Ḥilla

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ḤILLA

ḤILLA , town in Iraq on the Lower Euphrates, south of the ruins of ancient Babylon; founded in 1102 by the Arab prince Sayf al-Dawla of the Mazyad dynasty. Before this date, however, there was already a settlement named al-Jāmiʿān ("The Two Mosques"), which also included a large Jewish community. Once the town became the seat of the dynasty, it was transformed into an important commercial center and the Jewish population gradually grew, at least in comparison to the decline of the Jewish population in Babylonia during the late Middle Ages. R. Benjamin of *Tudela, the 12th-century traveler, relates that there were 10,000 Jews and four synagogues in Ḥilla, one of them named after R. Meir, whose tomb was situated next to it. R. *Pethahiah of Regensburg emphasizes that the Muslims also revered this tomb. A lengthy letter (mid-12th century) to the community of Ḥilla and its affiliated communities, in which Solomon, head of the *Baghdad academy, announced the death of his son Samuel, is extant. A collection of sermons Matteh Oz ("Staff of Strength") by Isaac Sar-Shalom (beginning of 13th century), which he delivered in various places, including Ḥilla, has survived. According to a Jewish source, many Jews were burned to death in one of the town's synagogues at the time of the conquest of the town by Tamerlane (c. 1390). The community continued to exist and even grew in size during the 19th century, so that by the beginning of the 20th century there were about 1,000 Jews. Over a long period – until the beginning of the 20th century – the Jews were persecuted by their Muslim neighbors, who imposed on them limitations considered as belonging to the Covenant of Omar: the obligation to wear a red badge on their clothes and the prohibitions of wearing shoes, of riding horses and asses in the town, of touching fruits and vegetables and of buying them, and the ruling that no balcony of a Jew should protrude over the street so that a Muslim should not be compelled to pass under it, etc. The Jews engaged in commerce, goldsmithing and money-changing, agriculture, and brokerage in the transport of goods on the Euphrates. The river flowed through the town until the construction of the Hindiyya Canal, which changed the course of the river. Many of the Jews were poor, especially after the construction of the canal; nevertheless, there were also wealthy families, such as the Menaḥem ṢāliḤ *Daniel family, which owned extensive properties in the town and its surroundings. The *Alliance Israélite Universelle established a school for boys in 1907 and another for girls in 1921 in Ḥilla. In 1950 there were 210 pupils in the former and 180 pupils in the latter. Ḥilla also possessed a very small *Karaite community; all the Jews of Ḥilla emigrated to Israel, with most of the rest of Iraqi Jewry in the early 1950s.

bibliography:

A. Ben-Jacob, Yehudei Bavel (1965), index.

[Eliyahu Ashtor]