Some 300 rare and valuable Jewish books from Iraq have ended up in Israel.
The books, from a collection of books confiscated by Saddam Hussein’s secret police, include a 1487 commentary on Job and a volume of biblical prophets printed in Venice in 1617, according to Ha’aretz.
The Iraqi secret police confiscated and stored a large number of Jewish books. Many were damaged in the beginning of the 2003 U.S.-led war in Iraq during the bombing of Iraqi government buildings. After the war, many of the books were sent to Washington’s Library of Congress and some made their way to private dealers, who bought them from thieves.
One such dealer, Mordechai Ben-Porat, who was born in Iraq, began by sending an emissary to Baghdad who shipped the books to Israel directly. Eventually, U.S. authorities discovered his activities and barred further shipments. Ben-Porat then smuggled in the remaining books.
These books are the remnants of a once large and vibrant Iraqi Jewish community, numbering 130,000 Jews in 1948. Soon after Israel’s creation, Iraqi Jews began to suffer discrimination and fled the country en masse. At present, Iraq is believed to be home to less than 30 Iraqi Jews.