Capital of the khanate of the same name in Central Asia; a principal seat of Islam and, with Samarcand, a center of Mohammedan culture in Central Asia since early times. The city probably had a Jewish population even at the beginning of the Mohammedan rule. The Jews of Bokhara, whose mother-tongue points to their Persian origin, consider themselves descendants of the Ten Tribes, and identify the Biblical "Habor" (II Kings xvii. 6) with the name "Bokhara." In support of this theory, their chief rabbi in 1832 pointed out the identity of the consonants in the two names to the wellknown missionary Wolff ("Narrative of the Mission of Dr. Wolff to Bokhara," p. 30, New York, 1845). According to the same informant, the documents relating to the earliest history of the Jews under Genghis Khan's rule (1218-26) have been lost.

Under Mongol Rule.

Half a century before the conquest of Bokhara by the Mongols, Benjamin of Tudela, during his sojourn in Persia, gathered information relating tothe Jews living on the Oxus, especially concerning one independent Jewish tribe that claimed to derive its descent from the Ten Tribes, and was in friendly relations with the Turkish nomadic tribes of Transoxiana. Benjamin does not mention Bokhara, but he speaks of Samarcand, where, according to his statement, there were 50, 000 Jews, among them men eminent for wealth and learning. Bokhara, no doubt, had its Jewish population also at that time (compare Vámbéry, "Gesch. Bocharas," i. 156); but the Jewish historical sources for many centuries mention neither Bokhara nor the other cities of Transoxiana. The only monument of the intellectual activity that may be presupposed among the Jews of that region is the curious dictionary of Solomon b. Samuel (see Bacher, "Ein Hebräisch-Persisches Wörterbuch aus dem 14. Jahrhundert," Strasburg, 1900), a work completed in 1338 in Oorghenj (Gurgang), hence in the country bordering Bokhara on the west. The conclusions that may be drawn from this work regarding the intellectual status of the Jews in the countries bordering on the Oxus may certainly also be applied to Bokhara.

Poetical Efforts.

More than three centuries separate Solomon b. Samuel from the next name from Central Asia recorded by Jewish literary history. This was the poet, known in non-Jewish circles under the name of Yusuf Yehudi (Joseph the Jew), who flourished in Bokhara at the end of the seventeenth and in the first half of the eighteenth century. With the exception of the names and a few dates no biographical notices have been preserved, either of him or of the other members of the Judæo-Persian poetic circles that flourished contemporaneously at Bokhara. In 1688 Yusuf Yehudi, whose full name was Mollah Joseph b. Isaac, completed the "Seven Brothers" (referring to the seven martyrs and their mother; see II Maccabees vii. 1), a poem still popular among the Jews of Bokhara. He died in 1755 at an advanced age. Yusuf Yehudi and his fellow-poets, who were generally called "Mollah" (from the Mohammedan word for "scholar"), used Jewish material in their Persian poems, but also assiduously cultivated Persian poetry. As their own poems were written in the Hebrew script, they transcribed the Persian classics, Nizami, Hafiz, etc., into this script for the benefit of the Jews of Bokhara; and also translated Hebrew poems, such as those of Israel Najjara, into Persian verse. The Persian translation of the Pentateuch, which is now used by the Jews of Bokhara, seems to date from a much earlier time, and is probably the earliest literary monument of the Jews of Bokhara (on Yusuf Yehudi and the circle of poets of Bokhara, see Bacher, in "Z. D. M. G." liii. 389-427; idem, in "Jew. Quart. Rev." xiv. 116-128).

The next name to be mentioned from Bokhara is that of the poet Ibrahim ibn Abu al-Khair in the beginning of the nineteenth century, author of an account of a contemporaneous event; namely, the martyrdom of Khudaidad (i.e., El-Nathan) at Bokhara in the reign of the fanatical Emir Mas'um (d. 1802). In addition to the picture of Mohammedan fanaticism under which the Jews of Bokhara had to suffer, this poem, based on fact (see Bacher, in "Zeit. für Hebr. Bibl." iii. 19-25; idem, in "Z. D. M. G." lii. 190-212; Gottheil, in "Amer. Jour. Semit. Lang." xv. 124), gives an insight into their inner life and their domestic and social conditions. Ḥoja of Bokhara, who in 1816 wrote a Book of Daniel in the Persian language, was perhaps a brother of the martyr (see "Jew. Quart. Rev." vii. 119).

