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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
City in Phenicia, at the mouth of the river of the same name, on the Mediterranean between Byblus and SIDON. In the El-Amarna texts (Winckler, "Altorientalische Forschungen," 1:309,436; "Monatsschrift," 1898, 42:480) the city is called "Birutu" ("Biruna"). At a very remote period it was also called "Beroa," like another town in the vicinity ("Rev. Archéol." 5:549), and only in historic times was it called by the Greeks "Berytus." According to Stephen of Byzantium, the word Bηρυτός is derived from βήρ (), a well, or rather from its plural (Muss-Arnolt, in "Transactions of the Am. Phil. Assoc." 1892, 22:48). Modern scholars derive the name from Aramaic and Syriac ), "cypress," the name of the whole country, φοινίκη, being similarly derived from the palm. The form is found on monuments (it is an adjective meaning "Berytic"; see Cook, "A Glossary of Aramaic Inscriptions," s.), hence the similarly sounding word in the Talmud (Men. 28b, 63a) must be translated as "apples of the Berytians"; another passage (Yer. Pes. 30a) mentions cakes from Berytus.
Several places of the name of "Beeroth" are mentioned in the Bible. Some exegetes have erroneously identified Berytus with Berotha (Ezekiel 47:16), which was near Hamath and on the northern boundary of Palestine. Just as all places of the name of "Beeroth" are to-day called in Arabic "El-Bîreh," so Berytus bore (according to S. Krauss) in Talmudic times the name "Beri" or "Biri"; this is clear from a passage in Yalḳuṭ (Num. 729), where Beri is located between Sidon and Antiochia as a port; compare Sifre, Num. 84. As Sidon is called in the Bible (Joshua 11:8, 19:28) "great Zidon," so Berytus is called in Yer. Sheb. 36c "great Beri" (the name is corrupted in the parallel passages Tos. Sheb. 4:11; Sifre, Deut. 51), to distinguish it from other places of the same name. In any case the city lay within the jurisdiction of the Jews, for the Sibylline Books () also mention Berytus, and Jews, of course, were living there.
Becomes a Roman Colony.
It is impossible to tell at what time the Jews commenced to live at Beirut, as very little is known about the city in Phenician and Seleucid times. In the year 15 B.C., it became a Roman colony, receiving the name "Colonia Julia Augusta Felix Berytus" (Schürer, "Gesch." 1:340). It was for this reason that the Herodian house did so much to build it up. Herod erected cloisters, temples, and market-places ("Ant." § 11, 2; Josephus, "B. J." 1:21, § 11; 1:27, § 2), and the emperor Augustus ordered the court to sit here that examined into the charges made by Herod against his sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, whom he afterward executed (Josephus, "Ant." 16:11, § 2; "B. J." 1:27, § 2). After Herod's death (4 C.E.) the citizens of Beirut placed 1,500 auxiliaries at the disposal of Quintus Varus to assist in suppressing the robbers that infested Judea ("Ant." 17:10, § 9; "B. J." 2:5, § 1). Agrippa I. (41) also paid particular attention to the city, and erected a sumptuous theater, baths, and porticoes ("Ant." 20:9, § 4). At the dedication of these buildings 400 malefactors were ordered to take part in the gladiatorial fights ("Ant." 19:7, § 5). Agrippa II. (50-100) continued to embellish the city at a great expense, and to the serious displeasure of his Jewish subjects, who objected to so much money being spent upon a heathen city ("Ant." 20:9, § 4). It was to this heathen city that Titus came after the destruction of Jerusalem (70) and, at the games, put to death a great many of the Jews taken captive in the war ("B. J." 7:3, § 1). The same atrocities are probably referred to in Pesiḳ. R. (28:135b, ed, Friedmann), where, however, the Berytians are called "children of Bari" (or Beeri).
First Mention of Jews.
No information can be gotten about Beirut from Talmudic literature. Bartuta, the birthplace of R. Elazar ben Judah (see the passages in "Seder ḥa-Dorot," 2:63a, Warsaw, 1878), is not to be identified with it, as Isaac Ḥelo (see below) maintains. For many centuries little mention is made of the Jews of Beirut. The story that they dishonored a picture renowned in ancient times (Athanasius, "De Passione Imaginis Christi") is declared by Wulfer to be a fable of the monks ("Animadversiones zum Jüd. Theriak," p. 135). One of the earliest facts known in regard to the Jews of the city is that in 502 their synagogue was demolished by a great earthquake which destroyed several cities in Syria (Assemani, "Bibl. Orient." 1:272; "Joshua the Stylite," ed. Wright, ch. ). Benjamin of Tudela, about 1173, says in his "Itinerary" that he found there fifty Jews, among whom were Rabbis Solomon, Obadiah, and R. Joseph. Syria at this time was in the hands of the Seljuk Turks. There are no historic data to show whether the Jews of Beirut suffered as did those of Acre when the sultan Malik al-Ashraf (Khalil) captured the city from the last Crusaders in 1291. During the fourteenth century Isaac Ḥelo left Aragon and went with his family to live in the Holy Land. In his itinerary ("Shebile Yerushalayim," in Carmoly's "Itinéraires de la Terre Sainte," p. 249) he mentions Beirut, but says nothing of any Jews living there. The same is true of the anonymous traveler in 1495, who speaks of the commerce of Beirut with Venice in gold, silver, copper, tin, and stuffs (Neubauer, "Zwei Briefe Obadjah's," 1863, p. 97). In 1522 an anonymous Italian Jewish traveler (see "Shibḥe Yerushalayim," ed. Leghorn, 1785), embarking at Venice, landed at Beirut, traversed the whole of Palestine, and reembarked again at Beirut. But neither in coming nor in going does he mention any Jews in that city. In 1799 another Italian Jewish traveler explored Palestine, and claimed to have met at Beirut four Jews from Bagdad. This is all that the chroniclers give concerning this city; but if the local traditions may be credited, the large synagogue of Beirut, as well as the Jewish cemetery, are 600 years old; and the oldest tombstone, dating back five centuries, is that of R. Abtalion Bouézo. In his book, "Nach Jerusalem," Ludwig August Frankel speaks of the old Jewish cemetery at Beirut, and of a tombstone about four centuries old, but he does not give an exact date. When Sir Charles Napier bombarded the city onSept. 11, 1840, and it came again under Turkish rule, not more than twenty-five Jewish families were living there.
