Reviews of "The Jews of Khazaria" by Kevin Alan Brook

2nd Edition:

"This second, revised edition of Kevin Brook's well-received publication in 1999 of The Jews of Khazaria, integrates important new data culled from ongoing archaeological digs in southern Russia and the Crimea, genetic results of DNA processing, examination of formerly unknown or ignored coin hordes, and the continuing research of scholars around the world. It succeeds in elucidating controversial issues, while contextualizing the Khazar polity within the competitive 9th-11th-century world of Byzantium, the Arab Caliphate, and two regional upstarts: the Dnepr-based aggregate of Nordic, Slavic, and Turkic peoples known as Rus', and the Turkic-Islamic kaganate of Bulgar flourishing in the middle and upper Volga territory. As a full exploration in English of the history and culture of the Khazars, this volume is without equal, and would be quite useful reading in courses focused on the Kievan period of Russian history, as well as broader ones treating the dynamics of Central Eurasian history during these lively and formative centuries." - Edward J. Lazzerini, Visiting Professor of Central Eurasian History, Indiana University Bloomington

"'I feel the urge to know the truth, whether there really is a place on this earth where harassed Israel can rule itself.' So wrote Hasdai Ibn Shaprut Hasdai, the great tenth-century Spanish Jewish scholar in a letter to the Khazar King Joseph, requesting information about the extraordinary Eastern Jewish empire that lay to the north of the Caucasus mountains. King Joseph's reply appears along with a host of other fascinating documents in Kevin Alan Brooks' scholarly account. ... Are most Ashkenazi Jews descended from a people with Turkic origins rather than from the Middle East, as Koestler and others have suggested? Brooks concludes his book with an overview of DNA testing among Jewish communities. Our knowledge of Khazar ancestry would appear to remain unenhanced by this information, but there is one interesting twist. 52% of Askenazi Levites carry haplogroup R1a1, a type associated with Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Brooks, taking his lead from Norman Golb's Khazarian Hebrew Documents of the Twentieth Century, suggests that an important Khazar Jewish priestly family may have adopted the Levite title, which would have been inherited entirely from the original Israelite Levites. Otherwise Brooks, ever sober and even-handed in his approach, concludes, 'It is very probable that there is a small Turkic Khazarian element among Eastern European Jews.'" - Mark Glanville, in Jewish Quarterly No. 208 (Winter 2007 issue)

"If the reader tells you about her fascination with a locale, historical figure, time period, or some other facet of the book, then introducing nonfiction that supports and expands those interests can be welcome. For example, fans of Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road... might also enjoy... Kevin Alan Brook's The Jews of Khazaria, which lends some context to Chabon's history." - sidebar in Neal Wyatt's article "Take the RA Talk Online: In person and via web tools, readers' advisory is all about how well we talk to patrons" in Library Journal 133:3 (February 15, 2008 issue)

"Kevin Alan Brook, thirty years on, strives, with considerable success, to satisfy the appetite for information about the Khazars which Koestler generated. The Jews of Khazaria is, in essence, a compendium of information gathered from every available source... They [the chapters] are arranged as follows: ... (6) conversion to Judaism (the most important and most useful of the chapters), ... and (10) the Khazar contribution to Ashkenazi Jewry (judged to be small but significant in the last and longest chapter). ... Their conversion to Judaism is placed in a context of long-established neighboring Jewish communities (notably in the Crimean and the Taman peninsula). ... For it is information which Brook seeks to gather and to convey, and he is not concerned with the manner in which he does so. Evidence is presented as it might be in court, item by item, rather than being articulated in argumentative flows. Clarity is the aim, not elegance of expression. ... The rise of the Khazars in the steppes north of the Caucasus is correctly placed in the aftermath of the implosion of the first trans-Eurasian empire, that of the Turks, around the year 630, the Khazars ultimately gaining the upper hand over the Bulgars in a struggle for regional pre-eminence in the steppes north of the Caspian, Caucasus and Black Sea (by the 660s). Note is also taken of the roughly contemporary transformation of the southern sedentary world by Islam in the 630s and 640s... But nothing is said of nomadic statecraft and governmental institutions, which were developed in the inner Asian frontiers of China in the course of centuries of confrontation and interaction between the nomadic and sedentary worlds. Without background information about the structures of the Xiung-nu (Hun) and Turkish empires, the student of matters Khazar is hard put to make sense of all the data preserved... about Khazar offices, taxation, military affairs and client-management. It also becomes hard to understand how the Khazar khaganate survived so long as a major player in west Eurasian affairs. ... For the moment, though, he should be complimented on the trouble which he has taken to assemble so much information, out of so many disparate sources. He has provided a useful reference work for all those intrigued by the most striking single case of successful Jewish proselytism, as well as for those interested in the affairs of one of the four great powers of western Eurasia in the early middle ages." - James Howard-Johnston, University Lecturer in Byzantine Studies, Corpus Christi College, Oxford, in Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 27:2 (Winter 2009 issue)

