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MileChai ® --> Judaica --> Judaism --> Bukharan Jews, also Bukharian Jews or Bukhari Jews

Bukharan Jews, also Bukharian Jews or Bukhari Jews, (Persian: یهودی بخارایی, Russian: Бухарские евреи, Hebrew: בוכרים‎: Bukharim, Tajik and Bukhori Cyrillic: яҳудиёни бухороӣ (Bukharan Jews) or яҳудиёни Бухоро (Jews of Bukhara)), also called the Binai Israel,[1] are Jews from Central Asia who speak Bukhori, a dialect of the Tajik 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 emigrated to Israel or to the United States (especially Forest Hills, New York), while others have emigrated to Europe or Australia.[2]

Bukharan Kippot


There is a tradition among the Bukharan Jews tracing their ancestry to the Tribe of Napthali and to the Tribe of Issachar of the Lost Tribes of Israel[3] who may have been exiled during the Assyrian captivity of Israel in 7th century BCE.[4] A second wave of Jews into Central Asia are said to have been descendants of the Israelites who never returned from the Babylonian captivity after exile in the 6th-5th century BCE.

The Bukharan Jews of Central Asia were essentially cut off from the rest of the Jewish world for more than 2,500 years but somehow managed to survive and preserve their Israelite identity and heritage in the face of tremendous odds. They 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), as did Jews who were exiled from Spain during the Spanish Inquisition[citation needed]; all these joined the Central Asian Jewish community and were later collectively known as Bukharan Jews. In Central Asia, the Bukharan Jewish community survived for centuries, despite being subject to many conquering influences and much persecution.

Most Bukharan Jews lived in the Emirate of Bukhara (currently Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), while a small number lived in Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and some other parts of the former Soviet Union. In the Emirate of Bukhara, the largest concentrations were in Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khokand. In Tajikistan, they similarly were mainly concentrated in the capital, Dushanbe.

Prior to the Partition of India, some Bukharan Jews could be found among the Afghan population of Peshawar, a city in what is now Pakistan. After partition and the creation of Israel, nearly all of these Jews left for Israel and other countries. One synagogue still exists in Peshawar, though it is non-functioning.

Name and language

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[2] and have been introduced to and practice Sephardic Judaism.


Bukharan Jews celebrating Sukkot, c. 1900.

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.[5] 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.[6]

Having developed over the millennia from Spanish Jewish and northeastern Persian and Arab Jewish communities, this Central Asian community has experienced alternating periods of freedom and prosperity, as well as periods of oppression. With the establishment of the Silk Road between China and the West in the 2nd century BCE that lasted well into the 16th century, many Jews flocked to the Emirate of Bukhara and played a great role in its development. After the Babylonian exile, they came under the Persian Empire, as they prospered and spread through the area. However, around the 5th century, began a period of persecution. Famous Jewish academies in Babylon were closed, while many Jews were killed and expelled (see Mishnah). After Arab Muslim conquest in the early 8th century, Jews (as well as Christians) were considered Dhimmis and were forced, among other things, to pay the jizya head tax. The Mongol invasion in the 13th century also adversely affected the Jews of Bukhara.

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 religious fundamentalism.[citation needed] Confined to city quarters, the Jews were denied basic rights and many were forced to convert to Islam. Under the Uzbeks, they suffered considerable discrimination. They were forced to wear a distinctive black and yellow dress to distinguish themselves from Muslims. Since the Bukharan Jews were considered Dhimmis, their heads of households had to be slapped in the face by Muslims during the annual tax collection.[7]

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 to destroy a mosque, which was built illegally on Jewish land [1]. 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.[8] 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.[9] 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. They only had three of five books of the Torah, did not know Hebrew, and replaced Bar Mitzvahs with Tefillin-banons.[4]

By the middle of the 18th century, practically all Bukharan Jews lived in the Bukharan Emirate.

Rabbi Yosef Maimon

In 1793, Rabbi Yosef Maimon, a Sephardic Jew from Tetuan, Morocco and prominent kabbalist in Tzfat, 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. During this time, the Jews of Bukhara were almost extinct, and Middle Eastern Jews came to Central Asia and joined the Bukharan Jewish community. Maimon's work and the Middle Eastern Jewish move to Central Asia helped revive the almost extinct Bukharan Jewish community. Maimon is an ancestor of Shlomo Moussaieff, author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, and the First Lady of Iceland Dorrit Moussaieff.

Twentieth century

Prior to the establishment of the state of Israel, the Bukharan Jews were one of the most isolated Jewish communities in the world.[11]

With the establishment of Soviet rule over the territory in 1917, Jewish life seriously deteriorated.[citation needed] Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, thousands of Jews, fleeing religious oppression, confiscation of property, arrests, and repressions, fled to Palestine.[citation needed] 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 emigrated 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.

