Because of the proximity of Syria and Israel, there was extensive contact between the two lands. Damascus is mentioned in the Bible numerous times and is thought to have been controlled by King David at one point. Later, Damascus and Aleppo were trade centers that contained large Jewish communities for centuries. Today, the major split among Syrian Jews is based on which city they originate from. Halabi Jews have roots in Aleppo, while Shami Jews trace their origins to Damascus.

Initially, the Jews that lived in Syria were predominantly Mizrahi. But after the Spanish expulsion of Sephardic Jews, many decided to settle in Syria because of the relatively tolerant atmosphere. The pre-existing Syrian Jews welcomed them, but the communities developed separately at first.

Syrian Jews were treated relatively well and achieved prestigious societal positions during the Ottoman Empire. Aleppo became a significant hub for business, trade, Jewish life, and spirituality. This slowly began to unravel in the 19th century. Antisemitism increased as accusations against Syrian Jews of ritualistic murders spread, which motivated many to flee the country. In 1946, Syria gained independence from France, and conditions for Jews worsened.

The Syrian government barred the Jews from making aliyah to the Yishuv. They also banned Hebrew from being taught in Jewish schools. Tensions became even worse after the 1947 Partition Plan. After Israel’s War of Independence, repression against the Jewish community worsened, and many fled to Israel. By 1964, only 5,000 out of the original 55,000 Syrian Jews remained. Most of those who remained eventually moved to Israel or America as the decades went on, and today, there are zero Jews in the entirety of Syria. In Aleppo, a city that used to have thousands of Jews, only old buildings remain of the once-thriving Jewish community.

There were a very small number of Jews living in the city not long ago, but they had to be evacuated in fear of advancing ISIS forces.

Today, most Syrian Jews live in Israel or America. In particular, Brooklyn is known for having a large Syrian Jewish population; one of its main synagogues, “Shaare Zion,” is among the largest Orthodox congregations in America. However, the Syrian Jewish community is also famous for banning conversion and prohibiting Syrian Jews from marrying converts in fear of growing assimilation.




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