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KRIMCHAKS:

The so-called "Turkish Jews," inhabitants of the Crimea, whose center of population is Kara-Su-Bazar, one of the most densely populated districts of Taurida. They differ from the other Jews of Russia in that the Semitic and Tatar elements are in them intimately blended.

In their mode of life they greatly resemble their Tatar neighbors, but in religion they adhere strictly to the Jewish faith, even to Talmudic Judaism. Their dress is identical with that of the Tatars, the outer garment of the men being the "arkbaluk," a coat made of blue material, and gathered at the waist by a wide belt ornamented with silver, attached to which is usually a small dagger, or a copper ink-well with the other accessaries for writing. The married women and girls wear bright-colored pantaloons and pointed, embroidered slippers.Their head-gear is much like the Turkish "chalma." The Krimchaks are distinguished from the Tatars in that neither the men nor the women shave their heads, though they clip their hair frequently. They, however, retain a few long locks and the carefully curled pe'ot; and the girls permit a number of tiny braids to escape from under the red comornament worn by them.

Manners and Customs.

The men are almost all of tall stature and slenderly built, and are marked by the reddish-golden color of their hair, a tint which is uncommon among Semitic tribes. The women have retained more tenaciously the characteristically Jewish type. They are pretty, and have delicate complexions and bright black eyes. Their finger-nails and palms are colored yellow, in imitation of their Tatar neighbors; and, like the latter, they use rouge on their faces and dye their eyelids. Like the Mohammedan women, they are careful to conceal their features with a white veil when appearing in public. The Krimchaks are not addicted to drink; and most of them abstain from wine, notwithstanding the fact that wine is the common drink of the region and is very cheap.

The houses of the Krimchaks are built in the usual Tatar style; and the interiors are characterized by cleanliness and order. Cushions and rugs are practically the only furniture, meals being partaken of at low tables while the eater sits on the floor. Patriarchal customs still survive; and the head of the household possesses considerable authority. The Krimchaks employ a pure Tatar language, but use the Hebrew alphabet in writing.

It is still uncertain when the Krimchaks first settled in the Crimea. They themselves believe that they came to the region about the sixth century. According to a tradition current among them, a certain manuscript prayer-book, which has been handed down from generation to generation and is reverenced as a sacred relic in their synagogue, was brought from Kiev by some Jewish families which, together with some Caucasian Jews and the Krimchaks, established the community of Kara-Su-Bazar. This prayer-book was printed in the eighteenth century in the first Jewish printing-office at Eupatoria.

Probable Origin.

The Crimean judge Sumarokov, who wrote an essay on the Krimchaks in 1801, speaks of their migration from Constantinople as having taken place in the fourteenth century, when Kara-Su-Bazar was the capital of the Crimean khans. It is possible that Sumarokov had in mind the Turkish immigrants who joined their Caucasian and Kiev coreligionists. Speaking of their customs, he asserts that at one time polygamy was prevalent among them, but that since the eighteenth century it has been discontinued. In their marriage ceremonies they have maintained the customs of Oriental peoples. The marriage festival begins, two or three days before the actual wedding, with the formal removal of the bride's wardrobe to the house of the bridegroom. On the eve of the wedding the groom and his nearest relatives repair to the bride's house, where feasting is continued until dawn. The wedding ceremony is performed in the morning. At daybreak the procession starts for the synagogue, where the intimate friends of the bridal pair walk around them seven times with roosters in their arms while the rabbi is reading the prayers. At the end of the ceremony the newly wedded couple must remain in their room for seven days, no strangers being admitted.

From a report made to the Ministry of the Interior by Count Vorontzov, governor-general of New Russia, dated April 27, 1841, it is apparent that the Krimchaks—who should not be confounded with the Karaites resident in Kara-Su-Bazar—became Russian subjects on the annexation of Crimea to the Russian empire, and that they are unwilling to mix with the other Jews, whom they call Polish, although their religious beliefs are identical. Their arrangement of the prayer-book and their pronunciation of Hebrew resemble somewhat those of the Spanish Jews. The Krimchaks, according to Vorontzov, are a peaceful people engaged in industrial occupations, and are on the whole honest, straightforward, and well-to-do.

Bibliography:
  • Lyakub, Krymchaki, in Razsvyet, 1860, No. 13;
  • idem, in Golos, 1866, No. 42;
  • A. Harkavy, in Ha-Karmel (Russian supplement), 1866, Nos. 2, 3;
  • idem, in Golos, 1866, No. 85;
  • O. Lerner, Yevrei v Novorossiskom Kraye, Odessa, 1901;
  • E. Deinard, Massa' ba-Ḥaẓi ha-I Krim, Warsaw, 1879;
  • idem, Massa' Krim, ib. 1878.
H. R. M. R.
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