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Bukharan Jews of Central Asia

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  • Shimon Hacham (Bavli) (1843 - c.1910)
    החכם שמעון חכם ________________________________________________________________ Rabbi Shimon Hakham (1843, Bukhara- 1910, Jerusalem) was a Bukharian rabbi residing in Jerusalem who promoted literacy by...
  • Pinhas HaGadol HaKohen (1786 - 1858)
    R. Pinhas Ha-Gadol received this designation after sanctifying the Name of Heaven when he was thrown, on the Emir's order, from the Kilan minaret, the highest tower in the city of Bukhara, and survived...
  • Avraham (Kavodoh) Mamon (1795 - 1855)
  • Rabbi Simho jon Mullo Niyoz (deceased)
    Hacham Yosef (Rabbi Yosef Maman) had two daughters, Miriam and Sarah, and two sons, Isaac-Menachem and Abraham, who were born in Bukhara. His sons and daughters married the leaders, the most affluent...
  • Nasi Mullo Yosef Hasid (deceased)
    Hacham Yosef (Rabbi Yosef Maman) had two daughters, Miriam and Sarah, and two sons, Isaac-Menachem and Abraham, who were born in Bukhara. His sons and daughters married the leaders, the most affluent...

Bukharan Jews are Jews from Central Asia who speak Bukhori, a dialect of the Tajik-Persian language. Their name comes from the former Central Asian Emirate of Bukhara, which once had a sizable Jewish community. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the great majority have emigrated to Israel or to the United States, while others have emigrated to Europe or Australia.


According to some ancient texts, there were Israelities that began traveling to Central Asia to work as traders during the reign of King David of Jerusalem as far back as the 10th century B.C.E. The Bukharan Jews of Central Asia were essentially cut off from the rest of the Jewish world for more than 2,500 years but somehow managed to survive and preserve their Israelite identity and heritage in the face of tremendous odds.

In 1793, Rabbi Yosef Maimon, a Sephardic Jew from Tetuan, Morocco and prominent kabbalist in Safed, traveled to Bukhara and found the local Jews in a very bad state. He decided to settle there. Maimon was disappointed to see so many Jews lacking knowledge and observance of their religious customs and Jewish law. He became a spiritual leader, aiming to educate and revive the Jewish community's observance and faith in Judaism. He changed their Persian religious tradition to Sephardic Jewish tradition.

During this time, the Jews of Bukhara were almost extinct, and Middle Eastern Jews came to Central Asia and joined the Bukharan Jewish community. Maimon's work and the Middle Eastern Jewish move to Central Asia helped revive the almost extinct Bukharan Jewish community. Maimon is an ancestor of Shlomo Moussaieff, author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, and the First Lady of Iceland Dorrit Moussaieff.

In the middle of the 19th century, Bukharan Jews began to move to the Land of Israel. The land on which they settled in Jerusalem was named the Bukharan Quarter (Sh'hunat HaBucharim) and still exists today.

In 1865, Russian troops took over Tashkent, and there was a large influx of Jews to the newly created Turkestan Region. From 1876 to 1916, Jews were free to practice Judaism. Dozens of Bukharan Jews held prestigious jobs in medicine, law, and government, and many Jews prospered. Prior to the establishment of the state of Israel, the Bukharan Jews were one of the most isolated Jewish communities in the world.

Starting in 1972, one of the largest Bukharan Jewish emigrations in history occurred as the Jews of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan emigrated to Israel and the United States, due to looser restrictions on immigration. In the late 1980s to the early 1990s, almost all of the remaining Bukharan Jews left Central Asia for the United States, Israel, Europe, or Australia in the last mass emigration of Bukharan Jews from their resident lands.

Today, there are about 150,000 Bukharan Jews in Israel and 60,000 in the United States. Only a few thousand still remain in Uzbekistan. About 500 live in Canada. Almost no Bukharan Jews remain in Tajikistan (compared to the 1989 Jewish population of 15,000 in Tajikistan).


