“Jewish colonialism” began in the middle of the nineteenth century. Western European communities fought to instill values such as Haskala, emancipation, and acculturation among Middle Eastern Jews, in order to rescue them from what appeared as “inferiority” to European eyes. The central objective was to transform Middle Eastern Jews into citizens with equal rights who could contribute to the general society in their countries.
The Alliance Israélite Universelle society, that was founded in Paris in 1860, established a network of modern educational institutions throughout Middle Eastern countries. Middle Eastern Torah scholars from this region were in the position of responding to Haskala ideas and especially to the question of modern education brought from abroad by European Jews.
The present study deals with one of the greatest rabbis of the Middle East in the modern period, Rabbi Isaac Aboulafia, Chief Rabbi of the Damascus community between 1883 and 1895, in his role as educational revolutionary. The study examines the relationship of Aboulafia to the Alliance Israélite Universelle and to the issue of modern education as it arose with the renewal of the society’s activity in Damascus in 1880, after a lapse of about ten years.