round and some are moon-shaped, but they are all stuffed with delicious fillings, usually chicken or lamb, and served on the Sabbath, holidays, and all year long. Bulghur wheat, onion, garlic, celery, tomato, pepper, and lemon, combined in a multitude of dumplings, comprise the backbone of Kurdish Jewish cuisine.

The following recipe for Kutel Pishra, Stuffed Fried Dumplings, is very traditional and is often served with drinks as an appetizer or as an addition to a Kurdish buffet.

Kutel Pishra
Makes about 20 dumplings

Ingredients

for the dough:
-1 pound bulghur, soaked for 1 hour and drained
-1 cup semolina flour
-1 cup water
-˝ teaspoon salt
-2 tablespoons tomato paste
-Oil for deep frying

for the filling filling:
-1 tablespoon olive oil
-1 cup chopped onion
-1 clove garlic, chopped
-˝ pound ground lamb
-Ľ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
-˝ teaspoon kosher salt
-Ľ teaspoon ground allspice
-Ľ cup celery, chopped

Directions
1. Combine all of the dough ingredients and knead together until a uniform dough is achieved. Set aside to rest.

2. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes.

3. Add the lamb, pepper, salt, and allspice and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add the celery and sauté for 1 minute.
Remove the filling from the pan and allow to cool completely.

4. Take an egg-sized piece of dough and flatten it into a circle Ľ inch thick. Place 1 teaspoon of filling in the middle of the circle. Bring the dough up around the filling and seal the edges together, maintaining an egg shape.

5. Heat the oil in a medium sized pot to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Fry the dumplings until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Serve warm.

The Jewish Roots of Kurdistan

The history of Judaism in Kurdistan is ancient. The Talmud holds that Jewish deportees were settled in Kurdistan 2800 years ago by the Assyrian king Shalmaneser. As indicated in the Talmud, the Jews were given permission by the rabbinic authorities to allow conversion from the local population. They were exceptionally successful in their endeavor. The illustrious Kurdish royal house of Adiabene, with Arbil as its capital, was converted to Judaism in the course of the 1st century BCE, along with, it appears, a large number of Kurdish citizens in the kingdom (see Irbil/Arbil in Encyclopaedia Judaica). 

The name of the Kurdish king Monobazes (related etymologically to the name of the ancient Mannaeans), his queen Helena, and his son and successor Izates (derived from yazata, “angel”), are preserved as the first proselytes of this royal house (Ginzberg 1968, VI.412). [But this is chronologically untenable as Monobazes’ effective rule began only in CE 18. In fact during the Roman conquest of Judea and Samaria (68-67 BCE), Kurdish Adiabene was the only country outside Israel that sent provisions and troops to the rescue of the besieged Galilee (Grayzel 1968, 163) – an inexplicable act if Adiabene was not already Jewish].

Many modern Jewish historians like Kahle (1959), who believes Adiabene was Jewish by the middle of the 1st century BCE, and Neusner (1986), who goes for the middle of the 1st century CE, have tried unsuccessfully to reconcile this chronological discrepancy. 

All agree that by the beginning of the 2nd century CE, at any rate, Judaism was firmly established in central Kurdistan.

Like many other Jewish communities, Christianity found Adiabene a fertile ground for conversion in the course of 4th and 5th centuries. Despite this, Jews remained a populous group in Kurdistan until the middle of the present century and the creation of the state of Israel. At home and in the synagogues, Kurdish Jews speak a form of ancient Aramaic called Suriyani (i.e., “Assyrian”), and in commerce and the larger society they speak Kurdish. Many aspects of Kurdish and Jewish life and culture have become so intertwined that some of the most popular folk stories accounting for Kurdish ethnic origins connect them with the Jews. 

The tombs of Biblical prophets like Nahum in Alikush, Jonah in Nabi Yunis (ancient Nineveh), Daniel in Kirkuk, Habakkuk in Tuisirkan, and Queen Esther and Mordechai in Hamadân, and several caves reportedly visited by Elijah are among the most important Jewish shrines in Kurdistan and are venerated by all Jews today.

