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The Chalah and the Russian administration in the second half of the nineteenth century

            The Russian conquest of Central Asia lasted from 1853 to 1884. As a result, the Bukhara emirate and the Khiva and Kokand khanates became politically dependent on the Russian Empire and lost a considerable part of the territories. The Turkestan Governor-Generalship, also referred to in Russia as Turkestan, or Turkestanskii krai (the Turkestan province), was formed in these territories. The Kokand khanate was abolished in 1876 during the course of an uprising suppressed by the Russian army, and its territory was included in the Turkestan Governor-Generalship.
Zaravshanskii okrug. Urok chistopisaniia (Zaravshan okrug. Hand-writing lessons; between 1865 and 1872): Photograph shows a Jewish man surrounded by four young boys. Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin - Gorskii Collection (Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA).
Zaravshanskii okrug. Urok chistopisaniia (Zaravshan okrug. Hand-writing lessons; between 1865 and 1872): Photograph shows a Jewish man surrounded by four young boys. Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin - Gorskii Collection (Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA).

By the early twentieth century, the territory of the Governor-Generalship included the oblasts (provinces) of Syr-Darya, Samarkand, Fergana, Semirechye (Seven Rivers), and Zakaspiiskaia (Trans-Caspian). Although the Bukhara emirate and the Kokand khanate became vassal states, this had no effect on the status of the Bukharan Jews, who remained subjects of these states.

       Attempts at forced conversion, as well as voluntary conversions continued. As a rule the governs-general of Turkestan, who supervised the khanate administrations through a specially created apparatus,(34) did not provide specific protection for Jewish subjects. At the same time, high-ranking khanate bureaucrats were aware of the Tzarist administration's negative attitude toward the forced conversion of Jews to Islam.(35) This may have been the reason why the number of cases in which open coercion was used to convert Jews to Islam began to decline. Nevertheless, reports exist about youngsters who were kidnapped and converted, as well as those who gave in to persuasion, threats and promises.

       For instance, in 1871, David Yagudyev, twelve or thirteen years old at the time, was forcibly converted in the Kokand Khanate.(36) In 1874-75, Murad-bek, the provincial governor of Margelan in the Kokand Khanate ordered the tax collector to supply Mullah Musulmankul Iahudi with food and clothes for Jewish boys converted to Islam.(37) Mullah Iahudi, their religious mentor, was a Chalah himself, as his name indicates.

In Bukhara, at about the end of the 1870s, an eight-year-old boy, Benjamin Maman, was kidnapped and converted to Islam. Seven years elapsed before he managed to escape and return to his parents, who then sent him to Samarkand.(38)

       Cases of conversion were recorded in later years as well. In 1907, fifteen-year-old David Barakov was converted in Bukhara. After his conversion, Barakov and two other Jewish youngsters lived in the house of a Muslim who was their religious mentor.(39)

       Khanate officials also tried to convert Jews accused of crimes. In 1890, two Bukharan Jews were arrested by the Mirshab (police chief) of Bukhara and accused of adultery with Muslim women. According to Bukharan law, they could either be executed or imprisoned for life, at the emir's direction.  One of the accused agreed to convert and was pardoned, while the other, David Iskhakov, refused and was thrown into the underground prison, the terrible zindan.(40)

       The Muslim Jews who were permanent residents of the territories incorporated into the Turkestan General-Governorship received Russian citizenship and thus were able to return to Judaism. The Turkestand administration placed no obstacles in the path of Chalah who wished to return to the faith of their ancestors. Thus, in the course of the Russian conquest of Central Asia, the Chalah of the most important Jewish center, Samarkand, which was annexed by Russia, were given official permission to return to Judaism by A. Abramov, the first military governor of the province. Among them were also the Jews forcibly converted to Islam in the course of the Muslim uprising against the Russian army.(41)

After the establishment of the Turkestan Governor-Generalship, the Chalah residing in the Bukhara emirate who nurtured the hope of returning to the faith of their ancestors attempted to do so by becoming Russian subjects. Jewish immigrants, however, were unwanted in Russia; therefore, official requests for Russian citizenship by Chalah who wanted to return to Judaism were usually rejected by the governors-general.(42) When making determinations in such cases, the administration, which considered the Chalah as Jews, applied the law of 1866. Under this law, which dealt with the Jewish subjects of the Central Asian States that had come under Russian dominance, only rich Jews capable of joining merchant guilds I or II and paying the required fees could be granted Russian citizenship. However, even in such cases the final decision was in the hands of the governor-general.(43)