Jews of Bokhara Celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles.(From a photograph by the American Colony, Jerusalem.)Wolff's Visit.

In 1832, some decades after Khudaidad's martyrdom, the first European came to Bokhara, and after having visited the city again in 1844, gave some detailed information concerning the Jews there. This was the missionary Wolff, mentioned above, who recounts the following in his book (l.c. ii. 3):

"In Bokhara there are 10,000 Jews, who are mostly dyers and silk merchants; they wear a small cap, and a girdle around the chest, in order to be distinguished from the Mohammedans. Their synagogue is a very old building, although excellently preserved. During my sojourn there the emir [Nasrullah Khan, who reigned 1826-60 (see Vámbéry, l. c. ii. 165)] gave them permission to repair but not to enlarge the building."

Wolff says that the same emir frequently went to the house of the rabbi Simḥah during the Feast of Tabernacles to witness the celebration and to partake of the feast.

A Jewess of Bokhara.(After a photograph.)

In 1849 the traveler J. J. Benjamin II. ("Eight Years in Asia and Africa," p. 173, Hanover, 1859) met at Bombay a Bokhara coreligionist, Messias (Mashiaḥ) by name, who gave the following information concerning the Jews of his city:

"He told me that nearly 2,500 Jewish families live at Bokhara and in the neighborhood who support themselves by trade, agricultural labor, and mechanical employment. They are obliged to wear on their garments a piece of old stuff, by which they can be distinguished from the Tatars."

In view of the great oppression that the Jews of Bokhara suffered, it is not strange that, as Wolff recounts, an African Jew, Rabbi Joseph Moghrabi, who came to Bokhara in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, was wont to say: "O Lord! when will the time come that the followers of Jesus shall take possession of this country? " (l.c. i. 14).

Under Russian Rule.

Bokhara was opened up to Europeans in 1863. Soon afterward Russian aggression commenced in central Asia. Tashkent was annexed by Russia in 1866; in 1868 Samarcand was seized, and a large part of the khanate of Bokhara was added to the government of Russian Turkestan. Bokhara itself remained the capital of the emir, who, however, became more and more a dependent of Russia. At present he is hardly more than a Russian governor. The Russian occupation of the territory of Bokhara brought comparative freedom to the Jews. In his work entitled "Russia in Central Asia in 1889 and the Anglo-Russian Question," p. 172, London, 1889, Lord Curzon, at present viceroy of India, who visited those regions in 1888, has the following to say concerning the Jews of Bokhara:

"The Jews are here a singularly handsome people, of mild feature and benign aspect. Confined to an Oriental ghetto and for long cruelly persecuted in Bokhara, they still exhibit in their prescribed dress and appearance the stamp of a peculiar people. The head is shaven save for two long locks hanging in a curl on either temple; they wear a square black calico bonnet trimmed with Astrakhan border, and a girdle round the waist. To my astonishment, I met with one who could speak a little French."

Franz von Schwarz, who from 1874 to 1890 was astronomer of the observatory of Tashkent and director of the meteorologic institute of Turkestan, gives valuable information on the Jews of Bokhara in his suggestive book," Turkestan, die Wiege der Indogermanischen Völker" (Freiburg in Baden, 1900), from which the following passages (pp. 441-445) may be quoted:


"Just as in Turkestan usury is almost exclusively in the hands of the Indians, so the Jews of Bokhara devote themselves to commerce and industry. . . . Nearly all the dyers, especially the dyers of silk, are Jews [compare p. 384: "The dyeing of silk is done chiefly by the Jews, their occupation being easily recognized by their hands, which are always blue"; p. 431: "The Jews of Bokhara have in a way monopolized the commerce with dyed raw silk"]; the native apothecaries and physicians are also Jews. The Bokharian Jews are as cleanly as the Sarts, eminently modest and polite, and produce on the whole a more pleasing impression than the Sarts and Uzbegs. It is impossible to describe how the Jews of Bokhara have hitherto been treated in all the Central Asiatic khanates, and in part even to-day in the independent states. . . . Like lepers, they are obliged to live in their own quarters.

Social Position.