Bukharan Jews had their own dress code, similar to but also different from other cultures (mainly Turco-Mongol) living in Central Asia. On weddings today, one can still observe the bride and the close relatives donning the traditional kaftan (Jomah-ҷома-ג'אמה in Bukhori and Tajik) and the richly embroidered fur-lined hats for the wedding dances.

The Bukharan Jews have a distinct musical tradition called Shashmaqam, which is an ensemble of stringed instruments, infused with Central Asian rhythms, and a considerable klezmer influence as well as Muslim melodies, and even Spanish chords. Shashamqam music "reflect the mix of Hassidic vocals, Indian and Islamic instrumentals and Sufi-inspired texts and lyrical melodies."

Bukharan cuisine consists of many unique dishes, distinctly influenced by ethnic dishes historically and currently found along the Silk Road and many parts of Central and even Southeast Asia. Source

Notable Bukharan Jews

  1. Luba Davidoff Rafaeli - Member of the original sisterhood who helped establish the Bukharian Jewish Community Center of Queens.
  2. Yisrael Aharoni – Israeli chef and restaurateur
  3. Jacob Arabov – Proprietor of Jacob & Co.
  4. Arye Babakhanov – Musician from Uzbekistan
  5. Amnon Cohen – Israeli politician and member of the Knesset for Shas.
  6. Rena Galibova – Soviet actress, "People's Artist of Tajikistan" (an awarded title, alluding to national prominence)
  7. Meirkhaim Gavrielov – Journalist murdered in Tajikistan in 1998
  8. Shimon Hakham – Bukharan-Israeli Rabbi/ Writer/ One of the founders of the Bukharan Quarter
  9. Robert Ilatov – Israeli politician and member of the Knesset for Yisrael Beiteinu
  10. Barno Itzhakova – vocalist, famous for her rendition of traditional Shashmaqom songs in Tajik and Uzbek
  11. Lev Leviev – Billionaire businessman, investor, philanthropist, president of the World Congress of Bukharian Jews
  12. Boris Kandov – President of the Bukharian Jewish Congress of the USA and Canada
  13. Malika Kalontarova – Dancer, "People's Artist of Soviet Union" (Queen of Eastern Dance)
  14. Fatima Kuinova – Soviet singer, "Merited Artist of the Soviet Union"
  15. Yosef Maimon – Religious leader
  16. Ilyas Malayev – Musician and Poet from Uzbekistan, "Honored Artist of Uzbekistan"
  17. Dorrit Moussaieff – First Lady of Iceland
  18. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson – Author
  19. Shlomo Moussaieff (businessman) – Israeli millionaire businessman
  20. Shlomo Moussaieff (rabbi) – Co-founder of the Bukharan Quarter in Jerusalem
  21. Yudik Mullodzhanov – Tenor and teacher. Also known as "Bukharian Pavarotti"
  22. Rosa Mullodzhanova – Opera Singer "Honored Artist of Tajikistan"
  23. Shoista Mullodzhanova – Shashmakon singer, "People's Artist of Tajikistan" (Queen of Shashmakom music)
  24. Gavriel Mullokandov – Popular Shashmakom artist, "People's Artist of Uzbekistan"
  25. Yakov Nasirov – Bukharan-American Rabbi from Afghanistan (member of the Bukharian Rabbinical Counsel)
  26. Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich - Israeli politician who currently serves as a member of the Knesset for Kadima
  27. Anthony Yadgaroff – British Businessman, Jewish community leader
  28. Idan Yaniv – Israeli singer, "2007 Israeli Artist of the Year"
  29. Suleiman Yudakov – Soviet composer and musician, "People's Artist of the Uzbek SSR"
  30. Albert Aronov, AIA – Architect
  31. Moshe Pilosov – rabbi in Holon, Israel
  32. Aaron Kandin - high official in the court of Bukharan Emir
  33. Yosef Shalamaev – Singer




Yosef Maimon (1741 – 1822)

Rabbi Yosef ben Moshe Mammon (Maimon) Maravi (1741 – 7 December 1822) is the spiritual leader credited with helping strengthen religious observance and introducing the Sephardic liturgy to the Bukharian Jewish community. The title Maaravi signifies his North African (Maghreb) ancestry.

Born in either Tetouan or Meknes in Morocco, Rabbi Mammon made aliyah to teach in a yeshiva in the city of Safed. Like most yeshivas at the time, Maimon's yeshiva relied on donations from the diaspora communities. It was during his search for funds in 1793 that Rabbi Mammon arrived in Bukhara, and chose to stay, in order to strengthen Judaism within the local Jewish population.

At the time, the region was under the control of Muslim fundamentalists, who pressured the local Jews to convert to Islam. The community's physical isolation from major centers of Jewish learning was a result of the Bukhara Emirate's policy of closed borders, intended to avoid involvement in the Great Game. For the local Jews, this meant less opportunities to connect with the larger Jewish community.

He established yeshivas, and his children continued his work. He also founded Hibbat Zion, a precursor to Zionism, and encouraged aliyah to Palestine.

Early 19th travelers to Bukhara, including Jewish apostate and missionary Joseph Wolff, described in detail the impact of Yosef Mammon on the culture and religion of the Bukharian Jews.

Yosef Mammon died in Bukhara. One of his descendants was Rabbi Shimon Hakham.

Another descendant was Esther Gaonoff, the wife of Shlomo Moussaieff - rabbi.

Moussaieff's and Gaonoff's grandson is Shlomo Moussaieff (businessman) and their great grandchildren are author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and First Lady of Iceland Dorrit Moussaieff.


Further reading

  • • Moshavi, B.: "R'Yosef ben Moshe Mammon, sheliah Tzefat beBukhara." In Talpiot, Vol.9, No. 3-4, pp.873-886, 1970. (Hebrew)
  • • Wolff, J. Researches and Missionary Labours among the Jews, Mohammedans, other Sects. London, 1835. (English) Source


Rabbinic Succession in Bukhara 1790-1930 -

Rabbi Yosef Maimon

Rabbi Yosef Maimon had two daughters, Miriam and Sarah, and two sons, Isaac-Menachem and Abraham, who were born in Bukhara. His sons and daughters married the leaders, the most affluent and highly respected scholars of the community.

His oldest daughter, Miriam, married the son of the wealthiest leader of the community, R. Pinhas the son of R. Simha and grandson of Yosef Hasid, who was the community's leader when R. Yosef Maman arrived in Bukhara.

R. Pinhas (5565/1805 - 5635/1875) was known as R. Pinhas Ha-Katan. This outstanding student who continued in his path is known as R. Pinhas Ha-Gadol (5548/1788 - 29 Iyar 5618/May 13, 1858) and was chosen as the successor of R. Yosef, evidently, even during his rabbi's lifetime.

R. Pinhas Ha-Gadol received this designation after sanctifying the Name of Heaven when he was thrown, on the Emir's order, from the Kilan minaret, the highest tower in the city of Bukhara, and survived. From then on, the Emir and the Moslem scholars considered him a holy man. His son, R. Isaac Hayim relates,

"My master, the Great Rabbi Pinhas Ha-Cohen, of blessed memory, occupied his post for forty years with a clean heart and pure hands and I, his son, have succeeded him in his position..."

It appears that in these dealings - having his daughter marry the wealthiest member of the community of the time, appointing his outstanding student as his right-hand man, and training an entire generation of scholars who studied in his Yeshiva - R. Yosef Maman sought to ensure the continuation of his approach in the leadership of the community. We will later see how marital ties with the ruling families only intensified.

Rabbi Pinhas Ha-Gadol and Rabbi Pinhas Ha-Katan

As the successors of Hacham Yosef Maimon, R. Pinhas Ha-Gadol and R. Pinhas Ha-Katan complemented each other. Mullah Pinhas Ha-Gadol served as spiritual leader as the Chief Rabbi (Mollai Klon). He headed the Yeshiva, the rabbinic court, the infrastructure for slaughtering animals, and was supported by a number of scholars from among the senior member of the community who constituted the "Seven Town Elders." (See the list of the Scholars, Shklov, 5593/1833).

R. Pinhas Ha-Katan, the Klontar of the community, one of R. Yosef Maman's most devoted students and a scholar in his own right, managed the community's material needs. His principal task was to collect taxes and to turn them over to the government. At about this time (5585/1825), R. Elijah Hacham Shohet came to Bukhara for commercial purposes. R. Elijah, who in Baghdad wrote Torah scrolls, in a short period of time was admired by the community's leadership. He agreed to settle down there and married the granddaughter of R. Yosef Maimon, Zipora, the daughter of Rabbi Abraham Yazdi Ha-Cohen.

R. Elijah was in charge of the slaughtering of animals and of writing Torah scrolls for the community. He wrote dozens of scrolls. His son, R. David, wrote to the Hebrew newspaper Hamagid about his father (Rosh Hodesh Shevat 5629/January 13, 1869):

"I, the son of the Hacham Elijah the son of Hacham Rahamim Shohet who was among the distinguished Jews of Babylonia [Iraq] and my mother, my teacher, the daughter of Hacham Yosef Maman who was the son of Grimo from Tetuan . . . After the death of the Tzadik, my father, may he be granted a long life, came from Babylonia and married the granddaughter of the above mentioned Tzadik. My father also took on the responsibilities of slaughtering and checking the meat and wrote over forty Torah scrolls and countless sets of tefillin and Mezuzah parchments..."

R. Elijah Hacham died in Bukhara in the month of Kislev 5640/November-December 1879.

During this time, the migration of Jews from Bukhara to the nearby cities of Samarkand, Tashkent and others began. They established themselves in the business and economic life of their new locations and scholars who were graduates of the Central Yeshiva of Bukhara were sent to serve them. They maintained an uninterrupted association in matters of Jewish law with the spiritual leadership of Bukhara. The Jewish book publishers of Eastern Europe produced religious texts for the Jews of Bukhara; the Yeshiva continued to expand and grow; schools were established for the young, teachers were trained and a Yeshiva was set up for older boys.

In the early 1840's, many refugees from Meshad, Persia, who fled in the wake of the riots that took place there on the 12th of Sivan 5599/May 25, 1839, when they were forced to convert to Islam, were absorbed into the Bukhara and Samarkand communities.

R. Pinchas HaGadol

Thanks to the efforts of R. Pinhas Ha-Gadol, the Emir opened the gates of Bukhara to the refugees. Many of them who had an extensive knowledge of Torah influenced the spiritual life of Bukhara's Jews, while those who sought a different atmosphere that was more liberal, emigrated to Samarkand as time went on. Simultaneously, the Samarkand community developed into one of merchants, while the Meshad natives were totally assimilated and also occupied important positions in the community's leadership.

R. Pinhas had

  • Four daughters with his first wife: Sarah, Leah, Rebecca, and Tova;
  • Two sons with his second wife: Abraham and Abba; and
  • One son with his third wife Rebecca, R. Isaac Hayim.

Leah, the daughter of Sarah and granddaughter of R. Yosef Maman, married R. Pinhas Ha-Katan. Leah was the sister of Ziporah the wife of R. Elijah Hacham. Yocheved, the daughter of R. Abraham and the granddaughter of R. Yosef Maman, married David the son of R. Pinhas Ha-Katan.

Rabbi Isaac Hayim the son of Pinhas Ha-Gadol married in about 5626/1866 Yocheved Bano, the daughter of Rachel and the granddaughter of Sarah and R. Yazdi Ha-Cohen.

Yocheved Bano was the great-granddaughter of R. Yosef Maman. At this point in time, the latest age at which girls married was 15 and a generation was considered as spanning 15 to 17 years.

In addition to his role as Nasi of the community, R. Pinhas Ha-Katan was involved in the Yeshiva and it is probable that he was its head for a period of time. R. Pinhas was the father-in-law, teacher and rabbi of Rabbi Abraham Hayim Gaon who was known as "The Kabbalist from Bukhara." He was one of the scholars of the Yeshiva of the Kabbalists, Beit El, in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Isaac Hayim Ha-Cohen, the Successor to Rabbi Pinhas Ha-Gadol 

b. 5608/1848- 3 Sivan 5656/May 15,1896

At the age of only 20, Rabbi Isaac Hayim was chosen as the rabbi of Bukhara; his appointment raises a few questions: When his father, R. Pinhas Ha-Gadol died, R. Isaac Hayim was only ten years old; Why did the community wait a full ten years to select a successor to his father and not nominate someone else as rabbi? Let us assume that Rabbi Pinhas Ha-Gadol designated this son as his successor before his death. How could this have been acceptable, since we are talking about a large community numbering some ten thousand people that included scholars and an established spiritual leadership?

It appears that Rabbi Isaac Hayim had two things in his favor:

(1) his pedigree, for he was the son of Rabbi Pinhas Ha-Gadol, who was highly thought of by Bukhara's Jews and

(2) he had the support of the community's leadership and in particular, the backing of the Klontar, R. Pinhas Ha-Katan.

From this, it looks like the powerful position - the close relationship between R. Pinhas Ha-Gadol and R. Pinhas Ha-Katan, the esteem for their Rabbi Yosef Maimon, the marriage ties amongst the community's leadership - tipped the scales in favor of his appointment despite his youth, and we hear of no controversy or opposition to his appointment.

The traveler, Ephraim Neimark (A Journey to the Land of the East, edition of A. Ya'ari, Jerusalem, 5707), visited Bukhara in 5646/1886, and records that there were a number of attempts to oust R. Isaac Hayim some years after the death of R. Pinhas Ha-Katan (d. 5635/1875). Thus, with the weakening of the secular leadership, the position of the Chief Rabbi declined. However, from the other

In the thirty years of R. Isaac Hayim's leadership, the extraordinary changes described in the introduction occurred in Bukhara. After the Russian conquest of Central Asia (5628/1868), emigration from Bukhara to other regions under Russian rule increased dramatically. The Emirate of Bukhara surrendered to the Russian army, but the Emir continued to rule his autonomous principality. The Jews preferred living in areas of Central Asia outside his jurisdiction that were under direct Russian rule, the reasons being the greater civil rights they enjoyed under direct Russian rule and the tremendous economic possibilities that presented themselves.

The 1870's and 1880's saw an increase in Aliyah from Central Asia to Jerusalem. In the 1880's, the first emissaries from Eretz Yisrael arrived in Bukhara. They strengthened the ties between the remote areas of Central Asia and Eretz Yisrael and encouraged Aliyah.

Some five hundred Central Asian Jews were concentrated in Jerusalem, and in 1891 they began building their own neighborhood in the city. In the 1890's, emissaries from the various Kolelim of cities of the Holy Land as well as from the diaspora visited the communities of Central Asia. Many of these emissaries remained in these communities serving as educators, shochtim, and teachers, etc., while others taught in the Central Yeshiva in Bukhara where the preeminent Jewish scholars were concentrated.

During these years, R. Isaac Hayim focused on teaching Torah in the Central Yeshiva of Bukhara. The number of students who studied there is not clear. He was also the head of the community's Beit Din that exclusively dealt with matrimonial matters. The Bukhara Yeshiva and its resident Beit Din represented the highest authority for the determination of Jewish law in all of Central Asia as well as in the distant communities that were under Russian rule. R. Isaac Hayim acted in his post with a high hand and spoke severely to the rabbis of the communities when he felt that they did not insist on carrying out the details of Halakha (Jewish law) properly.

Serving along with Rabbi Isaac Hayim and R. David Hacham (whose wife, Yocheved Bano was his cousin) was R. Aaron the son of R. Pinhas Ha-Katan, Klontar of Bukhara. At this time, the family name of Rabbi Isaac Hayim was Pinhasov, as was customary based on the name of the father of the family.

In 5653/1893, R. Isaac Hayim visited Eretz Yisrael and changed the family name to Rabin, Russian for rabbi.

R. Isaac Hayim Ha-Cohen Rabin died in Bukhara on 3 Sivan 5656/May 15, 1896 at the age of only forty-eight. He left five sons and five daughters. His sons were R. Pinhas, R. Mashiah, R. Hizkiyah, R. Rahamim and R. Nisim; his daughters were Rivkah, Yafa, Peninah, Perichah, and Adina.

He directed that his third son, R. Hizkiyah Ha-Cohen Rabin be appointed as his successor as the rabbi of the community.

b. Bukhara, Rosh Hodesh Shevat 5632/January 11, 1872 - d. Jerusalem, 9 Tevet 5705/December 13, 1944.

The Bukharan Jewish community in Central Asia at the end of the days of R. Isaac Hayim was different from that during the dozens of years preceding his death. There had been widespread economic and religious activity. The communities throughout Central Asia became well established and were generally wealthier and larger than the mother community in the city of Bukhara. However, Torah education and decisions in Jewish law for all of Central Asia originated in Bukhara.

The great importance given to these communities and especially to Bukhara and its leadership by the emissaries along with its crucial role among the heads of the Sephardic Kolel in Jerusalem as the principal supporter of the Kolel greatly increased the importance of the community and its head.

Even more significantly, the role of the Klontar, the president of the secular community, was a key position in the past, when there were few wealthy members and the connections of the president, like those of R. Pinhas Ha-Katan, with the Emir were of the essence. Now there were many positions of Klontar among the numerous communities throughout Central Asia and the despotic power of the various Emirs of Bukhara declined.

As the Russian government sought to strengthen the position of the Jewish community, which was loyal to it, the centrality of the president of the community greatly declined. On the other hand, the rabbi of the community, who until this time had concentrated his efforts in only a relatively few areas such as his involvement with his students and as the decider of matters of Jewish law for his congregation, was now discovered by the entire world as the rabbi of a wealthy and important community.

As has been mentioned above, Rabbi Isaac Hayim designated his third son, Rabbi Hizkiyah Ha-Cohen, as his successor and heir. However, in contrast to the appointment of Rabbi Isaac Hayim, there was opposition in the community to this appointment. We learn about cracks in Rabbi Hizkiyah's religious leadership from a letter he sent to Rabbi Medini in which he writes: "...since I am young and they are old, they do not have confidence in my declarations..."

There were opponents to his decisions in Jewish law and the elders of the community refused to accept him as the rabbi. Meanwhile, a letter from Bukhara was sent to Rabbi Jacob Saul Elyashar, the Rishon Le-Zion (the Sephardic Chief Rabbi) in which Rabbi Hizkiyah's opponents complain that "the desolation is great and we are as sheep without a shepherd."

The Rishon Le-Zion called on the Bukharan Jews resident in Jerusalem to meet for the purpose of appointing from among themselves a Chief Rabbi for Bukhara. In response to the letter of complaint, and the meeting called in Jerusalem to deal with the matter, Rabbi Hizkiyah's supporters wrote in Iyar 5657/May 1897 to the Rishon Le-Zion, Rabbi Elyashar, on the spiritual status of the community and on the activities of the emissaries from the holy cities and added: "How did they coat over their eyes preventing them from being able to see the fruit of the goodly tree, the fine young scholar, our teacher and Rabbi Hizkiyahu..."

The signatories on the letter of support for Rabbi Hizkiyah were the heads of the Bukhara community: the president, R. Aaron the son of R. Pinhas Ha-Katan, his brother Zion, Aaron Maman, Pinhas Ha-Cohen Rabin the brother of R. Hizkiyah, Elisha Yehoudaioff (among the wealthiest members of the community who constructed the 'Palace' in Jerusalem's Bukharan neighborhood in the beginning of the 20th century) and some twenty other leaders of the community. Though in the past the support of the president assured the appointment of the rabbi, as had happened with Rabbi Isaac Hayim, this support was now important but was not decisive, as the standing of the president had declined to a great extent.

The dispute lasted for a number of years and during this time the community in Bukhara did not have an official rabbi. Even the Rishon Le-Zion, Rabbi Elyashar, refrained from deciding whether or not to support Mullah Hizkiyah. Most probably, the rabbi hesitated to get himself involved in an internal dispute of Central Asia, since during this time the Jews of Bukhara sent large sums of money to support the institutions of Jerusalem's Sephardic community. Taking a position and backing a particular side in the controversy would alienate the Sephardic leadership in Jerusalem from a specific group of Bukharan Jews and lead to a loss of income.

It appears that other communities in Central Asia also experienced a spiritual decline after the death of Rabbi Isaac Hayim. Moving from these towns increased, especially since several of the scholars of these communities settled in Jerusalem. Only after Mullah Hizkiyah served the community and occupied the position as rabbi, and reports from emissaries arrived in Eretz Yisrael about the wise leader who was expert in deciding questions of Jewish law and who courageously led the community, did the Rishon Le-Zion send him rabbinic authorization (s'mikha) to teach and to judge. In spite of the authorization from the Rishon Le-Zion, the members of the community did not accept Mullah Hizkiyah as rabbi at once.

Only on 22 Kislev 5661/December 3, 1901 was the document issued, signed by 38 members of the community representing the Jews of Bukhara in Central Asia, stating that they retroactively, that is from the time of his father's death, accept Rabbi Hizkiyah as their Chief Rabbi. On 11 Iyar 5662/May 18, 1902, in a letter signed by forty-two people, the Ashkenazi community of Bukhara located in the city of Kagan, that is New Bukhara, accepted the authority of the rabbi.

Subsequently, the Emir as head of the government of Bukhara, sent an endorsement granting Hacham Hizkiyah the right to conduct marriages and issue divorces. Attached to this document was the consent of the Russian Consul in Bukhara. The consent of the Russian government to his appointment was necessary to grant Rabbi Hizkiyah official status as he also conducted marriages of Russian citizens. Despite his youth, the religious leaders and many emissaries to the area recognized him as a person of great stature. People came to his court from all of the surrounding cities, especially to arrange divorces, Levirate marriages and halitzah. People from the small towns even came to have him officiate at their marriages.

 The time of Rabbi Hizkiyah Rabin was one of growth and accomplishment for the Bukharan communities both in Central Asia and in Jerusalem. The Central Yeshiva of the community continued operating in his house, as was the practice of both his father and grandfather.

The scholars of the community as well as the emissaries that came from Eretz Yisrael and the diaspora bringing the Torah of the Land of Israel to Central Asia studied in the Belt Midrash. These emissaries also served on the rabbinical court set up by Rabbi Hizkiyah and their decisions reached the far ends of the earth. His rabbinical court had wide authority and he was even allowed to hand down sentences of physical punishment such as flogging. This institution was the highest legal authority for Central Asia's Jews in matters of religion. The upgrading of religious life was due to the emissaries, some of whom like Rabbi Solomon Judah Leib Eliazaroff of Hebron served communities in Central Asia.

The first segment of Rabbi Hizkiyah's rabbinate continued until the outbreak of World War I in 5674/1914. The Bolshevik revolution took place in Russia in 1917 and in 1920 the Bolsheviks captured the Emirate of Bukhara. Between 1920-1930, many Jews died or were murdered in Central Asia and the lives of the survivors were severely disrupted. Anxiety over his possible execution [by the Bolsheviks] forced Rabbi Hizkiyah to flee from Bukhara in 1930. He arrived in Eretz Yisrael in 5695/1935 and served for a time as a judge on the Sephardic rabbinic court in Jerusalem.


Becoming heir to the position of Chief Rabbi depended on many factors. We would expect that the personality and the status of the potential replacement would take center stage in considering his appointment as his father's successor. There were times when the ambitions of the leaders of the community or other factors determined the successor. The selection of the successor to the Chief Rabbi in Bukhara in the 19th century was due to a number of issues.

Pinhas Ha-Gadol Ha-Cohen - he was noted for continuing in the path of his rabbi and teacher and was appointed during his teacher's lifetime.

Rabbi Isaac Hayim Ha-Cohen - the decision of the secular leadership; the son of Rabbi Pinhas Ha-Gadol.

Rabbi Hizkiyah Ha-Cohen - all of the above, but most important was his personality, his legal stature and his excellence.

These differences teach us about the development of the Jewish community of Bukhara in the 19th century. They reflect the growing power of the religious leadership and the declining influence of the secular heads caused by the strengthening of various groups in the community, especially from an economic standpoint.

In the beginning of the period, the status of the rabbi in Bukhara was strong and powerful. This was mostly a result of his compelling personality but the opinion of the secular leadership was also important. Yet, we are still dealing with the rabbi of an isolated community.

By the end of this era, the rabbi was the leader of the Bukharan Jews throughout Central Asia. Even with the dispersion of the population, their great economic advancement, their Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, and their exposure to other Jewish communities in the Diaspora, the status of the rabbi did not weaken.

On the contrary, even though they were found in many cities throughout Central Asia with each developing strong secular leadership, the exclusive source of Torah education and decisions in Jewish law was the Central Yeshiva in Bukhara. At first, leadership was in the hands of an oligarchy. With time, resulting from changed residential patterns, the process of choosing the Chief Rabbi and the influence of his birthright changed. The rabbi's stature came from his knowledge of traditional Jewish texts rather than from the status inherent as father's successor.


  • Ben David, B.: "Nathan Davidof, yazam kalkali miTurkestan haRusit," 1896-1923.
In PEAMIM, No. 35, pp.10-120, 1988. (Hebrew)
  • Eshel, M.: Galeria, Dmuiot shel rashei yahadut Buckara. Yafo 1961. (Hebrew)
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1. This article was written with the assistance of a research grant from the Keren Paz Fund of the Organization of Bukaran Jews in Israel, Tel Aviv. It appeared in English in a different format in the periodical Shvut - Studies in the History and Culture of the Jews of Russia and Eastern Europe, Vol. 8, number 24, 1999, pages 36-57, edited by Professor Benjamin Pinkus, published by the Diaspora Research Institute, Tel Aviv University, in collaboration with the Ben Gurion Research Center, Ben-Gurion University in the Negev. (return)

Dr. Giora Fuzailoff was born in Petah Tikvah and is a researcher of the Jews of Bukhara specializing in the areas of history, Aliyah and settlements in Eretz Yisrael, customs, history of religious leaders and the literature of the community. Additionally, he is researching the history of the religious leaders of the Oriental Jewish communities in Eretz Yisrael and in their countries of origin as well as the history of the Jewish community in Jerusalem under Ottoman rule. He has published a number of books and articles in these areas. 

This article was published in Sharsheret Hadorot (Journal of Jewish Genealogy of the Israel Genealogical Society), October 2001, Vol. 16, No. 1, and is reproduced with kind permission of the editor, Yocheved Klausner. Source