By: Richard Gottheil
City in a vilayet of the same name in Asiatic Turkey, about 54 miles from the Persian gulf and 1¼ miles west of the Shaṭṭ al-'Arab; founded by the Arabs in 636. Nothing is known of the early history of the Jews in this city, but the eminence to which it rose, especially as a center of learning, must have early attracted them thither. Together with Wasiṭ it was under the spiritual jurisdiction of the school at Sura. Of the names of the learned Jews who lived there very few are known. Masarjawaih, one of the leading physicians and the oldest translator (883), was a Baṣrian; also probably Mashallah, one of the first Arabic astrologers (770-820), if his pupil Al-Khayyat is to be trusted, who calls him "Al-Baṣri" ("Z. D. M. G." liii. 428, 434). R. Joseph bar Saṭyah (942) settled in Bassora when the school at Sura was finally closed (Sherira, "Letter," ed. Neubauer, i. 40).
Benjamin of Tudela (twelfth century) gives the number of Jews there as about 2,000; and he found these to be learned men and rich merchants. They seem to have suffered with the other inhabitants during the Tatar invasion. It is said that 10,000 of them in Bassora, Mosul, and Ḥisn-Kef fell before the sword of Tamerlane (fourteenth century; see Jost's "Annalen," 1839, p. 197). Texeira, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, does not mention Jews there at all.
The modern community seems to date from the middle of the eighteenth century. According to local tradition, the new settlement was made by Jews from Bagdad. In 1854 Petermann found only thirty Jewish families, in a population of 5,000. On Shabuoth, he relates, all the inhabitants make pilgrimages to the grave of Ezra ("Reisen," i. 152; compare Pethahiah of Regensburg, "Travels," p. 51). Benjamin II. ("Eight Years in Asia and Africa," p. 137) relates that "a devastating epidemic decimated the population, so that a whole portion of the city is empty and the houses fallen into ruins. In the middle of these ruins stand four synagogues, of which, however, three are unused and empty." According to the latest official statistics, there are 1,900 Jews in the city of Bassora and its surrounding villages, and 4,500 in the vilayet, which has a general population of 950,000. There are Jewish rabbis in the cities of Bassora, Amara, and Muntefik of the vilayet; there are two schools at Bassora, two at Amara, and one at Naṣiriyyah (Cuinet, "La Turquie d'Asie," iii. 209, 220). The chief trade of the Jews is in dates. The Alliance Israélite Universelle gives to the Talmud Torah school at Bassora (attended by about 150 pupils) an annual subvention of five hundred francs ("Bulletin All. Isr." No. 24, p. 137). The rabbis in 1900 were Ḥakam Judah and Ḥakam Ezra.
- Graetz, History of the Jews, iii. 98, 147, 202, 437.