District town in Russian Central Asia, on the River Murgab. The town sprang up when the district was annexed to Russia in 1884. It has a total population of 8,727, including 486 Jews (1899). The old historic Merv is now utterly in ruins, and lies about eight miles east of the present town, adjoining the manufacturing settlement of Bairam Ali, in the imperial domain of the czar.
The Jews seem to have enjoyed greater religious liberty in old Merv than in many other cities. Dr. Wolff ("Mission to Bokhara," pp. 144, 148, New York, 1848), who was in Merv in 1831, and visited it again in 1844 when engaged on his well-known mission to Bokhara, speaks of the Jews there as being in great favor with the calif. They were permitted to maintain the Jewish faith and practises which they had been compelled to abandon at Meshed, where they were obliged to profess Mohammedanism.
O'Donovan, writing in 1882, before Merv was annexed to Russia, speaks of there being but seven Jewish families there. They were mostly engaged in trade, he states, and were treated with considerable tolerance; yet "they were not allowed to call themselves 'Moussai,' their religious name in these Eastern countries, but were compelled to style themselves 'Jedid,' which signifies a convert to the Mussulman faith" ("The Merv Oasis," ii. 129). A writer in the "Jewish Chronicle" (May 12, 1899) has a note regarding the Jews at Merv under the Russian rule. He states that they came from Meshed, which most of them left in 1840 to escape the alternatives of persecution or conformity to the Moslem faith. He adds, however, that "although they openly acknowledge their religion—for the Russian authorities put no impediments in their way in this respect—they live in dread, and meet for prayer in a cellar which is surrounded by a high wall. There is no Ark in the synagogue, and the scrolls of the Law are kept in a separate room, which can be entered only through a secret door. The Jedids have a dejected appearance and fear everybody. They earn a precarious living as artisans."
- O'Donovan, The Merv Oasis, 2 vols., London, 1882 (abridged, 1 vol., New York, 1884);
- Skrine and Ross, The Heart of Asia, pp. 349-356, London, 1899;
- Albrecht, Russisch Centralasien, pp. 37-69. Hamburg, 1896;
- Durrieux and Fauvelle, Samarkand la Bien Gardée, pp. 64-96, Paris, 1901.