The three major Jewish centers are Tashkent (13,000), Samarkand (3,000), and Bukhara (2,000). The Jews of Uzbekistan can be divided into two categories: the Ashkenazim who came to the region from other parts of the Soviet Union during Soviet rule and sometimes earlier, and the indigenous Bukharan community, which has its own Tajik-Jewish dialect, and which traces its roots back many centuries. Bukharans account for almost the entire community in Samarkand. Nearly all the Ashkenazim live in the capital, Tashkent, as do some 2,000 Bukharan Jews. In recent years, many Jews left Uzbekistan due to economic impoverishment and fear of the nationalistic «Uzbekization» trend of the government. Most Bukharan Jews have settled in Queens, New York, where they have established a well-organized community. The Ashkenazim have largely settled in Israel, Russia, and Germany. Jewish quarters, traditionally called mahalla, still exist in Samarkand, Bukhara, and smaller cities of the Ferghana Valley. There Jews continue to follow a traditional way of life.
Bukharan Jewry is an ancient community that claims descent from 5th-century exiles from Persia. Bukharan Jews believe that Bukhara is actually Habor (II Kings 17:6), to which the ten tribes were exiled. Although Soviet authority was imposed on the country, Jews were allowed greater freedoms than those afforded their co-religionists in other parts of the Soviet Union, and they clung to their Judaism tenaciously. Still, the number of synagogues in Samarkand plummeted from 30 in 1917 to 1 in 1935. At this time, many Jews became factory workers or collective farmers. There was also a Jewish influx into the new capital, Tashkent. During World War II, Jews from European Russia were evacuated to Uzbekistan, and many remained there.
There is no Jewish roof organization in Uzbekistan. The Ashkenazim and Bukharans are organized into numerous separate groups.
Bukharan Jews have made valiant efforts to preserve Jewish life, even in the face of pressure from the Soviet authorities, and intermarriage was almost unknown. The community in Samarkand has a synagogue and enjoys the benefits of a Bukharan rabbi who is affiliated with the Chabad movement.
Tashkent and Bukhara have Jewish cultural centers. Jewish musicians play a leading role in the local musical scene, performing both Uzbek folk music and classical central Asian music called shash makom. A Jewish monthly called Shofar is published in Russian
Since the middle of the last century, in the Land of Israel, there has been an important Bukharan community that has retained its distinct identity and customs up to the present day. Aliya: Since 1989, 66,100 Uzbek Jews have emigrated to Israel.
Samarkand’s mahalla, still home to a large number of Bukharan Jews, contains many sites from the Jewish past and present. The regional museum, located in what was once a Jewish-owned mansion, still contains the ornate room which served as the family’s private synagogue. The mahalla in Bukhara also contains a number of Jewish relics.
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