"...a good survey of this much neglected topic..." - Robert Drews, Professor of Classics Emeritus, Vanderbilt University, Nashville

"Kevin Alan Brook has decided to look behind the various views of the Khazars and produce a non-ideological work that examines the little-known but critical moment in world history. In a deadpan voice that one could attribute to a scholarly Joe Friday, Brook provides us with the facts, only the facts. And, it's a good thing, because the facts are fascinating. ... Brook's efforts are dry, but careful and thorough--the exact antidote to the microwaved rhetoric with which this topic is usually handled." - Jeff H. Bogursky, in Jewish Book World 25:3 (Fall 2007 issue)

"Brook... has a passion for his topic... The Khazars' influence has been detected throughout history, from the development of the Cyrillic alphabet and the trident emblem of Ukraine, to the transmission of the game of chess from Persia and the prevention of the Arab advance into Eastern Europe. ... No claim has carried more weight than Arthur Koestler's theory that today's Ashkenazi Jews are their descendants. Though on many issues Brook is content to report what scholars say (in many different original languages), here he comes to firm conclusions based on up-to-date genetic research, some of it his own: A very few Yiddish words (including yarmulke and davenen, 'to pray') may be Turkic in origin, and there is a possible link between the Khazars and Ashkenazi Levites. ... But in general, the Ashkenazis stem from the Middle East. ... The generous reporting of others' views and profusion of detail sometimes make The Jews of Khazaria tough going. ... But Brook supplies a timeline, a glossary, a list of Khazar names, an appendix on other examples of conversion to Judaism, and maps to help the reader who is less familiar with the subject than he is. ... I for one am grateful for the mass of material he provides." - Mark Golden, Professor of Classics, University of Winnipeg, in The Outlook: Canada's Progressive Jewish Magazine 48:5 (September-October 2010 issue)

"Kevin Alan Brook's The Jews of Khazaria is the first work since Douglas Dunlop's 1967 History of the Jewish Khazars to provide a comprehensive account of Khazar history. With some minor exceptions, Brook does not aim to present new discoveries or analyses of primary evidence. Rather, the work synthesizes a vast array of secondary literature into a concise and readable digest. ... Brook appears to have marshaled every conceivable source of information pertaining to the Khazars; he draws on studies emerging from multiple fields (including linguistics, archaeology, and genetics), originally published in at least seven different languages. Beyond providing a current and accessible introduction to this topic, the work is extremely valuable for its consolidation of this disparate material. ... Recent genetic studies have also undercut speculation ascribing substantial Khazar ancestry to contemporary Ashkenazic Jewish populations; the section addressing this question has been thoroughly revised to include this evidence. The new edition also reflects greater circumspection and a more critical presentation of the evidence relating to a number of other questions, most notably that of eleventh-century Khazar settlement in Poland and the Ukraine. Several problems of presentation have carried over from the first edition: ... However, these are minor quibbles and do not seriously detract from the usefulness of this volume as a comprehensive introduction to both the history of the Khazars and the current state of Khazar scholarship." - Eve Krakowski, Lecturer on Jewish Studies, University of Chicago, in Journal of Near Eastern Studies 70:2 (October 2011 issue)

