Town in Central Asia; chief town of the Zerafshan district of the Russian dominions. According to tradition, Samarcand was built by Emperor Kaikansu between 3000 and 4000
Jews were excluded from Samarcand when it was under Mohammedan rule, for the city was then regarded as sacred; but with its annexation to Russia, Samarcand became the favored refuge of the Bokhara Jews.
The Jews of Samarcand are almost all Orthodox. Prominent among them is Raphael Moses Kalendarov, who built the Samarcand synagogue at his own expense. In 1890 there were 30 Jewish pupils in the Russian native public school, in a total of 77. The entire Jewish population in that year was 2,500.In 1897 there were two rabbis in the town, one for the Sephardic congregation, and one for the Ashkenazic congregation. The language commonly used by the community is Tajiki, akin to Persian. Only about 10 per cent of the local Jews know Hebrew, which was formerly taught in the one Talmud Torah existing in the town.
In 1897 Samarcand had a total population of 54,900, including about 3,000 Jews. At that time most of the Samarcand Jews were engaged in trade, chiefly that in silk. The poorer Jews, of whom there were not many, were engaged in dyeing silk, or as silversmiths, bookbinders, tailors, or carpenters. The distilleries formerly owned by Jews were ordered closed by the Russian government. There were among them no blacksmiths, copper-workers, musicians, or agriculturists. The Jews who owned gardens hired Sarts to cultivate them. While a few of the wealthy Jews engaged in usury, their rates were not as high as those of the non-Jewish usurers.
- Razsvyet, 1881, No. 9;
- Jew. Chron. Jan. 8, 1897;
- Vámbéry, Travels in Central Asia, London, 1864;
- Curzon, Russia in Central Asia, London, 1889;
- F. von Schwarz, Turkestan, Freiburg, 1900.