Photo courtesy of Maurice Shohet and family, as displayed in the Iraqi Jewish Archive exhibition arranged by the National Archives and Record Administration

Absence in Jewish, Women’s, and Middle Eastern Studies Courses

With rare exception, indigenous MIddle Eastern Jewish history, heritage, and socio-political concerns are glaringly absent in Jewish, women’s, and MIddle Eastern Studies courses – this despite the growing consciousness about intersectionality, and despite the fact that indigenous Middle Eastern Jews are a critical mass of Jewish communities in metropolitan areas worldwide, as well as half the Jewish population in Israel.

Erasure in Jewish Theological Schools and Divinity Programs

Across the spectrum of Jewish denominations, students are exclusively taught the history and heritage of Jews from Central and Eastern Europe, with rare exception. At best, indigenous Middle Eastern Jewish heritage is treated as a token, optional, and extracurricular diversion from “real” or “normal” Judaism, despite these facts:

Renee Dangour, Miss Iraq 1947, was a Jewish woman

Prohibition of Women’s Enrollment

The first woman rabbi worldwide was Asenath Barzani from Kurdistan, in the 1600s. Today, however, the only way for prospective rabbis and cantors to learn the traditions of indigenous Middle Eastern Jews is to enroll in the segregated Jewish learning institutes of those communities – which, without exception, are orthodox and prohibit the enrollment of women. 

For this reason, the new wave of women rabbis from Middle Eastern heritage have been forced to attend seminaries where Middle Eastern traditions and tropes are absent in the curriculum – leaving these women whitewashed of their ancestral heritage, only able to lead in the Central and Eastern European Jewish tradition. See this Haddassah magazine cover story, Letter from Bima, for a more detailed discussion of this matter.

Ignorance of Authentic Hebrew 

With rare exception, the Middle Eastern pronunciation of Hebrew has been lost since the mass Jewish exile from throughout the Middle East in 1950. This pronunciation has been subsumed by the Central and Eastern European pronunciation – despite these facts:

Hacham Yosef Hayyim, the most revered Jewish scholar of Iraq

Register for Iraqi High Holiday Hits

Learn the classic Iraqi prayers for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, in the authentic Iraqi pronunciation. The event is led by a woman (me!), in an egalitarian and all-inclusive environment. No musical talent or knowledge of Hebrew, Judaism, or Middle East culture is needed to participate fully, and people of all religious and ethnic backgrounds, as well as sexual and gender identities, are welcome. Register here.

Register now for an early-bird discount!

Aug 16 – Sept 4: Tickets are $52
Sept 4- Sept 11: Tickets are $78
Sept 11 – Sept 18: Tickets are $101

Become a Program Affiliate

Sign up to become a KHAZZOOM program affiliate, at no cost, and receive a unique registration URL to share with your members – with one of two options: 20% of ticket sales will be donated to your university department, or your members will get 20% off ticket sales (in addition to early bird discounts), as per your preference.