Jewish Studies Bukharan Jews
by
Alanna Cooper
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 December 2023
  • 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.

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    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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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

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    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.

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

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

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Anthologies

Edited volumes, Baldauf, et al. 2008 and Dvorkin and Vyshenskaya 1995 gather articles written by scholars from various disciplines, and with a range of language competencies, offering several entry points to the study of Bukharan Jews’ history, culture, and contemporary situation. The journal AB”A, which has been published annually since 2007, provides articles on the experiences of the Jews in Iran, Bukhara, and Afghanistan. Volume 35 of the journal Itzhak 1988 is dedicated to study of Bukharan Jews.

  • AB”A: Ktav Et l’Heker v’limud Yehudei Iran, Bukhara, V’Afghanistan. 2007–.

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    In Hebrew. This journal, dedicated to the study of the Jews of Iran, Bukhara, and Afghanistan is an outlet for the most current research on Bukharan Jews. Published annually since 2007 in Hebrew, the journal is interdisciplinary and covers a wide range of issues and historical time periods. Several articles uncover new information related to topics about which studies have been previously published.

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  • Baldauf, Ingeborg, Moshe Gammer, and Thomas Loy, eds. Bukharan Jews in the 20th Century: History, Experience and Narration. Wiesbaden, Germany: Reichert-Verlag, 2008.

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    The only scholarly volume of edited works in English published to date. Consists of twelve articles arranged in chronological sections: The early Soviet period (through the 1930s), the later Soviet period (post–World War II) and the post-Soviet period. Fields represented include: demography, history, oral history, cultural anthropology, and linguistics.

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  • Dvorkin, I., and T. Vyshenskaya, eds. Central Asia Jews in Past and Present: Expedition, Researches, Publications. St Petersburg: St. Petersburg Jewish University, 1995.

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    In Russian. A collection of fourteen articles. Several are based on ethnographic and archival research conducted during expeditions to Central Asia organized by the St. Petersburg Jewish University in the early 1990s.

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  • Itzhak, Bezalel, ed. Special Issue: Yehudei Bukhara. Pe’amim: Studies in the Cultural Heritage of Oriental Jewry 35 (1988).

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    In Hebrew. This volume is devoted to the study of Bukharan Jews. The twelve articles are arranged in chronological order, beginning with Jewish settlement in Central Asia in ancient times and in the early Middle Ages”and ending with an assessment of the community’s contemporary situation.

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History of Jewish Life in Central Asia

Scholarship on Jewish life in Central Asia prior to the tsarist era is sparse, focusing on the Jews’ early origins in the region as well as their spiritual life prior to the arrival of the influential leader Yosef Maman. Scholarship on Jewish life in Central Asia during the tsarist period focuses largely on the development of new trade networks, pilgrimage to the Land of Israel, fundraising toward the building of the Bukharan Quarter in Jerusalem, and the work of emissaries sent from pre–State of Israel to Central Asia as teachers, religious functionaries, and fundraisers. Scholarship on the Soviet period addresses demographics, early efforts to transform Bukharan Jews into new “Soviet Men,” and underground Jewish education and religious life. Publications that synthesize information from a few eras include Amitin-Shapiro 1931 (cited under Customs/Rites of Passage), which outlines Central Asian Jews’ organizational structures, and legal rights vis-à-vis communal and governmental authorities. Another is Cooper 2012 (cited under Jewish Life in Central Asia in the Post-Soviet Period).

Jewish Life in Central Asia Prior to Tsarist Period

Scholarship on Jewish life in Central Asia prior to the tsarist era is sparse. Yakobov 2007 and Zand 1988 focus on the Jews’ early origins in the region, and Fuzailoff 2007 focuses on their spiritual life prior to the arrival of the influential leader Yosef Maman.

  • Fuzailoff, Giora. “On the Spiritual Condition of Jews of Bukhara on the Eve of the Arrival of Yossef Maman.” AB”A: Ktav Et l’Heker v’limud Yehudei Iran, Bukhara, V’Afghanistan 1 (2007): 7–12.

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    In Hebrew. Addresses the debate about whether or not Jews in Bukhara were religiously ignorant prior to the arrival of the emissary Yosef Maman in the late 18th century. Fuzailov argues that Maman had a significant influence on the community. Nevertheless, books and manuscripts found in the region indicate that the population had been religiously learned and observant prior to Maman’s arrival.

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  • Yakobov, Yiffim. “The Czar Peter the First and Knowledge about the Jews of Bukhara in the 18th Century.” AB”A: Ktav Et l’Heker v’limud Yehudei Iran, Bukhara, V’Afghanistan 1 (2007): 137–142.

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    Offers a rare perspective on Jewish life in Central Asia prior to the tsarist period.

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  • Zand, Michael. “Jewish Settlement in Central Asia in Ancient Times and in the Early Middle Ages.” Pe’amim 35 (1988): 4–23.

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    In Hebrew. Drawing on a variety of sources, Zand presents evidence testifying to a Jewish presence in Central Asia as early as the 4th century.

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Jewish Life in Central Asia During the Tsarist Period

During Bukhara’s tsarist period (1867–1917) travel and communication systems improved, Bukharan Jews were extended new trading rights as outlined in Zand 1988, and their trade-networks flourished. Ben-Yaakov 1988 tells this history through the story of one family. Ben-Yaakov 1988 offers a portrait of a vibrant Jewish community in Bukhara, as captured in a letter written in 1888.