"Author Kevin Brook in The Jews of Khazaria ... writes an intriguing and masterful history of this once powerful kingdom, how and why it chose to convert to Judaism and its resultant history." - Sheila Orysiek, in San Diego Jewish World (June 14, 2015)

1st Edition:

"This book represents a modern effort to unravel the mysteries which still surround the Khazars. It makes skillful use of the vast literature, in many different languages, related to the Khazars. It will be a very helpful guide for the general reader who wishes to discover the truth about this legendary people." - John D. Klier, Professor of Modern Jewish History, University College, London

"The sources for Khazar history are extremely varied, representing all of the major cultural groups and languages of Eurasia (Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, Persian, Turkic, Greek, Latin, Slavic, Georgian, Armenian, and Chinese). Kevin Alan Brook has put together an absorbing account of their history based on this wide array of sources, supplemented by archaeological, ethnographic and linguistic data dealing with Khazar Jewry and their legacy. This is a most useful introduction to this at times enigmatic, but always fascinating people." - Peter B. Golden, Professor of History, Rutgers University, and author of Khazar Studies

"...Kevin Brook's book 'The Jews of Khazaria' [is a] very valuable publication..." - Timur Kocaoglu, Associate Professor of Central Asian Studies, Koç University, Istanbul

" is a magnificent piece of work and fills many gaps in my knowledge of the Khazars..." - Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe, Director, Institute for Jewish Literacy at Chabad House, West Hartford, CT

"My general impression is very good: the volume of information collected from various sources is very important and this info is presented in a systematic manner. The book is also interesting to read... [T]his [is an] important erudite contribution to the domain in which any theory is questionable and as a result any attempt to shed more light is welcome." - Alexander Beider, author of A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire

"[I] am impressed with the scope of [the] research and the fascinating possibilities it presents regarding the nature and origins of the Ashkenazic Jewish community.... The Khazars are an important and a neglected area of research." - Hollace Weiner, author of Jewish Stars in Texas

"The Jews of Khazaria, by Kevin Alan Brook... focuses on the Eastern European tribe that embraced Judaism in the 9th century. In this full-fledged academic study, Brook traces the migration of the Khazar people in Hungary, Ukraine, and other areas of Europe, and attempts to demonstrate several points that some historians may find contentious. First, Brook asserts that a large number of the Khazar people converted to Judaism - not just the rulers and nobility. He points out that ''many synagogues and yeshivas were established in Khazaria, and the study of Torah and Talmud became commonplace.'' Second, the author attempts to show that the Khazars mixed with Slavs and Middle-Eastern Jews, and later intermarried with the Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe." - Ze'ev Glicenstein (Bill Gladstone), in The Canadian Jewish News (July 29, 1999 issue)

"The book aims to capture the history of Khazaria, a Jewish state near the Caspian sea that reigned between the 7th to 11th centuries, starting as a small tribe and growing in size and in power.... In 861 king Bulan converted to Judaism and by extension, his entire kaganite became Jewish. It is important to know, however, that Khazaria was a multi-cultural state and tolerated Islam and Christianity to a great degree.... King Obadia, successor to king Bulan became a promoter of the Jewish state circa 870. Although the accounts about his pro-Jewish activities are not clear, some tribes branched off the Khazar empire and migrated west and north, most notably the Kabar tribes... The controversy about Khazar Jews and their intermingle with Jews in Lithuania, Poland and Rumania is discussed at the conclusion of the book. First, the author describes other incidents when non-Jewish tribes converted and became 'children of Moses'.... Then author then contends that it is quite possible that Khazar Jews, now dispersed amongst several nations, intermarried with 'local' or 'genuine' Jews, most notably in Lithuania as well as in Poland.... The book is somewhat 'academic' in its discussion, but very readable.... Although some maps appear at the end of chapter 2, and some tables appear at the ends of chapters 3, 4 and 7, they hardly help illustrate the rich history narrated within the chapters.... I find the narrative of Khazaria and its place in Jewish history well narrated by Brook." - Yigal Rechtman, in Dorot: The Journal of the Jewish Genealogical Society of New York (Winter 1999-2000 issue, Volume 21, Number 2)

