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Bukharan Jews

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Title: Bukharan Jews  
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Subject: Jewish ethnic divisions, WikiProject Central Asia/Cleanup listing, History of Zionism, American Jews, Central Asia
Collection: Bukharan Jews, Ethnic Groups in Uzbekistan, Jewish Ethnic Groups
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Bukharan Jews

Bukharan Jews
Shlomo Moussaieff
Lev Leviev
Yisrael Aharoni
Amnon Cohen
Robert Ilatov
Dorrit Moussaieff
Idan Yaniv
Total population
approx. 150,000–200,000
Regions with significant populations
 Israel 100,000–120,000
 United States 50,000–60,000
 European Union 5,000–10,000
 Uzbekistan 100–1,000
 Tajikistan 50–100
 Canada 150
 Russia 100
 Afghanistan 1[1]
Traditionally Bukhori (Judeo-Tajik), Tajik, Russian, Hebrew (Israel), English (USA, Canada, UK, and Australia), and German (Austria and Germany) spoken in addition and to a lesser extent, Uzbek for those who remain in Uzbekistan.
Judaism, Islam (see Chala), Agnosticism
Related ethnic groups

Other Jewish groups
(Mizrahi, Sephardi, Ashkenazi, etc.)


Bukharan Jews, also Bukharian Jews or Bukhari Jews (Persian: یهودی بخارایی‎‎ Yahūde-ye Bukhārāī ; Russian: Бухарские евреи Bukharskie evrei ; Hebrew: בוכריםBukharim ; Tajik and Bukhori Cyrillic: яҳудиёни бухороӣ Yahudiyoni bukhoroī (Bukharan Jews) or яҳудиёни Бухоро Yahudiyoni Bukhoro (Jews of Bukhara), Bukhori Hebrew Script: יהודיאני בוכאראי and יהודיאני בוכארי), also called the Binai Israel,[2] are Jews from Central Asia who historically spoke Bukhori, a dialect of the Tajik-Persian language. Their name comes from the former Central Asian Emirate of Bukhara, which once had a sizable Jewish community. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the great majority have immigrated to Israel or to the United States (especially Forest Hills, New York), while others have immigrated to Europe or Australia.[3]


  • Background 1
  • Name and language 2
  • History 3
    • Sixteenth to eighteenth centuries 3.1
      • Rabbi Yosef Maimon 3.1.1
    • Nineteenth century 3.2
    • Twentieth century 3.3
      • After 1991 3.3.1
  • Immigrant populations 4
    • Tajikistan 4.1
    • United States 4.2
  • Culture 5
    • Dress Codes 5.1
    • Music 5.2
    • Cuisine 5.3
  • Notable Bukharian Jews 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


According to some ancient texts, there were Israelites that began traveling to Central Asia to work as traders during the reign of King David of Jerusalem as far back as the 10th century B.C.E.[4] When Persian King Cyrus conquered Babylon, he encouraged the Jews he liberated to settle in his empire, which included areas of Central Asia. In the Middle Ages, the largest Jewish settlement in Central Asia was in the Emirate of Bukhara.

Among Bukharan Jews, there are two ancient theories of how Jewish people settled in Central Asia. Many Bukharan Jews trace their ancestry to the Tribe of Napthali and to the Tribe of Issachar of the Lost Tribes of Israel[5] who may have been exiled during the Assyrian captivity of Israel in 7th century BCE.[6] There is another tradition stating that Central Asian Jews are descendants of the Israelites who never returned from the Babylonian captivity after exile in the 6th–5th century BCE.[7]

Modern sources have described the Bukhara Jews as, for example, "an ethnic and linguistic group in Central Asia, claiming descent from 5th-century exiles from Persia".[8]

The Bukharan Jews are considered one of the oldest ethno-religious groups of Central Asia and over the years they have developed their own distinct culture. Throughout the years, Jews from other Eastern countries such as Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Syria, and Morocco migrated into Central Asia (usually by taking the Silk Road).

