2004: 150,000 to 270,000 (estimated)
|Regions with significant populations|
|Azerbaijan, Dagestan, Israel,
United States, Russia
|Israel||100,000 to 140,000|
|United States||10,000 to 40,000|
|Azerbaijan||12,000 to 30,000
(according to Mountain
Jews community in Baku)
|European Union||3,000 to 10,000|
|Juhuri, Hebrew, Russian, Azerbaijani|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Persian Jews, Mizrahi Jews , Other Jewish groups|
|Part of a series on|
|Jews and Judaism|
The Mountain Jews community originated from Ancient Persia, from 5th century AD onwards, and their language, Juhuri is an ancient Southwest Iranian language and a Persian dialect which integrates many elements of Ancient Hebrew. It is believed that they had arrived in Persia from Ancient Israel as early as the 8th century BCE. The Mountain Jews survived numerous historical vicissitudes by settling in extremely remote and mountainous areas. They were known to be accomplished warriors and horseback riders.
The Mountain Jews are believed to have inhabited Caucasia since the 5th century AD. They arrived from southwestern Iran. The language of the Mountain Jews, Juhuri, is an Ancient Southwest Iranian language, which integrates many elements of Ancient Hebrew. It is believed that they had arrived in Persia, from Ancient Israel, as early as the 8th century BCE. The Mountain Jews maintained a strong military tradition. Some historians[who?] believe they may be descended from Jewish military colonists, settled by Parthian and Sassanid rulers in the Caucasus as frontier guards against nomadic incursions from the Pontic steppe.
In the 18th–19th century, the Jews resettled from the highland to the coastal lowlands but carried the name "Highland Jews" or "Mountain Jews" with them. In the villages (aouls) the Mountain Jews settled in a part of their own; in towns they did the same, although their dwellings did not differ from those of their neighbors. Mountain Jews adopted the dress of the highlanders. Judaic prohibitions ensured they retained specific dishes, and they enshrined their faith in the rules for family life.
By 1926, more than 85% of Mountain Jews in Dagestan were already classed as urban. Mountain Jews were mainly concentrated in the cities of Makhachkala, Buynaksk, Derbent, Nalchik and Grozny in North Caucausus; Quba, Kirovograd, and Baku in Azerbaijan. With changing economic and political realities following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many Mountain Jews permanently left their hometowns in the Caucasus and relocated to Moscow or abroad. The community has been particularly affected by First Chechen War that saw high incidence of kidnappings and violence at the hands of militants against the local Jewish community. Today, notable number of Mountain Jews reside in Israel and United States.
Jews in Azerbaijan
During the construction of a stadium in the town of Guba a mass grave was discovered. Two main wells and two canals with human bones were uncovered. The finds indicate that 24 skulls were of children, 28 were of women of various ages. Besides ethnic Azerbaijanis, there were also Jews and Lezgis killed and buried during March Days in 1918, when the Bolsheviks and the ARF massacred thousands of people. The names of 81 massacred Jewish civilians were found and confirmed. It's estimated by Amnesty International and Azerbaijani forensic scientists more than 3,000 Mountain Jews were killed by Armenian Dashnaks during March Days events.
While elsewhere in the Jewish diaspora, Jews were prohibited from owning land (cf. the Jews of Central Asia), at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, the Mountain Jews owned land and were farmers and gardeners, growing mainly grain. Their oldest occupation was rice-growing, but they also raised silkworms and cultivated tobacco. The Jewish vineyards were especially notable. The Jews and their Christian Armenian neighbors were the main producers of wine, an activity prohibited for Muslims by their religion. Judaism, in turn, limited some types of meat consumption. Unlike their neighbors, the Jews raised few domestic animals. At the same time, they were renowned tanners. Tanning was their third most important economic activity after farming and gardening. At the end of the 19th century, 6% of Jews were engaged in this trade. Handicrafts and commerce were mostly practiced by Jews in towns.
The Soviet authorities bound the Mountain Jews to collective farms, but allowed them to continue their traditional cultivation of grapes, tobacco, and vegetables; and making wine. The former isolated lifestyle of the Jews has practically ended, and they live side by side with other ethnic groups.
With increasing urbanization and sovietization in progress, by 1930s, a layer of intelligentsia began to form. By late 1960s, academic professionals such as pharmacists, medical doctors, and engineers were quite common among the community. In fact, academic professions were much more common among the Mountain Jewish than Georgian Jews, though still less comparing to the professional stratum in the Soviet Ashkenazi community. A sizable number of Mountain Jewish worked in the entertainment industry in Dagestan. The republic's world-acclaimed dancing ensemble "Lezginka" was led by Tankho Israilov, a Mountain Jew, for twenty one years (1958–79).
