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The Ark, Sasson VeSimcha Synagogue of Bukharan Jews, Ramla, Israel, 2019

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The Ark, Sasson VeSimcha synagogue of Bukharan Jews, Ramla, Israel, 2019
Shaphardi Nusach (Sephardi rite).
44 Hativat Kiryati street, Ramla
Photo: Michael Strimban
The Oster Visual Documentation Center, ANU – Museum of the Jewish People

ID Number:
21373660
Image Purchase: For more details about image purchasing Click here, make sure you have the photo ID number (as appear above)
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Bukhara

An ancient city in the Bukhara Region of Uzbekistan

As of 2015, so many Bukharan Jews lived in the New York City borough of Queens that 108th street is informally known as "Bukharian Broadway." In contrast with the nearly 50,000 Bukharan Jews in Queens, there are about 100 Jews living in Bukhara itself. The city has a 300 year old synagogue, led by Rabbi Aron Sianov. A Jewish School, founded in 1991 immediately after Uzbekistan gained its independence, enrolled 114 students at its founding. Just over 20 years later, most of its pupils are not Jewish; students are instead attracted by the school's reputation for academic excellence, and do not mind the requirement to learn Hebrew. Abraham Ishakov, the chazzan (cantor) at the synagogue, is responsible for linking the community with Bukharan Jews living abroad, and he takes care of the cemetery. Most of the community's resources come from donations from Bukharan Jews living in New York.

HISTORY

The name "Bukharan Jews" was applied to the community by European travelers to the area before the Russian conquest in 1868, and stems from the fact that most of the community at the time lived under the Emir (or Khan) of Bukhara. Meanwhile, the members of the community generally referred to themselves as Israelites (Isro'il), or Jews (Yahudi). They spoke a distinct Tajiki-Jewish dialect, Bukhori. In the modern era the community was concentrated mainly in Israel (or, before 1948, Palestine), the US, and Uzbekistan.

A tradition among Bukharan Jews identifies Bukhara with Habor where the ten tribes were exiled (see Kings 2, 17:6). Bukharan Jewish names, as well as Bukhori expressions, suggest that some of them came from Persia and Khiva. Although Benjamin of Tudela, the Jewish traveler does not mention the town of Bukhara, he mentions a Jewish community in Samarkand at the end of the 12th century which numbered 50,000 (this number was probably not based on personal observation and is not necessarily accurate).

The Jewish community, along with many others, was devastated during the Mongol invasions of the 13th century. Jewish settlement in the town of Bukhara appears to have been renewed during the 14th century, and by the 16th century Bukhara apparently became a center of Jewish life in Central Asia. The Bukharan Khanate was established at the end of the 16th century and was ruled by Sunni Muslims. Jewish residence was restricted to a special quarter (Mahalla), and even there Jews were prohibited from purchasing houses from Muslims. During the 17th and 18th centuries Bukharan Jewry produced poets and translators, whose works were written in the Tajiki-Jewish dialect; one of the most outstanding writers of the Bukharan Jewish community was Yusuf Yahudi.

Attempts were made during the 18th century to forcibly convert the Jews of Bukhara, a practice that resumed in the beginning of the 19th century. Many Jews were forced to accept Islam, creating a class of forced converts, anusim, who appeared to be faithful Muslims, but who secretly observed Judaism. The missionary Joseph Wolff, who visited Bukhara in 1844, found 300 families of forced converts.

Bukharan Jews, like other Jews living in Muslim countries, had to pay a special tax levied on non-Muslims. The tax collector, after receiving the taxes from a Jewish assessor, would slap the Jew on his cheeks (well-respected community members would receive a slight tap).

Towards the end of the 18th century the Jewish community of Bukhara underwent a spiritual and religious decline, due mainly to their isolation from other Jewish communities and Jewish cultural centers. They were unable to produce their own religious leadership; coupled with the forced conversions to Islam, the community increasingly began to assimilate into the general population. The tide began to turn with the arrival, in 1793, of Rabbi Joseph Maman (Mamon) Maghribi, a native of Morocco who later moved to Safed. When he saw the state of the community in Bukhara, he decided to settle there and focused his efforts on an ultimately successful religious revival. He introduced Sephardic liturgy, replacing the Persian liturgy that had been used by the community; the Jews of Bukhara would eventually abandon the Persian liturgy in favor of the Sephardic. The Jewish community increased in size, and was eventually granted permission to settle outside of the Mahalla and establish the "New Mahalla" ("New Jewish Quarter").

