Iraqi Jews lived in a land that was physically and culturally linked to the central sacred texts of Judaism. Babylonia in Ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) is imbedded in biblical lore. According to Jewish tradition, the Garden of Eden was located in the fertile region between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Iraqi Muslims and Iraqi Jews both revered local sites of tombs associated with biblical leaders and prophets, such as Daniel, Ezekiel, Ezra, and Jonah.
The Babylonian Talmud originated in this region. In the centuries after its compilation in the 5th century, it became the core text of Judaism combining traditional legal precedents, major Jewish concepts, and Jewish mores and practices. Renowned for their Jewish scholarship, the great 6th to 11th-century academies of Sura and Pumbedita elevated Babylonian rabbinic Judaism to become the dominant approach throughout the Jewish world.
In Jewish communities throughout the Middle East, the Torah scroll is generally housed in a rigid “tik,” or case made of wood or metal. Originally covered with velvet and metal ornamentation, this tik suffered damage in the flood water. The architectural form of this tik and most other Iraqi examples resembles the silhouette of Iraqi minaret towers.
This volume of the Hebrew Bible is one of the earliest printed books discovered in the Mukhabarat headquarters. Printed in late Renaissance era Venice by Giovannidi Gara, the central biblical text is surrounded by rabbinic commentaries. Of the close to 1,200 religious books recovered, approximately a quarter were printed in Baghdad,but others were imported from Hebrew presses worldwide—from India to Lithuania.
A Torah scroll contains the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (known as the Torah). As in ancient times, it is handwritten on parchment and cherished as an embodiment of the Divine word. Though no complete Torah scrolls were found, 48 Torah scroll fragments were recovered from the Mukhabarat basement. This fragment contains a text from Genesis.
Beginning in 1862 and lasting more than 100 years, Baghdad’s Hebrew presses produced a variety of books, including liturgical works according to local customs.Over 400 prayer books and other liturgical texts were recovered from the Mukhabarat basement.