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The Jewish People of Persia and Bukhara

Persia and Bukhara's Jewish history is long and complicated, spanning thousands of years. Jews have lived in these areas for centuries and have played an important role in the region's cultural, economic, and religious life. They established and preserved their communities despite discrimination and persecution, but today they face challenges from the authorities, and many have emigrated.

Jews arrived in Persia as Babylonian war prisoners in the 6th century BCE. They settled in Susa, Hamadan, and Isfahan. The Persian authorities generally treated them well and allowed them to practice their religion; this changed with the expansion of Islamic caliphates in the region. Under the Ummayad and Fatimid caliphates, Jews could practice their faith. However, they were often persecuted, the most prominent being the jizya tax, which was only levied on non-Muslim subjects of the caliphates. During the Islamic caliphates, the Jews of Persia also made significant cultural, economic, and intellectual contributions as traders, court officials, and scholars.


Bukhara's Jewish history resembles that of Persia. The cities of Bukhara, Samarkand, and Khiva have long had Jewish communities. They were well-treated by authorities and contributed to the region's economy and culture.


Jews in Bukhara and Persia were greatly affected by the Soviets. Many were persecuted and expelled by Soviet religious and cultural repression, and many emigrated to Israel or other countries for better opportunities and freedom.



Timeline of Jewish Life in Persia:

  1. Babylonian captivity (6th century BCE): Jews were brought to Persia as prisoners of war by the Babylonians and settled in various parts of the Persian Empire.

  2. The Islamic conquest of Persia (7th century CE): The arrival of Islam brought changes to the status of the Jews in Persia, as they were now subject to discrimination and persecution by the Muslim authorities.

  3. Golden Age of Jewish culture in Persia (9th-11th centuries CE): During this period, many Jews made significant contributions to the cultural, economic, and intellectual life of Persia and could practice their religion relatively freely.

  4. Mongol invasions of Persia (13th century CE): The Mongol invasions brought destruction and devastation to many Jewish communities in Persia, and many Jews were forced to flee or convert to Islam.

  5. Safavid dynasty (16th-18th centuries CE): The Safavid dynasty, which was of Shia persuasion, brought a resurgence of religious persecution of Jews and other minority groups in Persia.

  6. Qajar dynasty (18th-20th centuries CE): The Qajar dynasty brought relative stability for the Jews of Persia, but they continued to face discrimination and economic hardship.

  7. The Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911): The Constitutional Revolution, which sought to establish a constitutional monarchy in Persia, brought some hope for the Jews and other minorities, but it was ultimately unsuccessful in improving their situation.

  8. The Islamic Revolution (1979): The Islamic Revolution dramatically changed the lives of the Jews in Persia, as they were now subject to religious and cultural repression by the new regime.

  9. The fall of the Soviet Union (1991) and the current situation: After the fall of the Soviet Union, many Jews returned to Persia and have been working to rebuild their communities and preserve their cultural heritage. Despite this, they continue to face discrimination and persecution from the authorities, and their numbers have decreased.


Timeline of Jewish Life in Bukhara:

  1. Ancient settlements of Jews in Bukhara: Jews have been present in Bukhara since ancient times and have established communities in cities such as Bukhara, Samarkand, and Khiva.

  2. Golden Age of Jewish culture in Bukhara (18th-19th centuries CE): During this period, many Jews made significant contributions to the economic and cultural life of the region and were generally treated well by the authorities.

  3. Russian conquest of Bukhara (late 19th century CE): The Russian conquest of Bukhara brought changes to the lives of the Jews, as they were now under the rule of a foreign power and subject to its policies.

  4. Soviet period (early 20th century CE): The Soviet period brought religious and cultural repression of Jews and other minority groups in Bukhara, and many Jews were expelled from the region.

  5. Fall of the Soviet Union (1991) and the current situation: After the fall of the Soviet Union, many Jews returned to Bukhara and have been working to rebuild their communities and preserve their cultural heritage. Despite this, they continue to face discrimination and persecution from the authorities, and their numbers have decreased.

  6. Jewish Bukharan community in Israel: Many Bukharan Jews have emigrated to Israel, establishing vibrant communities and making significant contributions to Israeli society.

In conclusion, Jewish life in Persia and Bukhara is marked by a period of prosperity and cultural flourishing but also marred by periods of persecution and repression, particularly during the Islamic and Mongol conquests of the region, under the Soviet period, and also after the fall of the Soviet Union. Today, Persian and Bukharan Jews continue to face challenges, as a little over 8000 Jews still live in Iran, and 1500 live in Uzbekistan. The majority, however, have emigrated to Israel and the United States for better opportunities and greater freedom.



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