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|
|Russia||3,000 to 30,000|
|Azerbaijan||12,000 to 30,000
(according to Mountain
Jews community in Baku)
|European Union||3,000 to 10,000|
|Hebrew, Juhuri, Russian, Azerbaijani|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Persian Jews, Mizrahi Jews , Other Jewish groups|
|Part of a series on|
|Jews and Judaism|
Mountain Jews or Caucasus Jews also known as Juhuro, Kavkazi Jews or Gorsky Jews are Jews of the eastern and northern slopes of Caucasus, mainly of Dagestan and Azerbaijan. They are the descendants of Persian Jews from Iran.
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, or Jews of the Caucasus, are believed to have inhabited Caucasia since the 5th century AD. They arrived from southwestern Iran. The Jews of the Caucasus (Kavkaz) have a tradition, passed down generation after generation, that they are descended from the Ten Tribes which were exiled by the king of Assyria (Ashur), who ruled over northern Iraq from Mosul (the ancient Nineveh). The reference, no doubt, is to Shalmanesser the king of Assyria who is mentioned in II Kings 18:9-12. According to Kavkazi Jewish tradition, some 19,000 Jews departed Jerusalem (used here as a generic term for the Land of Israel) and passed through Syria, Babylonia, Persia and then entered, northbound, into Medai. 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.
In the Second World War parts of the area were occupied by the German Wehrmacht end of 1942. Several hundreds of Mountain Jews were killed until the Germans retreated early 1943. Many Mountain Jews survived, however, partly because their areas were not reached by German troups, partly, because German authorities considered them as "religious" but not "racial" Jews.
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.
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 the 1930s, a layer of intelligentsia began to form. By the 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).
Mountain Jews are considered, by some, to be of Sephardic lineage, this however is a misnomer as they are neither Sephardi (from the Iberian Peninsula) nor Ashkenazim (from Germany) but rather come directly by way of Persia. This attribution stems from quite a bit of ignorance about these people.
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 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. Prominent rabbis of Mountain Jews in the nineteenth century included Shalom ben Melek Mizrahi of Temir-Khan-Shura (modern Buynaksk), Chief Rabbi of Dagestan Jacob ben Isaac Mizraḥi, and Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Avraam of Nalchik, whose son Rabbi Nahamiil ben Hizkiyahu later played a crucial role in saving Nalchik's Jewish community from the Nazis.
The next trying times for the community came in the form of Soviet authority's assimilation efforts and prevailing Soviet antisemitism. In the 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
Mountain Jews speak Juhuri - a form of Persian, it belongs to the southwestern group of the Iranian division of the Indo-European languages. Juhuri has Semitic (Hebrew/Aramaic/Arabic) elements on all linguistic levels. Among other Semetic elements, Juhuri has the Hebrew sound "ayin" (ע), whereas no neighboring languages have it. Until the early Soviet period, the language was written with semi-cursive Hebrew alphabet. Later, Juhuri books, newspapers, textbooks, and other materials were printed with a Latin alphabet and finally in Cyrillic, which is still most common today. The first native-language newspaper, Zakhmetkesh (Working People) was published in 1928 and continued its existence until the second half of the twentieth century.
Originally, only boys were educated thorough synagogue schools. Starting from the 1860s, many well-off families switched to home-schooling, hiring private tutors, who taught their sons not only Hebrew, but also Russian and Yiddish. In early 20th century, with advance of sovietization, Juhuri became the language of instruction at newly founded elementary schools that were attended by both Mountain Jewish boys and girls. This policy continued until the beginning of World War II, when schools finally switched Russian.
Mountain Jewish community gave birth to many well-known scholars and leaders in public health, education, culture, and art. However, the names of some individuals known in Russia and even internationally cannot be cited as Mountain Jews because, for the most part, they are officially identified as Tats[disambiguation needed], Azerbaijanis, Daghestanis, and even Russians. The practice traces back to Soviet times, when with encouragement of the state, some Mountain Jews hid their identity to avoid antisemitism. Today, measures are being taken to foster the cultural life of minorities. In Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria, Juhuri and Hebrew courses has been introduced in traditionally Mountain Jewish schools. In Dagestan steps are being taken toward the rebirth of the Juhuri theater and the publication of newspapers.
And we, the Tats We, Samson warriors, Bar Kochba's heirs... we went into battles and bitterly, heroically struggled for our freedom The Song of the Mountain Jews
Mountain Jews are known for their military tradition and have been historically viewed as fierce warriors. The importance of a man's ability to defend himself in Mountain Jewish culture could perhaps date back to the formation of Mountain Jews as a distinct ethnic group. Some historians suggest that the group traces it beginnings to Persian-Jewish soldiers who were stationed in the Caucasus by the Sasanian kings in the fifth or sixth century to protect the area from the onslaughts of the Huns and other nomadic invaders from the east. Men were typically heavily armed and some even slept without having their weapons removed.
The typical dress code of Mountain Jews was indistinguishable from dress codes of their Muslim neighbors. Men typically wore chokhas and covered their head with papakhas, many variations of which could symbolize the men's social status. Wealthier men's dress was also adorned with many pieces of jewelry, including silver and gold decorated weaponry, pins, chains, belts, or kisets (small purse used to hold tobacco or coins). Women's dress was typically of simpler design, dark tones, made from silk, brocade, velvet, satin and later wool and decorated with beads, gold pins or buttons, and silver gold-plated belts. Both single and married women covered their hair with headscarfes outside of the house.
Mountain Jewish cuisine absorbed typical dishes from various peoples of the Caucasus, adjusting some recipes along the way to comply with the laws of kashrut. Typical Mountain Jewish dishes include chudu (a type of meat pirog), shashlik, dolma. kurze (closely resemble meat-stuffed varenyky), khinkali, tara (herb stew with pieces of meat), nermof (rice kasha with pieces of chicken or meat), etc. Jewish holidays-themed dishes include kugul (potato pudding) and buhulu (a spread made of ground matzos, eggs, apples, pomegranate seeds) prepared for Passover, milk kashas made for Shavuot, and a variety hoshalevo (honey-based treats made with sunflower seeds or walnuts) typically prepared for Purim.
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).
Mountain Jewish woman from Dagestan. 1870-1880.
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- 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.
- "Juhuri - Endangered Language Alliance". Retrieved 15 September 2014.
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- Good name is very valuable thing. From interview of his daughter Lyudmila Hizgilovna Avshalumov". http://www.obzor-smi.ru/?com=articles&page=article_print&id=3459 Retrieved 08.06.2011.
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- 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