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The Chalah before the Russian conquest of Central Asia

Zaravshanskii okrug. Vyslushivanie urokov (Zaravshan okrug. Listening to lessons; between 1865 and 1872): Photograph shows a Jewish man handing books to young boys. Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin - Gorskii Collection (Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA).
Zaravshanskii okrug. Vyslushivanie urokov (Zaravshan okrug. Listening to lessons; between 1865 and 1872): Photograph shows a Jewish man handing books to young boys. Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin - Gorskii Collection (Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA).

Jews settled in Central Asia even before it was conquered by the Arabs. With the advent of Islam, the so-called "laws of Caliph Omar II" (717-720 C.E.)(4) were extended to apply to the Jews. According to these restrictive laws, which remained valid in Central Asia for over one thousand years, Jews were obligated to wear special clothes to distinguish them from the Muslims; Jewish homes and shops had to be lower in height than those of their Muslim neighbors; and Jews had to pay a poll tax (jizya) from the time they reached the age of thirteen. In addition, Jews were not allowed to have more than one synagogue per town, ride on horseback in town, own bath houses, sell wine or strong liquor to the Muslims, or testify in court against Muslims, even in their favor.(5)

       Furthermore, Central Asian Jews were subject to severe punish-ments, including death, for violating any of these laws. Evidence by several Muslims was sufficient for the accusation against a Jew to be considered valid.(6) Nevertheless, before the punishment (especially the death penalty) was put into effect, the accused Bukharan Jews was offered the choice of converting to Islam and thus obtaining absolute pardon.(7) Promoting the conversion of an infidel to Islam was considered a deed that found favor in the eyes of God and merited great respect and praise from fellow Muslims; indeed, it was valued so highly that it even diminished the sin of perjury.(8)

       Bukharan Jewish literature and oral tradition contain some examples of great courage and spiritual strength displayed by Jews who were convicted and executed because they refused to convert.(9) At the same time, however, some Jews facing the death penalty or other punishments were forced to convert.(10) There were also cases of voluntary conversion to Islam due to the severity of the restrictive legislation and the enticement of lavish promises.(11) The Muslim "missionaries" preferred to achieve conversion to Islam of those Jews who were prominent in the community by non-threatening means.(12)This gained the promoters higher honors among the Muslims, on the one hand, while creating a vivid propaganda tool that could be used to influence the rest of the community. The conversion to Islam was formalized by the Muslim judge, kazi. Every new convert was given a Muslim robe and a turban which non-Muslims were not allowed to wear. A Muslim supervisor was attached to every new convert; his duty was to advise the new convert about religious matters and to make sure that he was observing religious rites correctly.(13)        

In certain cases, the converts' families were also declared to be converts to Islam;(14) in others, however, husbands had to divorce their wives and were subsequently separated from their families and evicted from the Jewish neighborhoods.(15) The conversion of Jews to Islam probably continued throughout the period of Muslim dominion over Central Asia with the conversion rate increasing during periods of intensified religious fanaticism among the Muslims.(16) Along with their observance of Muslim rites, some of the new converts also continued to practice, secretly and over long periods of time, the rituals prescribed by Judaism, even though this, as well as formal conversion to Judaism were punishable by death. Nevertheless, the ties of the new converts' children with Judaism were becoming weaker with every new generation.(17)

       The Muslims distrusted and despised the new converts and called them Chalah (half-made), an epithet which the former Jews perceived as an insult.(18) It was also adopted by the Bukharan Jews, although they treated the converts with more sympathy and understanding. Secret links were often maintained between the Bukharan Jews and the Chalah.(19) Distrust and contempt on the part of the Muslims and the converts' separation from other Jews resulted in the isolation of the Chalah. They tried to live together in the same quarters, observe the religious rites together, conclude marriages among themselves, etc.(20)

Often the new converts, in their attempt to circumvent the supervision and fearing denunciations on the part of their Muslim neighbors, lived apart from, but near the Jewish neighborhoods. Thus, for example, in Bukhara itself, the urban center with the highest concentration of Chalah, five to seven blocks of new converts, were formed around the areas of the Jewish settlement.(21) Such concentrations of Chalah in these blocks prevented their assimilation with the Muslim population. On the other hand, in those towns and cities of Central Asia, where there were no Jewish neighborhoods (most urban centers), the converts obviously did not build their own isolated blocks and settled, as a rule, among Muslims. In these cases, their complete break with Judaism occurred much sooner.

