Friday, May 22, 2015

Jews From Georgia Descended From Babylonian Jews

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                   

I just read about Israel's new Deputy Foreign Minister, 36 year old Tzipi Hotovely and saw her picture.  What a lovely young woman!  Her family was originally from Georgia, that Georgia that is connected to Russia.  I'm so used to knowing that we Ashkenazis came from the Pale of Settlement, but Jews did live in other places around Russia as well in different periods.  "Hotovely is a doctorate student at the Faculty of Law in Tel Aviv University."  "She is expected to oversee the ministry's day to day operations."  Tzipi is orthodox and is not shy about telling the world that G-d gave the Jews this land of Israel. 

 It's quite a change from always trying to defend our rights through political arguments about land, etc.  It's even quite a change for Likud to have such a modern Orthodox on their list.  Where the world is dropping the idea of a G-d, Israel is moving closer to that realization.  She's also married to a lawyer and has a little girl.  

The Georgians were among the first Jews from the Diaspora to make aliyah to Israel.  They arrived in Palestine in 1863, before the first European Aliyote that came in 1882 after a bad pogrom in Russia..  1,700 had arrived from Georgia by 1921, just after WWI which lasted from 1914 to 1917.  The Republic of Georgia was only established in 1918 and Jews then received equal rights along with the Gentile Russians.
When did Jews emigrate to  Georgia?   They were a people who were able to trace their ancestry back to Babylonia,  tracing their migration into the country during the Babylonian captivity in 6th century BCE.  The Babylonians had attacked Israel and Judah  in 597 BCE and again in 586 BCE.  It was Nebuchadnezzar who led away the captives.  " The most popular view is that the first Jews made their way to southern Georgia after Nebuchadnezzar's conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BCE and exile in Babylon. This claim is supported by the medieval Georgian historical account by Leonti Mroveli."

They were under the religious authority of the Babylonian exilarch. An exilarch is -  one of a line of hereditary rulers of the Jewish community in Babylonia from about the 2nd century  CE  to the beginning of the 11th century. So in the 1000s, there still was leadership from Babylonian families continuing with this group who emigrated to Georgia.  This was the same period when RASHI was born in Troyes, France. (1040-1105).   

 Before the 12th century,  many Jews of Georgia lived in the  Caucasus.  The Caucasus  is a huge region at the border of Europe and Asia, situated between the Black and the Caspian seas. It is home to the Caucasus Mountains, which contain Europe's highest mountain, Mount Elbrus. Politically, the Caucasus region is separated between northern and southern parts. The southern parts consist of independent sovereign states. The northern parts are currently under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation

The Mongols swept through Georgia in 1236, prompting many of the Jews of Eastern and Southern Georgia to move to the western region, which remained independent.

The region is known for its linguistic diversity: aside from Indo-European and Turkic languages, the Kartvelian, Northwest Caucasian, and Northeast Caucasian families are localized to the area. The countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Russia and Turkey live in some part of the Caucasus mountains.  

The 2600 year history of the Georgian Jews was marked by an almost total absence of anti-semitism and a visible assimilation in the Georgian language and culture. The Georgian Jews were considered ethnically and culturally distinct from neighboring Mountain Jews. "Mountain Jews or Caucasus Jews also known as Juhuro, Juvuro,Kavkazi Jews or Gorsky Jews are Jews of the eastern and northern slopes of Caucasus, mainly of Dagestan and Azerbaijan, as well as ChechnyaKabardino-BalkariaKrasnodar Krai and more. They are the descendants of Persian Jews from Iran.

They were also traditionally a highly separate group to the Ashkenazi Jews in Georgia, who arrived following the Russian annexation of Georgia.

They were persecuted in the 14th century.  This was intensified in the 15th when they became dependent on and partly enslaved to the great landlords.  this situation continued until the Russian annexation in the 19th century.  A few European Jews then settled in Georgia.  This experience is so different from the other Ashkenazi Jews who were invited into countries to do the dirty work for the landlords who were often absentee landlords.  It was the Jewish overseers who had to collect the rent.  

There were 21,105 Jew in the Soviet Republic, keeping up a communal organization.  A Jewish ethnographic museum was established at Tiflis (now Tbilisi) in 1933. 

Throughout Soviet rule, Jews remained society's scapegoat. They made up the majority of Georgians convicted for economic crimes, and were punished more severely than the rest of the population. Blood libels continued with incidents in Tskhaltubo in 1963, Zestafoni in 1964, and Kutaisi in 1965.
After the Six Day War, huge numbers of Soviet Jews began protesting for the right to immigrate to Israel, and many applied for exit visas. Georgian Jews made up a large percentage of this number.
 The Jewish population increased considerably as a result of WWII and number 55,382 in 1970.  After that, many Jews left Georgia and emigrated to Israel.  In 1989 there were 24,700 Jews in Georgia but only 14,300 spoke Georgian.    I made aliyah to Israel in 1980, and found myself surrounded by Russian immigrants. 

 I have no idea if any were from Georgia.  To me, they were all "Russians."  To my embarrassment, they  outdid my husband and myself in learning Hebrew in our Hebrew classes.  We Americans were lucky to know any language other than English, but the Russians were masters of many languages.  They knew how to study a language, and we didn't.  

Many years later, I was teaching English in Oregon to a class of foreigners and had a Russian lady in my class which consisted mainly of Mexican male farm workers or truck drivers.  She had a master's degree, but loved all the men (any woman's dream situation).  They were amazed how she wrote in her notebook everything I said about English, and could conjugate verbs and get what I was saying, but when it came to speaking and practicing conversation, she was silent and the men chatted away in English.  So, there are different ways of becoming proficient in languages.  The lady had come from Russia to stay with her daughter who had married an American.  

My grandmother was from Lithuania and Poland, and her mtDNA is W, found in the western Ural Mountains, the natural border between Europe and Asia and the eastern Baltic area.  I checked the DNA of the people of Georgia.  "

Mt-DNA of the Jews of Georgia

According to the study of G. Thomas et al., 51% of Georgian Jews are descended from a single female.  According to Behar, 58% are descended from the female ancestor.   Researchers have not determined the origin of this lineage. It is known that this woman carried a diverse haplotype, which is found throughout a large arge area stretching from the Mediterranean to Iraq and which includes the Caucasus.

The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia

1 comment:

  1. “It’s important to say — this country is all ours. We didn’t come here to apologize for that,” Hotovely said.

    During her speech, Hotovely cited the 11th-century Bible commentator Rashi, who explained the Bible’s focus on the story of the Jewish people’s origins in the Land of Israel and its exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land was meant to shore up the Jewish claim to the land in subsequent generations. Rashi is a biblical commentator I just found out through autosomal DNA testing that our family is connected to through the Rabbi of Worms and Rabbi Wertheimer. I imagine he just wouldn't understand people today who deny our biblical history. Luckily, so much of it is being proven in archaeological finds. It's hard forso many of the youth of today to believe that there is a G-d at all let alone believe that G-d told people a certain section of land was theirs and that they were to live there, so far back in c1300 BCE.