"Kevin Brook has gone far to penetrate the obfuscating veil cast over an important facet of Judaic, Khazar, and, indeed, world history. His work casts a penetrating beam into the epoch in which the Khazars and the Jews associated to advance civilization in eastern Europe, its least developed sector. Kevin Brook undertook a most difficult task, to ferret out the facts about the rise of the Khazars from obscurity. He sought to clarify the events in which the conversion of most of the Khazar nobility and much of the Khazar people to Judaism took place... His brave attempt to rationalize the history of the Jewish/Khazar association was undertaken despite the fact that the sources for information about this unique history have been shrunk to mere mentions, despite the fact that the archaeological remnants have been ignored or even destroyed, and despite the historical depredations of the Christians, Islam, and the Russian Stalinist ethnocentrists, all of whom have done their utmost to eradicate that history. Brook deserves to be lauded for his scholarly and persistent effort to unearth the facts. Sparse as the facts proved to be, Brook gathered them together to create an outline into which scholars of the subject can delve and upon which they can depend." - Samuel Kurinsky, Executive Director, Hebrew History Federation Ltd.

"In his introduction to Halevi and in his subsequent monograph, The Jews of Khazaria (Northvale, New Jersey: Aronson, 1999), BROOK summarizes very accessibly the history of the Khazars from their settlement in the steppes north of the Caucasus sometime before the fifth century. ... Brook also considers their conversion to Judaism, discusses their relationships with Turkic tribes of the Caucasus and Central Asia, and offers exceptionally clear information about the decline of the Khazar state, its intermingling with other Turkic tribes, and the final destruction of the Khazar kingdom by Mongols in the 1230s." - Hayim Y. Sheynin in his article "Khazars" in Reader's Guide to Judaism edited by by Michael Terry (2000)

"...his work is scholarly and includes references and an extensive bibliography." - Book News, Inc. (Portland, OR), in Reference & Research Book News

"Kevin Brook - an undisputed enthusiast of Khazarian studies of our times - has published a book which is better described as a learning guide on the history of Khazaria... Of course, Brook's book will interest not only the recent readers of [the novel] 'Dictionary of the Khazars' by Milorad Pavic, but also specialists of the Christian East, for whom Khazaria was one of the contact zones with non-Christian civilizations... [T]he author reasonably thinks that if the Khazars comprised a noticeable part of them [Ashkenazi Jewry], they [history of European Jews after the 10th century] had a full right to get attention from his readers [following the chapters specifically concentrating on the Khazars]... The Khazarian conversion to Judaism and the starting point of this conversion - the conversion of King Bulan - are especially interesting for a historian of the Christian East... [T]o which particular type of 'Judaism' was Bulan converted? If we are speaking about a later period (especially from the 10th century), it is quite obvious that the Khazars were professing Talmudic Judaism, while the [earlier] conversion of Bulan [in the 8th or 9th century] remains under debate... Brook is denying the traditional point of view on King Bulan's conversion, since he is adopting a new chronology, presented by [French historian] C. Zuckerman, who identified the dispute, written in the Life of Saint Cyril, with the same dispute with a Christian 'reverend' that is mentioned in the letter of King Joseph, dating them both circa 861 C.E. and accordingly redating the time of Bulan's reign... In the contents of the letter of King Joseph - who by this time already practiced pure Talmudic Judaism... Joseph himself [claims] to have possession of all these liturgical objects [of his predecessors]... The main and obvious conclusion of the story about King Bulan's conversion is that his [Bulan's] 'Judaism' continued to sustain a temple-type, not a synagogue-type, religion, which was principally different from the Talmudical and Karaism forms of Judaism." - Basil Lourie, in Khristianskii Vostok 2 (May 2001 issue)

