Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 42 

Central Asia is “between the Black and Caspian Seas”. I find geographic landmarks helpful in map reading.

Since the days of King David, 10,000 BCE, Jewish traders had been traveling to Persia, according to ancient Jewish texts. The first, first-person documented account of a Jewish community present in Central Asia is actually found in the Babylonian Talmud: Rabbi Schmuel bar Bisna traveled to what is now Turkmenistan, and worried the wine local Jews were producing was not Kosher. Many believe that Jews were brought to the region of Persia and Central Asia as part of the Assyrian captivity of 7th century BCE. When King Cyrus the Persian defeated the Babylonians in 540 BCE, he encouraged the newly freed Jews to settle throughout his domain. 

An ancient Jewish Persian ancestry started in southwestern Iran between 8th and 5th century BCE. The less disputed descendants of this group are called the Jews of the Caucasus, or Mountain Jews. The Bible mentions them in their ancient home of Azerbaijan where they still reside 2,300 years later; in Ezra 8:17 the prophet sends delegates to their city, seeking priests for the Second Temple. Mountain Jews speak Judeo-Tat, a language that is primarily Persian but incorporates Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arab elements. They have a two-tiered rabbinate, with rabbis and head Rabbi called Dayan. Their faith includes Kabbalah mysticism and is neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardic. Genetic studies performed in 2002 confirmed the ancestral Y-DNA of Mountain Jews is Jewish by way of the Levant, Persian, and Iraqi.

Georgian-speaking Jews have a 2,600 year history in the Caucasus. They say they are descendants of one of the Lost Tribes, and a 1st century Georgian Jew came back from a trip to Israel with a cloak he claimed Jesus was wearing at his own Crucifixion, but he got from a guard at Golgotha. (Holy relic, Batman!) A wide genetic study on non European diaspora Jewish populations in 2012 confirmed that Georgian Jews have Persian and Levantine roots. A minority of Georgian Jews have Karaite beliefs but Rabbinical Judaism is practiced by the majority. 

Bukharan Jews are Mizrahi Persian Jews who have had a presence in Central Asia for thousands of years. Many Bukharan believe they are descendants of the Lost Tribes Issachar and Naphtali. They are one of the oldest ethno-religious groups in Central Asia. As Sephardic Jews moved into the region, fleeing persecution, Bukharan adopted their religious practices. At the nexus of the Spice Road, Bukharan Jews are famous for their cuisine which mixes elements of Persian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Chinese, Indian, Russian, and traditional Jewish cooking all together. Today the great majority of Bukharan Jews live in the United States and Israel. 

Further reading

Abizov, Rafis (2007). Culture and Customs of the Central Asian Republics. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 75.

Rosengarten, D. (2002). “Y Chromosome Haplotypes among Members of the Caucasus Jewish Communities

Begley, Sharon. (7 August 2012) Genetic study offers clues to history of North Africa’s Jews | Reuters Retrieved on 2017-07-09 

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