By virtue of their Persian descent, Mountain Jews are considered to be of Sephardic lineage. Mountain Jews tenaciously held on to their religion throughout the centuries, developing their own unique traditions and religious practices. Mountain Jewish traditions are infused with teachings of Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism. The religious survival of the community, however, was not without difficulties.
It has been reported that the fifth rebbe of the Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty, Sholom Dovber Schneersohn (1860-1920) took a personal interest in the fate of Mountain Jews. He investigated their position and learned that because of their physical isolation many Mountain Jewish communities lacked spiritual and educational leaders, though their national and religious identity continue to play a central role in daily life. The rabbi organized a determined campaign to strengthen the community's faith. He appointed a distinguish scholar, Rabbi Shmuel Levitin, to organize Jewish schools and Talmudic seminaries in the Caucasus and to train the next generation of rabbis, teachers, hazzans, and shochets who could perform religious rituals according to community's Sephardic tradition. The task proved quite difficult, as Mountain Jews initially resisted the authority of Ashkenazi rabbis. With hard work, however, Chabad managed to overcome the prejudice and help Mountain Jews accept much-needed help.
The next trying times for the community came in the form of Soviet authority's assimilation efforts and prevailing Soviet antisemitism. In 1920s and 1930s, Soviet Union started a more aggressive persecution campaign against Judaism. During this time, Soviet authorities propagated the myth that Mountain Jews were not part of the world Jewish people at all, but rather members of Tat community that settled in the region. Soviet antisemitism and anti-Zionism rhetoric was further intensified during Khrushchev rule. In 1960, blood libel accusations shook Dagestan. Increasingly hostile atmosphere towards their faith and national identity affected Mountain Jews.
At the beginning of the 1950s, there were synagogues in all major Mountain Jewish communities. By 1966, reportedly six synagogues remained  after some were confiscated by the Soviet authorities. While Mountain Jews still carefully observed the rituals of circumcision, marriage and burial, as well as Jewish holidays, other precepts of Jewish faith were observed less punctiliously. The community's national identity, however, remained unshaken despite the Soviet efforts  and cases of intermarriage were rare. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Mountain Jews experienced a significant religious revival, with active participation by members of the younger generation.
Educational institutions, language, literature
Originally, only boys were educated and they attended synagogue schools. With Sovietization, Juhuri became the language of instruction at newly founded elementary schools. This policy continued until the beginning of World War II. In 1928, the first native-language newspaper, Zakhmetkesh (Working People), was published. After WWII, Russian was the required language at Quba schools, and the newspaper stopped publication. Mountain Jew intellectuals are active in Qubai culture.
Notable Mountain Jews
- Yekutiel Adam - Israeli general and former Deputy Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces.
- Udi Adam - Israeli general and the former head of the Israeli Northern Command.
- Hizgil Avshalumov (1913–2001) – novelist, poet and playwrighter.
- Yaffa Yarkoni - Israeli singer, winner of the "Israel Prize" in 1998.
- Sarit Hadad - Israeli singer.
- Telman Ismailov - Businessman and entrepreneur; owner of AST group.
- Sergey Izgiyayev (1922–1972) – was the author of nine books of poetry and five plays, the translator and creator of lyrics for more than thirty songs.
- Omer Adam - Israeli singer.
- Albert Agarunov - A Starshina of the Azerbaijani Army who died during the Nagorno-Karabakh War.
- Israel Tsvaygenbaum - Russian-American artist (Polish Father; Mountain Jewish Mother)
- Lior Refaelov - Israeli Football Player.
- Gavril Abramovich Ilizarov (1921 – 24 July 1992) was a Soviet physician, known for inventing the Ilizarov apparatus for lengthening limb bones and for his eponymous surgery. He was a Hero of Socialist Labor (1981), a laureate of the Lenin Prize (1979), and a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences (1991).
