Bukharan Jews - Orientation

Identification. Most Bukharan Jews live in Central Asia (primarily in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), some in Israel and the United States. Culturally and linguistically, Bukharan Jews most closely resemble the Jews of Iran and Afghanistan. The name "Bukharan Jews" comes from the city of Bukhara, the former capital of the Bukharan Khanate, in the territory where the majority of Bukharan Jews lived in the nineteenth century. Bukharan Jews refer to themselves as "Israel" or "Yahudi." The local Turkish population calls them "Jugur." The Russian names are "Bukharskie Evrei" (Bukharan Jews), "Tuzemnye" (local, native), or "Sredneaziatskie Evrei" (Central Asian Jews).

Location. Significant numbers of Bukharan Jews live in Samarkand (about 15,000), Tashkent (30,000), Dushanbe (10,000), Bukhara (8,000-9,000), Kokand, Andijan, Margelan, and other towns. Bukharan Jews are currently migrating to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (Alma-Ata, Kzyl-Orda, Frunze, Tokmak).

Demography. There are no reliable statistics on the number of Bukharan Jews. The Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela, referring to Samarkand in the Middle Ages, wrote of 50,000 Jews living there. In 1944, 10,000 Jews were living in Bukhara. The estimated population of the Bukharan Jews at the end of the nineteenth century was 16,000; in 1910, more than 20,000; by the end of the 1920s, about 30,000; at the end of the 1950s, more than 40,000; in the early 1970s, about 50,000; and in the mid-1980s, as high as 60,000 (and by some estimates 75,000). The fertility rate has fallen, and now most families have only two or three children.

Linguistic Affiliation. Bukharan Jews speak a Jewish dialect of the Tajik language. This dialect has a number of grammatical and phonetic differences from other Tajik dialects, and a certain number of transmissions and old Tajik semantic items have been preserved in the lexicon that are absent from other dialects; it also contains a certain number of borrowings from Hebrew. Bukharan Jews use the Hebrew alphabet, although in the USSR that alphabet was replaced by the Latin alphabet from 1929 to 1940.

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