Bukharan girls in Samarkand, ca 1900

Name and language

Interior of the Great Synagogue in Bukhara, sketch based on a photograph by Elkan Nathan Adler.

The term Bukharan was coined by European travelers who visited Central Asia around the 16th century. Since most of the Jewish community at the time lived under the Emirate of Bukhara, they came to be known as Bukharan Jews. The name by which the community called itself is "Isro'il" (Israelites).

The appellative Bukharian was adopted by Bukharan Jews who moved to English-speaking countries, in an anglicisation of the Hebrew Bukhari. However, Bukharan was the term used historically by English writers, as it was for other aspects of Bukhara.

Bukharan Jews used the Persian language to communicate among themselves and later developed Bukhori, a distinct dialect of the Tajiki-Persian language with certain linguistic traces of Hebrew. This language provided easier communication with their neighboring communities and was used for all cultural and educational life among the Jews. It was used widely until the area was "Russified" by the Russians and the dissemination of "religious" information was halted. The elderly Bukharan generation use Bukhori as their primary language but speak Russian with a slight Bukharan accent. The younger generation use Russian as their primary language, but do understand or speak Bukhori.

The Bukharan Jews are Mizrahi Jews[3] and have been introduced to and practice Sephardic Judaism.


The first primary written account of Jews in Central Asia dates to the beginning of the 4th century CE. It is recalled in the Talmud by Rabbi Shmuel bar Bisna, a member of the Talmudic academy in Pumbeditha, who traveled to Margiana (present-day Merv in Turkmenistan) and feared that the wine and alcohol produced by local Jews was not kosher.[9] The presence of Jewish communities in Merv is also proven by Jewish writings on ossuaries from the 5th and 6th centuries, uncovered between 1954 and 1956.[10]

Sixteenth to eighteenth centuries

In the beginning of the 16th century, the area was invaded and occupied by nomadic Uzbek tribes who established strict observance of Islamic religion.

Around 1620, the first synagogue had been constructed at Bukhara city. This was done in contravention of the law of Caliph Omar who forbade the construction of new synagogues as well as forbade the destruction of those that existed in the pre-Islamic period. There was a case when Caliph Umar had ordered the destruction of a mosque, which was built illegally on Jewish land.[11] Before the construction of the first synagogue, Jews had shared a place in a mosque with Muslims. This mosque was called the Magoki Attoron (the "Mosque in pit"). Some say that Jews and Muslims worshipped alongside each other in the same place at the same time. Other sources insist that Jews worshipped after Muslims.[12] The construction of the first Bukhara synagogue was credited to two people: Nodir Divan-Begi, an important grandee, and an anonymous widow, who reportedly outwitted an official.

During the 18th century, Bukharan Jews faced considerable discrimination and persecution. Jewish centers were closed down, the Muslims of the region usually forced conversion on the Jews, and the Bukharan Jewish population dramatically decreased to the point where they were almost extinct.[13] Due to pressures to convert to Islam, persecution, and isolation from the rest of the Jewish world, the Jews of Bukhara began to lack knowledge and practice of their Jewish religion. By the middle of the 18th century, practically all Bukharan Jews lived in the Bukharan Emirate.

Rabbi Yosef Maimon

Bukharan Jews celebrating Sukkot, c. 1900.
The borders of the Russian imperial territories of Kiva, Bukhara and Kokand in the time period of 1902–1903.

In 1793, Rabbi Yosef Maimon, a Sephardic Jew from Tetuan, Morocco and prominent kabbalist in Safed, traveled to Bukhara and found the local Jews in a very bad state. He decided to settle there. Maimon was disappointed to see so many Jews lacking knowledge and observance of their religious customs and Jewish law. He became a spiritual leader, aiming to educate and revive the Jewish community's observance and faith in Judaism. He changed their Persian religious tradition to Sephardic Jewish tradition. Maimon is an ancestor of Shlomo Moussaieff, author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, and the First Lady of Iceland Dorrit Moussaieff.