Jewish Life in Central Asia Under Soviet Rule

Jewish cultural life in Central Asia flourished during the very early Soviet period, and then suffered oppression and purges in the 1930s with changes in nationalities policies. This history is narrated in memoir style in Bachayev 1990, and through historical documentation presented in Levin 2012. Niyazov 1985, Poujol 1988, Ro’i 2008, and Tolts 2008 draw on first-hand observations, census data, as well as testimonials to describe the extent to which Jewish practice and institutional life was maintained under Soviet rule.

  • Bachayev, Mordekhay (Muhib). B’tokh Sak ha’Even: Sefer Zikhronot. Jerusalem: Brit Yotzei Bukhara, 1990.

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    Memoir of poet, essayist, and journalist Mordekay Bachayev (b. 1911–d. 2007). Originally published in Tajik, the book, translated here into Hebrew, describes the author’s childhood in Samarkand, his work at a local Jewish newspaper, political oppression he faced in the 1930s, the newspaper’s eventual closing, his arrest in 1938, and his years in jail and labor camps. This personal story also depicts Jewish life in Soviet Central Asia at the time.

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  • Levin, Zeev. Mafriḥe ha-ʻaravah ha-reʻevah: ha-shilṭon ha-ḳomunisṭi ṿi-Yehude Uzbeḳisṭan, 1917–1939. Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute for the Study of Jewish Communities in the East, 2012.

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    Translated as Collectivization and Social Engineering: Soviet Administration and the Jewish of Uzbekistan, 1917–1939. A study of Soviet governmental efforts to socialize Uzbekistan’s Jews, transforming them into “new Soviet men.” Particular attention is paid to the creation of Jewish kolkhozes (collective farms) from 1926 to 1930, as well as the purging of these settlements at the end of the 1930s as Soviet policy shifted from being nationality-based in orientation to all-Soviet.

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  • Niyazov, Shlomo Haye. Mesirut Nefesh she Yehudei Bukhara. New York: Empire Press, 1985.

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    In Hebrew. Portrays the work of Chabad-Lubavitch religious leaders in Soviet Central Asia. Translated as Self-Sacrifice of the Bukharan Jews.

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  • Poujol, Catherine. “The Tajik Speaking Jewish Communities in Central Asia—Their Contemporary Situation.” Pe’amim 35 (1988): 179–197.

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    In Hebrew. Based on four research trips to Soviet Central Asia between 1985 and 1988. Describes Jewish institutional life in Andizhan, Bukhara, Dushanbe, Margilan, Samarkand, Fergana, Chimkent, Tashkent.

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  • Ro’i Yaacov. “The Religious Life of the Bukharan Jewish Community in Soviet Central Asia after World War II.” In Bukharan Jews in the 20th Century: History, Experience and Narration. Edited by Ingeborg Baldauf, Moshe Gammer, and Thomas Loy, 57–75. Wiesbaden, Germany: Reichert-Verlag, 2008.

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    Describes synagogue life, kashrut, lifecycle rituals, mikvaʾot, holiday observance, and religious education in Soviet Central Asia in the period after World War II.

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  • Tolts, Mark. “The Demographic Profile of the Bukharan Jews in the Late Soviet Period.” In Bukharan Jews in the 20th Century: History, Experience and Narration. Edited by Ingeborg Baldauf, Moshe Gammer, and Thomas Loy, 77–89. Wiesbaden, Germany: Reichert-Verlag, 2008.

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    Draws on Soviet census data from 1959 and 1989 to analyze Bukharan Jews’ demographic characteristics including: age, sex, marital status, and family size.

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Jewish Life in Central Asia in the Post-Soviet Period

Since the dissoluction of the USSR, new freedoms have allowed tourists, journalists, and academics easier access to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan than they had during the Soviet era. Ironically, this new possibility for observing Jewish life there arose at the same time that massive migration was underway. Berliner 1992 and Yuval 1993 focus primarily on the collapse of community infrastructure. Cohen 1997 and Cooper 2012 examine the work of international Jewish organizations, which offer aid to those who remain and assistance to those seeking to emigrate.

  • Berliner, Jeff. “Israeli Evacuation Flights from Central Asia Halted.” United Press International (27 October 1992).

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    Describes efforts of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs to evacuate local Jews in the midst of civil war in Tajikistan.

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  • Cohen, Aryeh Dean. “Uzbekistan’s Jewish Renaissance.” Jerusalem Post (18 May 1997).

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    Written in conjunction with a visit to Uzbekistan by the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. Description of the impact of migration on the Jews who remain behind, and some discussion of international Jewish organizations in Uzbekistan including: Chabad, Jewish Agency for Israel, and Joint Distribution Committee.

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  • Cooper, Alanna. “International Jewish Organizations Encounter Local Jewish Life.” In Bukharan Jews and the Dynamics of Global Judaism. By Alanna Cooper, 169–202. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2012.

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    Offers an in-depth discussion of the structure of two international Jewish organizations with branch offices in Uzbekistan: Chabad and Jewish Agency for Israel. Draws on ethnographic research conducted in the 1990s to examine interactions between representatives of these organizations and the local Jewish community, and their impact on local Jewish understandings and practices.

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  • Yuval, Tirza. “The Last Celebration.” Eretz Magazine (Winter 1993): 18–34.

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    A group of Israeli tourists—many of whom were born in Soviet Central Asia—return to Uzbekistan to celebrate 150 years since the founding of the Jewish Quarter in Samarkand. Beautiful images of local markets, Jewish homes, and a cemetery by photographer Flavio Sklar.