       The case of Aron Kandin could be considered an exception. In 1868, hard times befell the Jewish community of Bukhara. After his defeat by Russia, the emir was required to pay half a million rubles; he ordered the Jewish community of Bukhara to raise a quarter of this sum, even though the Jewish population of the city was only one-tenth that the Muslims, who had to pay a considerably smaller amount.(44) The heavy tax caused intense strife within the community, which resulted in the denunciation of Kandin, the community elder.(45)The Bukharan authorities arrested him and accused him of rendering   to the Russians. His property was confiscated and he was sentenced to death. On the eve of his execution, Kandin was offered the chance to save his life by converting to Islam.(46) One year later, Kandin told a prisoner, Gamliel Beninson,   that he had "avoided death by converting and by paying 3,400 golden tilli" (13,600 rubles).(47)

       Wishing to make use of Kandin's commercial talents, as well as his knowledge of economics, the emir made him a high official. However, to prevent him from escaping, the emir placed him under virtual house arrest in his palace.(48) Evidently, the accusation that Kandin had connections with the Russians was not unfounded, since even when he was under guard, he risked his life to transmit very important secret data to Russia.(49)

       Aron's younger wife and her children were converted to Islam along with him, while his elder wife and her grown-up children managed to flee to Samarkand, which had been captured by the Russians.(50)

       Yet Kandin did not feel comfortable with his new religion. He established contacts with the Jewish community in Bukhara and sought an opportunity to flee the emirate. In 1882, when Henry Lansdell, an English traveler, visited Bukhara, local Jews asked him to intecede with the emir on behalf of Kandin. But later on, they abandoned the idea, fearing that intervention might aggravate his situation.(51) After Emir Muzafar's death in 1885, the throne passed to his fourth son, Abdullakhan, who enjoyed Russian support. Having apparently concluded that, under the new emir the Russian authorities would be more likely to give him asylum, Kandin somehow managed to transmit his request to the Tzar. The fact that he had rendered some services to the Russian administration and was punished for it helped him. In 1887 or 1888, Tzar Alexander III granted Kandin Russian citizenship. This act was followed by Aron's "escape" from Bukhara to Russia, undoubtedly, sanctioned by the young emir.(52) 

       In April 1889, Aron Kandin was granted permission to join merchant guild II in Moscow.(53)  To obtain this status in Moscow, a Bukharan Jew needed special intervention by the highest authorities. Kandin, however, did not remain in Moscow for long. The uproar caused by his escape soon died down and in 1890, he returned to Central Asia, where he was reunited with his elder wife, children and grandchildren. Kandin bought a house in Samarkand and joined merchant guild II.(54)Although he was well-connected and had vast commercial experience, he was apparently unable to calmly continue in his trade because he was possibly tormented by his feelings of guilt for assenting to convert to Islam and for adhering to it for twenty years. He went to Jerusalem to atone for his sin and died there in 1909.(55)

       Some of the Chalah who were Bukharan subjects moved to the territories under the jurisdiction of the Turkestan Governor-Generalship even though they did not have official permission. For a long time they remained in Turkestan unhampered. In their new surroundings the Chalah returned to Judaism, performed Jewish rites without fear, and concluded marriages with Bukharan Jews. Consequently, the number of Chalah moving to Turkestan grew considerably in 1892-1899,(56) but this growth was cut short by the adoption in 1900 of a law that permitted Bukharan Jews who were not Russian subjects to reside only in the border areas of Turkestan and only on condition that they join merchant guilds I or II.   The Jewish subjects of Bukhara who had been granted the right to settle anywhere in Turkestan and had gained entrance to the Empire now enjoyed the same rights as the Bukharan Jews who had been granted Russian citizenship. But, according to the law, which was to become valid as of early 1906,(57) those Jews who were unable to pay the high membership fees charged by the merchant guilds would be deported to Bukhara. And soon after its promulgation, the Turkestan authorities began to strictly control the Bukharan citizens' rights to enter Russia, as well as the issuing of residence permits for Jews who were foreign subjects. At that time, it was discovered that groups of Chalah were living in the urban areas of Turkestan without residence permits.(58) Officially, they were to be deported to Bukhara where, as Chalah who had returned to Judaism, they could face the death penalty.

       Under these circumstances, the Tashkent group of Chalah applied to the Military Governor of Syr-Darya province, N. I. Korolkov, whose jurisdiction included the city of Tashkent, requesting that an investigation be ordered to establish the date of their settlement in the city and to cancel their deportation to Bukhara. Mainly the second generation Chalah, closely related through family ties, maintained that they had already settled in Tashkent in 1866 (see Appendix).(59) In this way, the Chalah Jews of Tashkent hoped to be designated as indigenous inhabitants of the province, which would give them the right of free residence and the right to acquire real estate in Turkestan.

