By: Herman Rosenthal
Seaport, in the government of the same name, Transcaucasia, Russia, situated on the peninsula of Apsheron, on the west coast of the Caspian sea. The naphtha-wells of Baku have long been known to fire-worshipers. It is supposed that in the early time of the Sassanids the city of Bagahan occupied the site of Baku. Baku is known to have existed in the fourth century. The name is derived from the Persian Bad-Kube, which denotes "the blow of the wind," signifying the strong north-north-west winds that blow there. In the eighth century Baku came into the possession of the Arabs, and, after the downfall of the califate, into the hands of the princes of Shirvan.
The monk Wilhelmus de Rubruquis, who was sent as ambassador by King Louis IX. to the Tatar khan in 1254, in describing the old walls near the sea and the road to Baku, relates that the whole country was largely inhabited by Jews.
In 1794 about a dozen Jewish families from Jilan, Persia, settled in Baku, and lived in rented houses in the fourth or outer wall of the city. Their synagogue was also in a rented building, and they had two rabbis, Ephraim and Abraham ben Joseph. After the annexation of Baku by Russia, in 1806, the Persian inhabitants started a riot in the Jewish quarter, and although it was quelled by the Russian general, the Jews decided to remove to Kuba, which then had a Jewish population of from 700 to 800 families. From that time until late in the eighties, only a few Jewish soldiers—veterans of the time of Emperor Nicholas I.—and some privileged merchants were permitted to live in Baku. With the development of the petroleum trade, in which the Rothschilds, who have established an office in Baku, were largely interested, Baku became one of the larger cities of Russia, the total population increasingfrom 12,333 in 1867 to 112,000 in 1897. The Jewish population increased proportionately, numbering 2,000 in 1899.
The Jewish community of Baku is now one of the most advanced, and its affairs are well managed. It possesses a religious school for children, and a new synagogue was erected in 1901 at a cost of 100,000 rubles.
In the government of Baku the Caucasian Jews in 1900 numbered 8,630, and were distributed as follows: city of Kuba, 7,000; Mudzy, 950; Aftaran-Mudzy, 680.
In the country round Baku Professor Hahn of Tiflis discovered in 1894 a Jewish tribe which had never before been recognized as descendants of Israel. The members of this tribe lived in villages in the neighborhood of Baku and Elizabethpol, shut in by insurmountable mountains, and occupied themselves with cattle-breeding and agriculture. They claim to be the remainder of the exiles from the land of Israel in the time of the First Temple. The language of these mountain Jews, which contains unmistakable traces of Hebrew, is related to that of the Ossetines, who are also considered to be of Israelitish origin.
- Semenov, Slovar Rossiskoi Imperii, i. s.v.;
- Guillaume de Rubrouck, Récit de Son Voyage, etc., pp. 280, 281, Paris, 1877;
- I. Chorny, Sefer ha-Masa'ot, pp. 262, 263;
- Voskhod, 1901, No. 9;
- David A. Louis, The Baku Petroleum District of Russia, in Engineering Magazine, 1898, p. 986;
- Regesty i Nadpisi, No. 177;
- Von der Hoven, in Budushchnost, 1900, No. 52;
- Katz, Die Juden im Kaukasus, p. 17, Berlin, 1894.