Before the Russian conquest of the 19th century, the Jewish community of Bukharan (as well as other towns) was headed by a kalontar, who was elected by the community and approved by the head of the government, as well as by the Emir of Bukhara. The kalontar was aided by the heads of the Old and New Mahallas, who were also elected and who also had to be approved by the Emir. They generally served for life, and acted as judges in litigation cases within the community (criminal cases, or cases involving a Muslim, were tried before a Muslim court).

The Bukharan Jewish community established khomlo, schools for boys similar to the heders of Eastern Europe (there were no schools for girls). Rabbi Maghribi also established a yeshiva. Adults mainly worked in the cloth-dying industry.

The center of the Bukharan Jewish community in British mandate Palestine also began a period of development during the second half of the 19th century. The emigration of Bukharan Jews to Palestine began in 1868 and towards the end of the 19th century there were about 180 Bukharan families living in Jerusalem; by 1936, the Bukharan Jews of Palestine numbered about 2,500, half of whom lived in Jerusalem. The early immigrants included wealthy Jews who wanted to make Jerusalem a spiritual center for their community; in 1892, these pioneers founded the Bukharan Quarter in Jerusalem, which they named Rehovot. Bukhori and Hebrew books, the majority of them religious, were published in Jerusalem for the Bukharan community.

During the second half of the 19th century, the Russian conquests of the area began, and some regions of the Bukharan Khanate (including the towns of Samarkand and Tashkent) were incorporated into Russia. With the conquest, the Emir of Bukhara became the representative of the Russian government, rather than a Sunni Muslim one. As a result of the conquests, there was a major movement of Jews from the Bukharan Khanate, where the Jewish community was blamed for the khanate's defeat and subject to additional persecutions, to the Russian-dominated region of Turkistan, where Jews were not under any special restrictions and, in fact, were regarded as loyal subjects of the Russian Empire with the right to trade freely, purchase land, and to live freely. Many forced converts returned to Judaism once they were under Russian rule.

Under Russian rule, the Jewish community prospered because they were able to expand their trading activities, both within Central Asia and Russia proper. However, facing pressure from Russian merchants and industrialists who were in competition with these new citizens of the Empire, in 1888 the Russian government issued a decree differentiating between the Jews who had lived in the Turkistan region prior to the Russian conquest, and those who had arrived later; "native Jews," who had lived in the area before the conquest, as well as their descendents, were granted equal rights with the local Muslims while those who had arrived after the Russian conquest were legally classified as foreign citizens. Those classified as foreign citizens had their rights restricted, and were ordered to return to the Bukharan khanate by 1905, with additional restrictions placed on where they could live until they returned "to their place of residence." Additionally, all Jews living in the territory of the Turkmen Soviet Republic were ordered expelled; the enforcement of this decree was postponed, however, first until 1909, and then 1910, for fear of damaging Russian trading interests. In the end, implementation of these edicts proved to be impossible, both due to the general disorganization of the Russian Empire's bureaucracy, as well as due to the resistance and lack of cooperation by the Jewish community.

Bukhara was conquered by the Red Army in 1920, after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Many of the wealthiest Bukharan Jewish families lost their rights because, according to the Soviets, before the revolution they had been engaging in exploitation.

At the beginning of the 20th century there were about 20,000 Jews living in the Bukharan Khanate, of whom 4,000-5,000 lived in the city of Bukhara. About 15,000 Bukharan Jews also lived in the region of Turkistan. According to the general population census conducted by the Soviet Union in 1926, there were about 19,000 Bukharan Jews, of whom 18,172 lived in the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan: 7,740 in Samarkand, 3,314 in Bukhara, 1,347 in Tashkent, and 746 in Kokand. This census was inaccurate, and some estimate that the number of Bukharan Jews in the Soviet Union during the mid-1920s was really 30-35,000. According to a survey carried out by OZET (a Soviet organization to encourage Jewish engagement in agriculture) in 1934, there were over 24,000 Bukharan Jews in the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan alone, of whom 4,500 lived in villaegs. The 1959 census in the Soviet Union recorded approximately 28,000 Bukharan Jews. About 23,000 lived in Uzbekistan, with the largest numbers in Samarkand, Bukhara, and the urban centers in the Fergana Valley. Another 5,000 lived in the Tadzhik Soviet Socialist Republic. A 1970 estimate would put the figure much lower, at 10,000 Bukharan and 2,000 Ashkenazi Jews living in Bukhara.