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Collections of Primary Source Material

Few collections of primary source material document Bukharan Jewish life in Central Asia during the Soviet period. Collections that illuminate Bukharan Jewish life in Central Asia during the tsarist era, include: the Elyashar archive ARC 4*-1271 housed in the Israel National Library, and Fazilov and Tolmas 2015, which provides edited and translated versions of documents housed in the Luria archive, collected in the 1920s in Samarkand.

  • Elyashar, Yaakov Shaul. ARC 4*-1271 housed in the Israel National Library.

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    Rabbi Yaakov Shaul Elyashar served as Chief Sephardi Rabbi in Palestine between 1893 and 1906. This file contains letters to him from rabbis and emissaries in Bukhara and Russian Turkestan at this time. They describe religious, political, and financial issues affecting Jewish communal life in Central Asia and in Palestine. In Hebrew.

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  • Fazilov, Markiel, and Chana Tolmas. Legendy i Skazki Bukharskikh Yevreev. Israel: Bukharan Jewish Congress, 2015.

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    (Legends and tales of Bukharan Jews). In addition to providing an illustrated set of Bukharan Jewish folk-tales, this work contains a section called “History in the Archived Documents of I. Luria,” which presents edited and translated documents collected in Samarkand’s Bukharan Jewish community in the 1920s. In Russian.

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Culture

Bukharan Jews’ customs, language, cuisine, literature, garb, and music developed in relationship to a variety of larger cultural spheres, and under the influence of changing geopolitical circumstances and policies. Yet museum representations, the popular press, and some scholarship tends to treat their cultural qualities as static and isolated. Defining the group and their culture as an ontological category is tied a number of broader trends: (1) Soviet nationalities policies put in place to identify and shore up “national” (or ethnic) groups by cultivating a one-to-one correspondence between groups and their cultural attributes; (2) a Jewish tendency to normalize cultural difference by defining Jewish groups from various parts of the globe as discrete ethnic groups (often referred to in Hebrew as “edot”); (3) efforts of Bukharan Jews to define a solid sense of group identity in the midst of demographic upheaval. By contrast, some noteworthy contemporary scholarship illuminates the ways in which Bukharan Jews’ culture has been shaped in dynamic relationship with larger social and cultural forces.

Museum Exhibits

Bukharan Jews have been the subject of at least three major museum exhibits in the United States and Israel. These colorful exhibits, documented in catalogues, tend to present the group as isolated from the vicissitudes of history, and disconnected from their Muslim neighbors and from other Jewish groups. Berg 1997, Moze’on Yisrael 1967, and Yeroushalmi 2013 are catalogues, which give the reader a good sense of what was displayed in the various museum exhibits, and how they were organized.

  • Berg, Hetty. Facing West: Oriental Jews of Central Asia and the Caucasus. Zwolle, Netherlands: Waanders, 1997.

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    A catalogue of objects and images in the collection of the Russian Museum of Ethnography, related to Jews of Central Asia and the Caucasus. This exhibition, consisting primarily of clothing, jewelry, and domestic objects, was brought to the Museum of Jewish History in New York in 1999. Photographs are accompanied by overview articles about these Jewish groups.

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  • Moze’on Yisrael. Bokhara: Ta’arukha. Jerusalem: Israel Museum, 1967.

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    In Hebrew. This catalogue accompanied the 1967 exhibit of the same name. The exhibit, which inaugurated the Ethnological Department of the Israel Museum, displayed Bukharan Jews’ material culture, consisting primarily of personal luxury items (jewelry, dishware, clothing, headgear). Like the “Facing West” exhibit mounted thirty years later, the display of ritual items is sparse, providing the viewer with little sense of the connection between Bukharan Jews and Jews in other parts of the world.

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  • Yeroushalmi, David. Threads of Silk: The Story of Bukharan Jewry. Tel Aviv: Beit Hatfutsot, 2013.

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    In English and Russian. Prepared in conjunction with the exhibit, “Threads of Silk: The Story of Bukharan Jewry” at Beit Hatfutsot: The Museum of the Jewish People, in Tel Aviv. Contains overview articles about the history and culture of Bukharan Jews written for the general public, as well as photos of objects displayed in the exhibit.

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Customs/Rites of Passage

Descriptions of life-cycle rituals related to birth, marriage customs, and mourning is presented in Fuzailov 1993. The information contained in Fuzailov’s work was largely drawn from Moshavi 1974 and Amitin-Shapiro 1931. Cooper 2011 provides historical and ethnographic perspectives, highlighting the malleability of rituals related to mourning.

  • Amitin-Shapiro, Z. L. Ocherk pravovogo byta sredneaziatskikh evreev. Samarkand: Uzbekistan Government Press, 1931.

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    Describes the community’s leadership structure, the legal situation under emirate rule, during the tsarist period and early Soviet period. Outlines practices related to courtship, weddings, and divorce. Written from a socialist perspective, the section on rites of passage highlights the patriarchal structure of marriage arrangements, and offers a critique of the community’s emphasis on the link between weddings and financial transactions.

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  • Cooper, Alanna E. “Rituals of Mourning Among Central Asia’s Buharan Jews: Remembering the Past to Address the Present.” In Revisioning Ritual: Jewish Traditions in Transition. Edited by Simon Bronner, 290–314. Oxford: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2011.

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    Draws on ethnographic research conducted by the author in the 1990s in Israel, the United States, and Uzbekistan, as well as on historical information. Contextualizes rituals related to mourning in time and place, examining how they are adapted to meet emotional and social needs that have arisen with changing circumstances.

