This monumental work, no doubt, provides the international readership with a pioneering overall picture of the history and civilisation of the Sephardic world, “a fundamentally multiform universe, extremely extensive from a geographical viewpoint, contrary to the Ashkenazi world (11).” In his foreword, the editor Shmuel Trigano stresses the geographical and cultural bipolarity of the Jewish people, and the historical significance of the world of Islam in the development of Eastern Sephardic communities throughout the ages. He astutely sheds light on the significance of a Rabbinic juridical tradition initially concocted in Babylon and in Spain in the pre-modern organisation of these communities, inside an Islamic political framework maintaining the autonomous jurisdiction of communities in matters of personal rights. This organisation made possible the preservation of the “Jewish nation” (brackets by Sh.T.) in the Sephardic world, whence its field was being gradually reduced in Western Europe—the Jews being there enjoined by Enlightenment to become ordinary citizens. This historical specificity, a key feature of the accession of the Sephardic world to modernity “coming out of the womb of tradition (244),” brings the author to revisit the dogma of modernity built up on the rupture of the late eighteenth century. For this, he remembers that if the ‘Apologies of the Jews’ of the time of the French Revolution proved that Jews can be citizens worth of this denomination, they were basing their argument on those exemplary Sephardim who had previously showed excellent in this exercise in Livorno, in Holland, or in the Dutch West Indies. Extremely far reaching and convincing are, for instance, the author’s considerations on the presence, in early modern Western European literatures, of characters marked by the duplicity and the psychology of the conversos, opening the perspective of the modern human being, homo duplex split up into private and public lives—even if curiously enough, such a prominent figure as Sephardic-background Michel de Montaigne does not appear among the classics convoked in this argument. (See Trigano Shmuel, “Introduction: Faire l’histoire du monde sépharade [Introduction: Making the History of the Sephardic World],” 11-25; see also ibid., “L’invention sépharade de la modernité juive [The Sephardic Invention of Jewish Modernity],” 243-78, bibliography; ibid., “Le tournant politique de la condition juive: l’ère coloniale [The Political Turn of the Jewish Condition: The Colonial Era],” 585-92, bibliography; ibid., “L’invention sépharade du sionisme moderne [The Sephardic Invention of Modern Zionism],” 861-78, bibliography; see also Nahon Gérard, “La transition de l’histoire sépharade vers la modernité [The Transition of Sephardic History towards Modernity],” 723-44, bibliography; Chetrit Joseph, “La Haskala hébraïque dans le monde sépharade [The Hebraic Haskala in the Sephardic World],” 745-809, bibliography.)
Beside these overall contributions by the editor and some prominent authors, several articles of the same volume on the history of the Sephardic world are devoted to a historical overview of Sephardic communities in the world of Islam, focusing mainly on the southern and eastern Mediterranean (see in particular, among others: Ben Sasson Menahem, “Les centres juifs d’Orient et d’Occident à l’époque de l’Empire islamique [The Jewish Centres of the East and of the West in the Time of the Islamic Empire],” 31-84, bibliography; Attias Elie, “Le rôle économique des juifs en terre d’islam [The Economic Role of the Jews in the Land of Islam],” 113-122, bibliography; Saadoun Haïm, “Le sionisme dans les pays musulmans [Zionism in Muslim Countries],” 879-904; Saadoun Haïm, “L’exode des Juifs des pays d’Islam [The Exodus of the Jews from the Lands of Islam],” 964-1001, tab., bibliography). Central Eurasia is represented directly by a very limited, though substantial set of contributions, all closely associating the territory of present-day Iran with Transoxiana, with distinct paragraphs on varied communities of the Southern Caucasus. A first panoramic study is devoted to the Jews “in” Iran through the ages. Their modern history is traced essentially through the community’s successive organs—notably through late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century periodicals—and through the biographies of a limited amount of representative figures. The author, a prominent scholar of Judeo-Iranian studies, first reconstructs the history of medieval Jewish religious movements, shedding light on the implantation of the Karait trend in Iran and on the polemics between Karait thinkers from this country and the Rabbinate of Babylon. The article shortly evokes the contribution of great converted statesmen like Sa‘d al-Dawla and Rasihd al-Din under the Mongol domination. Overrepresented in the Iranian Jewish oral tradition and collective memory, the Safavid period (early sixteenth – early eighteenth centuries) and the Qajar period (late eighteenth – early twentieth centuries) are tackled through repressions, forced conversions and exiles—notably that of the Jews of Mashhad towards Bukhara from the first half of the eighteenth century onwards. The early modern period is seen through the educational activity of the Alliance israélite universelle from 1898 onwards, the civil and juridical rights granted to the Jews of Iran by the Constitution of 1906, and the launching of an institutionalised Zionist activity in Hamadan during the years preceding wwi. The last chapters deal with the transformations brought about by Reza Shah (1925-41) with the abolition of discriminating laws and decrees, and the repression of Zionist or Communist activism. His successor Mohammad-Reza Shah’s reign is characterised as a period of openness and renewal of contacts with the Jewish communities of the Western world, and unprecedented intensification of Jewish emigration from Iran in the early 1950s, the last important segment of the Jewish population of Iran, made of a majority of white collars, leaving the country in the years and decades following the Revolution of 1979 (Netzer Amnon, “En Iran [In Iran],” 492-516, bibliography).
