Tag: Jews of Muslim republics

Professor: ‘The Pashtuns are not descended from Jews’

What are the origins of the Jews of Bukhara? Do the Pashtun tribes of Afghanistan really have Jewish roots? Dan Shapira, a professor of Jewish studies at Bar Ilan University, enlightens us in Tablet:

Jewish girls in Samarkand
Nowadays, the Jews of Central Asia are either “Bukharan,” because they are descendants of the former subjects of the Emir of Bukhara, or else they are Ashkenazi Jews who settled there in the Russian Imperial period beginning in the 1860s, with the addition of political deportees in the Soviet period and Polish refugees who were fleeing Hitler.

 The Bukharan Jews spoke (and some still speak) the local variety of Persian, being urban folk (the cities used to be Persian-speaking). In the second half of the 20th century, they mostly switched to speaking Russian—similar to the ways that Arabophone Jews switched to French in North Africa and the Levant.

A geographical Middle Persian text, edited in the Early Islamic Period, mentions Jews in Khvarazm. A Soviet scholar (Tolstov, 1948) built a far-fetched theory linking those Jews of Khvarazm to the Khazars.

 How long have Jews actually lived in Central Asia?

It is possible that some Jews were living in the eastern parts of the (former) Achemaenid satrapies by the time the Book of Esther was composed. The Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zarah 31b, implies that Jews were living in Marw/Marv/Margiana in the fourth century CE. Jewish inscriptions dating from the Sassanid Period have been found in Baryam-Ali near Marw/Marv/Margiana, though Michael Shenkar tends to ascribe them to a later date. 

 So, the Taliban Are Not Actually Descended From Jews?

There are both pre-modern and modern legends about the Jewish origins of Pashtun/Pathan tribes in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Unfortunately for lovers of distant cultural correspondences and romantic myths, these legends are baseless. The Pashtun tribes arrived on the historical scene lately and from nowhere, aspiring to a status similar to that of the Persians; their tribal leaders, who were also poets at the same time, invented for them an Israelite origin. “Persians have literature, courtly culture, and food, we are descendants of the people mentioned in the Qur’an.”

 Three stone inscriptions in Early Judeo-Persian were found in Tang-e Azāo in Ḡur Province, Western Afghanistan, Ḡur Province. They were dated 1064 Seleucid Era (752/3 CE).
Jews and the Silk Road to China.

Two Early Judeo-Persian letters from the eighth century were found on the Silk Road, in Dandān Öilïq in Western China, the first in 1896, and the second, from the ninth century, a decade ago. 

As in many other cases of modern languages first recorded in Hebrew characters, Early Modern Persian is first documented in these private Judeo-Persian letters found on the Silk Road. A Jewish community existed in the Chinese capital of Kaifeng under the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127), to which Jews arrived from the Persian-speaking world, as is evident from the Judeo-Persian rubrics in their prayer books. 

Jewish historical stelae in Chinese were erected in Kaifeng in 1489, 1512, and 1663.
The Jewish participation in trade through the northern route of the Silk Road was part of the push of multireligious Sogdian merchants and missionaries from Central Asia into China. Sogdian merchants on the Silk Road were divided into several religions—Manicheans, Nestorian Christians, a variety of Zoroastrians, and Buddhists. Dharmaguptaka and Sarvastivada Buddhism seem to have been prevalent in Central Asia and some traces still survive in the Far East. In fact, the name of Bukhara is Sanskrit for “a Buddhist monastery, vihāra.” 

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Azerbaijan Jews pray for the motherland’

As the conflict rages between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno- Karabakh, the Chabad emissary to Azerbaijan, Shneur Segal, has been praying for the victory of the ‘motherland’. David Ian Klein in The Forward filed this report: 

Azeri Jewish girls before marriage, 1950s (photo: Bet Hatefutsot)

Azeris consider Shusha, in the north of the region, to be a city of national and historical importance, as it was a center of Azeri culture before the area was conquered by the Russian Empire. 

 “I believe we’ll hold our next sermon at Shusha,” Segal said during his synagogue’s service, according to Turkey’s Anadolu Agency.
Though most countries haven’t taken a side in the current conflict, the international community has largely recognized Azerbaijan’s claim to the region since the 1990s. 

The current conflict has led to the most intense fighting that Nagorno-Karabakh has seen since the early 1990s. Following a few clashes over the summer, it began in earnest in late September. Both sides claim the other struck first, both have seen heavy casualties, and both have seen their civilian populations, even outside of the conflict zone, targeted.

 It’s further complicated by each side’s allies. Azerbaijan has received significant arm sales from Israel in recent years, as one of their few allied Muslim nations. Armenians have reported Israeli made-weapons being used on Armenian villages in Nagorno-Karabakh, prompting the country to recall its ambassador from Israel in early October. 

However, far more troubling for Armenians is Azerbaijan’s biggest backer, Turkey. The memory of the Armenian genocide — perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century, as it transitioned into the Turkish Republic — is fresh in the minds of Armenians, and war with Turkish backed enemy has led some Armenians to say that the conflict is an existential threat.

Armenia, on the other hand, is backed by both Russia and Iran. 