Nineteenth century

In 1843 the Bukharan Jews were visited by the so-called "Eccentric Missionary", Joseph Wolff, a Jewish convert to Christianity who had set himself the broad task of finding the Lost Tribes of Israel and the narrow one of seeking two British officers who had been captured by the Emir, Nasrullah Khan. Wolff wrote prolifically of his travels, and the journals of his expeditions provide valuable information about the life and customs of the peoples he travelled amongst, including the Bukharan Jews. In 1843, for example, they collected 10,000 silver tan'ga and purchased land in Samarkand, known as Makhallai Yakhudion, close to Registon.

In the middle of the 19th century, Bukharan Jews began to move to the Land of Israel. The land on which they settled in Jerusalem was named the Bukharan Quarter (Sh'hunat HaBucharim) and still exists today.

In 1865, Russian troops took over Tashkent, and there was a large influx of Jews to the newly created Turkestan Region. From 1876 to 1916, Jews were free to practice Judaism. Dozens of Bukharan Jews held prestigious jobs in medicine, law, and government, and many Jews prospered. Many Bukharan Jews became successful and well-respected actors, artists, dancers, musicians, singers, film producers, and sportsmen. Several Bukharan entertainers became artists of merit and gained the title "People's Artist of Uzbekistan," "People's Artist of Tajikistan," and even (in the Soviet era) "People's Artist of the Soviet Union." Jews succeeded in the world of sport also, with several Bukharan Jews in Uzbekistan becoming renowned boxers and winning many medals for the country.[14]

Twentieth century

Jewish students with their teacher in Samarkand, ca. 1910.

Prior to the establishment of the state of Israel, the Bukharan Jews were one of the most isolated Jewish communities in the world.[15]

With the establishment of Soviet rule over the territory in 1917, Jewish life seriously deteriorated. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, thousands of Jews, fleeing religious oppression, confiscation of property, arrests, and repressions, fled to Palestine. In Central Asia, the community attempted to preserve their traditions while displaying loyalty to the government. World War II and the Holocaust brought a lot of Ashkenazi Jewish refugees from the European regions of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe through Uzbekistan. Starting in 1972, one of the largest Bukharan Jewish emigrations in history occurred as the Jews of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan immigrated to Israel and the United States, due to looser restrictions on immigration. In the late 1980s to the early 1990s, almost all of the remaining Bukharan Jews left Central Asia for the United States, Israel, Europe, or Australia in the last mass emigration of Bukharan Jews from their resident lands.

After 1991

With the disintegration of the Soviet Union and foundation of the independent Republic of Uzbekistan in 1991, some feared growth of nationalistic policies in the country. The resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan prompted an increase in the level of emigration of Jews (both Bukharan and Ashkenazi). Before the collapse of the USSR, there were 45,000 Bukharan Jews in Central Asia.[16]

Today, there are about 150,000 Bukharan Jews in Israel (mainly in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area including the neighborhoods of Tel Kabir, Shapira, Kiryat Shalom, HaTikvah and cities like Or Yehuda, Ramla, and Holon) and 60,000 in the United States (especially Queens—a borough of New York that is widely is known as the "melting pot" of the United States due to its ethnic diversity)—with smaller communities in the USA like Phoenix, South Florida, Atlanta, San Diego, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Denver. Only a few thousand still remain in Uzbekistan. About 500 live in Canada (mainly Toronto, Ontario and Montreal, Quebec). Almost no Bukharan Jews remain in Tajikistan (compared to the 1989 Jewish population of 15,000 in Tajikistan).

