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Kurdish Jews - Kurdên Cihû

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  • Moshe Barazani (1926 - 1947)
    Moshe Barazani , also Barzani (1928–1947), was an Iraqi Kurdish Jew and a member of Lehi ("Freedom Fighters of Israel," aka the "Stern Gang").He was born in Baghdad to a Jewish family from Northern Ira...

Jews of Kurdistan יהודי כורדיסטן‎, Kurdên cihû are the ancient Eastern Jewish communities, inhabiting the region known as Kurdistan in northern Mesopotamia, roughly covering parts of Iran, northern Iraq, Syria and eastern Turkey. Their clothing and culture is similar to neighbouring Kurdish Muslims and Christian Assyrians.

Until their immigration to Israel in the 1940s and early 1950s, the Jews of Kurdistan lived as closed ethnic communities. Kurdish Jews largely spoke Aramaic, as a lingua franca, with some additionally speaking Kurdish dialects, in particular the Kurmanji dialect in Iraqi Kurdistan. Today, the large majority of Kurdish Jews and their descendants live in Israel.

DNA: Kurdish Jews

An extremely close genetic proximity of Jewish communities and non-Jewish Middle Eastern populations has been observed in several DNA studies. In 2001, a team of German, Indian and Israeli specialists published the results of their research on Y-chromosome polymorphism, that showed that Jews and Kurds are close genetic relatives. The Jews and Kurds, according to the research, have common ancestors who resided in northern Mesopotamia about 4,000 years ago.

The Kurdish Jews, though found genetically close to their Muslim Kurdish neighbours, were still closer related to Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jewish groups, supporting the hypothesis of a distant common ancestry, rather than a recent contribution of Judaism converts to this Jewish community (documented conversion to Judaism occurred in the area during the classic period, among the ruling class of the Parthian client Kingdom of Adiabene). Among the Jewish communities, the closest genetic bond to Muslim Kurds was found among the Ashkenazi Jews, though the sequences were still distinguishable.


Tradition holds that Israelites of the tribe of Benjamin first arrived in the area of modern Kurdistan after the Assyrian conquest of the Kingdom of Israel during the 8th century BC; they were subsequently relocated to the Assyrian capital. During the first century BC, the royal house of Adiabene, whose capital was Arbil (Aramaic: Arbala; Kurdish: Hewlêr), was converted to Judaism. King Monobazes, his queen Helena, and his son and successor Izates are recorded as the first proselytes.

Middle Ages

According to the memoirs of Benjamin of Tudela and Pethahiah of Regensburg, there were about 100 Jewish settlements and substantial Jewish population in Kurdistan in the 12th century. Benjamin of Tudela also gives the account of David Alroy, the messianic leader from central Kurdistan, who rebelled against the king of Persia and had plans to lead the Jews back to Jerusalem.

These travellers also report of well-established and wealthy Jewish communities in Mosul, which was the commercial and spiritual center of Kurdistan. Many Jews fearful of approaching crusaders, had fled from Syria and Palestine to Babylonia and Kurdistan. The Jews of Mosul enjoyed some degree of autonomy over managing their own community.

Ottoman era

Tanna'it Asenath Barzani, who lived in Mosul from 1590 to 1670, was the daughter of Rabbi Samuel ben Nathanel halevi Barzani of Kurdistan. She later married Rabbi Jacob Mizrahi of Amadiyah (in Iraqi Kurdistan) one of her father's finest students who lectured at a yeshiva. She was famous for her knowledge of the Torah, Talmud, Kabbalah and Jewish law.

After the early death of her husband, she became the head of the yeshiva at Amadiyah, and eventually was recognized as the chief instructor of Torah in Kurdistan. She was called tanna'it (female Talmudic scholar), practiced mysticism, and was reputed to have known the secret names of God.

Asenath is also well known for her poetry and excellent command of the Hebrew language. She wrote a long poem of lament and petition in the traditional rhymed metrical form. Her poems are among the few examples of the early modern Hebrew texts written by women.

Immigration of Kurdish Jews to the Land of Israel initiated during the late 16th century, with a community of rabbinic scholars arriving to Safed, Galilee, and a Kurdish quarter had been established there as a result. The thriving period of Safed however ended in 1660, with Druze power struggles in the region and an economic decline.

Modern times

Since the early 20th century some Kurdish Jews had been active in the Zionist movement. One of the most famous members of Lehi (Freedom Fighters of Israel) was Moshe Barazani, whose family immigrated from Iraqi Kurdistan and settled in Jerusalem in the late 1920s.

The vast majority of Kurdish Jews were forced out of Iraq and evacuated to Israel in the early 1950s, together with the Iraqi Jewish community. The vast majority of the Kurdish Jews of Iranian Kurdistan relocated mostly to Israel as well, in the 1950s. The Times of Israel reported on September 30, 2013: "Today, there are almost 200,000 Kurdish Jews in Israel, about half of whom live in Jerusalem. There are also over 30 agricultural villages throughout the country that were founded by Kurds."

  • Kurdish Women
  • Jews of Kurdistan
  • Kurdish Megillah Project Image--- Mid-19th cent.Illuminated plaque on paper with calligraphy and decorative elements. Includes four liturgical poems for Purim customary among Kurdish Jews, verses from the Book of Esther, and the blessings recited before and after the reading of the Megillah.