       Converts to Islam lived in numerous Central Asian cities and towns. N. Muraviov, who traveled in Turkestan in 1819-1820, reported finding Jews who had converted to Islam in Khiva.(22) According to Bartold's theory, the conversion of the Jews of Khiva to Islam "must have taken place a sufficiently long time ago, for, otherwise, the descendants of the involuntary proselytes would have returned to their own faith after the arrival of the Russians."(23)

       However, as indicated in the message sent by Samarkand Jews to Vienna and published in 1891, about 100 families of Khiva had converted to Islam by the end of the eighteenth century.(24) Thus, at the time of Muraviov's visit to Khiva, members of the first generation of the converts would still have been alive. The Russian army, which occupied Khiva in 1873, found Chalah of the second and third generations only. The time that had elapsed since the conversion was not especially long, and the Khiva Chalah could still have returned to Judaism. But, since, Russia allowed the conquered khanate to retain its sovereignty, the Khiva Chalah could not openly return to their former religion. Apostasy was punishable by death, so they faced the same threat as the Chalah of Bukhara. An almost complete absence of Jews in Khiva evidently promoted rapid assimilation of the converts.(25)

The majority of the Chalah in the Bukhara emirate had been converted to Islam in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.(26)According to an estimate made by J. Wolf, who visited Central Asia in 1832, the Chalah in the city of Bukhara alone numbered about 300 families.(27) By the end of the eighteenth century according my calculation, based on credible supposition of Soviet orientalist Olga Sukhareva, the Chala resided in the city of Bukhara  by quarters: Araban - about 30 houses; Chor korvonsaray - about 3 houses; Eshoni pir - about 50 houses; Khaji Amon-boi - about 10 houses; Mekhtar shafe' - about 40 houses; Mir-Mas'ud - about 17 houses.(28) In all about 150 houses were in city of Bukhara. According Russian geographer and physician Ivan Iavorskiy, who researched the Bukharan emirate, in the end of the eighteenth century in the city of Bukhara resided in a house ten souls on average.(29)Therefore in the place were 1,500 Chala in the time. However it's not excluded, that chala lived and in other quarters of Bukhara also. For example, Faizulah Khojaev, who was premier of Bukharan republic in 1920-1924 and after that premier of Uzbekistan republic 1925-1937, until 1917 resided in house, which ones apparently belonged to a Chala. It's follows from the fact, that from this house, located in quarter Gozi'on, conducted to Jewish quarter Amirabad a underground course, near to gate Namazgah of the city.(30)  

Groups of converts also lived in other urban centers of the emirate: Karatag, Katta-Kurgan, Samarkand, and Shakhrisiabz.(31) The total number of Chalah in the Bukhara emirate on the eve of the Russian conquest was estimated by M. Zand to be 2,000.(32) Chalah also lived in the urban areas of the Kokand khanate: Andizhan, Khojent, Kokand, and Marghelan.(33)

(4) M. Zand, "Bukharan Jews," Encyclopedia Iranica, vol. 4., London - New York, 1990, p. 532.

(5) M. Abramov, Bukharskie evrei v Samarkande (Bukharan Jews in Samarkand), Samarkand, 1993, pp. 5-7; Z Amitin-Shapiro, Ocherk pravovogo byta sredneaziatskikh evreev (An outline of the legal status of the Central Asian Jews), Tashkent-Samarkand, 1931, pp. 10-12; V. Krestovskii, "Otdelnye fragmenty iz dnevnika V. Krestovskogo, napisannye v Bukhare" (Some fragments from V. Krestovskii's diary written in Bukhara), Nedelnaia khronika Voskhoda, no. 27, 1884, p. 761; A. Olsufiev and V. Panaev, Po Zakaspiiskoi voennoi zheleznoi  doroge (A journey on the Trans-Caspian Military Railway), St. Pegersburg, 1899, pp. 166-168; Sukhareva, Bukhara, pp. 172-173.

(6) See, for example, the Appendix to the present article; Sukhareva, Bukhara, p. 174.

(7) Babakhanov, "K voprosu," p. 162; Sukhareva, Bukhara, p. 174; N. Khanykov, Opisanie Bukharskogo khanstva (A description of the Bukharan khanate), St. Petersburg, 1843, p. 73; Krestovskii (p. 761) reiterated Khanykov's statements almost word for word.