       However, the hopes of the Chalah Jews were not realized. Although the territories later included in the Syr-Darya province were officially annexed by Russia according to a treaty concluded with the emir of Bukhara in 1868, the city of Tashkent had already been conquered by the Russians in 1865. Thus, according to the explanation given by the Minister of War, which was brought to the attention of the Governor-General of Turkestan in July 1891, only those Jews who had settled in these territories prior to the arrival of the Russian army could be recognized as indigenous.(60)

       Hence, no investigation regarding the date of the settlement of the Chalah Jews in Tashkent was carried out by the local administration; however, the deportation of the Tashkent group of former Chalah was temporarily postponed. Korolkov sent a message to his political agent in Bukhara asking him to gather information on the Tashkent Chalah. The agent's answer was received in November 1901. According to his report, the Chalah in question left Bukhara some 35 to 40 years before and he confirmed that those who had returned to Judaism would indeed be put to death in the emirate.(61)

       In July 1902, Korolkov,(62) whose anti-Jewish policies were well-known, sent the Chalah's petition for consideration to the Governor-General of Turkestand, N. Ivanov, with an accompanying letter in which he stated that "the law contained no instructions that would allow any exceptions to be made for the benefit of those who had no residence rights in the province, including such cases as the one cited above."(63) After familiarizing himself with the Chalah's petition, Ivanov gave orders, by means of a secret memorandum, to compile a list of all Chalah residing in the province and added special instructions that the information be collected without fanfare, and that "great care should be taken not to include "Non-Chalah Jews in the list."(64)

       This list, compiled in the autumn of 1902, included 29 Jewish Chalah families who resided in the three so-called "indigenous" provinces of Turkestan.(65) 

       The data was rechecked on orders from the Governor-General of Turkestan in February, 1903, and, based on this information, a final list of Chalah Jews was compiled. They were given permission to reside in Turkestan, but they were also warned that they would never be granted the rights of indigenous residents and "would be deported if they committed any unseemly act." At the same time, it was announced that any Chalah who attempted to enter Turkestan would be considered a Jew, would not be granted a residence permit, and would consequently be deported to Bukhara.(66) 

       Thus, in Russian Turkestan the term Chalah was officially used to designate Jews who converted to Islam but later returned to Judaism. Moreover, the Turkestan administration did not consider them as Muslim subjects of Bukhara in possession of residence permits in Turkestan, but rather as Jewish refugees from Bukhara who would be put to death if they returned. In order to avoid taking responsibility for the probable execution of the Chalah, the Turkestan authorities gave them the right to remain in Turkestan, but refused to grant them Russian citizenship. In 1907, this local administrative policy gained the support of the War Ministry, as well as the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Internal Affairs.(67)

(34) At first, the activities of the Central Asian khanates were controlled by a diplomatic official. In 1886, the Russian Imperial Political Agency (Rossiiskoe imperatorskoe politicheskoe agenstvo) was established in order to achieve more control over the activities of the Bukharan administrationj. Its head, the political agent, was subordinate to the Governor-General of Turkestan and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. See N. Abdurakhimova, "Vysshii biurokraticheskii organ tsarizma v Turkestane" (Tzarism's highest bureaucratic body in Turkestan), Obshchestvennye naukiv Uzbekistane, no. 11, 1988, p. 36.

(35) This negative attitude can be seen, for example, in the Governor-General's correspondence with the Bukhara government concerning the case of D. Iskhakov, a Bukharan subject. See TsGAUz, F. 1, Op. 29, D. 1297, pp. 1-6.  

(36) TsGAUz, F. 17, Op. 1, D. 10437, p. 29.

(37) A. Troitskaia, Katalog archivov kokandskikh khanov 19 veka (Catalogue of Archive of the khans of Kokand in the 19th century), Moscow, 1968, p. 391.

(38) N. Tazher, Toldot yehudei bukhara be-vukhara u-be-yisrael (History of Bukharan Jews in Bukhara and in Israel), Tel Aviv, 1971, p. 65.

(39) TsGAUz, F. 1, Op. 13, D. 212, p. 262.

(40)  Ibid, Op. 29, D. 1297, pp. 1-6. According to the petition by Iskhakov's wife, Miriam, David had been falsely accused.

(41) Eshel, Galeria, p. 77; Sh. Asherov, Mi-samarkand ad petah tikvah (From Samarkand to Petah Tikvah), Tel-Aviv, 1977, pp. 11, 16.

(42) For an example of the Russian citizenship made by a Chalah and turned down because he was unable to join a merchant guild, see TsGAUz, F. 17, Op. 1, D. 9687, pp. 4v-5.

(43) M. Mysh, Dopolnenie k tretiemu izdaniiu "Rukovodstva k russkim zakonam o evreiakh" (Supplement to the third edition of the Instructions concerning the Russian laws on Jews), St. Petersburg, 1904, p. 19.