Immigrant populations


In early 2006, the still-active Dushanbe Synagogue in Tajikistan as well as the city's mikveh (ritual bath), kosher butcher, and Jewish schools were demolished by the government (without compensation to the community) to make room for the new Palace of Nation. After an international outcry, the government of Tajikistan announced a reversal of its decision and publicly claimed that it would permit the synagogue to be rebuilt on its current site. However, in mid-2008, the government of Tajikistan destroyed the whole synagogue and started construction of the Palace of Nation. The Dushanbe synagogue was Tajkistan's only synagogue and the community were therefore left without a centre or a place to pray. As a result, the majority of Bukharan Jews from Tajikistan living in Israel and the United States have very negative views towards the Tajik government and many have cut off all ties they had with the country. In 2009, the Tajik government reestablished the synagogue in a different location for the small Jewish community.[17]

United States

Currently, Bukharan Jews are mostly concentrated in the U.S. in Mazoltuv Borukhova.

In December 1999, the First Congress of the Bukharian Jews of the United States and Canada, led by Boris Kandov convened in Queens. At the start of the Jewish New Year 5765 (2004-5), the Bukharan Jewish community of Queens (mainly Rego Park and Forest Hills) celebrated the opening of the Bukharian Jewish Community Center. This establishment further reflects the growing Bukharan community in Queens and their desire to preserve their identity in an ever-changing world.

In 2007, Bukharan-American Jews initiated lobbying efforts on behalf of their community.[19] Zoya Maksumova, president of the Bukharan women’s organization "Esther Hamalka" said "This event represents a huge leap forward for our community. I am so grateful to God that we are here, that I was able to witness this. Now, for the first time, Americans will know who we are." Senator Joseph Lieberman intoned, "God said to Abraham, 'You'll be an eternal people'… and now we see that the State of Israel lives, and this historic [Bukharan] community, which was cut off from the Jewish world for centuries in Central Asia and suffered oppression during the Soviet Union, is alive and well in America. God has kept his promise to the Jewish people."[19]


Dress Codes

Bukharan Jews had their own dress code, similar to but also different from other cultures (mainly Turco-Mongol) living in Central Asia. On weddings today, one can still observe the bride and the close relatives donning the traditional kaftan (Jomah-ҷома-ג'אמה in Bukhori and Tajik) [20]


The Bukharan Jews have a distinct musical tradition called Shashmaqam, which is an ensemble of stringed instruments, infused with Central Asian rhythms, and a considerable klezmer influence as well as Muslim melodies, and even Spanish chords. Shashamqam music "reflect the mix of Hassidic vocals, Indian and Islamic instrumentals and Sufi-inspired texts and lyrical melodies."[21]


Central Asian style dumpling soup called shurboi dushpera or tushpera (left) along with traditional tandoor style bread called non in Bukharan, Tajik, and Uzbek (right).

Bukharan cuisine consists of many unique dishes, distinctly influenced by ethnic dishes historically and currently found along the Silk Road and many parts of Central and even Southeast Asia. Shish kabob, or shashlik, as it is often referred to in Russian, are popular, made of chicken, beef or lamb. Pulled noodles, often thrown into a hearty stew of meat and vegetables known as lagman, are similar in style to Chinese lamian, also traditionally served in a meat broth. Sambusa, pastries filled with spiced meat or vegetables, are baked in a unique, hollowed out tandoor oven, and greatly resemble the preparation and shape of Indian samosas.

The Bukharians' Jewish identity was always preserved in the kitchen. "Even though we were in exile from Jerusalem, we observed kashruth," said Isak Masturov, another owner of Cheburechnaya. "We could not go to restaurants, so we had to learn to cook for our own community.[22]

Plov is a very popular slow-cooked rice dish spiced with cumin and containing carrots, and in some varieties, chick peas, and often topped with beef or lamb. Another popular dish is baksh which consists of rice, chicken breast and liver cut into small cubes, with cilantro, which adds a shade of green to the rice once it's been cooked. Most Bukharan Jewish communities still produce their traditional breads including non (lepyoshka in Russian), a circular bread with a flat center that has multiple pattern of designs, topped with black and regular sesame seeds, and the other, called non toki, bears the dry and crusty features of traditional Jewish matzah, but with a distinctly wheatier taste.

