Georgian Jews - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. In feudal Georgia, the socioeconomic and legal status of Jews was almost identical to that of the general Georgian population. Socially, Jewish serfs were on the same footing as Georgian serfs and bore equally the heavy yoke of oppression by feudal lords. Like Georgians, Jewish serfs were divided into royal, church-monastic, and court serfs. There were among Georgian Jews both important traders who possessed estates and serfs, and tenants and craftsmen.

Later, when the Russian autocracy abolished the Georgian Kingdom (1801), the condition of Jews worsened significantly. The laws of czarist Russia automatically extended to Jews, in effect stripping them of their civil rights and sharply limiting their choice of occupation, place of residence, and education. After the abolition of serfdom many Georgian Jews, having lost their land, that is, their economic base and their sociopolitical rights, were compelled to take up petty trading; others sought, with great difficulty, to make a living by agricultural work and in the trades. Jewish craftsmen founded trade unions, primarily for purposes of solidarity. Most Jews were engaged in small craftsmanship, as much for the satisfaction of personal needs as for sale.

Political Organization. The overthrow of czarism was followed by a period of restoration of Jews' civil rights in the 1920s. In 1924, a society for the organization of land use by Jewish workers was formed. The establishment of Jewish collective farms began in 1927, and in 1932 a committee to aid impoverished Jews was organized; it concerned itself with issues of culture and education as well.

Arts. In 1925 the Jewish dramatic troupe Kadima was founded in Tbilisi under the directorship of G. Baazov, who subsequently became well known as a writer and playwright. G. Baazor was the first Jewish writer to introduce the subject matter of the life-style, character, and routine life of Georgian Jews into Georgian literature. The same topics were the basis of the creative work of the Jewish writer Rosa Tavdidishvili. In 1933 a Jewish historical-ethnographic museum was established in Tbilisi, which became essentially a scientific-research establishment that trained researchers, uncovered historical documents and archival materials, and produced indices of artifacts of material and spiritual culture that illustrated Jewish history and life. Three volumes of historical-ethnographic materials were published by the museum.

During World War II (1941-1945), Georgian Jews contributed to the rout of the Axis forces. Many of them were killed in battle, including several associates of the historical-ethnographic museum.

The museum was closed in 1947, resulting in the interruption of important scientific work. Only in 1983 was work resumed, under the auspices of the Georgian Republic Academy of Sciences, at the I. A. Djavakhishvili Institute of History, Archaeology, and Ethnography. At present, research is being conducted on the material and spiritual culture, ceremonies, and customs of Georgian Jews. The dietary system of Jews living in eastern Georgia in the second half of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries has been thoroughly researched, and the results of this research show that Georgian Jews' dietary system, which retained its ethnic characteristics, was enriched by traditions developed in reaction to local geological and environmental conditions and the specific requirements of agriculture. A Georgian-Jewish association, which has been functioning in Tbilisi since 1989 under the auspices of the Georgian Academy of Sciences, is studying relations between Georgians and Georgian Jews.

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