Further Readings and Bibliography: Encyclopaedia Judaica, entries on Kurds and Irbil/Arbil; Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, 5th cd. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1968); Jacob Mann, Texts and Studies in Jewish History and Literature, vol. I (London, 1932); Yona Sabar, The Folk Literature of the Kurdistani Jews (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982); Paul Magnaretta, “A Note on Aspects of Social Life among the Jewish Kurds of Sanandaj, Iran,” Jewish Journal of Sociology Xl.l (1969); Walter Fischel, “The Jews of Kurdistan,” Commentary VIII.6 (1949); Andre Cuenca, “L’oeuvre de I’Aflance Israelite Universelle en Iran,” in Les droits de I’education (Paris: UNESCO, 1960); Dina Feitelson, “Aspects of the Social Life of Kurdish Jews,” Jewish Journal of Sociology 1.2 (1910); Walter Fischel, “The Jews of Kurdistan, a Hundred Years Ago,” Jewish Social Studies (1944); Solomon Grayzel, A History of the Jews (New York: Mentor, 1968); Paul Kahle, The Cairo Geniza (Oxford, 1959); Jacob Neusner, ludaism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism in Talmudic Babylonia (New York; University Press of America, 1986).

Source:  http://www.kurdish.com/kurdistan/religion/judaism.htm

Kurdistan the Birthplace of the Babylonian Talmud

Under the rule of the Jewish Queen Shlomis Alexandra (also known as Shlomtzion,  the widow of King Yannai, grandson of Judah the Maccabee) 76-66 BCE, and under the advice of her brother Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach, the Pharisees (Rabbinical Jews) split with the Sadducees and other militant Jewish groups. Although the Pharisees opposed Roman rule, they preferred academic study to military revolt. 

In the years prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, this rift in approach to Rome increased to the point of open conflict with Rome and between the militants themselves.  The Hellenists sought to assimilate or appease Rome through adopting its culture.  The Pharisees sought to preserve the spiritual heritage of Judaism through academies and study.  The Herodians, Sadducees and their Jordanian converts plotted revolt.   Even though the first revolt resulted in the destruction of the Temple, there was some recovery.  The second revolt under Bar Kochba in 135 CE, however, was utterly crushed by Rome.  There was a Jewish majority in Israel for hundreds of years after this, but Israel as a autonomous political entity ceased to exist. 

After these events, the split became geographical.  The militant Jews headed south to Jordan and Southern Arabia, eventually founding the Jewish State of Himyar (the Biblical Sheba) in what is now Saudi Arabia and Yemen, still retaining the name “Iudean” or what has come down to us as “Jews”. They practiced a modified form of nationalistic Judaism that was eventually transformed into Islam by the Prophet Mohammed.  The Rabbinic Jews moved first east, then north and eventually to Babylon. 

Even after crushing the various Judean revolts, the Romans allowed the Pharisees to establish centers of learning in Yavneh (near modern Tel Aviv) and later in the Galilee and Golan heights.  The Roman conversion to Christianity under Constantine and its associated intolerance, combined with the military aggressions of the Jews of Southern Arabia led to a series of decrees essentially making Judaism an illegal religion. 

Babylon, specifically the area near what is now called Kurdistan, provided a safe haven for Rabbinic – but not militant – scholars.    The Babylonian Talmud reflects a society preponderantly based agriculture and crafts.  They were learned in Jewish Studies and had produced in the past the books of Ezekiel, Daniel and Tobit.  At the beginning of the 3rd century CE, Babylon became the main center of Rabbinic studies. Academies were founded by R. Samuel at Nehardea and by Rav at Sura. In the later 3rd century, the academy of Pumpedita was founded to replace that at Nehardea (destroyed in 261 CE).  The importance of these communities was further enhanced with the abolition of the Israeli Patriarch (Local Ruler) in 425 CE, when Babylon became the spiritual center for all Jewry.

Chart: A History of the Jewish People, by H.H. Ben-Sasson, p381

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