"Names of empires like the Byzantine, Ottoman, Roman, and Persian are well known to anyone who has even a rudimentary knowledge of history, but the Khazarian Empire, an equally compelling entity, has somehow escaped as much notice... Brook has synthesized information from hundreds of sources to give us a picture of this lost medieval Jewish empire. Not only is Brook's book interesting for its information about Central Asian and European history, it also holds great importance for its facts and conjecture about the origins of Eastern European Jewry... Arabs and Christians lived alongside the Jews and pagan Khazars in an amalgam of cultures and languages that was busy with commerce, shepherding, crafts, agriculture, and glass-making... Naturally, current research is incomplete. Brook's book raises many fascinating questions that have yet to be answered. With the mapping of the human genome, some of the questions about the origins of various ethnic groups may be answered. Further exploration and study of artifacts will also reveal hidden information about the history and vibrancy of the Khazarian Empire. Aside from its well-organized text, The Jews of Khazaria has an excellent chronology, glossary, and an extensive bibliography... Anyone who cares about world history or Jewish history would do well to read Brook's amazing book." - Lynda Ritterman, in Inside Your Town (Evesham-Medford-Mt. Laurel-Cherry Hill-Voorhees-Haddonfield-Moorestown, NJ, March 2001 issue)

"Over a millennium after the kingdom's disastrous wars with the Kievan Rus, the Khazar story still has an alluring mystique. What are the Khazars' genealogical contributions to Ashkenazi Jewry? Where are the ruins of its capital? Were they really Jews - and were they rabbinic? Kevin Alan Brook presents the findings of an impressive array of scholarship, referencing primary sources and secondary scholarship written in Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, Armenian, Russian, Hungarian, Swedish and other languages.... Brook discusses the Khazar cities one by one, as well as the imperial structure with a kagan 'emperor' and a bek 'king.' He describes lifestyles and trade patterns (including visits of the Jewish Radhanite merchants), before turning to the conversion of the Khazars to Judaism.... Brook charts the relationship of the Khazar empire and people with surrounding countries, including the fall of the Khazars to the Rus in the mid-10th century.... There were no more Jewish Khazar kings; the last Khazar kagan, who became a Christian, was defeated in 1016. Brook notes that some scholars muse about Khazar revivals in the next two centuries, up to the Mongol invasions, but argues that it is difficult to verify these claims.... Brook's research includes oral testimonies regarding family traditions... Snippets of this information are interspersed throughout the book... Nevertheless, given contemporary interest in oral history and living traditions of historical memory, Brook could do well to spend more time on these traditions, remembering that they often have little historical value, but great value for demonstrating how history is remembered. The Jews of Khazaria is broad in scope; often, however, the book reads more like an annotated bibliography than a tight narrative.... A highly useful, comprehensive chronology is given as an appendix.... By accepting Judaism, Khazar Jews became part of the overall Jewish community... Far from being [merely] a romantic interlude whose brief existence sparked the imagination of generations, Brook's volume shows that the Khazar experience is intrinsic to the narrative of Jewish history." - Seth Ward, Assistant Professor of Judaic Studies and History, University of Denver, in The Jewish Quarterly Review 91:3-4 (January-April 2001 issue)

"This is nothing less than a comprehensive documentation of one of the least-known episodes in history, when a kingdom of Turkish warlords on the steppes converted to Judaism. Although now largely forgotten, the Khazars left an indelible yet strangely hidden legacy that can now be revealed, thanks to this remarkable piece of scholarship." - Henry Gee, Senior Editor, Biological Sciences, for the journal Nature