(8) Sukhareva, Bukhara, p. 173.

(9) The resolute stand taken by Bukharan Jews sentenced to death is described in the poem "Hudaidat" (written in the early nineteenth century). See "Bukhara," Evreiskaia entsiklopediia (The Jewish encyclopedia), vol. 5, St. Petersburg, 1908-1913, pp. 119-120.

According to a Bukharan Jewish legend, a Rabbi Amnon was quartered after refusing to convert (I. Zarubin, Ocherk razgovornogo iazyka samarkandskikh evreev (An outline of the vernacular of the Samarkand Jews), Leningrad, 1928, pp. 178-180.

Oral tradition has preserved a story about a group of prominent Bukharan Jews who were thrown out of a minaret n the early nineteenth century for refusing to convert to Islam. For various interpretations of this event, see Ia. Levchenko. "Evrei sredneaziatskiku okrain" (The Jews of the Central Asian border areas), Evreiskaia zhizn, no. 14-15, 1916, pp. 58-59; S. Vaisenberg, "Evrei v Turkestane" (Jews in Turkestan), Evreiskaia slarina, issue 5, 1912, p. 403; A. Neumark, "Erez hakedem," (Ancient land), Ha-asif, 1889, p. 71; I. Pinhasi, "Yehudei bukhara," (The Bukharan Jews), Yehudei bukhara ve-ha-yehudim ha-harariyim. Shnei kibuzim be-darom brit ha-moezot (The Bukharan and the mountain Jews. Two groups in the south of the Soviet Union), Jerusalem, 1973, pp. 39-41.

(10)Tsentralnyi gosudarstvennyi arkhiv Uzbekistana (Central State Archive of Uzbekistan (hereafter: TsGAUz), 1st fond I (hereafter: F.), Op. 29, D. 1297, pp. 2-2v.; F. 17, Op. 1, D. 9687, p. 4v.; Levchenko, Evrei, p. 59. Khanykov (p. 73) and Krestovskii (p. 761), who visited Bukhara in the nineteenth century, maintained that  Bukharan Jews always agreed to convert.  This claim, however, contradicts the evidence cited in the previous note and in the text that  follows.

(11) A certain Muslim footwear merchant, Hodji Khakimi kafsh-furush, who used all sorts of extravagant promises, persuaded four Jews to convert to Islam, thus obtaining four shop assistants who were completely depenent on him (Sukhareva, Bukhara, p. 176).  Evidently, however, this same rich Bukharan citizen, Mirza Khakim Kafsh-frush was named as the person who forced three youngsters to convert to Islam by threats and deception in the story told by one of them after his escape, when he was interrogated by the police commissioner of the Russian Quarter of Tashkent in 1908 (TsGAUz, F. 1, Op. 13, D. 212, p. 262). In Sukhareva's story the word "Hodji," which means "honorable," is a polite form of address widely used in Central Asia.

(12) On the attempts to convert communal leaders see note 9 and the Kandin case below. Other prominent converts were David Shira, a wealthy textile merchant, and Borukh Kalkhok, a famous singer (Sukhareva, Bukhara, p. 175). According to oral tradition, a community rabbi, Mulla Haim, the rabbi of Bukhara, voluntarily converted to Islam (Levchenko, Evrei, p. 60). According to Neumark ("Erez ha-kedem," p. 74) the rabbi was Mulla Shain who remained a Muslim for forty years. Although Neumark did not give the name of the emir, the conversion apparently occurred during the reign of emir Shah Murad (1785-1800) who was called Amir Ma'sum (the sinless emir) because of his devotion to Islam (V. Bartold, Istoriia kulturnoi zhizni Turkestana (History of cultural life in Turkestan), Sochineniia (Collected works), vol. 2, part 1, Moscow, 1963, pp. 279-281).

(13) Sukhareva, Bukhara, pp. 175, 177; Appendix.

(14) Ibid.

(15) Khanykov, Opisanie, p. 73; Krestovskii, Oldelnye fragmenty, p. 761.

(16) Vaisenberg (Evrei v Turkestane," pp. 393-394) and L. Kantor (Tuzemnye evrei v Uzbekistane (Indigenous Jews in Uzbekistan), Tashkent-Samarkand, 1929, p. 6) report that many Jews had even been compelled to convert to Islam during the conquests of Genghiz Khan and Tamerlane.

(17) Sukhareva, Bukhara, pp. 174-177; TsGAUz, F. 17, Op. 1, D. 10437, p. 7.