Beginning in 1926, and under the leadership of OZET, the Soviet authorities began attempting to establish Jewish collective farms (kolkhozes) in Uzbekistan; some of them even had Hebrew names such as Herut (Freedom) and Ahdut (Unity). In 1929 there were about 26 Jewish collective farms, but they never really caught on within the Jewish community and by the early 1950s only two were left.

Schools where the language of instruction was Hebrew and Bukhori were established for Bukharan children after the 1917 Revolution, influenced by the growing contact between Bukharan Jewry and Ashkenazi Jewish communities as well as by the growing influence of Zionism. These schools continued to teach Hebrew along with Bukhori until at least 1923.

In November 1925, "Rushnoy," a Soviet newspaper in Bukhori, began to be published in Samarkand; in 1930 it was renamed Bayroki Mikhnat ("The Flag of Labor"). During the early 1930s a literary journal, Hayot-i-Mihnati, began to be published. Tashkent became a center for publishing Bukhori books. Additionally, a Bukhori-language theater was established in Samarkand. The Great Terror (also known as "The Great Purge") of 1936-1938 saw the closing of the newspapers, the theater, and the Judeo-Bukharan schools. Additionally, Bukhori books ceased to be published.

Though Bukhori had originally been written with Hebrew letters, during the mid-1930s the language began to be written using Latin and Cyrillic letters. As in other areas in the Soviet Union, Soviet authorities attempted to suppress all expressions of Judaism, and the local population would engage in various expressions of anti-Semitism (there were blood libels levied against Bukharan Jews in 1926, 1930, 1961, and 1962). Particularly after the Six Day War in 1967, Bukharan Jews were compelled to participate in anti-Israel demonstrations, though there were occasions when local Jews refused to sign petitions condemning Israel or to speak at anti-Israel gatherings.

About 8,000 Bukharan Jews emigrated to the State of Israel between 1972 and 1975. An additional 2,000 Bukharan Jews emigrated to the United States, especially to New York, which became a third center of the Bukharan Jewish community. During the 1980s there was a second wave of emigration from Bukhara to Israel and New York.
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The Ark, Sasson VeSimcha Synagogue of Bukharan Jews, Ramla, Israel, 2019

The Ark, Sasson VeSimcha synagogue of Bukharan Jews, Ramla, Israel, 2019
Shaphardi Nusach (Sephardi rite).
44 Hativat Kiryati street, Ramla
Photo: Michael Strimban
The Oster Visual Documentation Center, ANU – Museum of the Jewish People

Image Purchase: For more details about image purchasing Click here, make sure you have the photo ID number (as appear above)

Bukhara
Bukhara

An ancient city in the Bukhara Region of Uzbekistan

As of 2015, so many Bukharan Jews lived in the New York City borough of Queens that 108th street is informally known as "Bukharian Broadway." In contrast with the nearly 50,000 Bukharan Jews in Queens, there are about 100 Jews living in Bukhara itself. The city has a 300 year old synagogue, led by Rabbi Aron Sianov. A Jewish School, founded in 1991 immediately after Uzbekistan gained its independence, enrolled 114 students at its founding. Just over 20 years later, most of its pupils are not Jewish; students are instead attracted by the school's reputation for academic excellence, and do not mind the requirement to learn Hebrew. Abraham Ishakov, the chazzan (cantor) at the synagogue, is responsible for linking the community with Bukharan Jews living abroad, and he takes care of the cemetery. Most of the community's resources come from donations from Bukharan Jews living in New York.

HISTORY

The name "Bukharan Jews" was applied to the community by European travelers to the area before the Russian conquest in 1868, and stems from the fact that most of the community at the time lived under the Emir (or Khan) of Bukhara. Meanwhile, the members of the community generally referred to themselves as Israelites (Isro'il), or Jews (Yahudi). They spoke a distinct Tajiki-Jewish dialect, Bukhori. In the modern era the community was concentrated mainly in Israel (or, before 1948, Palestine), the US, and Uzbekistan.

A tradition among Bukharan Jews identifies Bukhara with Habor where the ten tribes were exiled (see Kings 2, 17:6). Bukharan Jewish names, as well as Bukhori expressions, suggest that some of them came from Persia and Khiva. Although Benjamin of Tudela, the Jewish traveler does not mention the town of Bukhara, he mentions a Jewish community in Samarkand at the end of the 12th century which numbered 50,000 (this number was probably not based on personal observation and is not necessarily accurate).

