Friday, July 25, 2008

Images of Israel: Kurdestani Jews

Kurdish Jews or Jews of Kurdistan (Hebrew: יהדות כורדיסתאן‎; Kurdish: Kurdên cû) are the ancient Jewish communities inhabiting the region known as Kurdistan, roughly covering parts of Iran, northern Iraq, Armenia, Syria and eastern Turkey. Their clothing and culture is similar to neighboring Muslim Kurds. Until their immigration to Israel in the 1940s and early 1950s, the Jews of Kurdistan lived as a closed ethnic community.

There are old bonds between Jews and Kurds. Tradition holds that Jews first arrived in the area of modern Kurdistan after the Assyrian conquest of the Kingdom of Israel during the 8th century BC; they were subsequently relocated to the Assyrian capital. During the first century BC, the royal house of Adiabene, whose capital was Arbil (Aramaic: Arbala; Kurdish: Hewlêr), was converted to Judaism along with a considerable number of its Kurdish citizens. King Monobazes, his queen Helena, and his son and successor Izates are recorded as the first proselytes.

Kurdish Jews_Kurds in Israel
by Roni Kurdistan_יהדות כורדיסטן

According to the memoirs of Benjamin of Tudela and Pethahiah of Regensburg, there were about 100 Jewish settlements and substantial Jewish population in Kurdistan in 12th century A.D. Benjamin of Tudela also gives the account of David Alroi, the "messianic" leader from central Kurdistan, who rebelled against the king of Persia and had plans to lead the Jews back to Jerusalem. These travelers also report of well-established and wealthy Jewish communities in Mosul, which was the commercial and spiritual center of Kurdistan. Many Jews fearful of approaching crusaders, had fled from Syria and Palestine to Babylonia and Kurdistan. The Jews of Mosul enjoyed some degree of autonomy over managing their own community.

Kurdish Wedding Dance Kurdish Jews from Israel

Tanna'it Asenath Barzani, who lived in Mosul from 1590 to 1670, was the daughter of Rabbi Samuel Barzani of Kurdistan. She later married Jacob Mizrahi Rabbi of Amadiyah (in Iraqi Kurdistan) who lectured at a yeshiva. She was famous for her knowledge of the Torah, Talmud, Kabbalah and Jewish law. After the early death of her husband, she became the head of the yeshiva at Amadiyah, and eventually was recognized as the chief instructor of Torah in Kurdistan. She was called tanna'it (female Talmudic scholar), practiced mysticism, and was reputed to have known the secret names of God. Asenath is also well known for her poetry and excellent command of the Hebrew language. She wrote a long poem of lament and petition in the traditional rhymed metrical form. Her poems are among the few examples of the early modern Hebrew texts written by women.

Among the most important Jewish shrines in Kurdistan are the tombs of Biblical prophets, such as that of Nahum in Alikush, Jonah in Nabi Yunis (ancient Nineveh), and Daniel in Kirkuk. There are also several caves supposedly visited by Elijah. All are venerated by Jews today.

Kurdish Jews have also been active in the Zionist movement. One of the most famous members of Lehi (Freedom Fighters of Israel) was Moshe Barazani, whose family immigrated from Iraqi Kurdistan and settled in Jerusalem in the late 1920s.


Rachel said...

"David Alroi, the messianic leader from central Kurdistan" ... I think he would be described more as "messianic" (with intended quotation marks) if anything. Right?

"Tanna'it Asenath Barzani" I hadn't heard of her before. It's nice to hear about strong female Jewish figures in history every once in a while. Thanks for introducing. :) (Do you know if her poetry is accessible?)

Ehav Ever said...

Hello Rachel,

Thanks for checking out my blog. In terms of the quotation marks. I pulled this article off of Wikipedia. I could add quotation marks. I have been in Israel long enough to forget some elements of English grammar. Thanks.

In terms of Taanit Asenath Barzani. I first starting finding out about the various strong Jewish women from an article I found here.

It may be possible to find her poetry here in Israel. Most of the time things like that can found only in Hebrew in rare books. For example, I have been trying to find the poetry of Rabbi Shmuel HaNagid. I found something on Amazon, but it is a copy of a out of print book. I may have to go to the book stores in Meah Shearim.

Rachel said...

Thanks for the link.

It is a bit unfortunate how hard it is to get ahold of some of these books. I'm typically pointed in the same direction as you did... "rare book stores in Jerusalem."