In Bokhara no Jew is permitted to wear a turban or belt he must gird himself instead with a rope, and must wear a fur cap of a prescribed shape [compare Curzon, l.c.].... As far as the restrictive regulations will permit them, the Jews prefer to dress like the Sarts, Uzbegs, and Tajiks. They also shave the head like the Mohammedans, leaving, however, two long curls on the temples. . . . They are monogamous, and are remarkable for their large families. Notwithstanding all oppression, they are on the whole wealthy and have already acquired ownership of a number of houses, built in the European style, in the Russian city of Tashkent. The Jews enjoy full religious liberty in the Russian provinces of Central Asia, and have the same political as well as social status as the other inhabitants. Hence they everywhere look upon the Russians as their rescuers and liberators, and on every occasion assiduously further the Russian advances."

What Schwarz says here of the leaning toward the Russians is substantiated in an interesting way in the Russifying of Jewish names, for apparently they now prefer to add the Russian endings "of," "uf," to their names. Thus, the young interpreter who rendered invaluable services to Elkan N. Adler during his stay at Bokhara, in the summer of 1897,was called Abo Chachmanof ("Jew. Quart. Rev." x. 584). The author of the "Ritual Compendium," the Persian translation of which appeared at Jerusalem in 1901 (see "Zeit. für Hebr. Bibl." v. 147-154), is named Abraham Aminof; and names like Nathanael Davidof, Mattath Suleimanof, Benjamin Abrahamof, are found among the subscribers to the edition of the Pentateuch with Persian translation now appearing in Jerusalem for the benefit of the Jews of Bokhara.

The prosperity mentioned by Schwarz is also substantiated by the settlement that the Jews of Bokhara founded at Jerusalem in 1893. Only five years later this settlement included 179 houses, among them two synagogues and two schools. It became a kind of intellectual center for the Jews that had remained at Bokhara, for in the last few years different works were printed at Jerusalem to supply the religious and literary needs of the Jews of Bokhara. Among these were the above-mentioned Pentateuch edition and Abraham Aminof's "Ritual Compendium," both of which were translated into Persian by Simeon Ḥakam, a man remarkable for his activity, his knowledge of Jewish lore, and his thorough acquaintance with Persian. In his preface to the Pentateuch edition there are interesting remarks on the traditional Persian Pentateuch translation used by the Jews of Bokhara and their pronunciation of Persian. Benjamin Kohen of Bokhara had previously printed a Persian translation of the Psalms (Vienna, 1883) and of the Proverbs (Jerusalem, 1885).

The Persian dialect spoken by the Jews of Bokhara, as may be gathered from the literary documents mentioned and from others, shows many lexical and some grammatical peculiarities; being remarkable for many Turkish, particularly eastern Turkish, words, as appears especially in the above-mentioned "Ritual Compendium" (see Bacher, "Jüdisch-Persisches aus Buchara." in "Z. D. M. G." vols. lv., lvi.; idem, "Türkische Lehnwörter und Unbekannte Vokabeln im Persischen Dialekte der Juden Buchara's"; "Kelchi Szemle" in "Rev. Orientale," 1902, iii.). For further information concerning the literary activity of the Jews of Bokhara see JUDÆO-Persian Literature.

Interior of the Great Synagogue at Bokhara.(After a photograph by E. N. Adler, London.)G.W. B.Present-Day Conditions.

There are perhaps 20,000 Jews in the khanate, most of whom live in the towns. Jews have for centuries been resident in both country and capital. Like their neighbors, the Afghans, the Bokharians in general, and especially the Turkomans, are by many believed to be descended from the Ten Tribes; but the Jews of Bokhara are Talmud Jews, and are probably descended from the Babylonian Jews who migrated eastward after the conquest of Jerusalem by the Romans. Their familynames prove that many came from Persia via Merv and some from Khiva.

The Chinese Jews of Kai-Fung-Fu (see China) are probably originally from Bokhara, the Persian rubrics in their liturgies being in the Bokharian dialect. The Bokhara Jews themselves have a tradition that their ancestors settled in various parts of Persia, and especially at Sabzawar, two days' journey from Meshed; that they were removed thence under the conqueror Genghis Khan (1220) to Balkh and Samarcand; and that when Samarcand fell into ruin, under Babi Mehemet Khan, the conqueror of Shah Abbas (1598), they went to Bokhara, where there was a Jewish colony; and some of them emigrated thence to Tsheen Patsheen (China), but soon ceased to have communication with their mother-country, though they "carried their genealogies with them."

Statistics and Occupations.

