Sunday, October 4, 2015

Khazarians, Karaites, Tatars and The Jews of Crimea

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                             

Crimea has been a Russian peninsula in the Black Sea for years and years.  Way back in the 5th century BCE, there were Greek colonies here.  Jews settled there from the 1st Century BCE  before  the fall of Jerusalem from the Roman invasion but during their Occupation.  Roman soldiers had entered Crimea in 47 BCE and stayed until 330 CE.  Many were taken as slaves to work for the Roman army  in dirty work.   Inscriptions have been found dating this evidence.
Along came the 7th century and eastern Crimea was controlled by the prevailing Khazars which lasted until 1117.  Khazaria's ruling party had converted to Judaism, but did not make it a forced decision on their population.  It was a choice.  The royal family had converted, that we know.
Karaites Dance 
By the 12th century, with Khazaria swallowed up by Russia, a large Karaite population lived in Crimea, centered at Eupatoria, Crimea.  Karaites were a Jewish sect that had rejected the Oral Law the rest of the Jewish family followed.  They had developed in the 8th century in and around Persia where the Jewish community was not long established and did not accept the discipline of the Babylonian gaonate (leadership).  They had been exposed to the Messianic hopes that came to them from the local  people.  There had been the Arab conquest of Persia in 640; the fall of the Umayyad dynasty in 750, and the urge toward social justice and asceticism which they had inhaled from the local population.  An ancient document from the 760s was written by the new Karaite, Anan Ben David who had interpreted the Tanakh (Bible) literally and tried to deduce a code of life without reference to the Oral law.
The decendants of the khazars are most like the crimean karaites who 1) look "eastern" 2) speak turkic 3) are from the General area of the khazar empire
During the next few centuries, there were others who rejected the ancient Oral Law in this area. There were Karaites who traveled as far as to Egypt to make converts to their particular doctrine of Judaism.  They presented themselves as an austere asceticism that didn't go over very well.  Rabbis just avoided controversy with them until Saadyah Gaon, who died in 942, attacked them violently and tried to exclude them from the Jewish family.  Educated scholars emerged among the Karaites inaugurating the Golden Age of Karaite literature in  both Arabic and Hebrew.  Intermarriage between the 2 groups was common.  Karaite scholars studied along with rabbis and were influenced by them.
Karaites are Jews who take their shoes off before entering their shul.  
During the 10th century, Karaite communities sprang up in the Byzantine Empire of Asia Minor, the Balkans, Damascus, Syria, Cyprus, Toledo Spain which had gone Moslem, etc.  The Palestinian and Egyptian centers surpassed those of Persia and Babylonia which dwindled and degenerated.  The Palestinian Karaites were most austere, and had settled in Jerusalem and mourned for the Temple and prayed continually for redemption.  Karaism spread to the Crimea by the 12th Century, to Troki, Lithuania in the 13th century, and Volhynia (Luck), after the Russian Karaites received from the Czars privileges and rights denied the Rabbanites.  The question begs, why did the Russians accept Karaites and not mainstream Judaism?  Probably because they saw them as having broken away from the mainstream Judaism like Christianity had, and Judaism had been so slandered.  They saw Jesus as having broken away.  They just didn't know what they had broken from, and it WAS NOT THE TORAH.  IN FACT, THEY WERE STRONG KEEPERS OF THE TORAH.
At ancient Theodosia,today's (Kaffa), the Jewish community preserved the Byzantine rite of prayer, published finally in 1793 and is now extinct.  .  Many Jews converted to Islam under Tatar rule which was from the end of the 13th century.  In 1346, the bodies of Mongol warriors of the Golden Horde who had died of plague were thrown over the walls of the besieged Kaffa (ancient Feodosiya). It has been speculated that this operation may have been responsible for the advent of the Black Death in Europe.  Kaffa had a synagogue there already in 909 CE, and a strong Jewish community was reported during the 13th to 15th centuries.  After the 18th century, the Jewish population declined and before WWII, numbered about 2,000.  
These Crimean Tatars planned on boycotting elections last year in September. "More than 99%of Crimean Tatars boycotted the Moscow-orchestrated referendum on transferring Crimea to Russian control, Mustafa Cemilev said. Now, as a result of enormous Russian pressure, 98% of them will not participate in Sunday’s election in their occupied homeland."

