Historically, Kurdistan has had many Jewish communities, who, according to tradition, lived in Mesopotamia since the Assyrian Empire brought them there. The Bible references Jewish relocation in Kurdish areas, saying “The king of Assyria carried the Israelites away to Assyria, settled them in Halah, on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.”
In the 17th century, Kurdistan’s Jewish community had a renowned female religious leader. After her husband passed away, Asenath Barzani became widely recognized as Kurdistan’s premier Torah scholar.
In the early 20th century, Kurdish Jews numbered between 20,000 and 30,000, and lived in towns and villages from Iran to Iraq. The Kurdish Jews were highly regarded throughout Kurdistan, and when, in the 1950’s, most Kurdish Jews emigrated to Israel, left behind neighbors and friends who took care of their friend’s synagogues, in some cases for years. Today, almost all the Jewish Kurds live in Israel, numbering around 200,000.