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THE JEWS OF KHAZARIA, 2nd Edition
by Kevin Alan Brook
According to most historical sources, Judaism was widespread among the Khazar inhabitants of the Khazar kingdom. Archaeological evidence, however, has not yet corroborated this. The findings described below, some of which are more conclusive than others, add strength to the argument that there were many Jews residing in eastern Europe prior to the immigration of German, Austrian, Bohemian, Spanish, and Portugese Jews into Poland and Hungary.
"At the present time we know of no nation under the heavens where Christians do not live. For [Christians are even found] in the lands of Gog and Magog -- who are a Hunnic race and are called Gazari (Khazars)... circumcized and observing all [the laws of] Judaism. The Bulgars, however, who are of the same seven tribes [as the Khazars], are now becoming baptized [into Christianity]." - Christian of Stavelot, in Expositio in Matthaeum Evangelistam, composed circa 864
"Thus, it is clear that the false doctrine of Jesus in Rome, that of Moses among the Khazars, [and] that of Mani in [Uyghur-ruled] Turkistan removed the strength and bravery that they formerly possessed..." - Denkart, a Persian work
"All of the Khazars are Jews. But they have been Judaized recently." - Ibn al-Faqih, a 10th century author
"One of the Jews undertook the conversion of the Khazars, who are composed of many peoples, and they were converted by him and joined his religion. This happened recently in the days of the Abbasids.... For this was a man who came single-handedly to a king of great rank and to a very spirited people, and they were converted by him without any recourse to violence and the sword. And they took upon themselves the difficult obligations enjoined by the law of the Torah, such as circumcision, the ritual ablutions, washing after a discharge of the semen, the prohibition of work on the Sabbath and during the feasts, the prohibition of eating the flesh of forbidden animals according to this religion, and so on." - Abd al-Jabbar ibn Muhammad al-Hamdani, in his early 11th century work The Establishment of Proofs for the Prophethood of Our Master Muhammad
"The Khazars write Hebrew [letters]." - Muhammad ibn Ishaq an-Nadim of Baghdad, in his late 10th century Kitab al-Fihrist
The Karaite writer Jacob ben Reuben referred to the Khazars in Sefer ha-Osher as "a single nation who do not bear the yoke of the exile, but are great warriors paying no tribute to the Gentiles."
"The Khazar Jews came to the court of Prince Vladimir and said: 'We have heard that Bulgarians (Muslims) and Christians came to teach you their religion... We, however, believe in the one God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.' Vladimir asked them: 'What kind of law do you have?' They answered: 'We are required to be circumcized, we may not eat pork or hare meat, and we must observe the Sabbath.' And he asked: 'Where is your land?' They answered: 'In Jerusalem.' And again he asked: 'It is really there?' They answered: 'God got angry with our fathers and therefore scattered us all over the world and gave our land to the Christians.' Vladimir asked: 'How is it that you can teach people Jewish law even while God rejected you and scattered you. If God had loved you and your law, you would not be scattered throughout foreign lands. Or do you wish us Rus'ians to suffer the same fate?'" - The Russian Chronicle, describing a visit of Khazar missionaries to Kiev in the year 986
"The king and his vizier travelled to the deserted mountains on the seashore, and arrived one night at the cave in which some Jews used to celebrate the Sabbath. They disclosed their identity to them, embraced their religion, were circumcized in the cave, and then returned to their country, eager to learn the Jewish law. They kept their conversion secret, however, until they found an opportunity of disclosing the fact gradually to a few of their special friends. When the number had increased, they made the affair public, and induced the rest of the Khazars to embrace the Jewish faith. They sent to various countries for scholars and books, and studied the Torah. Their chronicles also tell of their prosperity, how they beat their foes, conquered their lands, secured great treasures, how their army swelled to hundreds of thousands, how they loved their faith, and fostered such love for the Holy House that they erected a tabernacle in the shape of that built by Moses. They also honored and cherished the Israelites who lived among them." - The Kuzari: The Book of Proof and Argument in Defense of the Despised Faith, a philosophical work composed in the 12th century by the Sephardic writer Yehuda HaLevi
"The Khazars have a script which is related to the script of the Russians [Rus].... The greater part of these Khazars who use this script are Jews." - Ta'rikh-i Fakhr ad-Din Mubarak Shah, a Persian work composed in 1206
Khazaria is regarded as the "country of the Jews" (Zemlya Zhidovskaya) in Russian folk literature (byliny). And the Schechter Letter informs us that some of the Alan people (neighbors of the Khazars to the south) also adopted Judaism (see Golb and Pritsak, Khazarian Hebrew Documents of the Tenth Century, pages 113 and 115).
"The new Kievan Letter may thus be said to support, and indeed to demonstrate, the authenticity of other Hebrew texts pertaining to the Khazar Jews, and together with them shows that Khazarian Judaism was not limited to the rulers but, rather, was well rooted in the territories of Khazaria, reaching even to its border city of Kiev." - Norman Golb and Omeljan Pritsak, Khazarian Hebrew Documents of the Tenth Century (Cornell University Press, 1982), page 32.
"The clear indications of Christian [of Stablo] and al-Faqih that the Khazars en masse adopted Judaism may be collated with an archaeological phenomenon. Only quite recently have there been identified graves which can most probably be ascribed to the Khazars. They are distinguished by a particular lay-out, being barrows raised over graves which are surrounded by square or on occasion circular trenches; these trenches are often filled with the remains of animal sacrifices. There are analogies to this form of ritual in the homes for the dead in early Turk sites in the Altai region. The inventories have many features in common with those of other burials of the Saltovo-Mayatskii culture, such as the riding-gear and bow-and-arrows of the cavalrymen, together with the skull or skeleton of his horse, the skeleton being saddled and harnessed. But the graves in question often, though not invariably, stand out from other Saltovo-Mayatskii burials by their wealth. One salient feature of these graves is their lack of inventories datable to the tenth century. The Byzantine coins are of the late seventh and earlier eighth centuries, while the belt-mounts, weaponry, and stirrups are of types generally dated to the eighth and ninth centuries. Even allowing for the approximate nature of archaeological periodization, the absence of things clearly datable to the tenth century is noteworthy. It seems reasonable to conclude that the Khazars as a collective changed to some other form of burial-ritual. Various explanations for a change might be offered, but one obvious cause would be the mass-adoption of a religion which disapproved of horse-sacrifices and burnt offerings. Even had Christian of Stablo exaggerated in stating that the Khazars adopted 'Judaism in full' in the 860s, their conversion might || well have led to the abandonment of some of the most flagrantly pagan features of their burial-ritual, trenches forming hollow squares among them." - Jonathan Shepard, "The Khazars' Formal Adoption of Judaism and Byzantium's Northern Policy." Oxford Slavonic Papers, New Series 31 (1998): 16-17.
"It is certain that Khazar Jews lived in Phanagoria (Tmutorokan), since over sixty tombstones bearing Jewish symbols (such as seven-branched menorahs, shofars, and lulavs) on one side and Turkic tribe symbols (tamgas) on the other side were found on the Taman peninsula. Many of these tombstones date from the eighth or ninth century. Khazarian tombstones on the Crimean peninsula also depict the shofar, menorah, and staff of Aaron, as well as Turkic tribe symbols... The artifacts from Taman and Crimea are extremely significant since their tamgas show that these Jews were ethnic Turks." - Kevin Alan Brook, in The Jews of Khazaria (Jason Aronson, 1999), page 142
"One of the most important coins in the hoard, dating from AD 830 to 840, sheds light on a place far away: Its markings show its provenance is the kingdom of the Khazars, a realm in southern Russia between the Black and Caspian seas. Its Arabic inscription reads 'Moses is the messenger of God' - apparently a Jewish variant on the Islamic credo 'Mohammed is the messenger of God.' Only four other coins are known to have this inscription." - "Viking treasure hoard yields astounding finds", China Daily (June 24, 2002).
"The prophets Mahomet and Moses gathered on the same piece dating from the 830s: it is the exceptionally lucky find of a Swedish orientalist and which, for the first time, materially connects the disappeared empire of the Khazars to Judaism.... Because even though it is worn out well in the upper part of the side [of the coin], crushing the traditional Muslim inscription 'Mahomet is the messenger of God', one can read in the bottom this small, apparently improper sentence, 'Moses is the messenger of God'. When Gert Rispling, Swedish numismatist and orientalist, made this lucky find among the treasure brought back by Jonas Ström, he shouts victory. This dirham is indeed the missing link of a series of 4 already-known Islamic pieces with this inscription of Moses, but whose different first side had not made it possible to establish the origin. Thanks to this piece, we can go back up until 'Ard al-Khazar', the country of Khazars. It is there [in Itil] that the pieces were struck. 'But they are in fact imitations. The original pieces came from the caliphate [of Baghdad]... And, as was the custom, when a face was worn [out], one struck another inscription in its place... But the handling was so unrefined that one could use them only in Northern Europe or Russia, where only their silver weight counted... To add Moses on such a piece can be made only by a Jew' [Gert Rispling explained]." - Olivier Truc, "Une pièce au puzzle kazhar", Libération (July 16, 2002): 26-27.
"A silver ring found in a cemetery in Ellend, near Pécs in southwestern Hungary and not far from the villages of Nagykozár and Kiskozár, is believed to be of Khazar-Kabar origin. The ring, which dates from the second half of the eleventh century, was found next to a woman's skeleton, and has thirteen Hebrew letters engraved on it as ornamentation." - Kevin Alan Brook, The Jews of Khazaria (Jason Aronson, 1999), pages 208-209, following the argument of Alexander Scheiber and Attila Kiss which was also adopted by Raphael Patai and Eli Valley. However, it does not spell out real Hebrew words, and is mixed with many non-Hebrew letters and symbols. Scheiber, Kiss, and others argued that the woman was from one of the two nearby Khazar villages.
"In 1972, 263 graves were discovered near the village of Chelarevo, in the Vojvodina district of present-day Serbia... More important, Jewish motifs have been found on at least seventy of the brick fragments excavated from the graves. The Jewish symbols on the fragments include menorahs, shofars, etrogs, candle-snuffers, and ash-collectors. One of the brick fragments, which was placed over the grave of Yehudah, has a Hebrew inscription that reads, 'Yehudah, oh!' The skulls in the Chelarevo graves had Mongolian features..." - Kevin Alan Brook, The Jews of Khazaria (Jason Aronson, 1999), page 251.
"One can conjecture that this burial ground belonged to the Kabar tribes which joined the Hungarians at the time when they discovered their fatherland. Some of the Kabars, arriving from Khazaria, apparently kept their Judaic religion." - István Erdélyi, "Kabari (Kavari) v Karpatskom Basseyne." Sovietskaya Arkheologiya 4 (1983): 179.
"The early-medieval graveyard and settlement at Čelarevo, near Novi Sad, offers the most numerous and most unusual finds with Jewish symbols. Along with several hundreds of graves of typically Avaric characteristics (judging by the pottery, jewellery and horsemen's gear), excavations begun in 1972 produced several hundreds of graves of the same shape but lacking any additional burial objects.... each grave was marked by a fragment of a Roman brick (never a whole brick, although these were plentiful in the near-by older Roman sites) into which a menorah was cut, and most frequently two other Jewish symbols on its left and right sides: the shofar and an etrog, a lulav on some bricks, and even a small Jewish six-pointed star. Some 450 brick fragments have so far been found. The position and size of the incised motifs were adapted to the size and shape of each of the fragments, which means that the motifs were not there on the original whole bricks. Some of the fragments had a Hebrew inscription added - a name or a few words which, with the exception of JERUSALEM and ISRAEL, are difficult to decipher because of the damage. Some of the Hebrew characters are carved with great precision.... Several hypotheses have been proposed on the possible origin of a Jewish or Judaised population who marked the graves of their dead in this unusual way and had literate people among them. The influence of the Crimea Khazars has been mentioned in this context; their ruler, nobility and part of the population were Judaised in the 8 c., and many Jews who had emigrated from Asia Minor and Byzantium, lived among them." - Ante Soric et al (editors), Jews in Yugoslavia: Muzejski prostor, Zagreb, Jezuitski trg 4. (Zagreb: MGC, 1989), page 28.
"In excavations at a large graveyard apparently dating to the end of the eighth and beginning of the ninth centuries, when the region was under the domination of the Avar tribe, archeologists have unearthed hundreds of brick fragments inscribed with menorahs and other Jewish symbols, including at least one small six-pointed Star of David. Some brick fragments also were inscribed with Hebrew letters. Research has shown that the people buried at Celarevo were of the Mongol race, apparently a tribe that had newly migrated into the area from the east. Beyond that, the origin of this Jewish settlement remains a mystery: One hypothesis has suggested that they may have been influenced by the Crimean Khazars, a tribe whose leaders converted to Judaism in the eighth century." - Ruth Ellen Gruber, Jewish Heritage Travel, 3rd edition (Jason Aronson, 1999), page 248.
"Engravings of the six-pointed Jewish star of David were found on circular Khazar relics and bronze mirrors from Sarkel and Khazarian gravefields in Verkhneye Saltovo." - Kevin Alan Brook, The Jews of Khazaria (Jason Aronson, 1999), page 142.
The Ellend and Chelarevo sites mentioned above allegedly show that a Turkic Jewish group migrated westward from the Khazar empire. However, the Khazar affiliation of those sites is unproven. More substantial evidence which may indicate Jewish Khazar westward migrations follows:
"Significant evidence exists that attests to permanent Khazar settlements in the territory that is now western Belarus. Documents contained in the Russian Judaica collection of Baron Günzburg (1857-1910) and Baron Polyakov (Polakoff) indicated that the Khazars founded a glass factory in Hrodna (Grodno) in the late ninth century or the early tenth century." - Kevin Alan Brook, in The Jews of Khazaria (Jason Aronson, 1999), page 213
However, the current location of such documents, if they really existed, is unknown. In 2002 I learned that they are not contained in the present-day Guenzburg manuscripts collection. It is possible that this information was either hearsay without substantiation or has been lost or destroyed.
"Even as late as 1309 a Council of the Hungarian clergy at Pressburg forbade Catholics to intermarry with those people described as Khazars, and their decision received papal confirmation in 1346." - Douglas M. Dunlop, "The Khazars", in The Dark Ages, ed. Roth and Levine (Rutgers University Press, 1966), page 356
"A significant fact attesting to continued Magyar-Kabar relations is the statement of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus that the Magyars and Khazars learned each others' languages, such that the Khazar language was spoken in Hungary until at least the middle of the tenth century." - Kevin Alan Brook, in The Jews of Khazaria (Jason Aronson, 1999), page 208, referring to the fact that Khazars living in Hungary taught their language to their Hungarian neighbors
"The Khazarian population in Hungary further increased in size when the Hungarian Duke Taksony (reigned 955-970) invited Khazar Jews to settle in his realm." - Kevin Alan Brook, in The Jews of Khazaria (Jason Aronson, 1999), page 208
"Around the year 1117, people presumed to be Khazars fled the Cumans and sought refuge in Kievan Rus from Vladimir Monomakh. These 'Khazars' settled near Chernihiv (Chernigov), northeast of Kiev, in a new town they built called Byelaya Vyezha ('White Fortress')." - Kevin Alan Brook, in The Jews of Khazaria (Jason Aronson, 1999), page 222, following Dunlop and von Kutschera. I was right to question their Khazar identity by putting the term in quotes, because Alexander Pereswetoff-Morath in A Grin without a Cat, vol. 2, page 126, indicates that the source document, PSRL, only speaks about the "belovezhtsi" who "came to Rus'" and nothing about their having founded another town with that name, but only suggests that they were of or from Belo Vezha; furthermore, the source doesn't say that the belovezhtsi were "Khazars".
Sketchy information also allows us to posit that a small number of Khazars reached Moravia and Croatia. Central European Jews in service to Hasdai ibn Shaprut met a blind Khazarian Jew named Amram circa 947 in an unknown place, apparently in central Europe (see Kevin Alan Brook, The Jews of Khazaria, page 131). According to the Life of Methodius, Saint Methodius met a Khazar named Zambrios in Moravia around 879-880 (see Kevin Alan Brook, The Jews of Khazaria, page 124).
The best evidence that Khazars form a portion of modern Ukrainian Jewry is the fact that Slavic-speaking Jews existed in Kievan Rus. Scholarship has demonstrated that these Jews were of Khazarian and Byzantine origins, and thus are distinguished from later immigrants from the West. And, by the way, the Kozare district in Kiev was named for Khazars.
The idea that Khazars contributed to a certain extent to the gene pool of Eastern European Jewry has been, and still is, championed by a large number of legitimate folklorists and historians, as well as by popular authors. Below is a collection of their viewpoints.
"Is it not probable that among the four millions of Russian Jews, thousands can be traced to the old nomads of the steppes? The study of the Jewish types of Poland and Little-Russia inclines us to believe so. A Finno-Turkish blend seems to be common among them."
- Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu, in Israel Among the Nations: A Study of the Jews and Antisemitism (London: William Heinemann, 1904), page 118.
"The strangest fact is that the name of the Ashkenazim, the bulk whom I see as the descendents of the Khazars, points towards the old grounds of the Khazars around the Caucasus... According to the explanation by the Talmud, Ashkenaz thus means a country near the Black Sea between Ararat and the Caucasus, within the original region of the Khazar empire. The name with which the Sefardim indicate their co-religionists from Poland already gives the explanation for the real descent, from the countries in the Caucasus."
- Hugo Freiherr von Kutschera, in Die Chasaren: Historische Studie (Vienna: A. Holzhausen, 1910).
"[Isaac Bär] Levinsohn was the first to express the opinion that the Russian Jews hailed, not from Germany, as is commonly supposed, but from the banks of the Volga. This hypothesis, corroborated by tradition, Harkavy established as a fact. Originally the vernacular of the Jews of Volhynia, Podolia, and Kiev was Russian and Polish, or, rather, the two being closely allied, Palaeo-Slavonic. The havoc wrought by the Crusades in the Jewish communities of Western Europe caused a constant stream of German-Jewish immigrants to pour, since 1090, into the comparatively free countries of the Slavonians. RussoPoland became the America of the Old World. The Jewish settlers from abroad soon outnumbered the native Jews, and they spread a new language and new customs wherever they established themselves. Whether the Jews of Russia were originally pagans from the shores of the Black and Caspian Seas, converted to Judaism under the Khazars during the eighth century, or Palestinian exiles subjugated by their Slavonian conquerors and assimilated with them, it is indisputable that they inhabited what we know to-day as Russia long before the || Varangian prince Rurik came, at the invitation of Scythian and Sarmatian savages, to lay the foundation of the Muscovite empire. In Feodosia there is a synagogue at least a thousand years old. The Greek inscription on a marble slab, dating back to 80-81 B. C. E., preserved in the Imperial Hermitage in St. Petersburg, makes it certain that they flourished in the Crimea before the destruction of the Temple."
- Jacob S. Raisin, in The Haskalah Movement in Russia (The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1913), pages 18-19.
"...[The Khazars] spread far and wide to the west and northwest, their modern descendants probably forming the preponderant element among the east European Jews."
- Roland B. Dixon, in The Racial History of Man (New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1923)
"We are told of a large tribe of Tartars called the Khazars, who in the eighth century were converted to Judaism and established a Jewish kingdom in southern Russia. Although that kingdom was destroyed by the Russians in the tenth century, no doubt many of the descendants of the Khazars were still living in the region. || And no doubt they readily greeted their brethren as they came flocking in from Germany."
- Lewis Browne, in Stranger Than Fiction: A Short History of the Jews from Earliest Times to the Present Day (Macmillan, 1925), pages 237-238.
"The fashion of dismissing the tale about the Khozars as also incredible and therefore untrue is no longer in vogue. Inasmuch as the famous poet philosopher Judah Halevi (1085-1140) founded his Cuzari on the Khozars, the tale was thought to be merely the poetical offspring of his imagination. But history has now accepted the account as undoubtedly true and attributes some of the characteristics of the Russian Jew as due to their descent from Tartars, converted to Judaism, rather than from Jews even of the lost Ten Tribes."
- Elkan Nathan Adler, in Jewish Travellers (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1930), page xiii.
"At about the same time that the Mohammedans had conquered Spain, the king of a people, called Khazars, had become dissatisfied with worshipping idols, and had become a Jew. A great many of his lords, generals, and soldiers had done likewise. Rabbis were then invited to come and teach Jewish laws and customs to the Jewish Khazars. During the two hundred years of the existence of this Jewish kingdom, most of the Khazars had learned the Jewish religion and were living in accordance with its laws. Hasdai rejoiced greatly to learn of the kingdom of the Khazars. Unfortunately, the Russians destroyed it a few years later. You are probably wondering: ''What happened to the Jewish Khazars?'' Some of them mingled with the other Jews of Russia, and the others || gradually forgot their Judaism and became Christians."
- Mordechai I. Soloff, in How the Jewish People Grew Up (Cincinnati, OH: The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1936), pages 219, 221.
"Dr. [Itzhak] Schipper believes that diffusion of Jewish Khazarian elements into the Polish kingdom appeared only after the Khazarian kingdom fell. A lot of documents and different town-names attest to the early Jewish immigration to Poland.... At the same time there was another Jewish immigration and colonization from the west, from Germany. Lots of antagonism existed between the eastern and western Jewish immigrants because there were different types of city-buildings.... Polish land was covered mostly with forests, especially in the North and West with wetlands and quagmire, so there was little population. The Khazar people, usually peasants, used primitive tools and were people with less culture. There was antagonism with the more advanced German Jews."
- Emmanuel Ringelblum, in Żydzi w Polsce Odrodzonej, edited by Aryeh Hafftka, Itzhak Schipper, and Aleksander Tartakower (Warsaw, 1936), page 38.
"In the early Middle Ages a powerful state, inhabited by the Khazars, existed on the coast of the Black Sea; and early in the eighth century Buland, ruler of the || Khazars, formally adopted the Jewish religion. Subsequently this country, like so many other areas of Eastern Europe, was absorbed by the growing power of the Kingdom of Kiev. To the present day the Mongoloid features noticeable among the Polish Jews would indicate that, after the downfall of this Eastern European Jewish state, some, probably the ruling classes, migrated to Poland. Some anthropologists, however, attribute such features to the Mongol invasions."
- Raymond Leslie Buell, in Poland: Key to Europe (New York, NY: A.A. Knopf, 1939), pages 288-289.
"The capital city and lands of the Chazars were finally captured about the middle of the tenth century by the Duke of Kiev; the survivors of this strange kingdom were then scattered through the Crimea, where they were soon lost to history. Yet even today throughout Southern Russia we find Jews whose tall figures, sandy hair and high cheek bones suggest that they may have descended from the almost forgotten Chazars."
- Elma Ehrlich Levinger and Rabbi Lee J. Levinger, in The Story of the Jew for Young People (New York, NY: Behrman's Jewish Book House, 1940), page 107.
"The Khazar nation was scattered. Some of the people fled to northern Russia. They may have become the ancestors of certain Jewish groups who are living at the present time."
- Dorothy F. Zeligs, in A History of Jewish Life in Modern Times for Young People (New York, NY: Bloch Publishing Company, 1950), page 203.
"The circumstances surrounding the beginnings of Jewish settlement in Poland remain nebulous, though it is more than a surmise that the first Jews must have come from the Crimea. After the fall of the Jewish kingdom of Khazaria, they continued to arrive, fleeing from the Russian boyars of Kiev who after several centuries of vassalage to the Jewish kings had finally risen in revolt and conquered them. In time, these Khazar Jews blended with the other Jewish elements in Poland and ultimately lost their ethnic group identity."
- Nathan Ausubel, in Pictorial History of the Jewish People (New York, NY: Crown, 1953), page 133.
"In 1016 the descendants of the Jewish royal family fled to their coreligionists in Spain. Many of the Jewish Khazars, however, continued to live in the Crimea.... But the majority of the early Khazar proselytes were scattered over the neighboring countries, introducing Jewish ideals among their Christian neighbors. Some estimate that from sixty to seventy per cent of the Jews of Southern Russia are not of Semitic descent."
- Jacob S. Raisin, in Gentile Reactions to Jewish Ideals (New York, NY: Philosophical Library, 1953), page 691.
"The first Jews to settle in Lithuania in the 11th century came from the land of the Khazars, on the lower Volga River, from Crimea on the Black Sea and from Bohemia. Originally, the Jews came to the land of the Khazars from the Byzantine kingdom, where they had been oppressed. The Khazars had welcomed the Jews and later had been converted to Judaism. When the Khazars were overrun by the Mongols and Russians, the Jews settled in Lithuania, whose rulers, at that time, were extremely tolerant."
- Sidney L. Markowitz, in What You Should Know About Jewish Religion, History, Ethics and Culture (New York, NY: Citadel Press, 1955).
"The immigration (originally transmigration) of Jews to Poland started in the middle of the IX century. It took place at the same time from Western Europe and from the East (that is from the state of the Chazars, whose state religion was Judaism. Chazars was situated in the vicinity of Kiev and extended to the Dniestr; it ceased to exist in 969)."
- Michal M. Borwicz, in A Thousand Years of Jewish Life in Poland / 1000 ans de vie juive en Pologne (Paris, 1955).
"It is known that the khagan of the Khazars and many of his subjects had yielded to the Jewish propaganda coming mainly from the numerous Jewish colonies in the Crimea. They accepted the Jewish creed -- the first case of a large part of one nation becoming Jewish at such a late period. The Khazars were otherwise a very tolerant nation. They are probably to some extent the ancestors of the eastern Jews. Driven by the Cumans || and the Mongols from their homeland, many of the Jewish Khazars were settled in Poland by the Polish kings. There they mixed with western Jews."
- Francis Dvornik, in The Slavs: Their Early History and Civilization (Boston, MA: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1956), pages 196-197.
"But before and after the Mongol upheaval, the Khazars sent many offshoots into the unsubdued Slavonic lands, helping ultimately to build up the great Jewish centers of eastern Europe."
- Salo Wittmayer Baron, in A Social and Religious History of the Jews (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1957), volume 3, page 206.
"Descendants of the Khazars, men noteworthy for their learning and piety, were known long after in Toledo.... And, to the present day, the Mongoloid features common amongst the Jews of eastern Europe are, in all probability, a heritage from these 'proselytes of righteousness' of ten centuries ago."
- Cecil Roth, in A Short History of the Jewish People (London: Horovitz [East and West Library], 1959), page 288.
"In the same period there began an influx of Chazar Jews from the East. At first this was essentially a trade immigration, but towards the end of the 10th century, after the fall of the Chazar state, it assumed larger proportions. The immigrants of this period turned mainly to agriculture and handicrafts. These colonies or settlements occurred in the southern and eastern parts of the future Polish state."
- Kazimierz and Maria Piechotka, in Wooden Synagogues (Warsaw: Arkady, 1959; originally appeared in a Polish-language edition), English edition, page 9.
"Poland received many Jews seeking to escape from the oppressions of the Crusades and the Black Death, as well as survivors of the Jewish kingdom of Khazaria."
- Meyer Levin and Toby K. Kurzband, in The Story of the Jewish Way of Life (New York, NY: Behrman House, 1959), page 48.
"The Khazars were a warlike people, and succeeded in extending their rule and influence. They were subjected to occasional attacks by the Byzantines and later by the Russians. By the end of the 10th century they succumbed to the Russians, and after maintaining themselves for a short period in the Crimea, some gradually embraced the Christian or Moslem faith, ceasing to exist as a separate people, though many joined with their Jewish brethren."
- David Bridger and Samuel Wolk (editors), in article "Khazars" (pp. 265-266) in The New Jewish Encyclopedia (New York, NY: Behrman House, 1962), page 266.
"Far away, on the steppes of Southern Russia, a whole nation had been converted to Judaism several hundred years ago. Could it be true? Hasdai sends a letter to the king of this foreign people, the Chazars, and receives an answer: the story is true... They were to exist to the thirteenth century, when they were defeated, their remnants joining the Jewish or Christian communities."
- Leo Trepp, in Eternal Faith, Eternal People: A Journey into Judaism (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1962), page 143.
"Polish scholars agree that these oldest [Polish Jewish] settlements were founded by Jewish emigres from the Khazar state and Russia, while the Jews from Southern and Western Europe began to arrive and settle only later... and that a certain portion at least of the Jewish population (in earlier times, the main bulk) originated from the east, from the Khazar country, and later from Kievian Russia."
- Adam Vetulani, in his article "The Jews of Mediaeval Poland," in Jewish Journal of Sociology, volume 4 (December, 1962), page 274.
"In Khazaria, perched precariously on the trackless steppe extending between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, Jewish merchants and refugees from the persecutions of the Byzantine Empire managed to convert the king, many of his nobles, and a considerable portion of the nomadic, Khazarian population.... With the disappearance of the Khazarian kingdom under the blows of the Russians, the Jews and Jewish Khazars settled in the Crimea, in Hungary, and in Lithuania."
- Jacob Berhard Agus, in The Meaning of Jewish History (New York, NY: Abelard-Schuman, 1963), page 237.
"It is clear, however, that the influence of the Jews, who had become the most active agents of the commerce of the Caliphate, was substantial in the Khazar kingdom, and it is probable that the commonly observed mongoloid type among East European Jews, particularly in the Ukraine, Poland and Roumania, derives from the conversions and intermarriages which were no doubt frequent in the swarming trading camps of the Khaqans."
- W. E. D. Allen, in The Ukraine (New York, NY: Russell and Russell, 1963), pages 8-9.
"Meanwhile the bulk of the victims of expulsion, massacre, and persecution were to be found in the territory between the Black Sea and the Baltic, most of which was part of the kingdom of Poland. There European Jews had met another strand of the Jewish people, Jews who had entered the same area from the south and east. Jewish colonies on the Black Sea and in the Crimea dated back to very early times, and the kingdom of the Khazars || had left many Jewish relics in lands which are now Ukrainian."
- James Parkes, in A History of the Jewish People (Chicago, IL: Quadrangle Books, 1963), pages 105-106.
"Driven out of their country by the Cumans in the 12th century, part of the last Jewish Khazars settled in Poland."
- Françoise Godding-Ganshof, in article "Khazars" (pp. 214-215) in Chamber's Encyclopedia, vol. 8 (Oxford, England: Pergamon Press, 1966), page 215.
"It is likely too that some Khazar progeny reached the various Slavic lands where they helped to build the great Jewish centers of Eastern Europe."
- Abba Solomon Eban, in My People: The Story of the Jews (New York, NY: Behrman House, 1968), page 150.
"It would of course be foolish to deny that Jews of different origin also contributed to the existing Jewish world-community. The numerical ratio of the Khazar to the Semitic and other contributions is impossible to establish. But the cumulative evidence makes one inclined to agree with the concensus of Polish historians that 'in earlier times the main bulk originated from the Khazar country'; and that, accordingly, the Khazar contribution to the genetic make-up of the Jews must be substantial, and in all likelihood dominant."
- Arthur Koestler, in The Thirteenth Tribe: The Khazar Empire and Its Heritage (London: Hutchinson, 1976 and New York, NY: Random House, 1976), page 180.
"...it may be stated at present that well-documented findings concerning the culture of the Jewries of western Europe in the Middle Ages, as well as evidence leading directly to the recognition of the movement eastward of important segments of those Jewries during late medieval times, leave no room for the hypothesis that the Jews of postmedieval Europe were descended primarily from the Khazars. That, however, those among the Khazars who adopted Judaism as their religion came to form a part of the Ukrainian component of eastern European Jews, and eventually to be assimilated by it, can hardly be doubted on the basis of our present state of knowledge."
- Norman Golb and Omeljan Pritsak, in Khazarian Hebrew Documents of the Tenth Century (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982), page xv. In later separate writings by Golb (Jewish Proselytism, 1988) and Pritsak ("The Pre-Ashkenazic Jews of Eastern Europe in Relation to the Khazars, the Rus' and the Lithuanians" in Ukrainian-Jewish Relations in Historical Perspective, 1990), however, the view that virtually no Jews are descended from the Khazars is expressed.
"There is little reason to doubt that Jews had lived in Poland from the earliest times, and that Judaism, as preserved by the descendants of the ancient Chazar kingdom in the southeast, had actually antedated Christianity."
- Norman Davies, in God's Playground: A History of Poland, (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1982), volume 1, page 79.
"The Khazar Jewish kingdom was a fascinating episode in Russian Jewish History.... The Jews dispersed into Russia, Armenia, Byzantium, and the Mediterranean coast. It is likely that many of the Jews of these regions are descended from Khazar refugees."
- Richard Haase, in Jewish Regional Cooking (Secaucus, NJ: Chartwell Books, 1985), page 56.
"Poland was Christianized in 966, at a time when Jews already lived there. The first ones came from the Khazar state of Russia and Kievan Rus. Late in the eleventh century, Jews fleeing from persecution in southern and western Europe arrived. Not, however, until the fifteenth century did large numbers of Jews begin to live in Poland."
- Meyer Weinberg, in Because They Were Jews: A History of Anti-Semitism (Greenwood Press, 1986), page 153.
"East European Jews, especially the Ukrainian, Moldovian (Bessarabian), Azerbaijanian, Georgian, and Armenian Jews are actually a fusion of Byzantine-Greek Jews, Babylonian Jews from the Abbasid Caliphate, Yiddish-speaking German-Polish Jews, sixteenth Century Sephardic Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition and Khazars. This is the bloodline of these Russian Jews... However, the most strongly Khazar of the Jews are undoubtedly the Hungarian Jews, descendants of the last Khazars who fled into Hungary about 1200-1300, where they were received by their former vassals, the Magyar kings. The Hungarian Jews are definitely a fusion of Semitic German Jews and the Turkic Khazars with some Sephardic immigrants who came to Hungary by way of Italy in the 1500's escaping the Spanish Inquisition."
- Monroe Rosenthal and Isaac Mozeson, in Wars of the Jews: A Military History from Biblical to Modern Times (New York, NY: Hippocrene Books, 1990), page 224.
"As the conquering Lithuanians moved south through Byelorussia, Volkynia, and the Ukraine, they came upon towns with either established Jewish communities or a Jewish presence. These communities were established by a mixture of Jews who came via Khazaria, Khazarian Jews and Jews who came directly from older communities. What was the proportion of each or their numbers is not known."
- Stuart and Nancy Schoenburg, in Lithuanian Jewish Communities (New York, NY: Garland, 1991 and Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1996), page 10.
"Jews are the largest and most important of these nationalities... According to some historians, many of them are descended from the Khazars, a people who ruled much of the Volga-Dnieper basin the seventh to ninth centuries and converted to Judaism en masse in the eighth century. Others are descended from a large colony of Jews who settled in Ukraine when it was ruled by a religiously tolerant Poland."
- William G. Andrews, in The Land and People of the Soviet Union (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1991), page 183.
"It is very likely that Judaized Khazar elements, especially those that had acculturated to the cities, contributed to the subsequently Slavic-speaking Jewish communities of Kievan Rus'. These were ultimately absorbed by || Yiddish-speaking Jews entering the Ukraine and Belorussia from Poland and Central Europe. In the same way, one may conjecture that Khazar Muslims contributed to the Turkic-speaking and Turko-Muslim communities of the Volga basin and North Caucasus."
- Peter Benjamin Golden, in An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples (Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, 1992), pages 243-244.
"How and why Jews first reached Lithuania is a matter of informed hypothesis. Historian Abraham Elijahu Harkavi maintains that they came from Babylonia and elsewhere in the Near East in the ninth and tenth centuries C.E., after the decline of the Jewish communities there. Harkavi also believes that Jews reached Lithuania from the shortlived but flourishing Jewish state of the Khazars, who were among the founders of Kiev in 865. The Khazars lost their kingdom in 969 to the Russian princes, who introduced the Russian Orthodox Church... Thus inspired, the Russians expelled the Jews..., who moved en masse to the then-Lithuanian towns of Gardinas (Grodno), Minsk, Pinsk..."
- Masha Greenbaum, in The Jews of Lithuania: A History of a Remarkable Community 1316-1945 (Jerusalem: Gefen, 1995), page 2.
"It is in the fusion of autochthonous Jews with semi-Jewish Khazars and Kabars in the tenth century that we must seek the earliest demographic basis of the Jewish population of medieval Hungary."
- Raphael Patai, in The Jews of Hungary (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1996), page 29.
"...one should remember that the Khazars were described by several contemporary authors as having a pale complexion, blue eyes, and reddish hair. Red, as distinguished from blond, hair is found in a certain percentage of East European Jews, and this, as well as the more generalized light coloring, could be a heritage of the medieval Khazar infusion."
- Raphael Patai and Jennifer Patai, in The Myth of the Jewish Race (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1989), page 72.
"Jews from central Europe first settled in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the second half of the 14th century. Early examples are the communities of Brest-Litovsk and Grodno, established by Jews from Poland with charters from Duke Vitold, similar to those granted by Bolislav the Pious to Jews of Great Poland. Among the Jews of the southwestern districts of the Lithuanian Duchy, annexed to the Kingdom of Poland toward the end of the 14th century, were descendants of Jews from oriental countries, including a few of Khazar stock. They differed from the Ashkenazis in both language and cultural traditions."
- Shmuel Arthur Cygielman, in Jewish Autonomy in Poland and Lithuania until 1648 (5408) (Jerusalem, 1997).
"Eventually, the Khazaria kingdom fell. Evidently, some of its Jewish population went to Eastern Europe and the rest disappeared."
- Lawrence Jeffrey Epstein, in Questions and Answers on Conversion to Judaism (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1998), page 176.
"Jewish-Khazarian settlement in Kiev can be traced to the 10th century; the Russian-speaking community was later absorbed by Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Central Europe."
- in the entry "Ukraine" in The Shengold Jewish Encyclopedia, edited by Klenicki, Schiff, and Schreiber (Schreiber Publishing, 1998), page 267.
"The descendants of the Khazars reached eastern and central Europe. There is substantial evidence that some of them settled in Slavic lands, where they took part in establishing the major Jewish centers of eastern Europe.... It is also widely believed that many Khazar Jews fled to Poland to avoid forced baptism. Moreover, some of the groups that migrated from eastern to central Europe have been called Khazars and may have originated in the former Khazar empire. Some apparently fled into northern Hungary, where, to this day, there are villages that bear such names as Kozar and Kozardie."
- Robert and Elinor Slater, in Great Moments in Jewish History (Middle Village, NY: Jonathan David, 1999), page 87.
"Unfortunately, in 1016 C.E., the Russians, with the help of Byzantium, crushed the Khazar kingdom and brought it to a close. What happened to all the Khazar Jews, both the descendants of the converts and the settlers, is shrouded in mystery. They were certainly dispersed in many of the neighboring lands. It is conceivable, according to || some scholars, that some of them are the forebears of the Polish and Russian Jews of previous generations. Who knows? If your ancestors came from these lands, you may have the blood of kings in you - not David and Solomon, but kings who voluntarily chose to join the fate of a people whose religion they acknowledged as true."
- Rabbi Benjamin Blech, in The Complete Idiot's Guide to Jewish History and Culture (Alpha Books, 1999), pages 161-162.
"Before they arrived in present-day Hungary, the Magyars had lived in Central Asia relatively near the famous Khazars, who had converted to Judaism in the eighth century. When the Magyars left the area, many Khazar Jews joined them on their trek westward. In southern Hungary, archaeologists discovered a Khazar ring engraved with Hebrew letters. These Khazars joined the pre-existing Jews of Hungary and formed communities in the main cities, including Buda."
- Eli Valley, in The Great Jewish Cities of Central and Eastern Europe (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1999), page 377.
"Thus, the Ashkenazic ethnogenesis, having been formed by migrations from the East (Khazaria), West (e.g., Germany, Austria, Bohemia), and South (e.g., Greece, Mesopotamia, Khorasan), is more complex than previously envisioned."
- Kevin Alan Brook, in The Jews of Khazaria (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1999), page xv.
"During the Middle Ages, a large group of Jews came from Germany and eastern lands to Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine.... Another group emanated from the lands of the Khazars, relates the Encyclopedia Judaica."
- Ben G. Frank, in A Travel Guide to Jewish Russia and Ukraine (Gretna, LA: Pelican, 1999), page 63.
"In the tenth and eleventh centuries, as the Khazar state disintegrated, and into the thirteenth century, as the Cuman and Mongol hordes pushed large numbers of refugees westward, Khazar and Khazar-influenced groups professing Judaism - including the probably highly committed Levites - migrated into Eastern Europe, where they mixed with other Jewish groups moving east from Germany and north from || Italy."
- David Keys, in Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World (New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 2000), pages 100-101.
"During their period of decline many Khazars were killed in battle, sold into slavery, or forced to convert to Islam or Christianity. A sizable number probably intermarried with the Crimean Jews. Others fled to the West (meaning Poland and southern Russia) where they intermarried with Ashkenazi Jews."
- Ken Blady, in Jewish Communities in Exotic Places (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 2000), page 118.
"An important Jewish center was established in Kiev, the Khazarian border stronghold. After the conquest of Khazaria by Rus, the Khazarian Jews moved northward. Simultaneously, Eastern Europe was reached by Jews from the West."
- Encyclopedia of Eastern Europe: From the Congress of Vienna to the Fall of Communism, ed. by Richard Frucht (Garland, 2000), page 402.
"It is even possible that Jewish survivors of the Khazar kingdom near the Caspian Sea made their way to Poland after that kingdom's destruction during the thirteenth century Mongol invasions."
- Lloyd P. Gartner, in History of the Jews in Modern Times (Oxford Univ. Press, 2000), page 19.
"Après toute cette nébulosité historique, une question se pose : qu'est devenue la population khazar apr`s la débandade effrénée sous l'invasion russe détruisant son empire ? Bien qu'ignorant son importance numérique, on peut imaginer qu'elle était considérable, à juger par l'impact qu'elle exerçait sur ses voisins byzantins et musulmans. Indéniablement, ceux qui restaient attachés à la religion nouvellement acquise n'avaient pas d'alternative entre une nouvelle conversion et l'exode, exposés comme ils étaient à une extermination certaine en cas de résistance. On sait, d'après des témoignages historiques, qu'un groupe chercha refuge à l'Est parmi les communautés juives du Caucase. Un autre vers les Carpates, surtout en Hongrie et en Bohème- Moravie. Mais le gros de la population se dirigea au Nord vers l'Ukraine, la Biélorussie, la Pologne, la Lituanie et les zones limitrophes de Russie. Partout dans ces territoires, où la population juive était numériquement insignifiante au début du Moyen-âge, l'affluence massive des fugitifs khazars rencontrait d'autres groupes d'émigrants venant des régions rhénanes de France et d'Allemagne ainsi que du Danube, échappant à la vague de persécutions par les bandes armée chrétiennes des premières croisades, en route vers la Terre-Sainte via Constantinople. D'après de nombreux historiens du judaïsme européen de l'époque, c'est la jonction des Khazars aux fugitifs venant de l'Ouest et aux populations locales déjà organisées en communautés qui a donné lieu à la naissance du grand peuple ashkénaze, en se restructurant pour devenir, dès le 16ème siècle, la partie prépondérante des juifs dans le monde."
- Léon Alhadeff, in his article "Les ethnies marginales du Judaisme," in Los Muestros No. 39 (June 2000).
"...the 18th-century Yiddish-speaking Jews who lived in German- and Slavic-speaking areas and considered themselves Ashkenazic, actually were descended from three independent sources. The first, very important source, was the Rhineland in western Germany; the second one was the area of the modern Czech Republic, an area that medieval Jewish rabbinic literature called 'West Canaan.' The third and marginal center called 'East Canaan' corresponded to modern Ukraine in which one part of the Jews were of Khazarian origin."
- Alexander Beider, in his article "The Influence of Migrants from Czech Lands on Jewish Communities in Central and Eastern Europe," in Avotaynu, volume 16, number 2 (Summer 2000), page 20.
"When, in 1016, a joint Russian and Byzantine army defeated the already much weakened Khazar army, these 'Khazar' Jews were forced to flee once more... These Jews were no longer simply the descendants of Jewish refugees from Greece and Persia. Intermarriage with original Khazars who had been converted to Judaism had introduced central Asian features, high cheek-bones and Oriental eyes... With the destruction of Khazaria some of the Jews found their way back to Greece and the Mediterranean, exiles once more. But many must have taken back with their Russian conquerors to the lands of southern Russia - to Kiev and Kharkov... The Khazar Jews who settled in Russia were not particularly liked or welcomed. Such historical records as survive show for example that a hundred years after their arrival anti-Jewish riots broke out in Kiev itself and many were killed.... || Meanwhile, in the very same years that the defeated Jewish Khazars - and there was a second Khazar Diaspora following the Mongol invasion of the area in the thirteenth century - were finding new homes in southern Russia, another group of Jews, numerically much larger, were being driven out of their homes, along the river Rhine."
- Martin Gilbert, in Letters to Auntie Fori: 5000 Years of Jewish History (New York, NY: Schocken, 2002), pages 147-148.
"It's even possible that my ancestry might not move in the direction of ancient Israel at all.... After 965, the Khazars were through as an organized power, but Judaism may have remained, and it may well be that many East European Jews are descended from Khazars and the people they ruled. I may be one of them. Who knows? And who cares?.... Where did all this [my family's European physical traits] come from? Surely not from any Mediterranean or Turkish people. It had to be of Slavic origin and Scandinavian beyond that - plus a bit of Mongol to account for my B-type blood."
- Isaac Asimov, in It's Been A Good Life (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2002), chapter 1.
"During the period of decline, many Khazars converted to Islam or Christianity, but some, who remained Jews, migrated westward, and are historically documented in several East European countries and cities, including Kiev. According to one sweeping theory, the original and dominant stratum of East European Jewry is of Khazar origin."
- Rivka Gonen, in The Quest for the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel: To the Ends of the Earth (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 2002), page 73.
"Wrotizla's (= Wroclaw/Breslau) Jewish community clearly predated the earliest records of existance. Jewish merchants had been active in Central and Eastern Europe from Khazar times. ... And it has been contended that a Jewish community functioned in Poland from the tenth century onwards, stimulated by a Jewish presence to the east in the former Khazaria."
- Norman Davies and Roger Moorhouse, in Microcosm: Portrait of a Central European City (London: Jonathan Cape, 2002), page 91.
"Apparently, part of the Khazar Jews remained in their areas of settlement because there is evidence of a messianic movement among the Jewish Khazars of the Crimea. Others returned to the Caucasus and there augmented the Jews who had earlier immigrated from Persia. They formed the core of the || 'Mountain Jews' who even today live in communities rich in tradition. Khazar Jews also settled in Kiev and other cities in Rus', as well as in Poland."
- Heiko Haumann, in A History of East European Jews (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2002), pages 6-7.
"Although it was particularly in the East, in the hospitable regions of Poland and Lithuania, that the German Jews sought refuge as their condition grew worse, we cannot conclude that the Polish Jews were solely of Western origin. On the contrary, it is quite probable that during the first millennium of our era the first Jews to penetrate into the territories between the Oder and the Dnieper came from the southeast, from the Jewish kingdom of the Khazars, or even from the south, from Byzantium. We are not sure about the relative proportions of the two groups; what is important is that the superior culture of the German Jews permitted them rapidly to impose their language and customs as well as their extraordinarily sensitive historical consciousness."
- Leon Poliakov, in The History of Anti-Semitism, Volume 1: From the Time of Christ to the Court Jews, trans. Richard Howard (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), page 246.
"One of the oldest documents to come from Kiev, which makes reference to the city in the 9th century, was written in Hebrew. Some believe that Kiev's Jewish population was a remnant of the Khazar Khaganate (Khazaria) -- a Judaic-Turkic kingdom in the northern Caucasus that died out around the 11th century. Others suppose the Ashkenazi Jews reached Europe by passing through Crimea, and into the trading capital of early-12th-century Kiev."
- Andrew Evans, in Kiev: The Bradt City Guide (Bucks, England: Bradt Travel Guides, 2004), page 256.
"I personally believe, as did Arthur Koestler, that if part of the Khazars integrated with the Russian kingdom at its formation, the majority of them fled to Central Europe, where they met the flow of Jewish immigrants from France and Germany that came as a result of the Crusades. And from their meeting the Ashkenazi Jews were born. The surnames Kagan and Kaganovitch, and the names of villages in Poland like Kaganka, attest in this area to the presence of Jewish Khazars."
- Marek Halter, in L'Empire khazar, eds. Jacques Piatigorsky and Jacques Sapir (Paris: Autrement, 2005), page 12.
"...let us note only that Jews already appeared in Central Europe and Eastern Europe before the fall of the Khazar state, which makes the assumption of Koestler [that East European Jews are mostly Khazars] less probable. One can, however, admit the idea that one part of the Khazar population practicing Judaism would have been absorbed by the Ashkenazim."
- Alexei Terechtchenko, in L'Empire khazar, eds. Jacques Piatigorsky and Jacques Sapir (Paris: Autrement, 2005), page 78.
"A few scholars believe many earlier European Jews are partially descended from these converted Khazars."
- John J. Butt, in The Greenwood Dictionary of World History (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2006), page 187.
"The problem with this long-held notion that the Jews and their Yiddish pushed ever eastward is one of numbers. Three million Jews eventually settled in Eastern Europe; only a fraction of that kind of population could have possibly migrated east from Germany. More likely, goes a rising tide of opinion, Yiddish spread in the opposite direction, westward from Russia. The population explosion in Eastern European Jews can probably be accounted for by the voluntary mass conversion to Judaism in 740 C.E. by the Turkic Khazars, who had settled on the steppes of southern Russia."
- Neal Karlen, in The Story of Yiddish: How a Mish-mosh of Languages Saved the Jews (New York: William Morrow, 2008), page 62.
There are also similar sentiments in many other works by other authors. For instance, J.S. Hertz, a Yiddish-language historian, in Di Yidn in Ukrayne: fun di eltste tsaytn biz nokh tah vetat (New York: Unzer tsayt farlag, 1949), argued that most Ukrainian Jews and many other Eastern European Jews are Khazarian. Abraham N. Poliak, a Hebrew-language historian from Israel, wrote a book Kazariyah (first published in the 1940s) in which he argues that Eastern European Jews are predominantly Khazarian. Arthur Koestler borrowed heavily from Poliak's works when writing The Thirteenth Tribe during 1973 and 1974. Early proponents of the Khazar theory included the Polish scholars Tadeusz Czacki (1765-1813) and Max (Maksymilian) Gumplowicz (1864-1897), the Ukrainian Jewish scholar Isaac Baer Levinsohn (1788-1860), and the Russian Jewish doctor/anthropologist Samuel Weissenberg (1867-?) [in his 1895 book Die südrussischen Juden. Eine anthrometrische Studie]. Itzhak Schipper (1884-1943), a Polish Jewish historian who wrote in Polish and Yiddish, argued that the Polish Jews are largely Khazarian. Schipper wrote: "The activities of certain groups among the Jews who immigrated to Poland in ancient times and engaged in agriculture is evidenced by the Jewish villages that we find in Poland and Russia during the early Middle Ages. The names of these villages prove the origin of the people who lived in them. They are: Zidow, Zhidowo, Sidowo, or Kozara, Kozari, and Kozhazhow. There can be little doubt that the earliest of them were those villages whose names derive from that of the Khazars. It is possible that these Jewish Khazar settlements came into being during the 10th century, when a wave of Khazar immigrants arrived in Poland and Russia seeking refuge after the collapse of their state." Schipper also thought that Khazarian Jews founded the Polish city of Ciechanowiec, partly because he thought that the nearby village of Kosarze and a street that he interpreted to be "Khazar Street" were traces of Khazars. The quote I gave from Piechotka and Piechotka is influenced by Schipper's opinion of what happened to the Khazars. Samuel V. Kurinsky, an American archaeologist with extensive knowledge of Jewish history, alleged that Jews from Khazaria settled in Ukraine, Belarus, and Poland in his 1991 book The Glassmakers. Denis Sobolov also supports the Khazar theory. The Jewish historian Julius Brutzkus also did.
Then there are the works of Abraham Elija Harkavy, a Russian-language historian of the late 19th century who was familiar with some of the basic Hebrew sources for Khazarian history. I have already quoted from Greenbaum, who summarizes his views. Harkavy's theory that Khazarian and Middle-Eastern Jews came into Poland is supportable by a number of factors, and may yet gain added credence if Yaffa Eliach is correct in saying (in her 1998 book There Once Was A World: A 900-Year Chronicle of the Shtetl of Eishyshok) that the first five Jewish families to settle in the town of Eishyshok in Lithuania came from Babylonia. Since Eliach (whose family spoke Yiddish just like other Lithuanian Jews) herself claims descent from these Oriental Jews, that is perhaps another clue that Yiddish-speaking Eastern European Jews are the descendants of multiple migrations from diverse locations and not simply late-medieval arrivals from Germany. And there are many other historians and archaeologists who have argued that Russian and Polish Jews derive in part from Oriental and Khazarian Jews.
Dan Rottenberg, author of "Finding Our Fathers: A Guidebook to Jewish Genealogy" (1st edition, 1977), has ancestors from the Austrian and Russian empires. Some of his wife's ancestors were allegedly Khazars. Karen De Witt, in The Washington Post, wrote the following on page B3, in the Saturday, August 20, 1977 issue, in her article "Family Lore and the Search for Jewish 'Roots'": "Rottenberg, who has traced his and his wife's family back to the early 1800s and found one line that goes back to the Khazar kingdom in the Crimea, which dates to the 8th century, notes that there is only a finite number of Jews in the world." And Rottenberg wrote in his book "Finding Our Fathers" on page 45: "In any case, some East European Jews, and perhaps a great many, are descended from the Khazars. Figuring out whether you are or aren't of Khazar ancestry may be impossible, but some families seem to have clues. For example, a branch of my wife's family named Tamarin, from Russia, maintains that the family came into Judaism via the Khazar conversion and that the family took its name from Tamara, queen of Georgia in the thirteenth century."
The family of Ehud Ya'ari, a top Israeli journalist who produced the 1997 documentary Mamlekhet ha-Kuzarim, also claims some Khazarian roots. Michael Ajzenstadt, in The Jerusalem Post, wrote the following on page 5 in the March 17, 1997 issue, in his article "An Incredible Journey to the Lost Empire of the Khazars": "[Ehud Ya'ari is quoted as saying:] "As a child I heard that our family has some Khazarian blood and for 30 years now I have been trying to find information about this exciting subject.... [I am] a soldier in the last battle of the Khazar kingdom, a battle for the right to be remembered.... And finally I would like to secure funds to continue excavations in several places, which looked quite promising. My sexiest dream is to find the actual tomb of one of the Khazar kings. I believe that if we achieve that it will be as important-at least as the discovery of Troy or of the treasures of the Pharaohs in the Pyramids."
Some Jews from the shtetl Kurilovich, in Moldova, claim "Tartar" ancestry: "In 1923, my father, who was born in the Jewish colonies of Baron Hirsch, visited the small-town of Kurilovich, near Kishinev, between Moldavia and Bessarabia, from where their parents had come to Argentina. Old relatives of the town assured him that the family lived there for 500 years, and added this phrase that fed my fantasies for a long time: 'We are Jewish Tartars'. The 5 centuries would correspond exactly to the time at which the descendants of the Khazars dispersed from Crimea. And the usage of 'Tartars' instead of 'Khazars'? Perhaps a slip of the tongue and of the memory, that the historians will not delay in correcting." - Alicia Dujovne Ortiz, "El fantasma de los jázaros", La Nación (Buenos Aires, Argentina, August 19, 1999).
A relative of a Transylvanian Jew who has been in touch with me once told him "We are not Semites - we are white Turks from far to the East, and our homes were destroyed by the Russians." These are the Jews of the town Sfîntu Gheorghe in what is now Romania. Though their community had intermingled with some Hungarians and Romanians, they remained a cohesive community with knowledge of its Turkic origins for centuries. In the 1990s a genealogical expedition hired by my Transylvanian Jewish acquaintance found confirmation of the tradition that these Jews are Turkic. That does not prove that they were Khazars. They could have been Tatars or Kipchaks (Cumans) or Oghuzes. But most likely they were Khazars, as the Khazars converted to standard Judaism in larger numbers than any other Turkic group.
There are also isolated cases of Jews from certain towns in Ukraine and Lithuania who claim Khazar ancestry. Stories like these help to contradict the opinion of Leon Wieseltier in "You Don't Have to Be Khazarian: The Thirteenth Tribe, by Arthur Koestler" (New York Review of Books, October 28, 1976) on page 34 that there are no memories of a Khazar heritage among any modern Jews.
Often the primary argument against the Khazar theory is the claim that Judaism never was widespread in the Khazar kingdom and even if it was it was allegedly of a syncretic (mixed) nature rather than pure Judaism. For instance, Nicholas de Lange, in Atlas of the Jewish World (1984), on page 43 writes: "The Khazar kingdom contained many different ethnic and religious groups, and there is no evidence of a substantial Jewish element among the population. The Judaism of the ruling Khazars was mingled with extraneous beliefs and practices, and the principal center of Judaism in Iraq never seems to have taken a serious interest in the 'Jewish empire' to the north.... but it is clear that the Khazars were not at all integrated into the Jewish world, and they must be considered something of a curiosity. Nothing is known for certain about their ultimate fate." It should be added that De Lange also contributed to another Jewish atlas during the 1990s, The Illustrated History of the Jewish People, in which the Khazars are totally disregarded, except for a brief mention in the introduction, where they are irrationally dismissed as having been irrelevant to Jewish history. Khazaria, according to the atlas, "was a marginal and little-known entity." Strange, then, how famous and influential Jews like Saadiah Gaon in Babylonia and Hasdai ibn Shaprut in Spain knew about them. (As far as De Lange, his more recent book "An Introduction to Judaism", published by Cambridge University Press in 2000, interestingly says on page 216: "In the past Judaism has grown considerably through conversion, sometimes embracing large numbers. (The ruling houses of Adiabene, in the Middle East, and Khazaria, on the northern shores of the Black and Caspian Seas, were converted in the first and eighth centuries respectively; it is likely that many Jews today are descended from them and their subjects.)" Robert M. Seltzer claimed: "The Judaism of the Khazars has been much discussed but the historical evidence is very limited. Only the ruling class of the Khazars became Jews..." (Jewish People, Jewish Thought, published by Macmillan in 1980, page 787 in note 7).
Rabbi Bernard Rosensweig is one of the biggest opponents of the Khazar theory, and authored the article "The Thirteenth Tribe, the Khazars and the Origins of East European Jewry" which appeared in Tradition 16:5 (Fall 1977): 139-162. On pages 154-155 he writes: "We have exposed the weaknesses of the Khazar hypothesis and the fact that it stands on wobbly scholarly foundations without || historical support." Does it, in fact, have all of the weaknesses that Rosensweig claims that it does? We will see that Rosensweig has some legitimate arguments against Koestler's presentation of the Khazar theory, yet he also makes certain arguments that are disputable. For instance on page 146 he argues: "The truth of the matter is that the Khazar Jews in Khazaria represented only a minority of the population. The Khazar conversion to Judaism proceeded from the royal house to the ranks of the nobility and the upper classes, without ever including the broad masses of the Khazar people. Dunlop quite correctly points out that the Judaising of the general populace, if it was ever seriously undertaken, never proceeded very far, since even in the tenth century the Moslems and the Christians greatly outnumbered the Jews." And on page 147 he repeats: "The great number of Khazars who populated Khazaria at its height were, in the main, not Jewish Khazars; and, consequently, the use of the name Khazar in any given context does not necessarily refer to or imply Khazar Jews." The problem with Rosensweig's argument is that he confuses the Khazars with other inhabitants of the empire. Almost all of the sources refer to Muslims and Christians in the population without saying that they were necessarily Turkic Khazars. But we do know the identities of these non-Jews: they were Slavic pagans, Greek Christians, Gothic Christians, Iranian Muslims, Bulgar Shamanists, Hungarian pagans, and others. When the Khazars are invoked in particular, their Judaism is almost always mentioned, as in Christian of Stavelot, Ibn al-Faqih, Al-Masudi, Abraham Ibn Daud, Yehuda HaLevi, and so on. What is more, Khazar Judaism did not merely exist in the Khazar capital, Atil, or among Crimean and Daghestani princes and warriors, but also in Kiev and elsewhere, as newly uncovered evidence is revealing.
Some scholars have expressed negative opinions of a Khazar-Ashkenazic theme without discussing any specifics nor acknowledging that any reputable writers think differently today. The common thread of this assortment of opinions is an absolute negative statement on the idea. Daniel Lasker's entry "Khazars" in The Encyclopedia of Judaism (1989), on page 414 contains the following terse statement: "The notion that Ashkenazi Jewry is descended from the Khazars has absolutely no basis in fact." (Lasker's article on the Khazars is otherwise first-rate and represents a high standard of scholarship.) We also read in A Historical Atlas of the Jewish People (1992), ed. Barnavi, on page 118: "Then, in the eighth century, the ruling class of the Khazar kingdom in the steppes of southern Russia converted to Judaism. Some legends trace the origins of Polish Jewry to this Turkic people, but there is no historical evidence to corroborate such theories." Bernard Lewis also put forth a one-sided argument: "[The Khazar theory], first put forth by an Austrian anthropologist in the early years of this century, is supported by no evidence whatsover. It has long since been abandoned by all serious scholars in the field..." (Semites and Anti-Semites, 1987, page 48). Similarly, Louis Jacobs wrote: "There is a solid basis in fact behind the stories circulating in the Middle Ages that a king of the Khazars and his people with him converted to Judaism... Arthur Koestler's attempt (The Thirteenth Tribe, London, 1976) to show that all Ashkenazi Jews are descended from the Khazars is purely speculative, has nothing to commend it, and is repudiated by all Khazar scholars." (Oxford Concise Companion to the Jewish Religion, Oxford University Press, 1999, page 124). This is not much better than Lewis' statement. No evidence in favor? No one knowledgeable thinks Khazars were connected to Ashkenazi Jews, after reviewing the pros and cons? I feel that these absolute statements are unwarranted. They may indicate that many scholars simply aren't aware of new facts which may support the Khazar theory of westward migrations. Also, they contradict Denis Sinor's statement in many editions of Encyclopaedia Britannica: "A few scholars have asserted that the Judaized Khazars were the remote ancestors of many of the Jews of Eastern Europe and Russia." One should be careful not to reduce this debate to a popularity contest or to claim a false consensus among educated people. It is not relevant what percentage of scholars agree with the Khazar theory or not. All that matters is whether the theory has truth or not. I happen to have access to more information about the Khazars than those scholars who don't think that any intermarriage occurred between Khazars and western Jews. One can simply look at the facts that the Kievan Letter was not known before the 1960s and the Moses Khazar Jewish coin was not known before 2002 to see why older statements on the subject may be based on incomplete evidence. Objections to the Khazar theory by the distinguished historians Meyer Balaban (circa 1930s) and Bernard Dov Weinryb (circa 1950s-1970s) were written before all we know about the Khazars today had been discovered and published, and Weinryb systematically denied the existence of Jewish communities in post-Khazar Kievan Rus to an extreme extent. Zvi Ankori's arguments in "Origins and history of Ashkenazi Jewry (8th to 18th century)", published on pages 19-46 in an old (1979) book, Genetic Diseases among Ashkenazi Jews, edited by Richard M. Goodman and Arno G. Motulsky (with articles discussing genetic studies which use now-antiquated methods), as I recall are not that convincing either. For instance, Ankori basically subscribed to the (simplistic) Rhineland origin theory for Ashkenazi Jews. It has been many years since I've seen it, but I'm told that Ankori argues that some Khazars entered Poland/Ukraine but that their communities were destroyed during the Mongol invasion and that all subsequent Jewish immigrants to eastern Europe were from German lands. I did see a valid quote from page 37 of Ankori's article: "The Khazar element in the Russo-Polish branch of Ashkenazi Jewry cannot and must not totally be discounted. Still, there is very little that the 'Khazar theory' can offer to replace the overwhelming evidence of the primarily Western European origins of Ashkenazi migration into Poland."
A particularly absurd treatment of the Khazars is contained in Yo'av Karny's travelog The Highlanders: A Journey to the Caucasus in Quest of Memory (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000) where Karny tries repeatedly to attack claims for the partial Khazar heritage of Mountain Jews, Kumyks, and Ashkenazi Jews, because he thinks the idea of a Khazar heritage is dangerous to contemporary politics, especially in Daghestan where the Tenglik Party - led by Salau Aliyev, who believes he is Khazarian - seeks to form a Kumyk-led independent state, and in Balkaria where the Balkars claim descent from Bulgars. He actually states that he cannot understand why anyone would think the study of history is of any importance (page 129). Here are some of his outlandish quotes: "Precious little is known about the Khazars, and the mindful reader need not be misled by encyclopedia entries about them, even when accompanied by maps and replete with names and dates. None of this abundant printed material is based on eyewitness accounts or conclusive archaeological findings." (page 131) This is most definitely false, as I proved in my book The Jews of Khazaria, which covers two centuries of grand discoveries in Khazar studies. Then Karny writes: "Nothing sums up the state of our knowledge of the Khazars better than the Serb author Milorad Pavic's vignette about a diplomatic delegation that the Khazar king sent to Byzantium in the ninth century. The entire history of his people was tattooed on one of his envoy's skin. Known as the 'great parchment,' that priceless source, the missing part in the puzzle, gradually peeled off... So was destroyed our only firsthand account." (page 131). This is complete bunk; Pavic invented the parchment out of his own creative mind, and there exist many surviving documents from Khazar times including by Ibn Fadlan, King Joseph, Hasdai ibn Shaprut, Masudi, Istakhri, anonymous writers, and others. Karny is misled on page 134 by a professor of history in Makhachkala, Gadzhi Saidovich Fedorov-Gusseinov, who denies that there is evidence for Khazars ever living in Daghestan, and who considers the primary Arabic sources on the Khazars to be "hearsay", and who doesn't even think that the Kumyks are descended from Turks. Karny accepted this pseudoscholar Fedorov-Gusseinov's ideas without getting a second opinion from reliable historians who actually know something about Khazars. (Amazingly, after building a case against Kumyks being old Turks and Khazars, Karny contradicts himself later in the book, on page 222, by saying "The Kumyks, a Turkic people, were among the first in the Caucasus to convert to Islam, perhaps as early as the tenth century.") Then, in typical revisionist fashion, following in the footsteps of writers like Bernard Weinryb and Chaim Rabin, he attempts to deny the Jewishness of the Khazars and the importance of the Khazar state to Jewish history. He does this by considering the conversion of the Khazar people to be merely a "tale". Here is a sentiment of his quite typical of historical deniers: "At no time that I recall were my schoolmates and I ever told... that the Jewishness of the Khazars was at best very selective and at worst highly questionable. The 'mass conversion' of the Khazars generated a host of outlandish theories about the Khazar ancestry of the majority of Ashkenazi Jews... Khazaria, Koestler wrote in apparent seriousness, represented 'the Third World' of the early Middle Ages, striving for nonalignment, treading carefully between empires..." (page 132) However, Khazar Judaism represents an historical fact, and historians today believe it is true that the Khazars merged with Ashkenazi Jews. As Karny says on pages 132-133, there are some people who misuse Khazar history, but I would argue that there is never any excuse for ignoring the historical record simply because it's inconvenient or even potentially hazardous. Karny also makes a false statement on page 133, where he claims that Ibn Hawkal did not write contemporary to the time of Samandar. Because Karny is afraid of the possible link between Khazars and East European Jews and Mountain Jews, he has put "mass conversion" in quotes and led readers to believe that it is all simply myth and legend, that we really know nothing about Khazars. What is hilarious is that Karny contradicts his own sentiments concerning Israel (in the Prologue on page xxiii he argues that Jerusalem and Israel aren't as antique as Israeli Zionists claim) and proselytism (on page 346 he writes about how Jews are reluctant to seek and welcome converts). Yet he is both defending the Israeliteness of the Israelis by excluding the Khazars as well as expressing denial that the Khazars were really Jews. Karny's ludicrous book has been denounced by several experts on the Khazars.
Another absurd book is Ilan Halevi's A History of the Jews: Ancient and Modern (Zed Books, 1987), which attacks not only Koestler but also the great scholar Dunlop "and those who think like them". Halevi is incredibly inaccurate when it comes to describing the history and society of the Khazars, Cossacks, etc.
In short, as we will see further below, many statements against the Khazar theory are full of falsehoods and/or hostilities and are not the result of objective scholarly inquiry. It is not possible to accept all such statements automatically since they are outdated and/or tainted by bias. However, there are some scholars who have done a proper (purely scientific) job in evaluating the issue. For instance, the brilliant Swedish archaeologist Bozena Werbart, whose knowledge of the Khazars is vast, wrote: "In the Khazar kingdom, Koestler wanted to see the origin of the eastern European Jewry. Nevertheless, all the historical and linguistic facts contradicted his theories. Today the majority of scholars consider that the Khazaric elements in the Jewish eastern European immigrations were of insignificant character... According to many researchers, to associate the Khazars with a modern eastern European Jewish population is an impossible and unnecessary task..." ("Khazars or 'Saltovo-Mayaki Culture'? Prejudices about Archaeology and Ethnicity", Current Swedish Archaeology 4 (1996): 202).
Another reliable historian, András Róna-Tas, also agreed with these other writers: "The great majority of the Jewry, which had until then lived under the shelter of Arab rule, fled eastward to escape the new inquisition [in Spain]. Passing through the Ottoman Turkish Empire, they reached the territory of today's Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania, where they met with Jews who had been continuously migrating there through Germany since the 12th century. East European Jews thus migrated from the west to the east of the continent, and were not descended from the inhabitants of the Khazar Empire." (Hungarians and Europe in the Early Middle Ages, CEU Press, 1999, English edition, page 91).
Yet another reliable historian, Nora Berend, wrote in her book At the Gate of Christendom: Jews, Muslims and 'Pagans' in Medieval Hungary c. 1000-c. 1300 (Cambridge University Press, 2001, page 61): "All the evidence used to support the thesis of Jewish Khazars in Hungary is questionable. Two rings with Hebrew letters were found in a Hungarian cemetery (from the second half of the eleventh c.) near villages that were probably settled by tribes from the Khazar Empire. The rings could have been imported, and the Hebrew letters are only used as an ornament, without constituting a meaningful script... [and] there is... no agreement even on the language of the inscription... The Byzantine Ioannes Kinnamos in his Epitome twice mentioned khalisioi in the Hungarian army... He first describes them as keeping the laws of Moses although not in a pure form, then as having the same religion as Persians. This is a reference to the khaliz (Muslims), not Jewish Khazars." Unfortunately she did not analyze the Chelarevo Jewish gravesite and did not comment on whether she thinks it is Khazarian or Avar.
The book The Jewish Cultural Tapestry: International Jewish Folk Traditions by Steven M. Lowenstein (Oxford Univ. Press, 2001) contains the following observation on page 37: "...[Khazars as the] explanation of the origins of Eastern European Jewry that most scholars reject but that has had considerable popular vogue. The 'Khazar theory' was publicized by Arthur Koestler in his book The Thirteenth Tribe..."
In Chapter 3 of Ocherki vremen i sobytii: iz istorii rossiiskikh evreev, do vtoroi poloviny vosemnadtsatogo veka by Feliks S. Kandel' (Assotsiatsiya "Tarbut", 1988) is the following observation: "In 1976 in New York appeared the sensationalist book 'The Thirteenth Tribe' by English writer Arthur Koestler. In this book it was asserted that modern Ashkenazi don't come from the 'seed of Abraham' but rather are the descendants of the Khazars, who were scattered in Europe after the destruction of the khanate in the 10th century. ... This theory was not an invention of A. Koestler. Even at the end of the 19th century a similar assumption was expressed in Russia by Maksimilian Gumplowicz in his descriptions in 'The Beginning of the Jewish Faith in Poland'. Later, a similar attempt to prove the Khazar theory was made by Tel-Aviv University Professor A. Poliak in the scientific work of 'Khazariya' (1951). But this theory was long ago disproved by science in view of its complete insolvency. Contemporary scientists - on the basis of numerous data - prove that in the era of the late Middle Ages, the Ashkenazi Jews began to migrate from Central Europe to Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Belarus, and that Jewish communities were thus formed there. But small quantities of the Khazars who had entered into Judaism possibly became absorbed by Crimean, North-Caucasian, and Southern Russian Jews."
Amotz Asa-El wrote in The Diaspora and the Lost Tribes of Israel (Westport, CT: Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, 2004) on page 119: "Suggestions that Polish Jews may have been the product of the Khazar Empire's elite of Jewish converts have never been substantiated. At the same time, early communities that straddled the Byzantine commercial sphere around the Black Sea, arrived in Poland from the east but were quickly overshadowed by the influx of Franco-German Jews who arrived from beyond the western horizon throughout the thirteenth century. Evidently, whether demographically, geographically, or culturally, Polish Jewry was an extension of the Ashkenazi diaspora." However, on page 207 Asa-El uncritically accepts the idea that the Crimean Karaites are related to the Khazars, claiming it has some evidence to support it, without citing that "evidence".
The distinguished Yiddishist Dovid Katz wrote in Words on Fire: The Unfinished Story of Yiddish (Basic Books, 2004) on page 132: "Of course individuals who joined with Ashkenazic Jewry could have derived from the Bosporus, Taurus, or the Khazars, and many certainly derived from local non-Jewish populations. But the overwhelming majority of Ashkenazic Jewish stock hails from the Ashkenazic Jews of Central Europe, the original Ashkenaz on the German-speaking lands where the Ashkenaz civilization and its Yiddish language emerged around the turn of the millennium."
Robert Chazan wrote in The Jews of Medieval Western Christendom: 1000-1500 (Cambridge University Press, 2007) on pages 202-203: "The possibility of Khazar origins for Polish Jewry has, first of all, something of the exotic and romantic about it; moreover, for many it suggests that the supposed biological and ethnic unity of the Jewish people is in fact chimerical, that the largest Jewish group on the modern scene was not biologically related to earlier Jewish stock. However, the thesis that the origin of Polish Jewry lies with the Khazars has not stood the test of careful examination. In the first place, while there is now a consensus on the historical reality of the Khazar kingdom and the conversion of its leadership to Judaism, little real evidence has survived about the Khazars, their Jewishness, or their subsequent fate. Equally or more important, every aspect of Polish Jewry -- geographic placement, political status, economic outlets, and cultural norms -- point to the origins of the community further westward in || the German lands, parallel to the origins of Hungarian Jewry in the German lands."
Thomas C. Hubka in Resplendent Synagogue: Architecture and Worship in an Eighteenth-Century Polish Community (Brandeis University Press, 2003) on page 194 cites the research of Koestler, Golb, Pritsak, and Weinryb in his analysis: "There have been many attempts to trace non-Ashkenazi Jewish settlement in Poland. Scholars have suggested that such settlers could have arrived through immigration from the tenth-century Kazar Kingdom, Sephardic and Karaite settlement, gradual settlement by traders along eastern routes, and immigration of the 'lost tribes'... Kazar Kingdom immigration theories, although unsubstantiated in demographic research and Polish historical sources, have remained popular. ... Although there were non-Ashkenazi settlements in Poland, most were small communities that cannot begin to explain larger patterns of migration and cultural development that produced an overwhelmingly Ashkenazi culture in Poland."
Moshe Rosman's article "Poland Before 1795" in The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe (Yale University Press, 2008) states: "Early medieval Jewish settlements in Kievan Russia, some connected to the Khazar kingdom and some not, do not seem to have survived the Mongol invasion of 1240. Neither has anyone been able to prove that descendants of refugees from communities in Khazaria, Kiev, Crimea, or elsewhere to the east constituted more than a token demographic or cultural presence in the vast pool of Polish Jewry."
Samuel A. Oppenheim, writing in his article "Jew" in An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of the Russian and Soviet Empires (Greenwood Press, 1994) on page 312 accepted the idea that early Kievan Rus Jews were Khazarian, but didn't seem to accept the idea that these same Kievan Rus Jews had some relationship to later Ashkenazic Jews: "In what later became Russian lands, the Jews in Kiev Rus' were likely of Khazar origin. Perhaps some had settled there before the end of the Khazar state, and others after 965. The presence of Jews is attested to by the so-called Jewish Gate in Kiev. It also seems clear that there was some connection between the Khazars on the one hand and the Mountain Jews in the Caucasus and the Karaites in the Crimea on the other. This is not to say, however, as Arthur Koestler argued in the 1980s [sic], that the Khazars were the source of Eastern European Ashkenazic Jewry, a view that has received little support." In a similar way, James Minahan in volume 2 of Encyclopedia of the Stateless Nations (Greenwood Press, 2002) on page 833 wrote: "The Jews of Kievan Rus' are thought to have descended from the Khazars. Some scholars have argued that the Khazars were the source of Ashkenazic Jewry in Russia, but the claim has not received widespread support." By the way, it's interesting that Oppenheim contradicts his other statement about Karaites "clear"ly being Khazarian by writing on page 308: "Although the nineteenth-century Karaite historian A. Firkovich tried to show that the Karaites had been in the Crimea from earliest times, in reality they probably came to the Crimea from Byzantium in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries."
Itamar Even-Zohar, in the article "Russian and Hebrew: The Case of a Dependent Polysystem" in Poetics Today 11:1 (1990), on pages 98-99, stated: "On the other hand, Hungarian Jews promoted for a while the suggestion that they were themselves of Khazar rather than authentic Jewish origin, and hence legitimate Hungarians no less than the Magyars. But no serious researcher has ever claimed that Eastern European Jewry was of overwhelmingly Khazar lineage, but only that it is plausible that a sizeable portion of them had arrived from Khazarian territories after the fall of the kingdom. Obviously there were many converted Khazars among them, but the bulk must have been of traditional Jewish stock. Koestler, in his otherwise considered narration about the Khazars (1976), unfortunately became himself a victim of such a misunderstanding."
The fact is that Judaism was the most important religion in the Khazar kingdom among the Khazars. New evidence for Khazar Judaism continues to emerge, as mentioned earlier in this essay, which minimizes the importance of archaic sources like Ibn Rustah and of a statement against widespread Judaism in the work of Ibn Fadlan. And new evidence for their migration westward has also surfaced.
But besides the faulty argument that the Khazars weren't rabbinical Jews, we have linguistic arguments that can be countered. For instance, because the Karaims speak a Turkic language, some say that they must surely be the real descendants of the Khazars. And any Jews who speak Yiddish surely must be pure descendants of the Central European Jews. In the minds of some historians there appears to be no middle ground. They simply believe the Khazars aren't involved in Russian Jewish ancestry at all, and the Karaims (or, alternatively, Cossacks or Mountain Jews or Krymchaks or whatever other "exotic" group they can find) are convenient because they need SOMEONE ELSE to be the Khazar descendants. Bernard Weinryb, who opposed the idea that Ashkenazic Jews have any Khazar ancestry, in his article "Origins of East European Jewry: Myth and Fact", Commentary 24 (1957), page 513, did not hesitate to assign a full or partial Khazar origin (based on no actual evidence, but only superficial observations about "eastern" types and now-outdated blood group studies) to these other groups: "If external physical features or blood type can be relied upon as indications of origin, then the Karaite Jews, like the mountain Jews of the Crimea and the Caucasus, belong to the Eastern type of Jew and may indeed, as some believe, be descended from the Khazars or from the Jews of Middle Eastern extraction who mixed with the Khazars. An investigation made in the 1920's showed that Crimean Jews, whether Karaite or Rabbinic, were quite different in blood type from Ashkenazic or Sephardic Jews, and resemble such Turkic tribes as the Kirghizes and Uzbeks." But the hypothesis that the Karaims are descended from the Khazars has no merit. The so-called Khazarian recipes and poems among the Crimean Karaims are 20th century inventions. The alleged gravestone of Rabbi Yitzhak ha-Sangari (converter of the Khazars to Judaism) in the Karaim cemetery at Balti Tiimez in Chufut-Kale was a forgery. The sources don't even speak about a Middle-Eastern rabbi becoming king of the Khazars, yet this hoax had the engraving of Sangari with the title "bek", meaning "king". In reality, the Khazar kings always had at least partial Turkic ancestry, even the dynasty of beks Aaron and Joseph. The Lithuanian and Crimean Karaims are clearly the descendants of Middle-Eastern Karaites from Byzantium and Persia. Arguments against their Khazar origin are contained in my book The Jews of Khazaria on pages 298 and 299 in the first edition and pages 230 to 232 in the second edition. See also updates on my genetic study of the Karaites. We know now that the Khazars were Rabbinical Jews, while the Karaite sect vigorously opposes Rabbinical Judaism. A connection is not supportable between (1) Middle-Eastern Hebrews who adopted the Turkic language and were native to Jewish beliefs and (2) Khazars whose native language was Turkic and whom adopted Judaism later on. The two situations are vastly different, and the dialect of Turkic that the Karaims spoke is not identical to the Khazarian language.