The Jewish community, along with many others, was devastated during the Mongol invasions of the 13th century. Jewish settlement in the town of Bukhara appears to have been renewed during the 14th century, and by the 16th century Bukhara apparently became a center of Jewish life in Central Asia. The Bukharan Khanate was established at the end of the 16th century and was ruled by Sunni Muslims. Jewish residence was restricted to a special quarter (Mahalla), and even there Jews were prohibited from purchasing houses from Muslims. During the 17th and 18th centuries Bukharan Jewry produced poets and translators, whose works were written in the Tajiki-Jewish dialect; one of the most outstanding writers of the Bukharan Jewish community was Yusuf Yahudi.

Attempts were made during the 18th century to forcibly convert the Jews of Bukhara, a practice that resumed in the beginning of the 19th century. Many Jews were forced to accept Islam, creating a class of forced converts, anusim, who appeared to be faithful Muslims, but who secretly observed Judaism. The missionary Joseph Wolff, who visited Bukhara in 1844, found 300 families of forced converts.

Bukharan Jews, like other Jews living in Muslim countries, had to pay a special tax levied on non-Muslims. The tax collector, after receiving the taxes from a Jewish assessor, would slap the Jew on his cheeks (well-respected community members would receive a slight tap).

Towards the end of the 18th century the Jewish community of Bukhara underwent a spiritual and religious decline, due mainly to their isolation from other Jewish communities and Jewish cultural centers. They were unable to produce their own religious leadership; coupled with the forced conversions to Islam, the community increasingly began to assimilate into the general population. The tide began to turn with the arrival, in 1793, of Rabbi Joseph Maman (Mamon) Maghribi, a native of Morocco who later moved to Safed. When he saw the state of the community in Bukhara, he decided to settle there and focused his efforts on an ultimately successful religious revival. He introduced Sephardic liturgy, replacing the Persian liturgy that had been used by the community; the Jews of Bukhara would eventually abandon the Persian liturgy in favor of the Sephardic. The Jewish community increased in size, and was eventually granted permission to settle outside of the Mahalla and establish the "New Mahalla" ("New Jewish Quarter").

Before the Russian conquest of the 19th century, the Jewish community of Bukharan (as well as other towns) was headed by a kalontar, who was elected by the community and approved by the head of the government, as well as by the Emir of Bukhara. The kalontar was aided by the heads of the Old and New Mahallas, who were also elected and who also had to be approved by the Emir. They generally served for life, and acted as judges in litigation cases within the community (criminal cases, or cases involving a Muslim, were tried before a Muslim court).

The Bukharan Jewish community established khomlo, schools for boys similar to the heders of Eastern Europe (there were no schools for girls). Rabbi Maghribi also established a yeshiva. Adults mainly worked in the cloth-dying industry.

The center of the Bukharan Jewish community in British mandate Palestine also began a period of development during the second half of the 19th century. The emigration of Bukharan Jews to Palestine began in 1868 and towards the end of the 19th century there were about 180 Bukharan families living in Jerusalem; by 1936, the Bukharan Jews of Palestine numbered about 2,500, half of whom lived in Jerusalem. The early immigrants included wealthy Jews who wanted to make Jerusalem a spiritual center for their community; in 1892, these pioneers founded the Bukharan Quarter in Jerusalem, which they named Rehovot. Bukhori and Hebrew books, the majority of them religious, were published in Jerusalem for the Bukharan community.

During the second half of the 19th century, the Russian conquests of the area began, and some regions of the Bukharan Khanate (including the towns of Samarkand and Tashkent) were incorporated into Russia. With the conquest, the Emir of Bukhara became the representative of the Russian government, rather than a Sunni Muslim one. As a result of the conquests, there was a major movement of Jews from the Bukharan Khanate, where the Jewish community was blamed for the khanate's defeat and subject to additional persecutions, to the Russian-dominated region of Turkistan, where Jews were not under any special restrictions and, in fact, were regarded as loyal subjects of the Russian Empire with the right to trade freely, purchase land, and to live freely. Many forced converts returned to Judaism once they were under Russian rule.

