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ZAKHO (Zakhu ), town in the province of *Mosul in Iraqi *Kurdistan; location of an ancient Jewish community. During the 18th century Zakho was led by the nasi Sheikh Eliah the goldsmith. In 1827 there were 600 Jewish families, some of whom were wealthy. They earned their livelihood from raising cattle, as weavers and goldsmiths, and in other crafts as well. They had an old synagogue, followed ancient customs, and spoke Jabal (mountain) Aramaic. In 1848 *Benjamin ii found 200 Jewish families in Zakho, some of whom were engaged in commerce and others in weaving. Most of them were wealthy. In 1880 there were 400–500 houses, half of which were owned by Jews. During the same year the town was ravaged by famine and a large section of the population, including many Jews, died. In 1881, 300 Jewish families lived in a special quarter; their political situation and security were in a very precarious state. In 1884 there were 510 Jews, among them merchants, spice dealers, and sheep breeders. In 1888 there were 1,500 Jews. In 1891 the Muslims attacked the Jewish community, looting the houses of the Jews, and set fire to one of the synagogues which was burned down together with its Scrolls of the Law. In 1892 the persecutions intensified. Jews were murdered; heavy taxes were imposed on members of the community; they were required to pay ransom, and many were arrested and tortured. The Tigris overflowed its banks and destroyed 150 Jewish houses; many Jews drowned and synagogues were destroyed.

In spite of all this, there were 300 Jewish families in the town in 1893 and 2,400 Jews in 1906. After World War i their situation improved. They had two large old synagogues; on one of them was an inscription dating from 1780. According to the official census of 1930, there were 26,835 inhabitants, including 1,471 Aramaic-speaking Jews. The decline of the economic standing of northern Iraq following the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, which shifted the commercial pathway from the overland route (from Europe to India via Aleppo in Syria and northern Iraq) seems to have caused emigration to Baghdad and Palestine. The Jews of Zakho started to emigrate to the Holy Land in the middle of the 19th century, with aliyah intensifying after World War i. In the census of 1947 their number had decreased to 1394. They lived in a special quarter and most of them engaged in commerce. When the Iraqis opposed Zionism their situation deteriorated. Jews from Zakho were the first to emigrate to Palestine after 1920. Many settled in *Jerusalem, where they engaged in manual labor as porters, donkey drivers, stonecutters, builders, stone hewers, etc. Six thousand settled there before the establishment of the State of Israel. They built special quarters for themselves, such as Zikhron Yosef, Zikhron Ya'akov, Sha'arei Raḥamim, and others. With the establishment of the state, all the remaining Jewish inhabitants of Zakho emigrated to Israel.

The poetry of the Zakho Jews was published by J.J. Rivlin in Shirat Yehudei ha-Targum (1959).


A. Ben-Jacob, Kehillot Yehudei Kurdistan (1961), 58–62; J.J. Rivlin, in: Sefer Zikkaron le-A. Gulak u-le-S. Klein (1942), 171–86. add. bibliography: Enẓiklopedya shel Yehudei Kurdistan (1993).

[Abraham Ben-Yaacob /

Nissim Kazzaz (2nd ed.)]