Nahum's Tomb: A Shavuot Like No Other
This site in Iraqi Kurdistan was a major Jewish gathering spot on Shavuot.
Shavuot was known locally as "Eid al-Ziyara," Judeo-Arabic for "festival of the pilgrimage." While individual pilgrims visited the shrine throughout the year, during the Shavuot season several thousand people--some sources say almost the entire Jewish population of Mosul and surrounding villages--would arrive en masse.
Young and old came together in special holiday dress and camped in the compound's guest houses or in tents spread out in the surrounding fields. Some stayed for a full two weeks. Local communities formed their own prayer groups, and singing voices filled the village and the compound, which was lit at night by hundreds of candles.
The highlight of the pilgrimage was a dramatic staging of the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, and a play supposed to pre-figure the battle of Gog and Magog.
While there are varying accounts of the festivities, the theatrics began after a dawn service on the first day of Shavuot. Led by an entourage carrying Torah scrolls, a large group climbed for three hours to the top of the nearby mountain, called "Mount Sinai" by locals. A brief mountain-top ceremony featured the recitation of a prayer commemorating the giving of the Ten Commandments.
Then the participants would descend the mountain in a war-like procession, accompanied by drummers and men carrying swords. At the foot of the mountain, armed men acted out a battle, with loud cries, clouds of dust, and the sound of clashing weapons--evoking the prophetic account of the battle of Gog and Magog that according to Jewish lore will precede the coming of the Messiah.
Later, inside the tomb, an hour-long celebration featured a reading of an old scroll of the Book of Nahum. Men would surround the tomb, with women listening from the outer complex. Following the reading, men organized themselves by name, in alphabetical order, and marched seven times around the tomb, singing sacred songs. Upon starting the seventh encirclement, the crowd would break into the hymn: "Rejoice in the joy of the Prophet Nahum!" At this point women joined the procession around the tomb, singing prayers in Arabic and Kurdish while dancing and clapping.
Over night, fruits would be placed atop the tomb by some of the pilgrims. The next day, all the pilgrims would file past the tomb, make a donation, and then taste a sample of the fruits, now believed to have received Nahum's blessing.
Diarna, "Our Homes" in Judeo-Arabic, is a project dedicated to virtually preserving Mizrahi ("Eastern") Jewish history through the lens of physical location. Satellite imagery, photographs, videos, oral histories, panoramas, and even three-dimensional models, offer a unique digital window onto sites and communities disappearing before our very eyes. To begin your free trip--no passport or airfare required--explore Diarna's website (http://www.diarna.org).
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