Under Russian rule, the Jewish community prospered because they were able to expand their trading activities, both within Central Asia and Russia proper. However, facing pressure from Russian merchants and industrialists who were in competition with these new citizens of the Empire, in 1888 the Russian government issued a decree differentiating between the Jews who had lived in the Turkistan region prior to the Russian conquest, and those who had arrived later; "native Jews," who had lived in the area before the conquest, as well as their descendents, were granted equal rights with the local Muslims while those who had arrived after the Russian conquest were legally classified as foreign citizens. Those classified as foreign citizens had their rights restricted, and were ordered to return to the Bukharan khanate by 1905, with additional restrictions placed on where they could live until they returned "to their place of residence." Additionally, all Jews living in the territory of the Turkmen Soviet Republic were ordered expelled; the enforcement of this decree was postponed, however, first until 1909, and then 1910, for fear of damaging Russian trading interests. In the end, implementation of these edicts proved to be impossible, both due to the general disorganization of the Russian Empire's bureaucracy, as well as due to the resistance and lack of cooperation by the Jewish community.

Bukhara was conquered by the Red Army in 1920, after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Many of the wealthiest Bukharan Jewish families lost their rights because, according to the Soviets, before the revolution they had been engaging in exploitation.

At the beginning of the 20th century there were about 20,000 Jews living in the Bukharan Khanate, of whom 4,000-5,000 lived in the city of Bukhara. About 15,000 Bukharan Jews also lived in the region of Turkistan. According to the general population census conducted by the Soviet Union in 1926, there were about 19,000 Bukharan Jews, of whom 18,172 lived in the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan: 7,740 in Samarkand, 3,314 in Bukhara, 1,347 in Tashkent, and 746 in Kokand. This census was inaccurate, and some estimate that the number of Bukharan Jews in the Soviet Union during the mid-1920s was really 30-35,000. According to a survey carried out by OZET (a Soviet organization to encourage Jewish engagement in agriculture) in 1934, there were over 24,000 Bukharan Jews in the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan alone, of whom 4,500 lived in villaegs. The 1959 census in the Soviet Union recorded approximately 28,000 Bukharan Jews. About 23,000 lived in Uzbekistan, with the largest numbers in Samarkand, Bukhara, and the urban centers in the Fergana Valley. Another 5,000 lived in the Tadzhik Soviet Socialist Republic. A 1970 estimate would put the figure much lower, at 10,000 Bukharan and 2,000 Ashkenazi Jews living in Bukhara.

Beginning in 1926, and under the leadership of OZET, the Soviet authorities began attempting to establish Jewish collective farms (kolkhozes) in Uzbekistan; some of them even had Hebrew names such as Herut (Freedom) and Ahdut (Unity). In 1929 there were about 26 Jewish collective farms, but they never really caught on within the Jewish community and by the early 1950s only two were left.

Schools where the language of instruction was Hebrew and Bukhori were established for Bukharan children after the 1917 Revolution, influenced by the growing contact between Bukharan Jewry and Ashkenazi Jewish communities as well as by the growing influence of Zionism. These schools continued to teach Hebrew along with Bukhori until at least 1923.

In November 1925, "Rushnoy," a Soviet newspaper in Bukhori, began to be published in Samarkand; in 1930 it was renamed Bayroki Mikhnat ("The Flag of Labor"). During the early 1930s a literary journal, Hayot-i-Mihnati, began to be published. Tashkent became a center for publishing Bukhori books. Additionally, a Bukhori-language theater was established in Samarkand. The Great Terror (also known as "The Great Purge") of 1936-1938 saw the closing of the newspapers, the theater, and the Judeo-Bukharan schools. Additionally, Bukhori books ceased to be published.

Though Bukhori had originally been written with Hebrew letters, during the mid-1930s the language began to be written using Latin and Cyrillic letters. As in other areas in the Soviet Union, Soviet authorities attempted to suppress all expressions of Judaism, and the local population would engage in various expressions of anti-Semitism (there were blood libels levied against Bukharan Jews in 1926, 1930, 1961, and 1962). Particularly after the Six Day War in 1967, Bukharan Jews were compelled to participate in anti-Israel demonstrations, though there were occasions when local Jews refused to sign petitions condemning Israel or to speak at anti-Israel gatherings.

About 8,000 Bukharan Jews emigrated to the State of Israel between 1972 and 1975. An additional 2,000 Bukharan Jews emigrated to the United States, especially to New York, which became a third center of the Bukharan Jewish community. During the 1980s there was a second wave of emigration from Bukhara to Israel and New York.