(44) D. Hacham, "Orenburg," Ha-magid, January 13, 1869, no. 2, p. 2. This event was also reported in some St. Petersburg newspapers in 1868. For further reference, see Z.L. Amitin-Shapiro, Ocherki sotsialistiche-skogo stroitelstva sredi sredneaziatskikh evreev (An outline of socialist construction among the Jews in Central Asia), Tashkent, 1933, p. 131.

(45) Sukhareva, Bukhara, pp. 175-176; Eshel, Galeria, p. 40.

(46) Moskva, no. 35, 1868 (cited by Amitin-Shapiro, Ocherki, p. 131); Eshel, Galeria, pp. 40-42; Sukhareva, Bukhara, p. 176; Lansdell, Russian Central Asia, vol. 2, p. 109.

(47) Gamliel Beninson, a merchant from Borisov, Minsk guberniia, who had been traveling in Bukhara, was arrested and sent to Samarkand where he was questioned by the local administration (TsGAUz, F. 1, Op. 29, D. 20, p. 8).

(48) Sukhareva, Bukhara, p. 176; Lansdell, Russian Central Asia, vol. 2, p. 109; Eshel, Galeria, p. 42.

(49) In 1869 Kandin informed the Russians, through Beninson, about the emir's attempts to organize an anti-Russian coalition, his spies in Samarkand, the preparations of the emir's army for a new war, and the attitudes of the Bukharan population (TsGAUz, F. 1, Op. 29, D. 8, p. 10).

(50) Kandin's elder wife avoided being converted to Islam (Sukhareva, Bukhara, p. 176) His sons, Amin Aronov Kandinov, and Iehuda Aronov Kandinov, were included in the list of Bukharan Jews in Samarkand who were granted Russian citizenship because they had been living in the city when it was captured by the Russians in May-June, 1868 (TsGAUz, F. 1, Op. 27. D. 542, p. 64v). For additional references to the Kandinov brothers, see Ibid, Op. 17, D. 848, p. 201; Levinskii, "K istorii evreev," p. 324); TsGAUz, F. 1, Op. 27, D. 542, p. 64v.

(51) Lansdell, Russian Central Asia, vol. 2, p. 109.

(52) Despite the fact that Bukhara was completely dependent on Russia politically, it was unlikely that Alexander III would have risked a diplomatic  scandal because of a Jew, even one who had rendered a valuable service to Russia.

(53) TsGAUz, F. 1, Op. 11, D. 7, p. 142.

(54) Ibid, Op. 17, D. 809, p. 74; Ibid, Op. 11, D. 7, p. 142.

(55) Eshel, Galeria, p. 43.

(56) According to the 1909 list of Chalah residing in Samarkand, the majority of them, 11 families, moved to the Turkestan krai in 1892 to1899.

(57) E. Vainshtein, Deistvuiushchee zakonodatelstvo o evreiakh (The current laws regarding Jews), Kiev, 1911, p. 192.

(58) TsGAUz, F, 1, Op. 13, D. 212, p. 48.

(59) On the family connections of these Chalah, see TsGAUz, F. 17, Op. I, D. 10437, p. 29.

(60) Ia. Gimpelson (compiler), Zakony a evreiakh (The Laws on Jews), vol. 1, St. Petersburg, 1914, pp. 186-87; TsGAUz, F. 17, Op. 1, D. 14994, p. 1.

(61) Ibid, D. 10437, p. 7.

(62) During his tenure as Military Governor of the Fergana oblast (1888-1893), Korolkov deported many Bukharan Jews to Bukhara (TsGAUz, F. 19, Op. 1, D. 12728, pp. 154-160). After he was appointed Military Governor of the Syr-Darya province (1893-1905), he intensified his anti-Jewish activities even more. In 1895 at a session of the Turkestan Governor-General's Council where the majority of the officials spoke in favor of the extending of the Bukharan Jews' rights in Turkestan, Korolkov's dissenting opinion was registered in the Council's journal; he pointed to the domination of Bukharan Jews in Turkestan and demanded restrictions on their rights (Ibid, F. 717, Op. 1, D. 10, pp.. 641-654). He reiterated this opinion in his reports to the Governor-General in 1897 (Ibid., F. 17, Op. 1, D. 31119, p. 30 and Ibid, F. 1, Op. 4, D. 294, p. 22) and 1899 (Ibid., F. 17, Op. 1 D. 31134, pp. 7-8). In 1905, Korolkov was appointed head of the Turkestan Commission charged with revising the existing laws on Jews; the Commission's conclusions characterized Jews negatively and recommended that the their resettlement in Turkestan be prevented (Ibid., D. 10460, pp. 7-9v.).

(63) Ibid, F. 1, Op. 13, D. 212, pp. 48-48v.

(64) Ibid., p. 55.

(65) Ibid., pp. 109-109v.

(66) Ibid, F. 1, Op. 13, D. 212, p. 248.

(67) Ibid., p. 238; Op. 17, D. 849, p. 60.