Crimean Tatars were a Turkic ethnic group that formed in the Crimean Peninsula from the 13th to 17th centuries from Turkic tribes that moved to the land from the Asian steppes beginning in the 10th century and mixed in with the pre-Cuman population of Crimea.  The Tatars were led by Batu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan in 1223 and they went into Kiev, Ukraine.  They constituted the majority of Crimea's population from the time of its ethnogenesis until the mid 19th century.  "Crimean Tatars are not Turkic but a mixture of many settlements from Europe to Asia."  When Tatars entered the area, they managed to cause the blending of Greeks, Armenians, Italians and Ottoman Turks on the southern coastline, Goths of the central mountains and Turkic-speaking Kipchaks and Cumans of the steppe which formed the Crimean Tatar ethnic group.  This Golden Horde of Tatars mixed with populations which had settled in Eastern Europe and Crimea since the 7th century; the  Tatars, Mongols, Khazars, Pechenegs, Cumans and Kipchacks.  They took slaves from the eastern Europeans that they invaded, such as Polish, Lithuanians, Russians, etc.  
They emerged as a nation when the Crimean Khanate, which was an Ottoman Empire vassal state from the 15th to 18th centuries and was one of the great centers of slave trade for the Ottoman Empire.  Crimea had mostly adopted Islam in the 14th century following the conversion of Ozbeg Khan.  Note Khazaria went from pagan to Judaism, now Crimea switched to Islam.

The first Russian invasion of Crimea was in 1736The Russian Empire annexed the territory of Crimea in the last quarter of the 18th century, after a number of bloody wars with the Ottoman Empire. The city of Simferopol had piped water, sewerage and a theatre where Moliere was performed in French.  Their port of Gozleve could be compared with Rotterdam. Bahcesarai, the capital,  was described as Europe's cleanest and greenest city.  "However, in the Crimea’s largest city of Sevastopol, which is considered a separate region of Crimea, there are very few Crimean Tatars and around 22 percent of Ukrainians, with over 70 percent of the population being Russians."
Crimean Tatars in traditional costume in traditional dance.

On the negative side, beginning in the 18th century, Crimean Tatars were known for annual and devastating raids into Ukraine and Russia.  The Crimean Khanate kept a huge slave trade with the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East which was the basis of their economy.  Kefe was one of the most important trading ports and slave markets.  Slaves and freedmen formed about 75% of the Crimean population.

May 1944, the USSR ordered the removal of a majority of the Tatar population from Crimea, including the families of Crimean Tatars serving in the soviet Army-in trains and boxcars to Central Asia, mainly to Uzbekistan.  In 1967, some were allowed to return to Crimea.  In 1989, the USSR condemned the removal of Crimean Tatars from their motherland as inhumane and lawless.  Today the Tatars make up 12% of the population in Crimea.  A large group still lives in Turkey and Uzbekistan.  

The Genoese ruled southern Crimea in the 15th century and they prohibited interference with internal Jewish affairs.

From 1475 to 1783, the Turks ruled as the Ottoman Empire.  Chafut-Kale was the Jewish center then.  Many Jewish captives from the Ukraine next door were sent to Crimea after 1648.

Then the Russian conquest occurred in 1783 and many Ashkenazi Jews settled in Crimea.

In 1863, the Russian authorities granted the Karaites equal rights, but other Jews continued to suffer from disabilities until the 1917 Russian Revolution.

In the late 1920s, thousands of Jews were settled in Crimea under a plan to establish an autonomous Jewish agricultural center.  By 1939, the peak of Nazi takeover in Germany and disaster for the Jews, the Jewish population in Crimea numbered 50,000 including 40,000 Ashkenazim and 6,000 Krimchaks and 4,000 Karaites.

Almost everyone was wiped out by the Germans by 1941 and only a few, including some 300 Karaites, survived.
Karaites Praying 
By   1980 the Jewish population was up to 25,614 from nothing.  Post WWII European Jews had made their way there for some unknown reasons; most likely common language and cultural reasons along with lack of finances.  They could have opted for Israel but didn't, no doubt because of the attacks previously happening there.  However, 1980 was a good year to make Aliyah.  I did.  Many Russians from the Motherland also did.  Why didn't the Crimean Jews?   Since 1948, the Karaites in Egypt moved to Israel, next door, settling in Matzliah and elsewhere.

 By 1990 there were 25,000 Karaites living in Israel.
When you come right down to it, Karaite doctrine is conservative and more stringent than rabbinical Jewish teachings.  It forbids levirate marriage (marriage with a brother's childless widow.  Such a marriage is commanded where the brother has left no offspring; ) see Deut 25:5, 25:7-10, and Lev 18:16.  and all  Sabbath lighting and is stricter on laws of purity.  They have differences in laws of ritual slaughter that prevent social intercourse with the Rabbanites.  They do not celebrate Hanukkah as it is post-biblical.  They do not use tephillin or mezuzot in prayers.  The surprise is that they have evolved with their own Oral Law, showing that through time, this is something necessary that takes place.  Sometimes theirs even overlaps rabbinical traditiion.  They just don't sanctify our Oral Law.  They rarely discuss ethics and metaphysics.

Resource:  The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia
The Jews of Khazaria, 2nd Edition by Kevin Alan Brook

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