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  • Fuzailov, Giora. Yahadut Bukhara: Gdoleha u-Minhageha. Jerusalem: Misrad ha-Hinukh ve-ha-Tarbut, 1993.

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    This book, published by the Israeli Ministry of Culture and Education, contains much of the same material on life-cycle rituals published earlier in Baruch Moshavi’s dissertation (Moshavi 1974). However, unlike Moshavi’s work, which situates them historically and geographically, Fuzailov’s depiction provides no framework of time or place.

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  • Moshavi, Baruch. “Customs and Folklore of Nineteenth-Century Bukharian Jews in Central Asia: Birth, Engagement, Marriage, Mourning and Others.” PhD diss., Yeshiva University, 1974.

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    Description of life-cycle rituals as practiced among 19th-century Bukharan Jews. Traces the influences that shaped them including: rabbinic sources, local Muslim practices, Jews from neighboring regions, and Sephardi Jews (from North Africa who came to Central Asia via Palestine).

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Language

Prior to Russian encroachment upon Central Asia in the late 19th century, the language spoken by Jews in Bukhara was similar to that spoken by their Muslim neighbors, but with certain distinguishing features. Just how similar or how distinct the Jews’ language was has been debated. Likewise there has been disagreement about how the language ought to be labeled. Among those who argue that the Jews’ did not have a separate language or dialect, some refer to it as Persian, highlighting the cultural characteristics the Jews of Bukhara shared with Jews of Iran and Afghanistan. Others refer to it as Tajik, highlighting the closer relationship that Bukharan Jews had with their Muslim Tajik-speaking neighbors. Scholars who study religious manuscripts written prior to the 20th century tend to refer to the language as either Judeo-Persian or Judaic-Tajik, drawing attention to the fact that the language was written in Hebrew characters. During the early Soviet era, shifting language-policies had a significant impact on the way the language was written and labeled. These are discussed in Rzehak 2008 and Levin 2013. Since the great migration, which began after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it has become increasingly accepted to refer to the language as Bukharian (in the United States) or Bukharit (in Israel), as seen in Gulkarov 1998 and Rybakov 2011. These labels serve to articulate the group’s independent ethnic identity, distinct from the other Jewish groups (including Persian-speaking Jews, Sephardi Jews, and other immigrants from the former Soviet Union) and distinct from Central Asia’s Muslim Tajik-speakers.

  • Gulkarov, Yosef. Etimologicheskii Slovar Bukharsko-Evreiskogo Iazyka. Tel Aviv: Brit Yotzei Bukhara, 1998.

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    In this etymological dictionary, Gulkarov, a Bukharan Jewish immigrant and linguist, refers to the base language as “Bukharian,” and translates it into Russian, English and Hebrew. He divides each letter of the alphabet into six sections: Arabic loan words, words of Iranian origin, Turkic loan words, words from Hebrew and loan words from Russian and from other languages through Russian. Not user-friendly, this scholarly work highlights the language’s composite nature. Translated as, Etymological Dictionary of the Bukharian Jewish Language.

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  • Levin, Ze’ev. “Transformations in the Language of Bukharan Jews: From an Ethnic Language to a National Language and Back.” Pe’amim 136 (2013): 145–174.

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    Focuses on Bukharan Jews’ literary boom during the 1920s and 1930s, as well as the abrupt end to this cultural flourishing in the 1940s. More broadly, offers a case study of the ways in which Soviet nationalities policies were put into practice.

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  • Rybakov, Imanuel. Easy Bukharian: Study Guide: Language of the Bukharian Jews. New York: Imanuel Rybakov, 2011.

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    Easy Bukharian is the first textbook ever published designed to help Bukharan Jews systematically study their language far from their Central Asian homeland. It is also the first such work ever published in English instruction, specifically targeted toward the American Bukharan Jewish population.

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  • Rzehak, Lutz. “The Linguistic Challenge: Bukharan Jews and Soviet Language Policy.” In Bukharan Jews in the 20th Century: History, Experience and Narration. Edited by Ingeborg Baldauf, Moshe Gammer, and Thomas Loy, 37–55. Wiesbaden, Germany: Reichert-Verlag, 2008.

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    Drawing on publications from the 1920s and 1930s, this article examines the ways that shifting Soviet language policies affected Bukharan Jews’ linguistic behaviors.

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Cuisine

Mass migration gave rise to a rupture in the transmission of domestic culture including cuisine. Roshel and Iskhakov 2009 and Kimyagarov and Niyazov 1996, both cookbooks dedicated to Bukharan Jewish cuisine, have come to take the place of knowledge learned mimetically.

  • Kimyagarov, Amnun, and Shlomo Haye Niyazov. Kukhnia i Byt Bukharskikh Evreev. New York: Aleph Translation, 1996.

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    Modeled after Spice and Spirit: The Complete Jewish Cookbook, published by Chabad Lubavitch, Kimyagarov and Niyazov’s cookbook gives instruction in cooking Central Asian Jewish cuisine, as well as instruction in Jewish religious law surrounding food preparation and consumption.

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  • Roshel, Iskhakov, and Vera Iskhakov. Secret Cuisine of the Emir of Bukhara. New York: Roshel & Vera Corp, 2009.

