Jewish communities in six Gulf states form new organisation after peace deals

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Jewish communities in six Gulf states form new organisation after peace deals

Dubbed the 'Beth Din of Arabia', Jews in the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi will be supported with everything from kosher food to diplomatic and cultural issues

Mezuzah being place don ht representative office of the Israel Diamond exchange in Dubai
Mezuzah being place don ht representative office of the Israel Diamond exchange in Dubai

Jews living in six Gulf states have formed a new organisation to support communities following last year’s historic normalisation agreements with Israel.

The Association of Gulf Jewish Communities (AGJC), complete with a Beth Din (Jewish religious court), will initially be led by Beirut-born Rabbi Elie Abadie and support Jewish life in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.

Dubbed the ‘Beth Din of Arabia,’ the court will preside over civil disputes, personal status, inheritance, and Jewish ritual, and will also run the Arabian Kosher Certification Agency, as diplomatic progress filters down into cultural life.

Last year Israel signed normalisation agreements with Bahrain and the UAE, in a major geopolitical shift that seems likely to herald similar ties with states such as Oman, with Sudan and Morocco having already followed suit.

Ambassador Houda Nonoo and rabbi Elie Abadie in December 2020

Abadie explained the timing and rationale for the AGJC to the Times of Israel. “The future has been changed in the last six months here, as this region is opening up to the presence of Jewish people,” he said.

“As communities we ought to get together and try to have the infrastructure necessary to service the local Jewish community and all those Jews who are passing through.”

Daniel Wise in Qatar, blowing the shofar

Small Jewish communities in the UAE and Bahrain already exist, but in other Gulf states there is only a skeleton infrastructure for Jewish diplomats, businessmen, soldiers, and expats, including “a handful” in Saudi Arabia. “There are others that do not yet publicly live a Jewish life, but we do know of people living there that are members of our association,” said Abadie, adding that he “could not be more honoured” to head the new organisation.

Three rabbis are needed for the Beth Din, and they will fly in from Israel, Europe, and the US to join Abadie as judges when the court meets, but the AGJC hopes to expand its offering into education, from early childhood to lectures and conferences.

AGJC president will be Ebrahim Dawood Nonoo from Bahrain, whose family moved there in the 1890s from Basra in Iraq. In 2001, he became the first Jew appointed to serve on the country’s Shura Council, the upper chamber of its National Assembly.

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