Notable Bukharian Jews

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Marks, Gil. The world of Jewish cooking, Simon & Schuster, 1999, ISBN 978-0-684-83559-4, p. 97.
  3. ^ a b c Goodman, Peter. "Bukharian Jews find homes on Long Island", Newsday, September 2004.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Ehrlich, M. Avrum. Encyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspora: Origins, Experiences, and Culture ABL-CIO, October 2008, ISBN 978-1-85109-873-6, p. 84.
  6. ^ "The history of Bukharan Jews", Retrieved December 13, 2009.
  7. ^
  8. ^ , 1/13/2013Jerusalem Post"Wandering Jew: Bukhara, the ancient silk way city", by Tanya Powell-Jones,
  9. ^ Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Aboda Zara, 31b, and Rashi
  10. ^ Ochildiev, D; R. Pinkhasov, I. Kalontarov. A History and Culture of the Bukharian Jews, Roshnoyi-Light, New York, 2007.
  11. ^
  12. ^ Mosque and the story of Synagogue in Bukhara. "Bukharan Jews", Magoki Attoron.
  13. ^ "Bukharan Jews – History and Cultural Relations", website. Retrieved December 13, 2009.
  14. ^ Pinkhasov, Peter. "The History of Bukharian Jews", Bukharian Jewish Global Portal website, p. 2. Retrieved December 13, 2009.
  15. ^ a b Moskin, Julia. "The Silk Road Leads to Queens" The New York Times, January 18, 2006.
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Bukharan Broadway":
    • Foner, Nancy. New immigrants in New York", Columbia University Press, 2001, ISBN 978-0-231-12415-7, p. 133. "Since the 1970s, more than 35,000 "Bukharan" émigrés have created a bustling community in Forest Hills, with restaurants, barbershops, food stores and synagogue that together have given 108th street the nickname 'Bukharan Broadway'".
    • Morel, Linda. "Bukharan Jews now in Queens recreate their Sukkot memories", j. (Jewish Telegraphic Agency), September 20, 2002. "... 108th Street, recently dubbed 'Bukharan Broadway,'..."
    • Victor Wishna, "A Lost Tribe...Found in Queens", San Diego Jewish Journal, October 2003. "Leaving the bakery, we walk along what has been dubbed 'Bukharan Broadway,' where an abundance of restaurants and gift shops sit side by side."
  19. ^ a b Ruby, Walter. "The Bukharian Lobby", The Jewish Week, October 31, 2007.
  20. ^ For examples see men and women coats as well as children's clothing from Bukhara, ["Dress Codes: Revealing the Jewish Wardrobe"] exhibition, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, March 11, 2014-October 18, 2014
  21. ^
  22. ^ NYT,1-18-2006 The Silk Road Leads to Queens
  23. ^
  • Ricardo Garcia-Carcel: La Inquisición, Biblioteca El Sol. Biblioteca Básica de Historia. Grupo Anaya, Madrid, Spain 1990. ISBN 84-7969-011-9.

External links

  • Official World Wide Bukharian Community Website
  •, Bukharian Jewish Global Portal
  • Cooper, Alanna E. Bukharan Jews and the Dynamics of Global Judaism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012.
  • "Alanna's Cooper's publications on Bukharan Jews",
  • Elena Neva, "Heavenly Frogs in the Art of Bukharian Jewelers", Kunstpedia, March 19, 2009.
  • "Bukharian Jews protect their culture in a N.Y. enclave", Haaretz (Reuters), October 21, 2009.
  • LAZGI Firuza Jumaniyazova shimon polatov israel 2011 on YouTube
  • Malika Kalantarova - Lazgi.avi on YouTube
  • Lazgi Malika Kalontarova Dushanbe Малика Калонтарова Лазги Душанбе on YouTube
  •, Bukharian Radio
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