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    Written in Russian and English. Detailed photos demonstrate the food preparation and cooking process step by step. Photos also depict Central Asian landscapes, textiles, cookware, and produce. Although the work is not packaged as a “Jewish” cookbook, it is replete with Jewish imagery. The overlap between the Jewish and Central Asian nature of the book is suggestive of Bukharan Jews’ deeply intertwined relationship with Central Asian culture, but never made explicit.

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Literary Works Composed by Bukharan Jews

Literary works composed by Bukharan Jews include those of a religious nature, such as Shim’on Hakaham’s writings (pieces of which have been translated in Moreen 2000, and transcribed by Paper 1986); epic poetry such as Khodaidad, also translated in Moreen 2000; secular nationalist poetry composed by Mordekhay Bachayev (published in Bachayev 2006); and poetry related to the Jewish homeland, such as that composed by Shulamit Tilayov. Bukharan Jews generally did not publish fiction, although Bachayev’s memoir In a Stone Stack is constructed as a novel. Loy 2008 gives further insight into the life experiences of Bachayev (who is popularly known as Muhib) drawing on interviews Loy conducted with him at the end of his life. Works that provide some overview of Bukharan Jewish literature include Ya’ari 1942 and Abramov 1997. Moreen 2000 provides an important contribution, situating Bukharan Jews’ literature within the wider body of Persian and Judeo-Persian literature.

  • Abramov, M. M. Tazkirai Adabyoti Yehudiyoni Bukhori. Samarkand, 1997.

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    Tajik. A slim anthology of Central Asian Jewish literature written from the 9th century to the early 20th century.

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  • Bachayev, Mordekhay. Kulliyot: Collected Works of M. Bachayev. Jerusalem: Tsur-Ot, 2006.

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    Eight volumes. The complete works of Mordekhay Bachayev, in Tajik. Poetry, newspaper articles as well as his memoir In a Stone Sack.

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  • Loy, Thomas. “About a Friend: Reflections on the Memoirs of Mordekhay Bachayev.” In Bukharan Jews in the 20th Century: History, Experience and Narration. Edited by Ingeborg Baldauf, Moshe Gammer, and Thomas Loy, 37–55. Wiesbaden: Reichert-Verlag, 2008.

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    Offers a biographical sketch of Mordekhay Bachayev (Muhib) and an overview of his writings, including information that Loy learned by interviewing him a few years before his death.

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  • Moreen, Vera Basch. In Queen Esther’s Garden: An Anthology of Judeo-Persian Literature. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000.

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    This anthology provides English-language readers with a rare glimpse into the world of Judeo-Persian literature. It includes translations of poetry, prayers, biblical commentary, and historical chronicles written between the 8th and 19th centuries. The literature of Bukharan Jews is situated within this larger body of work. Included is a translation of “Khodiadad,” and a translation of selections from Musa Nama, composed by Shimon Hakham.

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  • Paper, Herbert, ed. The Musa-Nama of R. Shim’on Hakham. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1986.

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    Shimon Hakham’s Musa-Nama (The Book of Moses) is based on a 14th-century poem composed by Shahin of Shiraz, which recounts legends about Biblical events. In editing Shahin Torah in early-20th-century Jerusalem, Shimon Hakham interlaced prose in smaller typeface, which he himself composed, and referred to as Musa Nama. It draws on midrash, commentary, and on the Zohar. Paper compiles these various segments here into a single text.

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  • Tilayov, Shulamit. Shirat Shulamit. Tel Aviv: Brit Yotzei Bukhara, 1981.

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    Born in Jerusalem in 1907, Tilayov was a granddaughter of Shimon Chacham, author, translator, and founder of Jerusalem’s Bukharan Quarter. Tilayov returned to Bukhara at age four where she remained until migrating illegally to pre–State of Israel in 1934 via Afghanistan and India. Her book narrates her life story and contains her poetry, dedicated to themes including: love of the Jewish people, the Jewish homeland, tributes to Israel’s leaders, and prayers for peace.

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  • Ya’ari, Avraham. Sifrei Yehudei Bukhara. Jerusalem: Kiryat Seer, 1942.

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    In Hebrew. An annotated list, organized by year, of every book published by Bukharan Jews between 1842 and 1939.

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Garb

Analysis of Bukharan Jews’ sartorial style is limited to the study of clothing worn at the turn of the 20th century. Baram-Ben-Yosef 2012 discusses Bukharan Jews’ clothing vis-à-vis Jews in Iran and Afghanistan, while Emelyanenko 2012 describes their clothing vis-à-vis that of their Muslim neighbors.

  • Baram-Ben-Yosef, Noam. “Women’s Ceremonial Clothing from the Communities of Mashad, Heart and Bukhara from the Collection of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.” AB”A: Ktav Et l’Heker v’limud Yehudei Iran, Bukhara, V’Afghanistan 6 (2012): 7–13.

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    (Women’s ceremonial clothing from the communities of Mashad, Herat and Bukhara from the collection of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem). In Hebrew. Drawing on the collection of the Israel Museum in Jersualem, Baram-Ben-Yosef analyzes women’s ceremonial dress in Jewish communities in three areas of Central Asia: Meshed in Iran, Herat in Afghanistan, and Bukhara.

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  • Emelyanenko, T. G. Traditsionyi Kostium Bukharskikh Evreev: Etnokulturnyi Aspect. St. Petersburg: Peterburgskoe Vostokovedenie, 2012.

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    In Russian. Drawing on costume collections and photographs, examines sartorial markings that distinguished Jews from their Muslim neighbors at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Analysis of men’s clothing, as well as women’s, including headgear, footwear, and ornaments.

