In This Article Bukharan Jews

  • Introduction
  • Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Migration Patterns and Causes
  • International Travel, Trade, and Religious Ties

Jewish Studies Bukharan Jews
by
Alanna Cooper
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 February 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0146

Introduction

Bukharan Jews (also known as Bukharian Jews or Bokharan Jews) are from the territory in Central Asia that is today demarcated by the independent states of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Some folk tales assert that ancestors of these Jews were among the Lost Tribes, who arrived in this region after the Assyrian exile in 722 BCE. Most scholarship, however, suggests that the first to arrive were among those who were exiled (or whose ancestors were exiled) from the Land of Israel at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 BCE. They traveled eastward on trade routes, settling in Bukhara and Samarkand, Silk Route cities located in the region then known as Transoxiana. In the 16th century, the area was divided by Uzbek dynasts into two khanates: Bukhara and Khworizm (later Khiva). While Jews could be found across the region encompassed by these two khanates (and later a third, Kokand), they clustered primarily in the Bukharan Khanate; hence their name “Bukharan.” In 1924, the Soviets redrew the boundaries creating the republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which became independent states in 1991. In 1989 these two republics were home to some fifty thousand Bukharan Jews. Mass migration—primarily to the United States and Israel—began on the eve of the dissolution of the USSR. In 2015 only a few hundred remained in Uzbekistan and far fewer in Tajikistan. With migration and new ease of travel in and out of the region, the once sparse collection of publications on Bukharan Jews has become numerous. Popular representations tend to highlight the group’s historical isolation from their Muslim neighbors, and from other Jewish communities. By contrast, interesting scholarship attests to the group’s longstanding cultural ties with the Uzbeks and Tajiks among whom they lived, and with Jews across the globe (through itinerant teachers, fundraisers, travelers, merchants, pilgrims, migrants, and book circulation). Because Bukharan Jews lived through major geopolitical shifts throughout their history, and because those who emigrated since the late 19th century have had varied migration experiences, comprehensive study of the group’s historical and contemporary situation requires competency in several unrelated languages (Hebrew, Russian, Judeo-Tajik, as well as English and German for those interested in migration experiences), as well as expertise in various seemingly disconnected historical processes. As a result, the body of scholarship is highly fragmented. Publications tend to examine the group through a variety of non-overlapping lenses: the study of Zionism (with a focus on ties to and settlement in pre-state Israel), Russian colonialism, the Soviet and post-Soviet experience, the history of Jews of Muslim Lands, Mizrahi Jewish culture, and the immigrant experience. Work to synthesize these aspects of Bukharan Jews’ experiences is still waiting to be done.

Overviews

While most works about Bukharan Jews examine the group through a variety of narrow, disparate lenses, a number of publications work to synthesize a range of approaches. Broad depictions can be found in encyclopedia articles such as Zand 1990 and Kaganovitch 2010. In addition, Ben-Zvi 1957 draws on a number of perspectives to provide a substantial overview of Bukharan Jews’ past. Tagger 1970 is a useful resource. The book does not include proper citations, nevertheless it incorporates information and perspectives from a great many scholarly sources. Cooper 2012 outlines the major positions previous scholars have taken in their representations of Bukharan Jews. Likewise it provides a contemporary and historical portrait; using ethnographic, historical, and archival material to demonstrate how and why Bukharan Jewish group identity was constructed and maintained trans-locally.

  • Ben-Zvi, Itzhak. “The Jews of Bukhara.” In Exiled and Redeemed. Edited by Itzhak Ben-Zvi, 67–100. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1957.

    E-mail Citation »

    Translates pieces of Amitan Shapiro’s work (1931) to depict life in Soviet Central Asia during the years following the region’s incorporation into the Soviet Union. Balances this Soviet perspective with the oral testimonies of Bukharan Jewish immigrants in Israel.

  • Cooper, Alanna. Bukharan Jews and the Dynamics of Global Judaism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012.

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    The only monograph of the group written in English, this work traces Bukharan Jews’ history from the advent of the tsarist presence in the region through post-Soviet migration. Historical and archival research synthesizes the work of others. Ethnographic research explores factors that precipitated mass migration, the ways in which Jewish practice and identity were maintained during the Soviet era, and the impact of international Jewish organizations on Bukharan Jews’ religious practices and understandings.

  • Kaganovitch, Albert. “Bukharan Jews.” In Encyclopedia of Jews in Islamic Lands. Edited by Norman Stillman. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2010.

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    Includes information about the post-Soviet migration, and demographic statistics between the years 1810 and 2006 for Bukharan Jews in Central Asia, Israel, the United States, and Austria.

  • Tagger, Nissim. Toldot Yehudei Bukhara: be-Bukhara u-ve-Yisrael. Tel Aviv: Nissim Tagger, 1970.

    E-mail Citation »

    A history of Bukharan Jews (in Bukhara and in Israel) from the year 600 CE until 1970. Contextualizes the history of Bukharan Jews within the larger story of Israel and Zionism. Written for two audiences: Bukharan Jews and the wider Israeli public. To address both Tagger wrote in two languages, which appear side-by-side, Hebrew and “Bukharit.” His goal in doing so was twofold: to highlight the particularities of Bukharan Jews while simultaneously working to facilitate Jewish unity in Israel.

  • Zand, Michael. “Bukharan Jews.” In Encyclopaedia Iranica. Vol. 4. Edited by Ehasan Yar-Shater, 530–545. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1990.

    E-mail Citation »

    Traces Bukharan Jews’ history up until the end of the Soviet period, providing extensive citations and bibliography.

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