web analytics
July 26, 2014 / 28 Tammuz, 5774
Israel at War: Operation Protective Edge
 
 
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
IDC Advocacy Room IDC Fights War on Another Front

Student Union opens ‘hasbara’ room in effort to fill public diplomacy vacuum.



The Community That Dwells In Remote Mountains: The History And Culture Of Gorsky Jews

Gorsky-041814-Torah

“You’re from Azerbaij—what?” Throughout my seminary experience in Jerusalem, I met many new acquaintances and friends and I quickly realized that a ubiquitous conversation starter was my ethnicity. These fresh faces would take note of my own olive-toned one and ask, “Are you Sephardic?” When I answered in the affirmative, they dug deeper. “Syrian? Moroccan?” “No, I’m Gorsky,” I said hesitatingly to a row of blank expressions. “Gorsky Jews are from Azerbaijan and Dagestan,” I continued. “These are tiny countries that used to be part of the Former Soviet Union.” “A Sephardi from the Former Soviet Union? You’re Bukharian then!” they confidently exclaimed.

I had no choice but to prick a pin in their victory bubble. My new acquaintances thought they solved my ethnic mystery, until I started to explain that although Bukharians and Gorskys live in proximity, they are, in fact, two different cultures. To conserve my energy and words, I have considered, more than once, recording a mini-lecture about Gorsky Jews on my phone. Then the next time I would be greeted with an “Azerbaij—what?” I would take it out and press play. Because even though Azerbaijan is famous for its petroleum affluence and urban capital Baku, there are still many who do not know that Jews have lived there for more than 1,500 years.

Historians posit different theories as to why Gorsky Jews – also known as Kavkazi Jews, Caucasian Jews, and Mountain Jews – originally chose to settle in countries like Azerbaijan and Dagestan. Several claim that Jews fled there to escape persecution in neighboring Persia. Others that they entered Azerbaijan from the Byzantine Empire.  Some Mountain Jews believe they are descendents of the Ten Lost Tribes and were exiled to Azerbaijan and Dagestan by Sancheriv. Regardless of their source, however, Gorsky Jews were able to build houses, involve themselves in trades, and study Torah without disruption. In fact, it is possible that Gorsky Jews even scored a line on the hallowed pages of Talmud Yerushalmi: Rabi Shimon Safra of Terbent reveals a connection with the city of Derbent in Dagestan.

Because many Gorsky Jews originally lived in Persia, and were surrounded by other Islamic countries like Turkey, their traditions have been influenced by a mélange of cultures. In fact, the language that Gorsky Jews speak, known as “Juhuri,” is a mix of Farsi and Hebrew. Unbeknownst to many, “Juhuri,” joins the ranks of Yiddish and Ladino as another dialect exclusive to Jews.

Yet, in spite of Azerbaijan being a refuge for fleeing Persian Jews, it wasn’t always an unscathed country. In the 18th century, Persia fought the Ottoman Empire and Russia to conquer Azerbaijan. Persian ruler Nadir Shah rampaged Azerbaijan’s villages, slaughtered many Jews, and forced them to convert to Islam. In the last quarter of the 18th century, Divine relief finally arrived: Fath Ali Khan, a Persian military commander, granted privileges and rights to the Jews. Because the tolerant Fath Ali Khan had ruled in Kuba, Jews from across Azerbaijan moved to this village. Due to the dense Jewish population, Kuba was called “Little Jerusalem.”

In the 19th century, the Persians gave way to Russian governance. Gorsky Jews did not object. They finally enjoyed freedom of religion. In fact, during this era, Jews in Azerbaijan thrived. Young men went to Lithuanian yeshivot and returned to the Caucasus Mountains as spiritual leaders and rabbis. They cleansed Gorsky customs of all non-Jewish influence and strengthened the community by building synagogues in Kuba and Derbent.

Although the Caucasus Mountains created a geographical isolation between Gorskys and other Jewish sects, the community still sustained religious observation with vigor and authenticity. For Shabbat, families gathered to slaughter cattle while the gabbai of the synagogue went door-to-door collecting provisions for the poor. Shabbat meals featured traditional Gorsky dishes such as yepereghi, a stuffed cabbage soaked in a very rich and savory sauce made from elu, a local sour fruit. Brewed teas and desserts are also a beloved mainstay in Gorsky culture. Special pastries include hasido (a confection of crushed nuts and honey) and lavosh (buttery round bread with multiple thin layers). Aside from partaking in the delectable cuisine, it was also common for men to visit the homes of rabbis on Shabbat.