- Russian Census 2010: Population by ethnicity (Russian)
- Mountain Jews: customs and daily life in the Caucasus, Leʼah Miḳdash-Shemaʻʼilov, Liya Mikdash-Shamailov, Muzeʼon Yiśraʼel (Jerusalem), UPNE, 2002, page 17
- Mountain Jews: customs and daily life in the Caucasus, Leʼah Miḳdash-Shemaʻʼilov, Liya Mikdash-Shamailov, Muzeʼon Yiśraʼel (Jerusalem), UPNE, 2002, page 9
- Mountain Jews: customs and daily life in the Caucasus, Leʼah Miḳdash-Shemaʻʼilov, Liya Mikdash-Shamailov, Muzeʼon Yiśraʼel (Jerusalem), UPNE, 2002, page 19
- Pinkus, B., & Frankel, J. (1984). The Soviet Government and the Jews, 1948-1967: A Documented Study. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Gorodetsky, L. (2001). Jews from the Caucasus: A dying breed? http://www.jta.org/2001/06/06/life-religion/features/jews-from-the-caucasus-a-dying-breed-3. Accessed November 12, 2013.
- JTA. (2000). Around the Jewish World: Russia’s Mountain Jews Support War in Chechnya, but Are Eager to Get out. http://www.jta.org/2000/03/01/archive/around-the-jewish-world-russias-mountain-jews-support-war-in-chechnya-but-are-eager-to-get-out#ixzz2kSedZ42B; Accessed November 12, 2013.
- Mountain Jews – by Sarah Marcus – Tablet Magazine – A New Read on Jewish Life. Tabletmag.com. Accessed November 12, 2013.
- Brown, F. (2002). Mountain Jews struggle to keep culture intact. Accessed November 12, 2013
- "Б. Сафаров. Установить всех жертв поименно не удастся". Эхо. Retrieved June 9, 2011.
- "Mass Grave Found in Northern Azerbaijan". Visions. Spring 2007. Retrieved June 9, 2011.
- "Rovshan Mustafayev: "More than 3000 Mountain Jews were killed by Armenians during 1918-1919"". news.az. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
- Pinkus, B., & Frankel, J. (1984). The Soviet Government and the Jews, 1948-1967: A Documented Study. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chicago
- Cnaan Liphshiz. (2013). Jewish shtetl in Azerbaijan survives amid Muslim majority. http://www.jta.org/2013/08/29/news-opinion/world/jewish-shtetl-in-azerbaijan-survives-amid-muslim-majority#ixzz2kSt0TdaT; Accessed at November 12, 2013.
- Miḳdash-Shemaʻʼilov, L. (2002). Mountain Jews: Customs and daily life in the Caucasus (Vol. 474). UPNE. Chicago
- The Mountain Jews. http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/109629/jewish/The-Mountain-Jews.htm; Accessed November 12, 2013
- Jewish Virtual History Library, Azerbaijan, Accessed November 11, 2013.
- Cnaan Liphshiz. (2013). Jewish shtetl in Azerbaijan survives amid Muslim majority. http://www.jta.org/2013/08/29/news-opinion/world/jewish-shtetl-in-azerbaijan-survives-amid-muslim-majority#ixzz2kSt0TdaT; Accessed at November 12, 2013
- Miḳdash-Shemaʻʼilov, L. (2002). As a result of these experiences, they developed a keen skill in mechanics and particular: classic car restoration. http://www.thejewishnews.com/jews-who-cruise/ Mountain Jews: Customs and daily life in the Caucasus (Vol. 474). UPNE. Chicago
- Alexander Murinson. Jews in Azerbaijan: a History Spanning Three Millennia. http://www.stmegi.com/Common_Public/BlogPage.aspx?bid=1012/; Accessed November 12, 2012.
- Behar, D. M., Metspalu, E., Kivisild, T., Rosset, S., Tzur, S., Hadid, Y., ... & Skorecki, K. (2008). Counting the founders: the matrilineal genetic ancestry of the Jewish Diaspora. Plos one, 3(4), e2062.
- BRYAN SCHWARTZ. Teens lead Azerbaijan Jews up the spiritual mountain. http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/17495/teens-lead-azerbaijan-jews-up-the-spiritual-mountain/; Accessed November 12, 2013.
- query.nytimes.com, New York Times
- juhuro.com, website created by Vadim Alhasov in 2001. Daily updates reflect the life of Mountain Jewish (juhuro) community around the globe.
- newfront.us, New Frontier is a monthly Mountain Jewish newspaper, founded in 2003. International circulation via its web site. «Новый Рубеж» является ежемесячной газетой Горско-Еврейской общины США. Она издается с мая месяца 2003 года. Отражая жизнь общины не только в пределах своей страны, она информирует о новостях и событиях происходящих в Горско-Еврейских общинах во всем мире.
- keshev-k.com, Israeli website of Mountain Jews.
- gorskie.ru, Mountain Jews, website in Russian language.
- "Judæo-Tat", Ethnologue