Reviews

Based on a bibliography of authoritative English and Hebrew-language articles, this monumental volume displays the most complete examination to date of available knowledge on the Bukharan Jews. It is a revised edition of a previous work by the same author (From Bukhara to Jerusalem, Jerusalem, 1995, in Hebrew). In the present edition, the author revises his own perception of the state of mind of the Jewish population of Bukhara as catastrophic before the migration to the city, in 1793, of enlightener Rabbi Yosef Maman. As in other publications (see supra review No. 273), G. Fuzailoff criticises this viewpoint, through the examination of a Bukharan ktuba (Jewish religious wedding contract) dated 1791, recently discovered by him. Skimming through a dozen of books of religious content copied by Bukharan Jews between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, he endeavours to demonstrates that this community’s spiritual development was progressive till the mid-eighteenth century. However, between the reign of Muhammad Shaybani Khan (1501-10) and almost the mid-sixteenth century we had no data at our disposal on the presence of Jews in Bukhara, which suggests that they had been converted to Islam, or had fled the city and its region.

Though most of the author’s affirmations are well-argued, his work is also rich in non-documented assertions. Such is the case for instance of the history of Genghis Khan treated in Samarqand, for an eye problem, by a Jewish physician, and more generally speaking of the high position of Jewish physicians in the early Mongol Empire. No early-thirteenth-century source has reached us on the activity of Central Asian Jews. The author’s argumentation on the deportation by Timur of Jews to Samarqand from conquered countries, based on Bukharan Jewish oral traditions, is also weak. This is even more so since part of these traditions dates this deportation of later periods of time. Referring to the decrees taken for the expulsion of Bukharan Jews during the late Tsarist period, the author does not provide his sources, and does not observe the subdivision by Russian law of this population into several very distinct categories ― though as everybody knows, only those Jews arriving to Russian Turkistan from the Emirate of Bukhara were exposed to such measures. For G. Fuzailoff, the reason for these expulsion measures was the anti-Semitism of the Russian administration in Central Asia ― a very general and rather simplistic explanation. A more detailed and subtle approach would have been welcomed, at least for answering to the question of why precisely the Jewish subjects of the Emir of Bukhara were submitted to such a policy, and why even those deported from the Syr-Darya Region were authorised to settle down in other regions of Russian Turkistan.

The main part of the volume is made of some dozens of biographies of Bukharan rabbis, which that author could complete by new data from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well as by photographs from diverse archive collections, public and private, and by information from the press in Hebrew language. These biographies would have shown even more complete if the author would have included into them the materials available in the newspaper Rakhamim published in Skobelev, in Judeo-Tajik, from May 1910 to July 1916. Many issues of this newspaper, almost fully let aside of the scope of this study, which has for long become a bibliophilic rarity, are preserved in the National Library of Jerusalem. However and despite these few reservations, G. Fuzailoff’s gigantic work constitutes a very significant contribution towards the diffusion of the history of Bukharan Jews. Its detailed indexes and appendixes, displaying the edition of letters by early-twentieth-century rabbis from Bukhara, open innumerable avenues for further research on this original Jewish community.

Albert Kaganovich, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
CER: II-3.4.C-274