Friday, February 12, 2016

How Jewish Was the Khazar-Russian Connection and What Happened to Them

Nadene Goldfoot                                      
The Khazars were a Turkish or Finnish tribe which settled in the lower Volga region.  They built their capital in Itil on the Volga delta.  The Russians called them White Ugrians.  Hungarians in that period were called Black Ugrians.
By the 8th to 10th centuries, the Khazar state was at its peak of having power in the area.  It extended west as far as Kiev which is the capital of the Ukraine, founded in the 8th century, possibly by the Khazars.  It was not a strictly religious center, such as cities in Lithuania.    Its royal house intermarried with that of Byzantium.  By  the 8th century, a powerful judaizing movement had happened among the Khazars.  From approximately  786-809, their king, Bulan and 4,000 of his nobles accepted Judaism which was  encouraged by Prince Obadiah, a successor of Bulan who was the next king. The people were choosing between Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and the king chose Judaism.  

Most Khazars practiced a shamanist-Tari religion. In the late eighth to early ninth century (but perhaps as late as 861), the Khazar ruling elite converted to Judaism.  His subjects were free to choose or not.  Obadiah had the religious zeal to convert.  So many more Khazar shamanists converted to Judaism than otherwise would have been the case. Shamanism is a practice that involves a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness in order to perceive and interact with a spirit world and channel these transcendental energies into this world. 

Khazarian on horse
From this fact, Judah Ha-Levi  (1075-1141) (A Spanish Hebrew poet and religious philosopher born in Toledo, Spain and lived in several towns in Christian and Moslem Spain, mainly in Cordova, wrote his Kuzari., which presented the merits of Judaism and  which was of great influence among Jewish readers and is regarded as one of the classics of Judaism. He was a physician by profession, and lived a life of affluence and honor.  In his old age, his meditations led him to leave Spain and settle in Palestine, which was the time during the 2nd Crusade.  He died in Alexandria, Egypt when trying to reach his destination.  

 Hasdai Ibn Shaprut (915-970) a Spanish statesman, not a Jew, also a physician by profession, served at the courts of the caliphs.  His linguistic ability and  adroitness in negotiation made him useful in diplomatic relations.  He supported Jewish culture and scholars and used his high political office to defend Jewish communities and was widely regarded as the protector and spokesman of Jewry.   He wrote a letter to the king of the Khazars, King Joseph, expressing his joy at their independent Jewish kingdom.  He believed that the Khazars belonged to the Lost Ten Tribes, and started corresponding with their last king, Joseph in 950. Joseph's reply reached him in 944, stating that Joseph's ancestor, King Bulan, was circumcised and officially converted to Judaism, and drove out sorcerers and idolaters from the kingdom and trusted G-d alone.  King Obadiah, a successor of Bulan, invited Jewish sages from many lands to come to Khazaria in order to expain the meaning of the Torah, Talmud, Mishnah, and prayers.  

Another document was found in the Cairo genizah and it gives a romantic account of the origin of Judaism among the Khazars.  

The truth is that only the king with a good proportion of the nobility and some of his people became converted.  The Jewish element in the country constituted a minority at all times.   What we do know is that Khazaria became a refuge for persecuted Jews, so Kazaria was a haven for them, and they would mix in with the converted newbies to Judaism.  Some historians have said that the Khazars adopted Judaism as a conscious political decision designed to help preserve the political independence of Khazaria from the Christian and Muslim empires surrounding them.  They could hold the balance of power between the Christian Byzantine Empire and the Muslim Caliphate this way.  
What went on in this part of the world was that there were separate judicial systems for the members of the many different faiths.  The Khazars' power was broken by the Russian archduke Yaroslav in 1083. 

The remnants of the Khazars on the Volga disappeared in the Tatar invasion of 1237.  Kiev's Jewish community was destroyed by the Tatars in 1240.  

Italian merchants in Crimea referred to "Gazaria" (Khazarians)  until the 15th century. 

Descendants of the Khazarians probably survived among the Crimea Karaites, the Krimchaks, and other Jews of Eastern European origin.  Many of us could be carrying some segments of the original converted Khazarians along with other segments of Jewish origin DNA as well, but there is no scientific way to find out, even with DNA.   
"Eastern European Jews have significant Eastern Mediterranean elements which manifest themselves in close relationships with Kurdish, Armenian, Palestinian Arab, Lebanese, Syrian, and Anatolian Turkish peoples. This is why the Y-DNA haplogroups J and E, which are typical of the Middle East, are so common among them. Jewish lineages from this region of the world derive from both the Levant and the Anatolia-Armenia region."  The Armenians (mainly Christians) in Turkey suffered a genocide in 1915.  From 1915 to 1918, the Turkish government deported, enslaved, tortured, and killed 1.5-2 million Armenians in an effort to ethnically and religiously cleanse the Turkish nation.

 All existing studies fail to compare modern Jewish populations' DNA to ancient Judean DNA and medieval Khazarian DNA. There is no evidence from genome-wide data of a Khazar origin for Ashkenazi Jews.  This finding is from Doron M. Behar of Rambam Health Care Campus, Israel, Mait Metspalu and Bayazit Yunusbayev of Estonian Biocentre, Evolutionary Biology Group, Estonia, Yael Baran and Naama M. Kopelman of Tel-Aviv University, Israel, and several other scientists in their published study.  

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

1 comment:

  1. from a reader, Sandra: I have that Cordova book in English - I've read about half. It's organized like question and answer very interesting. I'm learning about Judaism through it.