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Music

Music composed and performed by Bukharan Jews in Central Asia was an organic part of the local musical tradition. Djumaev 2008 examines the ways in which it crossed over confessional boundaries and Levin 1999 addresses how it was shaped by political and cultural forces in the region. In the immigrants’ new homes, music continues to take a dynamic form, engaging in the larger cultural scene of which it is now a part. Rapport 2014 focuses on this phenomena in his ethnographic work on Bukharan Jewish musicians in 21st-century multicultural New York. Levin 1999 and Rapport 2014 both include discussions of religious music, as well as classical Central Asian music and popular music. Shalamayev 1994 and Nektalov 1993, both biographies of leading musicians, offer further insight into the worlds in which they lived and worked.

  • Djumaev, Alexander. “Musical Traditions and Ceremonies of Bukhara.” Anthropology of the Middle East 3.1 (2008): 52–66.

    DOI: 10.3167/ame.2008.030106Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Describes Bukhara’s poly-ethnic nature, and the way local musical tradition emerged as a synthesis, which crossed over the boundaries of confessional groups, particularly Jews and Muslims. As a case study, Djumaev focuses on sazanda—women’s groups that performed music, dance, theater, and poetry. Focuses on the Jewish artist Yafo Pinhasova (Tuhfakhon), who was born in Bukhara in 1928, and who trained and performed among both Jews and Muslims.

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  • Levin, Theodore. Hundred Thousand Fools of God. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.

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    Based on his ethnomusicological travels to Uzbekistan in the 1970s and 1990s, Levin explores various music forms, drawing attention to the influence of politics on musical culture. Information about Bukharan Jewish musicians is included in this wider context. Describes the Babakhanov family (descendants of court musician Levi Babakhanov) and wedding singer, Tuhfaknon. Levin also follows Bukharan Jewish musicians to their immigrant homes in Queens, New York, examining their adaptation to new cultural influences.

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  • Nektalov, Rafael. Gavriel Mullakandov. Samarkand, Uzbekistan, 1993.

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    In Russian. Biography of renowned musician Gavriel Mullakandov (1900–1972), who was named a people’s artist of Uzbekistan. Provides information about the Jewish musical milieu in Samarkand at the time, as well as the tight connections he and his fellow Jewish musicians had with Muslim Uzbek and Tajik musicians.

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  • Rapport, Evan. Greeted with Smiles: Bukharian Jewish Music and Musicians in New York. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199379033.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This lively, accessible study of Bukharan Jewish immigrant musicians in New York is based on twelve years of research, which included learning to play Central Asian instruments with some of the masters. Rapport describes three repertoires—maqam (classical), Jewish religious music, and popular party music—offering a portrait of the ways in which these dynamic repertoires are a means to perform and shape identity on New York’s ethnically diverse stage.

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  • Shalamayev, Aharun. Khofizi Mashhur: Mikhoel Tolmasov. Israel: Aharun Shalamayev, 1994.

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    In Tajik. A folk-biography of influential musician Mikhoel Tolmasov (b. 1887–d. 1969), who was a student of court musician Levi Babakhonov, and uncle to the renowned contemporary musician Avrom Tolmasov. Includes photos of him with other musicians and performance artists (Jewish and not Jewish), biographical information about his wife and his ten children, and a genealogical diagram.

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Migration Patterns and Causes

Jewish migration from Central Asia is generally referred to as having occurred in four waves. Fuzailoff 1995 addresses the wave that lasted from the 1880s through World War I. Koplic 2008, Ben-David 2008, and Asherov, et al. 1977 address illegal migration beginning in the 1920s shortly after the region was incorporated into the Soviet Union. Little information is available about the small wave of a few thousand who immigrated in the 1970s when there was a slight ease in Soviet migration policies. Cooper 2011 addresses the reasons for the mass migration since the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.

  • Asherov, Shlomo Hayim, Michael Zand, M. Benayahu, and Eli Asherov. Mi-Samarkand ad Petah Tikva: Zikhronot Ma’apil Bukhari. Tel Aviv: Brit Yotsei Bukhara, 1977.

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    (From Samarakand to Petah Tikva: Memoirs of a Bukharan immigrant). In Hebrew. An edited version of the chronicles of Rabbi Hayim Shlomo Asherov. Asherov was born in Samarkand in 1899 and immigrated to the pre–State of Israel in 1936 via Iran. In the last chapters of his book, he offers a personal view of the routes and harrowing migration experiences of those who arrived in the pre–State of Israel via Iran and Afghanistan.

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  • Ben-David, Binyamin. “The Immigration of Bukharan Jews to Western Countries—from the Bolshevik Revolution through 1928.” AB”A: Ktav Et l’Heker v’limud Yehudei Iran, Bukhara, V’Afghanistan 2 (2008): 68–90.

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    In Hebrew. Describes immigration route of several hundred Jews to western Europe and the United States in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution.

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  • Cooper, Alanna. “Where Have all the Jews Gone? Mass Migration and Uzbekistan’s Independence.” In The Divergence of Judaism and Islam. Edited by Michael Laskier and Ya’akov Lev, 199–224. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2011.

    DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813037516.003.0011Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Presents the reasons for the mass migration in the post-Soviet era. Analyzes media reports, which portrayed this migration as a response to rising Muslim fundamentalism. By contrast, narratives of those preparing to leave in the 1990s focused on the unstable economic situation, exclusion from the project of Uzbek nation-building, and the pulls of family. In addition, these first-hand reports draw attention to the deep ties to home, and the ambivalence surrounding the decision to leave.

