Syrian Jewry

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The Jews of Syria are made up of two distinct groups. One group lived in Syria from ancient times, while the other group were Jews who left Spain after the Spanish Inquisition.

Paul of Tarsus

Allepo and Damascus had Jewish communities early in the Christian era. In the year 49 C.E. the ethnarch , or governor, of the Jews, in Damascus, Paul of Tarsus, determinately converted many of the Jews to Christianity. However, when Syria was conquered by the Persians, in the year 614 C.E., Damascus Jews had the opportunity to seek vengeance on the oppressive Christains. Maimonidies, a great Jewish scholar and famed doctor, described Allepo as the only city in Syria in which the learning of the Torah survived.

Benjamin of Tadela

In 1170, medieval Navarrese adventurer Benjamin of Tudela visited Damascus. He found a flourishing Jewish community, even more than in Palestine. 10,000 Jews reportedly lived there and had an established academy, headed by Rabbi Ezra.
After the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, they moved to the different Islamic countries near the Mediterranean. At first, the newcomers remained within their own communities, separate from the native Jews. After several decades however, the two groups had become mostly one. The two groups still do have separate customs and traditions.

“The Syrian sephardi community traces its history in the United States to the arrival of Joseph Beyda in 1901. By 1914 an estimated 700 families had settled in this country, most of them in New York City.” At first many of them lived in the Lower East Side. Since then, most live in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Midwood and Flatbush.