During the nineteenth century Arab countries underwent an awaking process, which included their Jewish populations. This awakening manifested itself in the imitation of western models of education, culture, literature, poetry and theatre, as well as in the modernization of everyday life. Although the process was slow, the lives of Middle Eastern women, including Jewish women, were considerably influenced by this renaissance.
 The awakening of Babylonian Jewry began with the establishment of the Alliance Israelite Schools in Baghdad, which opened for boys in 1864 and for girls in 1893. Girls' school inaugurated a series of changes and far-reaching improvements in the lifestyle of educated urban Jewish women during the first part of the twentieth century. These positive changes involved Jewish women, mainly in the large cities; however they did not transform the social status of Jewish women as a self-conscious, collective, and fully formed group. Furthermore, these women failed to translate their personal achievements into a well worked-out and significant social phenomenon, nor could they alter the attitude of male society around them, or gain recognition as a separate and equal social factor.
 The changes in the life of Babylonian Jewish women should be examined against the background of the inferior and limited social status of their non-Jewish, usually Muslim, counterparts. One must consider the elements that influenced their lives and shaped their self-image, namely the local customs and social circumstances of the Jewish and non-Jewish environment.
 Very little has been written about the lives of Iraqi Jewish women. This was due to their confinement to the home, and to lack of exposure to the outside world. Travel books and memoirs relate very little information about the women in the Middle East, and even less about Jewish women. By compiling information that lies dispersed in books, various newspapers and primary documents, we shall attempt to outline the social and cultural evolution undergone by the Iraqi Jewish female population.
A. The Influence of the Environment and Customs
 Throughout the history of the people of Israel, the image of Jewish women was shaped in accordance with biblical laws, and a long tradition of legislation, regulations and customs established by Jewish sages. In addition, in Iraq there is no doubt that the influence of the Arab-Muslim society and the social status of the Muslim woman had a great impact on the Jewish women.
The Social Status of Muslim Women
 The status of the Muslim woman was predominantly determined by the Qur'an and by its interpretations. Male superiority was based on a verse from the Qur'an: "Men have the advantage over women." (1) This phrase was interpreted to mean that men are more privileged than women, and that women's duty is to obey them, because men are to pay mahar [bride price, dowry] and other expenses upon marriage. In fact, this interpretation compares the Muslim woman to an acquired commodity. The Qur'an also determines that the advantage of men over women stems from the will of God, according to the verse: "Men's supervision over women is decided by the will of God that has favoured one over the other." (2) Commentators expanded on this definition and concluded from the rest of this verse that men rule over women, and are allowed to beat their wives: "If disobedience is suspected, distance them [your wives] from your bedrooms and whip them."
 The nature of intimate relationships with women was based on the verse: "Your women are your ploughing ground; plough them at your will," (3) which according to the commentators meant that women are a fertile ground for procreation: "plough as much as you desire, standing up, sitting down and or lying down, through the front or the rear." This argument was reasoned by the verse: "God desires to be …