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  • Fuzailoff, Giora. From Bukhara to Jerusalem: The Immigration and Settlement of Bukharan Jews in Eretz Israel (1868–1948). Jerusalem: Misgav Yerushalaim, 1995.

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    In Hebrew. Offers an overview of Bukharan Jews’ migration to Palestine/pre–State of Israel in the 19th century. For more information see Bukharan Jewish Life in Israel

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  • Koplic, Sara. “The Experiences of Bukharan Jews Outside the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s.” In Bukharan Jews in the 20th Century: History, Experience and Narration. Edited by Ingeborg Baldauf, Moshe Gammer, and Thomas Loy, 91–110. Wiesbaden, Germany: Reichert-Verlag, 2008.

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    Examines the flight of Bukharan Jews in the 1930s and 1940s to Afghanistan, Persia, and India.

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Bukharan Jewish Life in the Diaspora

The contemporary story of Bukharan Jews is being written far from the community’s Central Asia home. Levin 2014 and Kaganovitch 2008 provide an overview of Bukharan Jewish community life that has taken shape (primarily since the 1990s) in Israel, America and Europe. Galibov 1998 (cited under Bukharan Jewish Life in Austria) describes the Bukharan Jewish community in Vienna. Kandinov 1996 and Kandov 2009 (both cited under Bukharan Jewish Life in the United States) describe Bukharan Jewish communities in the United States. And Fuzailoff 1995 and Ben Shaul 1975 (both cited under Bukharan Jewish Life in Israel) describe Bukharan Jewish communities in Israel.

Overview of Demographics and Institutions Worldwide

Since 1989 the population of Bukharan Jews in Central Asia has dwindled from fifty thousand to less than one thousand. Levin 2014 and Kaganovitch 2008 provide information about the community’s resettlement and reorganization in their immigrant homes.

  • Kaganovitch, Albert. “The Bukharan Jewish Diaspora at the Beginning of the 21st Century.” In Bukharan Jews in the 20th Century: History, Experience and Narration. Edited by Ingeborg Baldauf, Moshe Gammer, and Thomas Loy, 111–116. Wiesbaden, Germany: Reichert-Verlag, 2008.

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    This brief article provides an overview of Bukharan Jewish communities in America, Europe, and Israel, information about various waves of migration, and population statistics.

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  • Levin, Zeev. “From Local to Global: Transformations of Bukharan Jewish Community organization in the twentieth century.” Nationalities Papers: The Journal of Nationalism and Ethnicity 42.2 (2014).

    DOI: 10.1080/00905992.2013.867930Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Examines the creation of Bukharan Jews’ global community in the wake of mass migration from the former Soviet Union, with special attention given to the establishment in 2000 of the World Congress of Bukharan Jews. Available online.

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Bukharan Jewish Life in Austria

The Bukharan Jewish population in Austria, which numbers only 350 families, provides an interesting comparison to the communities that have reorganized in large numbers in the United States and Israel. Galibov 1998 presents a history of this small migration, as well as a description of the community.

  • Galibov, Gregory. Venskaya Stranitsa Istorii Bukharskikh Evreev. New York: Nautilus, 1998.

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    In Russian. This work presents the history of Bukharan Jews’ migration to Vienna beginning in the 1970s and continuing through the 1990s. Provides details on the small community (numbering some 350 families at the time of writing), their leaders, and institutions.

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Bukharan Jewish Life in the United States

Bukharan Jews have lived in the United States as early as the 1960s, as discussed in Rebekah Mendelson’s MA thesis (Mendelson 1964). Kandinov 1996 and Kandov 2009 provide an insider perspective on the new immigrants who arrived since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

  • Kandinov, Veliyam. Russian Immigration: Bukharan Jews in America. New York: Forum, 1996.

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    A sociological study of Bukharan Jewish migrants in New York. Explores their motivations for emigrating and evaluates their contemporary circumstances paying attention to English language acquisition, education, employment, and marriage patterns. Also profiles a number of individuals, some successful in business, others leaders in the arts.

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  • Kandov, Boris, ed. Time to Live, Time to Create. New York: Congress of Bukharian Jews of the USA and Canada, 2009.

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    In English and Russian. Issued on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the creation of the Congress of Bukharian Jews of the USA and Canada. Provides a history of this umbrella organization, including its major meetings and events. Lists the various constituent organizations that belong to the Congress, with information about each. Replete with photos of various events, personalities, synagogue services, parades, and delegations to New York city and US government officials.

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  • Mendelson, Rebekah Ziona. “The Bokharan Jewish Community of New York City.” MA thesis, Columbia University, 1964.

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    Offers a rare look at the lives of the Bukharan Jews who lived in New York in the 1960s, having left Central Asia in the 1920s and 1930s. Depicts their philanthropic organizations, leaders, holiday celebrations, and social lives.

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Bukharan Jewish Life in Israel

Central Asia’s Jews created a community infrastructure in Palestine at the turn of the 20th century when they established the Bukharan Quarter in Jerusalem. The building of the residential quarter, as well as pre-state Zionist activity are addressed by Fuzailoff 1995. The history of Bukharan Jews’ migration to Israel is picked up by Ben Shaul 1975, which provides a sociological depiction of their resettlement in Israel in the 1970s.

  • Ben Shaul, Rena. Olei Bukhara B’veit Shemesh: Mekhkar Antropologi. Jerusalem: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1975.