The Last Century's Rabbis.
The great rabbis of the nineteenth century were: Moses Yedid Levi, died about 1811; R. Alfandari, died about 1850; Aaron Moses Yedid Levi, died about 1870; Jacob Buḳ'ai (), died about 1899; R. Joseph ben Señor, appointed ḥakam bashi by an imperial firman, resigned after a year to return to Smyrna, his home. In 1889 the Jews of Beirut numbered 1,500 in a population of 20,000.
Midrashim and Modern Schools.
In 1901, numbering 5,000 in a population of 180,000, they had for their spiritual leader Moses Aaron Yedid Levi, and for their official representative Ḥayyim Murad Yusuf Dana. They have a large synagogue and twelve "midrashim" (meeting-houses), called generally after their founders. The names of the midrashim are as follows: (1) Midrash Ḥakam Shem-Ṭob; (2) Midrash Raphael Stambuli; (3) Midrash of the Damascenes; (4) Midrash Diarné (founded by Jews from Dair-el-Ḳamar, in the Lebanon mountains, who had fought with the Christians against the Druses in 1860 and had been forced with them to leave the mountains. They are renowned for their physical strength and are dyers by trade); (5) Midrash Joseph Picciotto; (6) Midrash of the Society Misgab Ladak; (7) Midrash of Isaac Mann; (8) Midrash Ruben Iddy (); (9) Midrash Samhaji; (10) Midrash of the Ashkenazim; (11) Midrash of the Jewish Alliance; (12) Midrash Menahem Yédid.
Families and Societies.
The first to open a Jewish school upon modern European methods was Ḥakam Zaki Cohen. A school for girls was established in June, 1878, by Emma Rosenzweig, and was taken over by the Alliance Israélite Universelle. In 1899 it had 237 pupils. In 1879 a boys' school was founded by the Alliance, and in 1899 it had 290 pupils. In 1890 a manual-training school was founded, from which a number of good workmen have been graduated, especially carpenters and smiths. In 1899 this school had 16 pupils. But on the whole the Jews of Beirut follow commerce rather than trade. Aside from some Syrian Jews, the greater number have come from Smyrna and Constantinople, and lately from Russia. Among the most prosperous families are: the Anzarut (), Ḥayyim Murad Yusuf Dana, Isaac Mann, the brothers Iddy, Joseph Rubben, and Joseph Picciotto.
There are two benevolent societies at Beirut: the Biḳḳur-Ḥolim, founded in 1890 for assisting the sick poor; and the Misgab-Laddak, founded in 1896 for placing youths in apprenticeship. Although not far from Damascus, where Jewish studies are still pursued, Beirut has neither a body of rabbis nor any Jewish writer of importance. Yet in the Midrash Stambuli there is a room set apart for study, the yeshibah, where old men and pious Jews meet daily to read from the Zohar, the Talmud, etc.
Three young Jews of Beirut have published works in Arabic: (1) Selim Mann, author of four graded school-readers, entitled "Minhaj"; (2) Selim Cohen (son of Ḥakam Zaki Cohen), author of twenty plays; (3) Raphael Cohen (brother of Selim), a translator. Among other works he translated from French into Arabic a novel of Richebourg, "Jean-Loup."
- Géographie de la Syrie et de la Palestine, ed. Cherbuliez, Geneva, 1888;
- Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Encyklopädie der Classischen Alterthumswissenschaft, 5:321;
- Bulletin de l'Alliance Israélite Universelle, 1878 (2), p. 16 et passim;
- Bochart, Geogr. Sacra, col. 743;
- Ritter, Erdkunde, 17:55-59;
- Böttger, Lexikon zu Flavius Josephus, p. 57;
- Bädeker-Socin, Palöstina, p. 455;
- W. Bacher, in Monatsschrift, 41:604-612;
- S. Krauss, ibid. 554-564;
- idem, Lehnwörter, s.; and private sources.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Beirut, Syria'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/b/beirut-syria.html. 1901.
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