 When Rabbi Segal said he would give his next sermon in Shusha, he was speaking to the desire of Azeris to reconquer a region they feel was stolen from them 30 years ago.
“We prayed for every soldier and our army, which fights for our motherland,” he said at the service.

Across the battle lines though, in a Sukkah in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, Armenian Jews prayed too. 

 “I sat there with my mask on to protect against COVID-19, next to a Lubavitcher rabbi, praying that Israeli bombs won’t fall on Armenian lives,” an Armenian Jew named Rachel told Haaretz.

Unlike Armenia, which has only about 500 Jews, 

Azerbaijan has a large and diverse Jewish community, estimated by its members at around 30,000.
Azerbaijan is the only place outside of Israel and New York state to contain an all-Jewish town. Qirimizi Qeseba, sometimes known by its Russian name, Krasnaya Sloboda, is an enclave of Azerbaijan’s “Mountain Jews,” who have been present in the Caucasus Mountains since as early as the 8th century BCE.

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Bukharan community dwindles to about 200 Jews

The Bukharan community has shrunk to the point  where its future is in peril, Yahoo reports. While most Jew left  for economic reasons in recent times, Bukhara has a history ( until the 19th century) ofantisemitismand forced conversions. (With thanks: Gideon)

Among the handful of worshippers to attend, the
tall 15-year-old, dressed in Nike trainers, sweats and an off-white yarmulke,
is the youngest man in the room by decades.

“This is our future cantor,” says Abram Iskhakov, 70, the synagogue’s current cantor and the president of the Bukhara Jewish Community. “The youth don’t come, they go to Israel and America, but he comes.”“This is our future cantor,” says Abram Iskhakov, 70, the
synagogue’s current cantor and the president of the Bukhara Jewish Community.

Once home to more than 23,000 Jews, the ancient Silk Road city of Bukhara now has around 200. Thousands of Bukharian Jews emigrated because of antisemitic policies under the Soviet Union, and still more due to Uzbekistan’s bleak economic prospects after its independence in 1991.

 The emigre community
is far larger than its wellspring, with more than 50,000 Bukharian Jews in New
York and more than 100,000 in Israel.

Despite boasting two synagogues, deep-pocketed foreign donors, and a Jewish school where Badalov learns Hebrew, the Jewish community in Bukhara has shrunk to the point where its future is in peril.”

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Azerbaijan erects monument to Jewish war hero

The love affair continues between Azerbaijan and the Jews, as a monument is unveiled to an Azeri Jewish military hero, Albert Agarunov. But the Azeris’ Armenian adversaries are not impressed, and the comments thread on this JNS News story is replete with insults from Armenian readers. 

On Dec. 8, 1991, Agarunov and  his driver, Agababa Huseynov, managed to disable nine Armenian tanks and two armored trucks.

During another skirmish, Agarunov managed to disable two tanks by a method called the “Jewish sandwich” by his comrades.

 He was wanted by the Armenians, who allegedly offered 5 million rublуs to catch him.

In 1992, he voluntarily served in the Karabakh war; on May 8 of that year, he was killed by a sniper’s bullet.

He won awards from his country; a school in Baku is named after him; and in 2017, a memorial plaque was erected in front of his home.

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Museum could be memorial to extinct mountain Jews

Relations between Azerbaijan and Israel could not be better, but  they cannot stop the decline of the local Jewish community. A new Jewish museum may be no more than a memorial to a dying community, reports Cnaan Liphshiz in Israel National News:

For one day each summer, the hills overlooking the centuries-old
Jewish town of Krasnaiya Sloboda in Azerbaijan echo with the sound of
wailing women.

The women ascend up a narrow path from this town of several hundred
residents in northern Azerbaijan to its vast cemetery. It’s an annual
procession on Tisha b’Av, the Jewish day of mourning for the destruction
of the Temple in Jerusalem.

At the cemetery, each woman sits next to a loved one’s grave –
usually a husband or child, but sometimes a parent or sibling. She sings
mournfully for hours in Juhuri, a dying Jewish language made up of
Farsi and Hebrew with Aramaic and Turkic influences that is spoken only
by the Mountain Jews of the Caucasus.

Hundreds perform the ritual each year; some travel halfway across the
world to attend. It is a testament to how Krasnaiya Sloboda’s Mountain
Jews have endured for about a millennium since Persian Jews established
the town with the blessing of a local Muslim ruler.

Next year, the community hopes to strengthen its sense of identity
even further with the opening in town of a multimillion-dollar Mountain
Jews museum. Spearheaded by a wealthy expatriate living in Moscow, the
museum will feature artifacts collected from throughout the Caucasus,
including ritual objects, documents and other evidence of the Jewish
life that thrived here for centuries on the border between Europe and

But amid growing emigration by Jews from the rural and impoverished
area, some locals and experts on the community fear for its long-term
viability and that of its language — and that the museum will be less a
living tribute than a memorial.

“The demographic trajectory isn’t promising,” said Chen Bram, an
anthropologist from Hebrew University and Hadassah Academic College who
has researched Mountain Jews for decades. “I hope this new museum
doesn’t eventually become a monument for an extinct community” in
Krasnaiya Sloboda.

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