About the Author:


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

Please use the Facebook Tab below to leave your comment:

10 Responses to “The Community That Dwells In Remote Mountains: The History And Culture Of Gorsky Jews

  1. Elvina Dan says:

    Who wrote this article?

  2. Rufat Yunayev says:

    The author's name is at the top – Rebecca Mordechai. Rebecca, thank you for writing such a great piece. I was just explaining the history of our people to an American friend earlier today and I googled "Mountain Jews" so that I could send them something brief about it — and up came your article. I found it quite gratifying on a personal level but also impressive for its historical accuracy. I thoroughly enjoyed it and have sent it to a few people already. Though I haven't been in seminary, I've (expectedly) had a difficult experience over the years in the general American Jewish community (not to mention the American community at large).

  3. Rufat Yunayev says:

    (And by difficult experience, I meant to say a similarly challenging time encountering people who know of our community.)

  4. so very interesting , thank you so much

  5. Rebecca Mordechai says:

    Thank you very much for your kind words Rufat! I'm glad you liked it and were able to relate…We gotta continue spreading the Gorsky pride.

  6. Michael Yadov says:

    Interesting

  7. Barry Mordukhaev says:

    Great article… will have a link at the ready as well for explanation.

  8. Rebecca, very good article about us with interesting details. Have you explored the subject of our last names? A lot of us carry the same last name as yours with quite a few variations in spelling. Mine is like Barry's below – Mordukhaev.

  9. Good article, however it doesn’t mention the Gorsky community from former Soviet republic of Кабардино-Балкария. At one point there was more than 10 thousand Mountain Jews living in the city of Нальчик alone. How remembers the “Еврейская Калонка”? Sadly, most of them are now gone, immigrated to Israel or USA, but small number of families are still living there. Just my two cents.

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Loading Facebook Comments ...
Loading Disqus Comments ...
Current Top Story
John Kerry
Entire Israeli Cabinet Rejects Kerry’s Proposed Ceasefire, Talks Continue
Latest Sections Stories
Respler-072514

The real solution to bullying is to empower the bullied child.

Schonfeld-logo1

Time outs increases compliance and positive behavior far more than other forms of discipline

Schild-Edwin

Interestingly, sometimes people who have a very high self-awareness may experience intense reactions to circumstances that others might respond to more mildly.

“You Touro graduates are automatically soldiers in [Israel’s] struggle, and we count on you,” Rothstein told the graduates.

The lemonana was something else. Never had we seen a green drink look so enticing.

On his marriage, he wrote: “This is what I believe: something of the core, of the essence of this meaningful and life-affirming Judaism will not be absent from our home” (1882).

With the recent kidnapping by the Hamas and the barbaric murder of three children – Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Frankel, we believe that the best answer to honor the memory of those murdered is to continue building those very communities – large and small – that our enemies are trying to destroy.

Written entirely through Frayda’s eyes, the reader is drawn by her unassuming personality.

Adopting an ancient exegetical approach that is based on midrashic readings of the text, thematic connections that span between various books of the Bible are revealed.

While Lipman comes from an ultra-Orthodox background and is an Orthodox rabbi, he offers a breath of fresh air when he suggests that “polarization caused by extremism and isolationism in the religious community may be the greatest internal threat to the future of the Jewish people”

The Joys of Yiddish, Leo Rosten defines a mentch as “someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character.”

Certainly today’s communication via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and the like, including the ubiquitous Whatsapp, has reduced the need to talk with people and communicate at length.

More Articles from Rebecca Mordechai
Gorsky-041814-Torah

Some Mountain Jews believe they are descendents of the Ten Lost Tribes and were exiled to Azerbaijan and Dagestan by Sancheriv.

A-Night-Out-logo

Curious as to whether Sophie’s Bistro is able to host events like a sheva berachot or a pidyon haben, I asked about party rooms. Amar answered with a broad smile and a display of Sophie’s party room, which is at once spacious and intimately elegant.

Jews from this Persian city were not only cruelly attacked by mobs, but also forced to convert to Islam.

It’s been over a year since global headlines featured Naama Margolese, eight years old at the time, being spit on and verbally assaulted by several haredim in Beit Shemesh for not adhering to their standards of modesty. Understandably, the image of a young girl being called “prostitute” during her walk to school evoked the ire of thousands. The rift between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews grew in size and depth.

    Latest Poll

    Do you think the FAA ban on US flights to Israel is political?






    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/features/feautures-on-jewish-world/the-community-that-dwells-in-remote-mountains-the-history-and-culture-of-gorsky-jews/2014/04/17/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: