There are two distinct Jewish communities in Uzbekistan: the more religious and traditional Bukharan Jewish community and the more progressive Ashkenazi community made up primarily of Jews of European origin. There were 94,900 Jews in Uzbekistan in 1989; less than 5,000 remained in 2007 (most of them in Tashkent). There are 12 synagogues in Uzbekistan. The World Jewish Congress affiliate is the Jewish Community of Uzbekistan.
The Jewish Community of Uzbekistan
President: Rimma Golovina
Telephone: +998 901 760 601
The special sub-ethnic group of Bukharian Jews has its roots oi the territory of Uzbekistan. Legend has it that Jews first settled in what is now Uzbekistan following the destruction of the First Temple. The first documented Jewish presence in the region dates back to the 4th century C.E. A large Jewish community in Samarkand is first documented in the 12th century. By the time Central Asia was annexed by Russia (1865-1873), the Bukharian Jews were a minority with diminished rights, and a small part of them, living in the Bukharian emirate, were forcibly converted to Islam (the so-called “tchala”). Jews were living in Bukhara, Kattakurgan, Samarkand, Tashkent, Karshi, Shakhrisabz, Kokand, Margelan, and other cities.
The discriminatory edicts that had existed in the Bukharian emirate with respect to Bukharian Jews (referred to as “indigenous Jews”) were canceled in the areas annexed by the Russian empire. After the region came under Russian rule, Ashkenazi Jews appeared there as well. At the same time the term “Bukharian Jews” emerged – used to define Jews arriving to Russian-ruled areas from the Bukharian emirate.
At the end of the 19th century, there were approximately 16,000 Bukharian Jews. According to the 1926 census the number of Jews living in Usbekistan had increased to 38,200.
In the 1970s, about 10,000 Bukharian Jews emigrated to Israel. Both the 1979 census and the 1989 census showed 95,000 Jews still living in the republic, (26,000 of these were Bukharian Jews).
The state’s first legal Jewish secular organizations emerged in the years 1988–1999. May 1990 saw nationalistic riots, which caused damage to the Jewish quarter in Andijan. During the period of mass emigration (late 1980s – early 1990s) no less than 80,000 Jews left the republic. The emigration is continuing to this day. Beside Israel and the US, small groups of Jewish emigrants have settled in Russia; there are also small communities in Austria and Germany.
Today’s Jewish population in Uzbekistan is estimated at 13,000, no more than 3,000 of whom are Bukharian Jews. Tashkent has a relatively large community (about 8,000). There are smaller communities in Samarkand and Bukhara, and quite little ones in Fergana, Andijan, Namangan, Margelan, Kokand, and Navoiy. The communities contain both Bukharian and Ashkenazi Jews. Most of the Jews in Tashkent are Ashkenazi, Bukhara has more Bukharian ones, and the community of Samarkand is more or less equally divided.
During WWII, more than one million Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied eastern Europe passed through Uzbekistan.
Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola estimated that there were 4,500 Jews in Uzbekistan as of 2010. The three major Jewish centers are Samarkand, Bukhara, and Tashkent. 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. 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 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.
Both 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.
Several Jewish schools are to be found, among them three day schools, one in Bukhara, one in Samarkand and another in Tashkent.
Israel and Uzbekistan maintain diplomatic relations.
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