Closer to Central Eurasia is a panoramic article on the history of different Jewish communities from the Crimea to nowadays Uzbekistan (Zand Michael, “En Asie Centrale [In Central Asia],” 517-73, bibliography). The first group is that of Tatar-speaking Krymchaks (originally Syraels), traced from the Hellenised Jews of the first century CE to present time, via the conversion of the Khazars, the Turkicisation of Crimean Jews after the Tatar conquest in 1239, and the homogenisation of rituals in the sixteenth century under the influence of an erudite from Kiev, Moshe Ben Yaakov. The article describes the legal status and economic life of Crimean Jews in Karasubazar, through the traditional role of the hakham (chief rabbi) in the framework of the Khanate, before addressing the transformations of the Tsarist period—in particular the exemption from taxes imposed upon Jews for the Karaits, who refuted their membership of any “Jewish ethnic group.” The paragraphs on the Soviet period evoke successively: the flowering of laic Jewish schools in the 1920s; the integration of the Krymchaks into ethnically heterogeneous kolkhozes in the 1930s and their subsequent Russianisation; the large scale massacres by the Nazis in 1941; the promotion of the Krymchaks as an ethnic entity distinct from the Jews under pressure of prevailing anti-Semitism in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The next chapter is on the Georgian-speaking and writing Georgian Jews. The author deals at length with the conversion of Jews to Christianity, in order to escape serfdom between the fourteenth and the nineteenth centuries. The following step is the settlement of former Jewish serfs in towns after the abolition of serfdom by Tsar Alexander ii in 1864, and their transformation into petty traders. As it could be observed in other (notably Muslim) communities of the Russian Empire during this period of time, Jewish serfs from the same domain used to settle down in the same town or neighbourhood, around their a newly founded synagogue—reinforcing in this manner their communal ties, whence establishing first relations with Ashkenazi migrants from Western Russia. The year 1902 is the date of the creation of the first laic Jewish school in Tbilisi—as it was for the Krymchaks. Begun in 1867 in Georgia as in the Crimea, the alya of Georgian Jews was interrupted by wwi, after which anti-Zionist militants were admitted to take part in the political institutions of the ephemeral First Georgian Republic. The Soviet period is characterised by the violence of the early 1920s; by forced secularisation from 1925 onwards, followed by the suppression of the Georgian Jewish laic culture; by the multiplication of craftsmen cooperatives—often covers for private activities of families or groups of families—, the Jews often playing the scapegoats in periods of administrative adjustment. The Tat-Speaking “Mountain Jews” of Dagestan and Azerbaijan are evoked through their settlement as a consequence of the Arab conquest in the mid-seventh century; through their adoption of Italian Sephardic prayer books in the sixteenth century; through the destructions of Jewish rural communities ensuing from the tribal struggles of the eighteenth century, followed by the Baku anti-Semitic violence in 1814, against Jewish migrants from Iran; through the forced conversions to Islam in Dagestan under Shamil in the 1830s; through the earlier steps of the alya in the 1840s; and through the first regular contacts with Ashkenazi migrants from Russia after 1860. The modern social history of Mountain Jews begins with their giving up of agriculture and tanning, and their concentration in cities as non-qualified workers and hawkers. It continues with the opening of Russian-language schools for the teaching of religious and laic matters in the first years of the twentieth century. In early Soviet Dagestan, Mountain Jews considered the struggle between Bolsheviks and local separatists as a continuation of the endless fight between Russians and Muslims, and their respected their own tradition joining the former. The period was marked by numerous attacks and a pogrom in 1926. The establishment of Jewish kolkhozes was accompanied by the creation of a large network of laic schools and clubs. Under the German occupation, the population of the Jewish kolkhozes of the Krasnodar Territory was exterminated. After the anti-Semitic campaigns of the early 1950s, the anti-Israeli propaganda reached a pick in Dagestan and Azerbaijan after the Six-Day War (1967) and the Yom Kippur War (1973), numerous Jewish cemeteries being then desecrated. A particular point about the Mountain Jews during the post-Stalin period is their ‘Tatisation’, comparable to the de-Judaization of the Krymchaks—a temporary phenomenon, followed by a massive return to Jewish identity in the Brezhnev era, and the massive alya toward Israel.
