Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Jewish Tombs In the Middle East

This year the JTS Reference Desk received inquires about two Jewish tombs located in the Middle East. We were asked to identify who was buried at Sojod, in Lebanon, about 22 km north of Metullah, and if there are any plans to rebuild that shrine; we were also asked to provide background information about the tomb of Nahum, in Iraq, and its inscription.

Regarding Sojod:

According to an article by Zvi Ilan “Towards a History of the Jewish Community in Lebanon in Modern Times” [translation of a Hebrew article’s title] in a journal called Kardom (March 1983) vol 26-27, p. 134-144: In Ottoman times Sojod was one of the most important sites of pilgrimage for Jews in southern Lebanon, being, according to tradition, the tomb of Oholiab Ben Ahisamakh. He was a Biblical figure mentioned in Exodus 31:6, 35:34, 36:1-2, 38:23; he was described as a skilled artist and craftsman (engraver and embroiderer), appointed by God, to help Bezalel construct the Tabernacle.

Additional documentation connecting Sujud with the biblical Oholiab is from a website about the nearby village of Mlikh
http://www.mlikh.com/history.html#_ftn29, which cites Dr. Estee Dvorjetski, of the University of Haifa esteed@research.haifa.ac.il as verifying the traditional connection between Sujud and Oholiab.

You may note that various sources have spelled the site differently: Sojod, Sajad, Soujud, Sijud, Sujud, Soujad. I am assuming that these differences are due to differences in local dialect, and the passage of time.

I have not found reference to Sujud in current gazetteers or maps, but I have found a location called Sijud (about 22 km north of el-Mutallah ) in an older map: map 16 in Atlas of the Historical Geography of the Holy Land, edited by George Adam Smith (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1915).

Nineteenth century travelers to the Holy Land, who have chronicled their journeys, have also mentioned Sijud: Edward Robinson and Eli Smith, in Later Biblical Researches in Palestine and the Adjacent Regions: A Journal of Travels in the Year 1852 (Boston, Crocker & Brewster, 1856), p. 44 mention a wely called Neby Sijud [neby means prophet in both Hebrew and Arabic].

William M. Thomson, a missionary, mentioned that local Jews sometimes make pilgrimages to the shrine of Sijud; now [1886] the location is the tomb of a Moslem saint (The Land and the Book, or Biblical Illustrations Drawn from the Manners and Customs, the Scenes and Scenery of the Holy Land, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1886, p. 168).

I have read many such travelers’ chronicles, and these two excerpts are quite typical.

A contemporary explanation of the term “wely” [also spelled weli] can be found in Karl Baedeker’s Palestine and Syria: Handbook for Travelers (1906). In short, it is the tomb of a saint, or holy man, held in veneration by the local population. “In Syria, almost every village has its weli, venerated alike by Moslems, Christians and Jews.” p. lxxv. [At the time this was published, Syria referred to what is now Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel, as well as Syria].

I have not found reference to any specific plans to rebuild this tomb.
Restoration plans for other synagogues were mentioned on the Jews of Lebanon blog http://www.thejewsoflebanon.org/me/ in Fall 2008, but nothing about Soujad. Another website discussing restoration is the Lebanese Jewish Community Council site http://www.thejewsoflebanonproject.org/ , especially the “Renovation” section.
Here is a photo of what remains of the Sojod site:

Regarding the Tomb of Nahum:

We received recent photographs of an inscription at the Tomb of Nahum in Iraq along with a request to identify the inscription and provide background information. My colleague Rabbi Jeremy Meyerowitz identified three lines in one of the carved inscriptions as Biblical quotes from Kings and Leviticus. The 3rd line is also a date (1680):

[1]בנה בניתי בית זבול לך
[2]מכון לשׁבתך עולמים
[3]שנת ג˙א˙ו˙ל˙ת˙ עולם

[1] Cf. I Kings 8:13, זבול is here spelled plene
[2] ibid.
[3] cf. Leviticus 25:32, גאולת is here spelled plene and each letter is marked to indicate its numerical value 440. This seems to be a reference to the year 5440 AM (1680 CE)

A book entitled Tombs of Saints and Synagogues in Babylonia: Studies and Documentation, edited by Zvi Yehuda (Or Yehuda, Israel, The Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center, 2006) briefly mentions the tomb of Nahum and Sarah (according to one tradition, his sister) in Elkosh."The earliest reports on the tomb date from the twelfth century CE. The enclosure, which also contains a synagogue, was in the hands of the Jews and remained so until the exodus in the mid-twentieth century…The Jews of Mosul and Kurdistan used to visit the tomb on the feast of Pentecost..they acted out the revelation of the Torah at Mt. Sinai" p. 15.

Haya Gavish has written an analysis of the significance of this pilgrimage in her article "Pilgrimage to the Tomb of Nahum Elkoshi in the Folk Narratives of the Jews of Zakho" in Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Folklore vol. XXII (2003) p. 25-46 [in Hebrew]. The English summary states: "this article deals with how the members of one Kurdish Jewish community, that of Zakho, related to the prophet Nahum, and how their attitude toward the prophet shaped their centuries-old religious connection to the Land of Israel. The prophet Nahum gave meaning to Jewish life in Zakho and served as a substitute for the unattainable Eretz-Yisrael--and that once Eretz Yisrael became a reality the community in effect discarded Nahum and the rituals connected with him" (p. viii ).

1 comment:

  1. Ariel Sabar's recent (auto)biography about the Kurdish Jewish home town of his father updates our understanding of the town he spells Zakho.(Aleph system number 330607; Call number DS135.K8 S23 2008 )--Clifford Miller