(18) On this epithet, see Zand, Yahadut, p. 53; on the perception, see Babakhanov, "K voprosu," p. 162; Sukhareva, Bukhara, p. 177. The term Chalah was also used in Central Asia to denote the offspring of mixed marriages. For example, the term "challa-kazak" was used during the first quarter of the twentieth century to designate the offspring of mixed Kazakh-Uzbek marriages (both sides being Muslims) as well of other mixed marriages. See I. Zarubin, "Spisok narodnostei Turkestanskogo kraia" (List of ethnic groups of Turkestan), Trudy komissii po isucheniiuplemennogo sostava naseleniia Rossii I sopredelnykh stran (Transactions of the commission for the study of the ethnic composition of Russia and neighboring countries), issue 9, Leningrad, 1925, p. 12.

(19) M. Eshel, Galeriya - dmuyot shel rashei yahadut bukhara (Gallery: the leaders of Bukharan Jewry), Jaffa, 1965, pp. 43, 59, 75; Zand, Yahadut, p. 66.

(20) Babakhanov, "K voprosu," p. 163.

(21) Sukhareva, Bukhara, p. 178; Zand, Yahadut, pp. 53-55.

(22) Bartold, Istoriia, pp. 219, 374.

(23) Ibid., p. 374.

(24) G. Fuzailov, Yahadut bukhara. Gdoleah u-manhigeah (Bukharan Jewry: spiritual and secular leaders), Jerusalem, 1993, p. 40.

(25) According to General Grigorii Gens of Ozenburg, there were apparently 200 Jews residing in Khiva in the 1820s and 1830s (Zand, Yahadut,  p. 53).  But by the last third of the nineteenth century the Jewish converts of Khiva had become so intermixed with the Muslims that they could not be distinguished from them. See J. Wolff, Narrative of a Mission to Bokhara in the years 1843-1845. 5th edition, London, 1846, p. 317; N. Obruchev (compiler), Voennostatisticheskii sbornik (Military statistical handbook), issue 3, St. Petersburg, 1868, p. 91; H. Lansdell, Russian Central Asia, vol. 2, Boston, 1885, p. 269; Neumark, "Erez ha-kedem," p. 72.

(26) Zand, Yahadut, p. 53.

(27) J. Wolf, Researches and Missionary Labourers among Jews, Mohammedans, and Other Sects, London, 1835, p. 53.

(28) O. Sukhareva, Kvartal'naia obshchina pozdnefeodalnogo goroda Bukhary (Quarterly community of late-feudal city Bukhara), Moscow, 1976, pp. 74-80, 82, 93.

(29) I. Iavorskiy, Opyt meditsinskoi i geograficheskoi statistiki Turkestana (The essay of medical and geographical statistics of Turkestan), part 1, St. Peterburg, 1889, p. 331. (30) F. Khojaev, Izbrannye trudy (Selected works), vol. 2, Tashkent, 1970, p. 108. The house Faizulah Khojaev inherited from his father, merchant wholesaler of astrakhan. The possibility of his Jewish origin cannot be ruled out. 

(31) On Samarkand and Karatag, see Vaisenberg ("Evrei v Turkestane," p. 394); on Katta-Kurgan, see Kantor, Tuzemnye evrei, p. 6; on Shakhrisiabz, see TsGAUz, F. 17, Op. 1, D. 9687, p. 4v.

(32) Zand, Yahadut, p. 53.

(33) Andizhan: In about 1853, Ilia Liakliakov's family converted to Islam in Andizhan. See Central State Historical Archive of Ukraine (TsGAUz), F. 1004, Op. 1, D. 100, p. 44 (from the archive of .N.M. Friedman, deputy of the State Duma); a copy of the relevant file is kept in the Central Archive of the Jewish People in Jerusalem, HM/7953. Kokand: According to Lansdell, 4 to 5 Jews were converted to Islram in Kokand in the last years of the khanate's existence (the mid-1870s) (Lansdell, vol. 1, Russian Central Asia, p. 521.) On Khodjent, see Vaisenberg ("Evrei v Turkestane," pp. 393-394); Kantor, Tuzemnye evrei, p. 6; M. Levinskii, "K istorii evreev Srednei Azii" (On the history of the Jews in Central Asia), Evreiskaia starina, 1928, vol. 12, p. 315. On Marghelan, see below.