Daily Israel Report

Ben Ish Hai Torah Coming to Israel

A 400 year Sefer Torah once possessed by the Ben Ish Hai is leaving Iraq for Israel - with covert US military help.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 12/8/2011, 8:47 PM

Ben Ish Chai Torah
Ben Ish Chai Torah
Flash 90

An ancient Sefer Torah once possessed by the Iraqi rabbinic luminary Ben Ish Hai (1832-1909) will soon leave Bagdad and come to Israel.

The Torah Scroll, estimated to be 400 years old, is one of the oldest in the world. It was written in large, clear letters on thick parchment known as gawil – meaning it was not split while being processed.

The ancient Torah narrowly escaped fire in 1937. It was once used in the synagogue of the acclaimed Rabbi Abdullah and his famous disciple Rabbi Yosef Chaim, the "Ben Ish Hai." It is very likely both sages read from the scroll for their congregations.

The poor security situation in Iraq - and fears of murder and kidnapping by Islamists among Iraq's few remaining Jews - has generated concerns rioters may target the remaining synagogue and its treasures, including the Torah scroll.

Kept in the Beit-Zilkain Baghdad, the Torah was removed to safety with covert US military aid - and will leave Iraq for Israel in the coming days.

On Tuesday the Torah will be inducted to the Beer Hana synagogue in Netanya under the auspices of Tzfat Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, whose family came from Bagdad.


Ben Ish Hai Torah Flash 90


The Jewish community in Bagdad peaked at some 300,000 people in the early 20th century, most of whom began migrating to Israel as increasing anti-Jewish legislation by Iraqi authorities took hold in the 1930's and 1940's.

Following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 a mass exodus of Iraqi Jews prompted by a wave of anti-Jewish riots and bombings took place. Aided by Operations Ezra and Nehemiah, Iraq was virtually emptied of Jews by 1960.

Estimates place the elderly Jewish population of Bagdad at 8. Three US military rabbinic chaplains are also stationed in Iraq.