Jewish Archives in the Middle East and North Africa

Much of the historical materials relating to Jewish history in the Middle East and North Africa is today found outside of the region, in large part due to two factors: First, the long history of colonialism (whereby records and archives relating to colonial administrations were kept in the metropole, or colonial center; and also the process of extracting local historical materials), and also because of the emigration of Jews to other countries, especially to Israel. As a result, much important material can be found especially in the archives of the Alliance Israélite Universelle (in Paris), and in Israel (e.g. at the National Library of Israel and the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People). Further, the Cairo Genizah materials should be considered in this category as materials which have been removed from the region.

In addition, a great deal of material relating to this history is stored in state and other public archives, as opposed to archives managed by Jewish community institutions, in part because the Jewish communities in these countries in recent decades have dwindled in size.

This list indicates some of the relevant collecting activities in the region, and also outside of it, that offers potential resources in addition to state archives.

Rabat Genizah Project, Moroccan Jewish Heritage Museum

In 2005, the Moroccan Jewish community began collecting historical materials from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which was stored at the Moroccan Jewish Heritage Museum in Casablanca, itself founded in 1997 by Simon Levy. In 2011, with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Rabat Genizah Project began digitizing these materials, which includes over 4,000 images. The digitization project was spearheaded by Dr. Oren Kosansky at Lewis & Clark College.

Iraqi Jewish Archives

Following the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, over 2,700 books and tens of thousands of historical documents on Iraqi Jewish history were discovered in the basement of Iraqi intelligence buildings. The materials were brought to the United States where the National Archives assisted in preserving and digitizing these materials, which are now available online. There has been an extended debate over whether and how these materials might be returned to Iraq; in 2014, the Obama administration reached an agreement with the Iraqi government for the files’ return in 2018, but the materials still remain in the United States.

Jewish Heritage Library in Egypt

The Jewish Heritage Library was founded in 1988 at Cairo‘s Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue, and contains books and other materials from the seventeenth century onwards.

Iranian Jewish Archives at Yale University

Formed in 2014, the Archive for Iranian-Jewish testimonies at Yale University has collected testimonies and oral histories of Persian Jews in their diaspora. Over 100 oral histories have been transcribed and made available online.

Jamie Lehmann Memorial Collection Records of the Jewish Community of Cairo, held at Yeshiva University

Nearly 7 linear feet of materials relating to the Jews of Cairo in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Includes books, by-laws, case files, certificates, correspondence, legal documents, minutes, photographs and reports, including of the International Order of B’nai B’rith in Cairo.