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DAGHESTAN:

Table of Contents

Russian province, situated on the eastern slopes of the Caucasus, and bounded by Circassia, Georgia, and the Caspian Sea. In Turkish the name means "mountainous country."

According to the last census, that of 1897, the Jewish inhabitants numbered 12,000, or 1.85 per cent of the total population. The distribution of Jews in the various districts of Daghestan was as follows (1894): Avar, 11; Andi, 2; Gunid, 3; Dargi, 4; Kazikumukh, 3; Kaitago-Tabassaran, 2,853; Kyurin, 2,762; Temir-Khan-Shura: city, 1,950, and village of Sultan-Yangi-Yurt, 95; Derbent, 2,490; Petrovsk, 915; total, 11,088.

Some other Caucasian tribes of Daghestan are supposed to be descendants of Jewish colonists who in the centuries before the common era migrated to Daghestan in great numbers (Erckert, "Der Kaukasus," p. 360). Among these may be mentioned the Andies, numbering 26,000, and the Kyurines, numbering 150,000.

Manners and Customs.

The Jews of Daghestan greatly resemble the other warlike inhabitants of this mountainous region; and they have acquired the virtues as well as the faults of the latter. They differ from their Christian and Mohammedan neighbors in speech, using the Tat language, which is a combination of Persian and Hebrew. Their writing is a mixture of square characters and Rashi. They wear the Circassian dress, and always go heavily armed, even sleeping without having removed their weapons. Their houses, like those of the other inhabitants, are ill built and dirty, and on the walls one finds, together with brightly shining arms, smoked fish or mutton hung up to dry. The main occupation of the Daghestan Jews is agriculture; but little of the land is owned by them, it being usually rented of their Mohammedan neighbors, to whom they pay their rent in produce, usually tobacco. They raise in addition vegetables and grapes; and some of them are engaged in the tanning of hides; while a few are small traders.

The rabbis and prominent Jews of Daghestan in the nineteenth century were:

Rabbis: Shalom ben Melek Mizrahi, Temir-Khan-Shura; Elijah ben Mishall Mizraḥi, Derbent; Saadia ben Ezra, Tarku Ephraim ben Ḥaninah; Nissim ben Sharbiṭ, Derbent; Jacob ben Isaac Mizraḥi, chief rabbi of Daghestan (1866), Derbent; Isaac Mizraḥi, father of Jacob, Derbent.

Other prominent men: Abraham ben Enoch, died 1861; David ben Shabbethai; Bisra ben Machir; Ephraim ben Koshi; Joseph ben Rabba; Ḥanukkah ben Jacob; Aaron ben Jeremiah; Pesaḥ ben Jonah; Osiyahu ben Elijah; Baba ben Machir; Mordekai ben Pereẓ; Joshua ben Ḥanukkah; Ḥaninah ben Mordekai; Ẓaddiḳ ben Nissim—all of Temir-Khan-Shura; Benjamin ben Issachar, president of Jewish community (1866), Derbent.

Women.

The Jews of Daghestan are noted for their hospitality; and they still retain the old Hebrew custom of washing the feet of strangers who visit them, this duty being performed by the women. The latter, like all Eastern women, lead a rigorous life. They have their separate rooms, are not allowed to sit at the same table with the men, and on the very rare occasions when they show themselves to strangers they keep their faces covered. As in Biblical times, they may be seen every evening on their way to the well, rich and poor alike barefooted and carrying earthenware jars upon their heads. The gathering by the well seems to be a recreation for the women, who exchange news there and linger to gossip with their neighbors. Another occupation which the women appear to enjoy is the noisy lamentation for some departed friend. Gathered on the flat roof, they sit in a circle, and, swaying their bodies, begin a mournful song. Gradually they all wail louder and louder, tearing their hair and biting their fingers until they find themselves compelled to stop from sheer exhaustion. When a funeral occurs the entire community takes part in the lamentations, which are kept up for a whole week. It is customary to break a silver coin over the open grave, and to scatter the fragments in different directions, presumably to drive away evil spirits.

The Daghestan Jews are very ignorant and superstitious, and are made the more so by their life and surroundings. Their rabbis are illiterate, although they speak Hebrew rather fluently. The Mohammedans often attack and rob the homes of the Jews, destroy their burial-places, and molest their graves. The Jews, being compelled to rent the land of them, are completely at their mercy, and are obliged to pay very heavy taxes, which at times are almost unbearable. In some places the Jews are reduced to great poverty; they live in dugouts, are constantly abused and exploited, possess scarcely any property, and have not even the means to pay for the religious instruction of their children. The Mohammedan landowners require every able-bodied man and woman to work for them a certain number of days in each year, either in the fields, or tending cattle, threshing, repairing their houses, etc. In one village the inhabitants give to the landlords at least one hundred days each in the course of a year, and are obliged besides to furnish a certain number of eggs and chickens, as well as charcoal, sand, wood, salt, and shoes. They must also make many cash payments for various purposes.

There is a tradition among the Jews of Daghestan that they are the descendants of the Lost Ten Tribes; but the history of their wanderings is now forgotten, the written documents which they once possessed having in the course of time been either lost or destroyed.

The mountain Jews dwell in "auls" (villages), scattered among those of non-Jewish tribes; at times in separate communities, and at other times in mixed ones. The greater part of them live in the districts of Temir-Khan-Shura, Kaitago-Tabassaran, and Kyurin, and the remainder in the cities. There are (1902) five synagogues in the province, besides numerous houses of prayer, and twenty-six Hebrew schools with an aggregate of 520 pupils. See Caucasus; Chazars; Derbent.

Bibliography:
  • Chorny, Sefer ha-massa'ot, St. Petersburg, 1884;
  • Anisimov, Kavkazskie Gorizy-Yevrei, Moscow, 1888;
  • Veidenbaum, Putevoditel po Kavkazu, Tiflis, 1888;
  • Radde and König, Der Nordfuss des Daghestan, Gotha, 1895;
  • Hahn, Aus dem Kaukasus, p. 179, Leipsie, 1892;
  • Kozubski, Pamyatnaya Knizhka Dagestanskoi Oblasti na 1895.
H. R. J. G. L.
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