"I very much enjoyed reading [this] book on the Khazars." - Ken Blady, author of Jewish Communities in Exotic Places

"In France, last year several reviews devoted articles to the Khazars, but it was the publication of the book of Marek Halter, 'Le Vent des Khazars', which put this question back into the spotlight considering how it became a bestseller.... In fact, the true great step forward in the study of Khazaria was the publication in 1999 in the United States of the book of Kevin Alan Brook, 'The Jews of Khazaria'... This book of 351 pages has unfortunately not yet been translated into French. It is a very complete work, based on broad documentation from multiple sources (Hebraic, Arab, Russian).... Its author insists on the contribution of the Khazars to the medieval world.... The affirmations of the author, as interesting as they are, merit study and discussion. It is up to the [other] historians and archaeologists to confirm or to counter his conclusions. His great merit is to have clearly posed the problems of the facts about the Khazars. The fact remains that, whatever the importance of Khazar Judaism and the extent of conversions in the world, the religion, culture, and history of the Jews originated in the land of Israel and they have always turned, through the centuries, towards Jerusalem." - Claude-Gérard Marcus, in L'Arche: le mensuel du judaïsme français No. 535 (September 2002 issue)

"The medieval kingdom of the Khazars in today's southern Russia, Ukraine, and North Caucasus represents one of the most ignored regions of medieval European history.... Under Jewish rule in the kingdom, Jewish Khazars, Christians, and Muslims lived next to each other with considerable freedom, unique in the Europe of that time.... If this historiography was for a long time dominated by Soviet historians such as Svetlana Pletnyova, then now with the book of Kevin Alan Brook a new recapitulatory work has appeared which summarizes all the current research well and which might thus become the standard work for all those who are interested in the early history of East European Judaism." - Thomas Schmidinger, in Context XXI (Vienna, Austria, 2002) No. 7

"The author makes a real effort--and in my humble opinion he succeeds--to present a scholarly study on what is known about the origins of the Khazar people, their conversion to Judaism, the influence of Jewish immigration from the Middle East into the Empire, and the integration of the descendants of the Khazars into the Jewish people. He also presents an interesting picture of the geopolitics of the Russian steppes during the early Middle Ages as well as the connection between the Jews of Khazaria and other Jewish communities. It is a rich analysis including linguistic connections, traditions, and legends which have survived to this day. Reading this book is to take pride in the strength and appeal of our heritage." - Daniel Chejfec, in SHALOM: Newspaper of the Central Kentucky Jewish Federation (December 2005/January 2006 issue)

"I found it both very interesting and very useful." - Paul Kriwaczek, author of Yiddish Civilisation

• • • • •
The 1st edition of "The Jews of Khazaria" is cited in
"The New Joys of Yiddish" by Leo Rosten and Lawrence Bush,
"A Dictionary of Ashkenazic Given Names" by Alexander Beider,
"Eyewitness to Jewish History" by Rabbi Benjamin Blech,
"Across the Sabbath River" by Hillel Halkin,
"The Orientalist" by Tom Reiss,
"Jewish Communities in Exotic Places" by Ken Blady,
"Sources on the Alans" by Agustí Alemany,
"Early Mongol Rule in Thirteenth-Century Iran" by George Lane,
"Yiddish Civilisation" by Paul Kriwaczek,
and many other works.
• • • • •

• • • • •
The 2nd edition of "The Jews of Khazaria" is cited in
"The Story of the Jews" by Simon Schama,
"Abraham's Children" by Jon Entine,
"The Other Zions" by Eric Maroney,
"The History of the Medieval World" by Susan Wise Bauer,
"Holy Dissent" edited by Glenn Dynner,
"Historical Dictionary of the Jews" by Alan Unterman,
"Early Seljuq History: A New Interpretation" by Andrew C. S. Peacock,
and other works.
• • • • •

To see the Table of Contents of "The Jews of Khazaria", or to place an order, visit this page