The history of the Persian-speaking ‘Bukharian’ Jews is reconstructed from their first appearance in literature in the fourth century BCE, their verisimilarly traditional role in the caravan trade with Eastern Turkistan in the early Islamic era, the application of the status of dhimmi after the extension of the Caliphate in Transoxiana, the participation of Central Asian Jewish traders in the transcontinental network of Jewish merchants called ‘Radhaniyya’ for the commerce of silk, the phenomenon of the conversion of the chalas, the religious revival brought about by the arrival of a rabbi from Tetouan in Morocco, Yusef Maman Maghribi (d. 1823), the establishment of an inner structure with a kalantar, the chide administrator, and the mulla-yi kalan, the chief rabbi; their support of Russia’s policy in Central Asia. The most destitute Central Asian Jews became poorer since they were depending on dyeing, a craftsmanship threatened by the influx of Russian industrially dyed textiles, so the less equipped ones gave up that activity and became hawkers, cobblers or hairdressers. The author also mentions the emigration of Jews from the protectorates towards Russian Turkistan, where they were not submitted to the jiziyya, and where the chalas were authorised to practice Judaism, the first alya wave from 1889 to wwi. The narrative continues with the creation of a Russian school in Russian-dominated Samarqand in 1876 by the rich businessman Hizkiyya Yissakharov, a semi-laic school being opened in Samarqand in 1902-3 under the aegis of the Russian administration; the translation from Hebrew to Judeo-Persian, in Jerusalem, of religious texts, and works from the East European Haskala (the ‘Jewish Aufklärung’); the support provided to the Bolsheviks after that of the Tsarist administration (see the role of the Evsektsiia of the Communist Party, bringing to the replacement of Hebrew by Judeo-Persian as the language of education in the Bukharian Jewish schools); the creation of Jewish kolkhozes in Uzbekistan, most of which disappeared in the 1950s (a number of cooperatives were in fact family enterprises constituted by one enlarged family, or two or three allied families); the repressions and limitations of the Red Terror period; the third big alya wave between 1971 and 1980; anti-Semitism in the 1960s-1970s (attacks in Marghilan in 1961, in Tashkent in 1962). The next group is that of the Lakhlukhs, who until their massive emigration in the 1950s used to live in Iranian Azerbaijan. They had settled in the late 1820s in Tbilisi, and were followed in Armenia and Azerbaijan by new groups of migrants, fleeing from the Ottoman army and Kurdish militias during wwi. The Lakhlukhs made a living as qualified workers and itinerant merchants. In the late 1930s the Iranian subjects were expelled back to Iran, and in the late 1940s and early 1950s stateless persons were sent to Kazakhstan. As to the Iranis from Mashhad or Herat, they were first registered in Turkmen territory and in Herat in the early 1840s as a consequence of the forced conversion of the Mashhad Jews to Shiite Islam in 1839. A new wave of emigration towards nowadays Turkmenistan begun after the latter’s annexation by Russia in early 1885. Whence Jews from Herat were registered as Jews, those from Mashhad were registered as Muslims, which allowed them to escape the restrictions imposed on the Jews from Iran and Afghanistan entering into Russian Central Asia. This situation permitted them to escape expulsion, to continue their comings and goings between the Russian Empire and Khurasan, and to play a role in the trade between Iran and Central Asia. Practicing secretly the Judaic religious rites, they used to a strict intra communal exogamy (with an engaged couple residing, one in Herat, one in Trans-Caspian). The agitation of wwi and of revolution drove many of them to return to Mashhad from 1917 and 1920. Those who remained in the Turkmen SSR dropped their Muslim camouflage and joined the Heratis in one and the same group: The ritual being followed jointly in synagogues, the Mashhadis’ strict endogamy gave way to mixed marriages with Heratis. During the Red Terror a number of Iranis were accused of spying for Iran or Afghanistan and arrested, executed or condemned to long sentences. Several waves of emigration toward Israel occurred in the 1970s, then in the 1980s and 1990s, so that there remained no Jews in Turkmenistan in 1991. This exceptional article could have been entitled “In Central Eurasia” since the Crimea or Georgia can hardly been considered parts of Central Asia, even in the widest possible meaning of this denomination. The distinction between ‘Bukharian’ Jews and ‘Iranis’ seems artificial, and has not been argued enough: Converted Jews from Mashhad have played—and to some quantitatively limited extent continue to play—a key role in the modern history of Bukhara and of several important cities of Transoxiana. As far as many ‘Iranis’ in Bukhara call themselves ‘Mashhadis’, why this self-denomination could not be retained as a category? These details notwithstanding, Michael Zand’s masterly synthesis should become a key reference for French-reading students and young scholars interested in Jewish as well as in Central Eurasian history at large.