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    In Hebrew. Study of Bukharan Jewish immigrants in Beit Shemesh, who resettled there in 1972–1973. Research project was initiated by the Israeli Ministry of Absorption in 1974 to learn about the immigrants’ community and family life, about their patterns of employment, political organization, and inter-ethnic relations.

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  • Fuzailoff, Giora. From Bukhara to Jerusalem: The Immigration and Settlement of Bukharan Jews in Eretz Israel (1868–1948). Jerusalem: Misgav Yerushalayim, 1995.

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    In Hebrew. Begins with the building of the Bukharan Quarter and the establishment of religious and philanthropic organizations in Jerusalem in the early 20th century. Moves to the tribulations encountered by Zionist organizations in Central Asia and the trickle of impoverished migrants to pre–State of Israel Palestine. Then traces the escape of small numbers of Jews from Soviet Central Asia in the 1930s, their pathways to the pre–State of Israel, and their spread to Tel-Aviv.

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Collections of Primary Source Material

A collection of documents that illuminates Bukharan Jewish communal life in pre–State of Israel during at the turn of the 20th century is Yerushalaim, Rehovot HaBukharim. Rich sources of information about Bukharan Jewish communities in North America (and other parts of the globe) include Kandov 2009 and the online archive of Bukharian Times (2011–present).

  • Bukharian Times.

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    This weekly magazine, published in New York, provides news about communal life among Bukharan Jewish immigrants. Russian language. Online archive begins with the 500th printing, September 2011.

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  • Kandov, Boris. Time to Live, Time to Create. New York: Congress of Bukharian Jews, 2009.

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    Contains letters from US local government officials to officials of the Congress of Bukharian Jews, minutes from the 10th Annual Meeting of the International Congress of Bukharian Jews, a list of Congress members, and information about the work of their various organizational branches. English and Russian.

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  • Yerushalaim, Rehovot HaBukharim. Israel National Library, 1890–1930.

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    The documents in this collection are house in the Israel National Library, and listed under the author “Yerushalaim, Rehovot HaBukharim.” Issued by leaders of Jerusalem’s Bukharan Jewish neighborhood (Rehovot), they include pledge books, community announcements, community regulations, emissary letters, and census information. Most are in Hebrew. A few are in Judeo-Persian (Hebrew lettering). Printed between 1890 and 1930.

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International Travel, Trade, and Religious Ties

Though generally portrayed as occupying the margins of the Jewish world, Central Asia’s Jewish communities remained connected to other Jewish communities through much of their history. Ben-David 1988 and Shukonov 2009 examine economic ties. Adler 1898 outlines books that were circulated between communities, Rabin 1988 lists itinerant teachers who made their way to Central Asia, and Fuzailoff 2008 describes the religious ties that Bukhara’s Jews had with Jewish communities in the Ottoman Empire. Cooper 2012 offers a synthesis of the way in which these networks overlapped and contributed to broader Jewish dynamics that traversed the globe.

  • Adler, Elkan. “The Persian Jews: Their Books and their Ritual.” Jewish Quarterly Review 10.4 (July 1898): 584–625.

    DOI: 10.2307/1450382Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    In 1897 Elkan Adler traveled from his home in England to Samarkand and Bukhara. This article lists some seventy-five books he bought from local Jews while he was there. In addition, it provides information about who owned them, when they were printed or copied, and by whom. The information suggests that the Jews of these cities were well connected with Jewish communities in the West.

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  • Ben-David, Benyamin. “An Economic Entrepreneur in Russian Turkestan, 1896–1923.” Pe’amim 35 (1988): 102–120.

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    The story of the author’s merchant family, beginning in 1865 and spanning three generations. Highlights the family’s far-flung economic relationships, which stretched from Central Asia east to China and west to Moscow and Berlin.

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

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    With the rise of Russian colonialism in Central Asia, the regions’ Jews were drawn into translocal conversations and debates about religious authority, practice, and law. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Bukharan Jews in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan were once again drawn into translocal Jewish converations and debates. These complex negotiations are one segment of the processes through which Judaism and Jewish identity come to be defined on a global scale.

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  • Fuzailoff, Giora. “Bukharan Jewry and the Struggle for the Office of Rishon le-Zion (Chief Sephardic Rabbi) in Jerusalem in 1909.” AB”A: Ktav Et l’Heker v’limud Yehudei Iran, Bukhara, V’Afghanistan 2 (2008): 135–139.

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    Describes the involvement of Central Asia’s Jews in the selection of the Chief Sephardic Rabbi in Palestine, 1909.

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  • Rabin, Abraham. “Emissaries from Eretz Israel to Bukhara, 1881–1914.” Pe’amim 35 (1988): 139–155.

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    Lists the names of sixty-six emissaries who traveled from Palestine to Central Asia between 1881 and 1914, and provides some information about their activities there.

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  • Shukonov, Vladimir. “The Jews of Bukhara and Their Role in Commercial Relations Between Russia and Kingdoms of Central Asia in the Second Half of the 18th and 19th Centuries.” AB”A: Ktav Et l’Heker v’limud Yehudei Iran, Bukhara, V’Afghanistan 3 (2009): 5–11.

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    In Hebrew. Publications that deal with Bukharan Jews’ mercantile activities during the tsarist period generally focus on the latter half of the 19th century, after the Russian conquest of Bukhara. The article offers a more expansive perspective, documenting commercial relations between the Jews in Bukhara, Khiva, and Kokand and tsarist Russia as early as the 18th century.

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