Jewish Communities in Exotic Places (Anglais) Relié – 28 février 2000
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Then I thought that Jews were in fact all whites after finding out that many white American celebrities were Jewish. Later on, I discovered that there were actually two Jewish "peoples" : the Eastern European variety (i.e. Ashkenazim) and the Spanish/Mediteranean looking variety (i.e. Sephardim).
But after buying and reading this book, I now know that there is no such thing as a Jewish race (in the anthropological sense of the word). The concept of a "Jewish race" as perpetuated by Hitler and other anti-semities had truly fooled people like myself and others who grew up knowing little about Jews.
As Jews became dispersed by persecution and massacres they brought along Judaism with them to almost every corner of the known world. Not all went to Europe to become the ancestors of the Ashkenazim and Sephardim. Many settled in North Africa, the Middle East and Persia, Africa (i.e. Ethiopia)...and even travelled as far as India and China. In all these places, these Jews accepted proselytes/converts and married local women, who added their genetic material (and customs) into those isolated Jewish communities ......so much so that these Chinese, Indian, Ethiopian, Persian, Afghan, Kurdish, Tat, Yemeni, Beber, Bukharan and Georgian Jews become physically indistinguishable from their Gentile neighbours and had very similar customs. In all these places, as the Gentiles became converts to Judaism, they and their descendants became an integral part of the Jewish people. Similaly, the authors inform that a great many Jews in North Africa, Persia, Afghanistan, Kurdistan and Yemen after the Islamic conquests converted to Islam (sometimes by force). No doubt they become absorbed by and contributed their genes to the aforesaid Muslim communities/peoples.
Also, I thought that were only two Jewish kingdoms in history (i.e. Israel and Judah from the Bible). In fact, when Judaism spread with the Jewish dispersion, a number of peoples and kingdoms embraced Judaism. Jewish kingoms in fact existed at one point in time from Berber North Africa in the West to Kurdistan and Western India in the East; and from Khazaria (modern day Russia/Ukraine) in the North to Yemen and Ethiopia in the South. Most of these kingdoms were small except for the Khazar Empire.
The authors definitely deserve more than 5 stars for their research and the compilation of these facts into this truly intriguing book.
The author describes in great detail the physical appearance, customs, religious practices, social status, common occupations of the members of each Jewish community as well as the relationship with and the treatment by their gentile neighbours. The Jews of these exotic communities are very similar in physical appearance, cuisine, lifestyle, customs, and even in language (which is normally a variant of the local language mixed with Hebrew words) with the indigenous peoples who they live among, which challenges the concept of Jews as a race. For example, the Jews of Kaifeng, Malabaris and Beta Israel are physically indistinguishable from the Chinese, Indians and Ethiopians respectively. Even the Krimchaks of Crimea are Caucasians with Mongoloid features not unlike their Crimean Tatar neighbours. This shows that intermarriages between Jews and the locals as well as conversions to Judaism must have been substantial at one point.
Eleven of the Seventeen Jewish communities live in a Muslim milieu. Unlike most books written by Western apologists of Islam, this book describes the persecution and decimation of the Jews by their Muslim rulers/conquerors. On the eve of the Muslim conquests, the Jews must have formed a very substantial part of the population in North Africa and West Asia. In Persia for example, they once numbered in the millions. Jewish Berber tribes such as the Jerava Berbers under El Kahina in Morrocco and the Ureshfani under Fanana in Libya played a prominent role in fighting the Muslim invaders. After the conquests, thousands of Jews were killed and even more escaped annihilation by embracing Islam. This book briefly mentions that many of the ancestors of the Muslim Pathans (the main ethnic element of the Taliban), Tats, Kurds (who played a prominent role in the 1895 and 1915 Turkish-orchestrated Armenian massacres), Yemenis (Osama bin Laden and a fair few of the Al-Qaeda members are of Yemeni origin) and the various Berber groups in North Africa (many of them are now supporters of Islamic fundamentalist movements) were of the Jewish faith.
The Jewish remnants who remained in the Islamic lands during the medieval period were subjected to all kinds of indignities, abuses and not to mention institutionalized contempt. Many a times they were on the brink of extinction. Under Islam, Jews were made to do the most humiliating and repugnant tasks in society. A Jew was not allowed to defend himself when attacked by Muslims and almost all Muslims who murdered Jews went unpunished. The Jew was never out in the street with his wife because he could not intervene on her behalf if she was assaulted. During times of religious violence, everything a Jew owns is snatched from him, his children taken away and he himself would be killed or auctioned off. Sometimes, the Jews were lucky. They were given the choice of converting to Islam and many did while secretly practicing Judaism. The numbers of forced converts to Islam must have been considerable, as there were at least 20,000 Meshedi New Muslims [cum]Crypto-Jews (whose ancestors "converted" generations ago) of Iran who openly returned to the Jewish faith in more recent years after fleeing Iran.
Islamic history is revisionist and subjected to propaganda. On one hand Islam institutionalizes the discrimination of Christians and Jews for rejecting Muhamad as a prophet of God but on the other hand claimed that they were never persecuted. It is like the anti-Semitic Neo-Nazis who say "did 6 million Jews really died" whilst working towards the destruction of the Jewish people. I hope that there would be more such books which give a fair and objective account of the history of the Jews living under Islam. More often than not, Western writers while emphasizing the expulsion of the Sephardim from Spain and the massacres perpetrated by the Crusaders in medieval Germany and the Cossacks in Ukraine, give a distorted account of how Jews lived happily under Islam. What is intentionally concealed is the fact that the religion in which the great Spanish-Jewish philosopher, Maimonides, was compelled to convert to was Islam and not Christianity and that Sabbetai Zevi (the "Jewish Messiah"), a Sephardim in the Ottoman Empire was forced to accept Islam on the pain of death and commissioned to evangelize the Jews for Islam.
This book is a must buy for all those who are interested not only in the history of the Jewish diaspora but also if they are interested in exotic cultures in hidden corners of the world.
Blady has compiled a history and study of these communities. First Blady offers some general information on the country and then focuses on the Jewish community in that country. The communities Blady focuses on are Yemen, Iran, Crimea, Kurdistan, Georgia, Afghanistan, Daghestan, Uzbekistan, India, China, Morocco, LIbya, Tunisia and Ethiopia.
The two serious problems with the work are its tone and terminology. This book was published in 2000, but it has the sound of a work written about twenty years ago or even more. Blady quotes sources that call communities primitive and makes qualitative judgments about them from some fixed point of moral or social worth. This gives the unfortunate impression that Blady is not only endorsing these communities as exotic, but often as backward. This forms an unpleasant tone, and it is a real stumbling block to the book's sense of fair reporting and factual content.
Finally, Blady is too loose with his terminology, and often sloppy. He calls Yiddish a Jewish pidgin, which it is most certainly is not. Pidgin is a simplified language often without tenses; Yiddish certainly has a tense system, and is more complex than a pidgin language. If this was just one example, it would be pardonable. But Blady slips up too many times in cases such as this, and it erodes the reader's confidence in his command of the material.
What is enlightening about the book is that many of the stories in out about these communities are being lost in the sands of time, because of the changing of dynamics of the Jewish world, now that there is a state of Israel. I would recommend this book to everyone who has an interest in Jewish history. It is especially important because several of the communities in the book i.e. the Persian/Babylonian/Yemeni/Maghrebi Jewish communities are the oldest Jewish communities outside of the land of Israel.