A last contribution of the first volume (Bar Asher Shalom, “Les bouleversements au Moyen-Orient et en Asie Centrale: société, Etat et culture [Upheavals in the Middle East and Central Asia: Society, State, Culture],” 612-30, bibliography) deals with the global transformations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The author successively analyses demographic phenomena (stressing the substantial differences in the birth rate change between Jewish minorities and Muslim majorities in Middle Eastern and Central Asian lands, as well as between Sephardic communities and Ashkenazi migrants in early modern Turkistan), the impact of juridical and cultural adaptations (from the Ottoman Tanzimat to the Iranian Constitutional Revolution—the author shedding light on the fact that in the land of Islam Jews became full-right citizens not by a result of their own action, but through the intervention of external agents, viz. the British and French powers). A short mention is made of the conversion of Jews of Iran to Bahaism, out of the hope that in a new religious framework there would be room in the Iranian civil society for members of all confessional and ethnic groups. The article is followed by a very short bibliography of reference works in Hebrew language.
Though the second volume, devoted to civilisation, offers less room to regional studies, it still provides an impressive series of panoramic studies in which the lands of Islam, in particular Central Eurasian lands, are well represented: Trigano Shmuel, “La Civilisation du monde sépharade [The Civilisation of the Sephardic World],” 9-21; Schwarzfuchs Simon, “Le statut des Juifs en terre d’Islam [The Status of the Jews in the Land of Islam],” 25-57, bibliography; Saadoun Haïm, “Juifs et musulmans en terre d’islam [Jews and Muslims in the Land of Islam],” 58-88, bibliography; Trigano Shmuel, “Le judaïsme sépharade [Sephardic Judaism],” 91-118, bibliography; Erder Yoram, “Le schisme karaïte [The Karaite Schism],” 154-70, bibliography; Bashan Eliézer, “Le statut juridique des femmes dans la société traditionnelle [The Juridical Status of Women in Traditional Society],” 191-236, bibliography; Amar Moshe, “La yechiva en Orient [The Yeshiva in the East],” 258-301, bibliography; Netzer Amnon, “La littérature des juifs d’Iran [The Literature of the Jews of Iran],” 444-58, bibliography (see the review in infra 543); Seroussi Edwin, “La musique dans la culture sépharade moderne et contemporaine [Music in Modern and Contemporary Sephardic Culture],” 597-624, bibliography [manages to completely ignore the major contribution of Jewish musicians, composers and theoreticians of music from Central Asia]; Ayoun Richard, “Les courants de communication des Sépharades avec les Ashkénazes [The Communication Currents of the Sephardim with the Ashkenazim],” 704-20, bibliography; Bensimon Daniel, “Les partis politiques israéliens face aux Sépharades: l’assignation communautariste [Israelian Political Parties Facing the Sephardim: The Community Allocation],” 704-20, bibliography; Bahloul Joëlle, “La nouvelle diaspora sépharade [The New Sephardic Diaspora],” 723-45, bibliography; Smooha Sami, “Les Sépharades dans la société israélienne: histoire sociologique et politique [The Sephardim in the Israelian Society: A Sociological and Political History],” 761-802, bibliography. In all, besides its innumerable contributions to a better knowledge of classic and modern Sephardic civilisation, this work will no doubt bring correction to a number of lasting stereotypes on the Sephardic (more precisely, post-Marranic) world, beginning with a general reassessment of the decisive, though still ignored role that it has played in the construction of early modernity. This is the case for instance on the determining contribution by Yahuda Hai Alkalai, an early nineteenth-century thinker originating from the western Mediterranean, in the birth of the Zionist thought. Given the exceptional dimension of this scientific and editorial undertaking, it is all the more to be deplored that, albeit the volumes have been beautifully, almost luxuriously published, nevertheless as usually in French popularisation editions the critical apparatus is reduced to the bare minimum. The total absence of an index, for instance, in such a rich and diverse work is a scandal, the revelation of the hopeless scorn of the generalist publishers of the Left Bank (of the Seine River) for the potentially learned audience of some of their productions. A global chronology would have allowed the reader to follow the evolution of the Sephardic communities all over the world, for instance on such central questions as the successive developments of the alya practice in the nineteenth and twentieth century, or on the parallel emergence and development of Zionist ideas in the Sephardic and Ashkenazi worlds. To be deplored also, innumerable misprints, translation and factual errors (especially in the articles concerning Iran and Central Asia: see “Karramiyya” instead of Khurramiyya, Firdawsi’ Shah-Nama written in “Khurasanian language (en khorassanien: 551)” instead of Persian language, the ‘Emirs’ of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as far as nineteenth-century Central Asia is concerned, etc. ad nauseam) still contribute to reveal the already notorious provincialism of the French editing system. If such an accumulation of shortcomings constitutes an unquestionable disadvantage for the credit of this publication, it does not manage to diminish its exceptional interest.