The present writer visited Bokhara in 1897, and found four or five thousand Jews there, inhabiting a special quarter and wearing a special badge on their clothing. They seemed intelligent and hospitable. Many of them were great travelers: one man had been to China; while several had visited India by way of Afghanistan and the Khaibar Pass. At least two hundred had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem; and there are at the present time (1902) at least that number of Bokharians settled in Jerusalem with the pious purpose of living and dying there.

Most of the traveled Jews of Bokhara had been to Moscow, many to Paris, and some to London. One old man had been five times to Moscow. His first journey there, forty years ago, had been by caravan by way of Astrakhan and the Volga, occupying eighty days and costing 500 rubles.

None of the Bokharian Jews were rich, but most of them seemed to earn a livelihood. Some were cotton-growers; some grew grapes, some cultivated tobacco; while many were merchants trading with Moscow, where they exchanged carpets for manufactured goods, and importing Indian tea from Bombay via Batum and Baku. The greater part of the cotton trade of the khanate is in the hands of the Jews, and 500,000 poods (about 18,000,000 lbs.) of cotton are annually exported from Bokhara.

The largest synagogue of Bokhara is some 500 or 600 years old, with modern additions that resemble chapels in a cathedral, divine service being held separately in each. It has a genizah, or hidden chamber, in the roof, for the preservation of disused sacred writings.

The present chief rabbi is Mollah Hezekiah haKohen, whose father was rabbi before him. In 1832, when the missionary Wolff, mentioned above, visited Bokhara, Mollah Pinchas, the elder, was chief rabbi, and there were four synagogues in the city. Wolff estimated the number of Jews at 10,000, and states that they paid only $300 per annum by way of tax to Bahadur Khan. He also states that there were 300 Jewish families, converts to Mohammedanism, who were scorned by the general population, and who intermarried with the Gholoom or slaves of Persia and not with the Uzbegs. Crypto-Jews from Meshed are still found in Bokhara.

Liturgy and Rabbis.

Toward the end of the eighteenth century one Joseph ben Moses Maimon, a native of Tetuan, and therefore called "Mughrebi," came to Bokhara via Jerusalem and Bagdad. He found the Jews ignorant and unobservant, and revolutionized their ritual and practise, sending to Europe for Hebrew books. The Jews have now forgotten their old Persian liturgy and have adopted that of the Sephardim of Italy, in the belief that they are descended, as Maimon was, from the Spanish refugees of 1492. Rabbi Joseph Maimon had an unsuccessful rival in a learned Yemenite Jew, Rabbi Zachariah ben Maẓliaḥ.

The present writer brought back with him about seventy Hebrew and Hebrew-Persian manuscripts from Bokhara and its neighborhood, one of which was written in Herat, many of them being transliterations into Hebrew of the great Persian poets, such as Sadi, Jami, and Nizami, and lesser local celebrities, like Tufili, Zeribu of Samarcand, and Musahfiki.

In 1490 there flourished Uzziel Moses ben David, who wrote poems in Hebrew and Persian. Other poets were Yusuf Yehudi ben Isaac (1688-1755), mentioned above, and his friends, Uzbek, Elisha, and Solomon Mollah. Somewhat later were David ben Abraham ben , Uzziel, Benjamin Siman-Ṭob, and Eleazar ha-Ḳohen, and, in the beginning of the nineteenth century Ibrahim ibn Abu al-Khair, author of the "Khudaidad" (ed. Salemann, St. Petersburg, 1897).

  • Joseph Wolff, Researches and Missionary Labors Among the Jews, etc., 2d ed., London, 1835;
  • C. Salemann, Judœo-Persica I. Chudaidat, St. Petersburg, 1897;
  • E. N. Adler, The Persian Jews: Their Books and Ritual, in Jew. Quart. Rev. x. 584; reprint, London, 1898;
  • idem, A Bird's-Eye, View of the Transcaspian, in Contemporary Review, May, 1898;
  • Bacher, Das Jüdisch-Bucharische Gedicht Chudaidad, in Z. D. M. G. lii. 197;
  • idem, Der Dichter Jusuf Jehudi und Sein Lob Moses', ib. Iiii. 389;
  • idem, Die Jüdisch-Persische Dichterschule von Buchara, ib. pp. 421, 693;
  • idem, Jüdisch-Persisches aus Buchara, ib. lv. 241;
  • idem, Ein Hebräisch-Persisches Wörterbuch aus dem 14ten Jahrhundert, Budapest, 1900;
  • Vámbéry, Geschichte Bocharas, 2 vols., Stuttgart, 1872.
G.E. N. A.