Emigrant populations

United States

Currently, Bukharan Jews are mostly concentrated in the U.S. in New York, Arizona, Atlanta, Denver, South Florida, Los Angeles, San Diego.[2] New York City's 108th Street, often referred to as "Bukharan Broadway"[12] or "Bukharian Broadway"[11] in Forest Hills, Queens, is filled with Bukharan restaurants and gift shops. They have formed a tight-knit enclave in this area that was once primarily inhabited by Ashkenazi Jews (many of the Ashkenazi Jews have assimilated to wider American and American Jewish culture with each successive generation). Congregation Tifereth Israel in Corona, Queens, a synagogue founded in the early 1900s by Ashkenazi Jews, became Bukharan in the 1990s. Kew Gardens, Queens, also has a very large population of Bukharan Jews.

In December 1999, the First Congress of the Bukharian Jews of the United States and Canada, led by Boris Kandov convened in Queens, New York City, USA. At the start of the Jewish New Year 5765 (2005), 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.[13] 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."[13]


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 a new Presidential residence. 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 a Presidential Palace. 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 in Tajikistan have very negative views towards the Tajik government. In 2009, the Tajik government rebuilt the synagogue in a different location for the small Jewish community.

Dress Codes

Bukharan Jews had their own dress code, similar to but also different from other cultures (mainly Altaic cultures) 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) and the richly embroidered fur-lined hats for the wedding dances.


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."[3]


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).
See also: Uzbek cuisine

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. Samsa, 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.

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 Lepeshka, 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 Bukharan Jews

Jacques Abramoff - Monegasque businessman, inventor, past president of the Monaco Jewish Community
Yisrael Aharoni - Israeli chef and restaurateur
Jacob Arabov - Proprietor of Jacob & Co.
Ari Babakhanov - Musician from Uzbekistan
Amnon Cohen - Israeli politician and member of the Knesset for Shas.
Rena Galibova - Soviet actress, "People's Artist of Tajikistan" (an awarded title, alluding to national prominence)
Meirkhaim Gavrielov - Journalist murdered in Tajikistan in 1998
Shimon Hakham - Bukharan-Israeli Rabbi/ Writer/ One of the founders of the Bukharan Quarter
Robert Ilatov - Israeli politician and member of the Knesset for Yisrael Beiteinu
Barno Itzhakova - vocalist, famous for her rendition of traditional Shashmaqom songs in Tajik and Uzbek
Lev Leviev - Billionaire businessman, investor, philanthropist, president of the World Congress of Bukharian Jews
Boris Kandov - President of the Bukharian Jewish Congress of the USA and Canada
Malika Kalontarova - Dancer, "People's Artist of Soviet Union" (Queen of Eastern Dance)
Fatima Kuinova - Soviet singer, "Merited Artist of the Soviet Union"
Yosef Maimon - Religious leader
Ilyas Malayev- Musician and Poet from Uzbekistan, "Honored Artist of Uzbekistan"
Dorrit Moussaieff - First Lady of Iceland
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson - Author
Shlomo Moussaieff (businessman) - Israeli millionaire businessman
Shlomo Moussaieff (rabbi) - Co-founder of the Bukharan Quarter in Jerusalem
Yudik Mullodzhanov - Tenor and teacher. Also known as "Bukharian Pavarotti"
Rosa Mullodzhanova - Opera Singer "Honored Artist of Tajikistan"
Shoista Mullodzhanova - Shashmakon singer, "People's Artist of Tajikistan" (Queen of Shashmakom music)
Gavriel Mullokandov – Popular Shashmakom artist, "People's Artist of Uzbekistan"
Jacob Nasirov - Bukharan-American Rabbi from Afghanistan (member of the Bukharian Rabbinical Counsel)
Anthony Yadgaroff - British Businessman, Jewish community leader
Idan Yaniv - Israeli singer, "2007 Israeli Artist of the Year"
Itzhak Yehoshua - Chief Rabbi of the Bukharan Jews in the USA
Suleiman Yudakov - Soviet composer and musician, "People's Artist of the Uzbek SSR"


^ Marks, Gil. The world of Jewish cooking, Simon & Schuster, 1999, ISBN 978-0-684-83559-4, p. 97.
^ a b c Goodman, Peter. "Bukharian Jews find homes on Long Island", Newsday, September 2004.
^ Ehrlich, M. Avrum. Encyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspora: Origins, Experiences, and Culture ABL-CIO, October 2008, ISBN 978-1-85109-873-6, p. 84.
^ a b "The history of Bukharan Jews", Retrieved December 13, 2009.
^ Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Aboda Zara, 31b, and Rashi
^ Ochildiev, D; R. Pinkhasov, I. Kalontarov. A History and Culture of the Bukharian Jews, Roshnoyi-Light, New York, 2007.
^ Sloam, Joanna. "Bukharan Jews", Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved December 13, 2009.
^ Mosque and the story of Synagogue in Bukhara. "Bukharan Jews", Magoki Attoron.
^ "Bukharan Jews - History and Cultural Relations", website. Retrieved December 13, 2009.
^ Pinkhasov, Peter. "The History of Bukharian Jews", Bukharian Jewish Global Portal website, p. 2. Retrieved December 13, 2009.
^ a b Moskin, Julia. "The Silk Road Leads to Queens" The New York Times, January 18, 2006.
^ "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."
^ a b Ruby, Walter. "The Bukharian Lobby", The Jewish Week, October 31, 2007.

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