Benjamin Braude, in his article "Myths and Realities of Turkish-Jewish Contacts" (in Turkish-Jewish Encounters, ed. Mehmet Tütüncü, pp. 15-28), wrote on page 16 that the the theory that "the affinity [between Turks and Jews] is so great that Ashkenazi Jewry... are in fact Turkic and Central Asian, and not Semitic and Middle Eastern... espoused by the well-known writer Arthur Koestler... is absurd, both in its historical analysis and its political conceptualization..." On page 23 he terms Koestler's theory a "fantasy". His detailed discussion on pages 25-26 relies on a familiar theme: "The numbers of those who actually converted were few since this was largely a diplomatic step. It was not accompanied by any massive program of conversion - which by then was not in keeping with Jewish practice. Therefore the premise of Koestler's book does not make sense. He asks where did all these Khazar Jews go?... In all likelihood, to begin with they were few in number... || [I]f the Jewish Khazars were small in number, which is the general scholarly consensus, then they certainly could not have been the demographic mainstay of Eastern European Jewry... If any residue of them has survived, it is more likely to be near the very area in which they first arose, that is the Crimea, which in fact has had a centuries-old indigenous tiny Turkish-speaking Jewish community locally known as the Krimchaks... [A]rchaeological explorations... could go far to explaining the nature of the dynasty's Jewish identity. If for instance large synagogues dating from, let us say, the ninth century were found in the former Khazar realm, modern historians might have to rethink their histories, but such an excavation does not exist." Braude has a point about the lack of undisputable archaeological evidence for Khazar Judaism, but Khazar Jewish coins do exist. As for his comment about Krymchaks, it is contradicted by another essay in the same book. Dan Shapira, in "A Karaim Poem in Crimean-Tatar from Mangup: A Source for Jewish-Turkish History" in Turkish-Jewish Encounters, has a footnote on pages 89-90 which tells the true ancestry of the Krymchaks: a mix of Ashkenazi Jews, Romaniote Jews, Bavli Jews, and Sephardic Jews, with a variety of family names deriving from Turkey, the Caucasus, western Europe, and the Ashkenazic lands. To claim that they are the purest Khazar descendants simply because they also happen to have spoken a form of Turkic is simplistic.
But we should not rule out intermarriages between Khazars and other Turkic-speaking groups. Arkadii Zhukovsky, in his article "Khazars" in Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 2, wrote on page 463: "After the fall of the kaganate, the Khazars gradually intermixed with the Turkic and Cuman populations and eventually disappeared as a distinct people." This is a reasonable assumption, which if true might mean that Turkic groups of the North Caucasus such as Karachays and Kumyks could be part-Khazar. Just such an opinion was expressed by Ravil Bukharaev on page 31 of Islam in Russia: The Four Seasons (Palgrave Macmillan/St. Martin's Press, 2000): "Some scholars try to maintain that the posterity of the Khazars can be found among the Russian and East European Jews, but this is also open to doubt from many sides. It proves much more rewarding to look for the Khazar traces in the culture of the Turkic peoples of the northern Caucasus or among the Crimean Tatars with their highly developed agricultural and irritation systems which, in their origin, seem to spring from much earlier times than the Seljuk conquests of the 12th and 13th centuries. As we will see further, the original Turkic and later Muslim culture of the Khazars may be to a certain extent mirrored in cultures of the Volga Bulgars and even Hungarians, but of their Judaic culture nothing can be said for sure." On page 34, Bukharaev notes that after Khazaria fell there was "acceptance of Islam by many of its citizens".
Meanwhile, the Mountain Jews of the Caucasus are genetically related to other Jewish communities around the world, according to a study by Dror Rosengarten, and their main origins are therefore from the eastern Mediterranean region.
There is also the argument that the Khazars merged with the Slavs in Kievan Rus and adopted Orthodox Christianity to a significant extent. There is no actual evidence for this assertion. Yet, Max I. Dimont boldly declared: "In 969 Duke Sviatoslav defeated the Khazars and incorporated their territory into the new Russian state he was founding....And so it came about that the former Jewish kingdom of Khazar became part of Mother Russia, and its people made the sign of the cross to the Russian Orthodox formula Gospodi pomiloy instead of bowing reverently to the Hebrew Shema Yisroel." (Jews, God, and History, published in 1962 by Signet Books, pages 198-199). No evidence supporting this argument can be found in Dimont's book, which he would need if he is asserting that Khazars (rather than just those Slavs who lived in Khazaria) became Russian Orthodox. Solomon Grayzel suggested that some of the Jewish Khazars were baptized into Christianity but retained elements of Judaism, adding: "It is interesting to speculate whether the observance of the Sabbath among certain clans of Cossacks in the territory now known as the Ukraine, which the Russian Church was still attempting to stamp out as late as the eighteenth century, was an echo of the ancient Khazar influence." (A History of the Jews, published in 1984 by Meridian, page 257). Again, these are baseless claims, and the Grebensk Cossacks were actually associated with the beliefs of the Old Believers (a sect of Russian Orthodoxy) and perhaps also the Subbotniki (Sabbath-worshippers), neither of which has religious or ethnic roots in Khazaria.
Some Russian scholars today have a view vastly different from that of Max Dimont. See the following quote, for example, which argues that the Jews of Kievan Rus came from Khazaria:
"In our defining the ''live'' contacts between the Jewry and Kiev in 9th-11th centuries, the other question of its sources (of a Jewish element in that place, at that time space) has been raised. Today we can't doubt in its Khazar origin (G. Litavrin, Novoseltzev, Kniazkov, Rychka, Petrukhin)."
- Vladimir Nikolaevich Toporov, in Svyatost' i svyatye v russkoy dukhovnoy kul'ture, Vol. 1: Pervyi Vek Khristianstva na Rusi (Moscow, Russia, 1995)
I've shown that the idea that all the Khazars became Christians can be disputed. But other writers latch onto Ibn Miskawayh's account which says that the Khazars became Muslims after a conquest in the late 10th century. This is repeated by a few other Islamic authors, who argue that the Khazar people AND king became Muslims. But this hardly refers to the Khazars as a whole. For one thing, Abraham Ibn Daud (in his Sefer ha-Qabbalah from the year 1161) says that he met the Khazars personally and that they were rabbinical Jews. A great translation of Ibn Daud's book was published by the Jewish Publication Society of America in 1967. If Ibn Daud can be trusted - and there is no reason to doubt him - the Khazars were still very much alive in the middle of the 12th century. The Khazars certainly were not all wiped out or assimilated after 965. An example of a writer who claims most of the Khazars became Muslims is Carlile Aylmer Macartney, who wrote the following in his book "National States and National Minorities" (Oxford University Press, 1934) on page 78: "Jewish colonies have existed in the Balkans, in Asia Minor, the Caucasus, and along the northern shores of the Black Sea since a very early date; and particularly in the last-named areas Jewish influence was strong enough in the early Middle Ages to bring about the conversion to Judaism of one important potentate--the Khagan of the Khazars--and several lesser rulers in the Caucasus. ...Only a part of the Khazars were converted, and many, if not all, of these afterwards accepted Islam. ...Meanwhile, however, Jews had spread from the west into Germany, Austria, and Hungary, where they lived under conditions very similar to those which prevailed everywhere in western Europe. Then came the Crusades, and the severe persecutions of the Jews in Germany during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and they began to migrate in great numbers into Poland, where only small communities of them had previously existed."
But the most important argument against the Khazar theory has been the existence of Yiddish as the common language of almost all Eastern European Jews after the 14th century. Yiddish is alleged by the opponents of the Khazar theory to derive from the Rhine valley of Germany, even though linguistically this has been disproven by the professional linguists Robert D. King and Matthias Mieses. I have no doubt that many, perhaps most, Jews in Poland and Hungary have ancestors who came from Central Europe (Germany, Austria, Bohemia, etc.). But I would also argue that Yiddish was only the latest in a succession of languages spoken among Jews of eastern Europe. How else can we explain the fate of the Slavic-speaking Jews of Kievan Rus, whose existence is now acknowledged by many American and Russian historians and linguists? Did they simply disappear?
The existence of other languages spoken by Jews in eastern Europe is not even mentioned in, for instance, the book The Jews in the Modern World: A History Since 1750 by Hilary L. Rubinstein, Dan Cohn-Sherbok, Abraham J. Edelheit, and William D. Rubinstein (Edward Arnold, 2002), where the argument on page 8 is: "Much about Khazaria is subject to dispute and even legend. It is generally believed that only a minority of Khazars were Jews, not the entire nation. In the twentieth century, extravagant claims were made that the Khazars were, in fact, the ancestors of most European Jews. This seems highly improbable, since the Khazars spoke a Ural/Altaic language, akin to Hungarian or Turkish, while eastern European Jewry spoke Yiddish, a dialect of German (written in Hebrew letters) consistent with their migration from the Rhineland. The Khazars generally disappeared after the Tartar invasion of 1237, although remnants continued to exist for several more centuries." Quotes like these that don't even mention the Slavic-speaking Jews of Kievan Rus and the Lithuanian Grand Duchy are distorting the analysis through omission even while their point about the predominant German-lands background of East European Jews is valid.
It is argued by Alice Faber and Robert King in a 1984 paper ("Yiddish and the Settlement History of Ashkenazic Jews", Mankind Quarterly 24 (1984): 393-425) that no Turkic words exist in the Yiddish language. This, too, is a false assumption. Herbert Zeiden has identified at least a few Yiddish words of Turkic origin, though it is not certain that they came from the Khazars. One is yarmulka, meaning "skullcap". Another is the important word davenen, meaning "to pray". The root daven is very similar in meaning and form to the Turkic root tabun, meaning "to pray", in Kipchak Turkic. Attempts by other linguists to find davenen's root in French, Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, or another language have not been convincing so far. Zeiden's article on "Davenen: A Turkic Etymology" appeared in the Queens College journal Yiddish 10:2-3 (1996) on pages 96-99. His follow-up article "Khazar/Kipchak Turkisms in Yiddish: Words and Surnames" appeared in Yiddish 11:1-2 (1998) on pages 81-92.
The linguist Paul Wexler has also contributed to our knowledge of eastern European Jewish origins. But he has argued - using very little actual information - that the West-Slavic Sorbs and Polabians, not the Khazars, were the primary ancestors of the East European Jews:
"While Koestler proved to be right about a Turkic component in the Ashkenazic ethnogenesis, he erroneously overemphasized this component (which appears to have been far less significant than the Slavic)..."
- Paul Wexler, The Ashkenazic Jews: A Slavo-Turkic People in Search of a Jewish Identity (Slavica, 1993), page 247
Some opponents of the Khazar theory do acknowledge the existence of Kievan Jews shortly after the fall of the Khazar state, but they don't agree with Toporov that they are of Khazar origin. And why not? Rosensweig argues that the Khazars had a "minimal form of Judaism" and that their "religious and cultural level was probably elementary" and that they therefore can't be connected to the early Rus Jews (Rosensweig, page 150). But these are Rosensweig's assertions, not facts. For the record, the Khazar culture had been underestimated by numerous authors. It was actually more productive and more creative than one would guess upon reading Rosensweig's account or even Koestler's. But Rosensweig has one valid point - that the Kievan Jews had contacts with the Byzantine Jews and German Jews (pages 149-150). This has led other scholars to argue for Byzantine roots for the earliest Kievan Jewish community.
Opponents of the Khazar theory often point to the warm Byzantine-Khazar relations of the 8th century as a "proof" that Khazar Judaism wasn't very strong. After all, the Byzantines were Christians, and the Khazars, they allege, were Jews even at this earlier time. Once again, this argument, professed by some reviewers who attacked Koestler in print, is wrong - based on a faulty chronology. The Khazar conversion occurred in the 9th century, not the 8th century, and apparently followed rather than preceeded the joint Byzantine-Khazar construction of the great fortress Sarkel. Constantine Zuckerman, of the College of France, wrote an article published in Revue des études byzantines (volume 53, 1995, pages 237-270) in which he convincingly argued that the conversion did not occur around the neighborhood of the year 740, but rather around 861. (But the Moses coin discovery now allows us to date the conversion to the year 838 - which is still a few years after Sarkel was built.) Thus the friendly Khazar-Byzantine relations all came before the Khazars became Jewish! To quote the French newspaper Le Monde:
"For Zuckerman, it is only in 861, that is to say just one century before the destruction of the Khazar kingdom, that Judaism would have become the official religion while the links with the [former] Byzantine ally slackened. ''This friendship was transformed into an immense hatred,'' says he, ''entirely due to the religious choice of the Khazars. Who would dare to suggest that religion can be distinguished from policy?''"There is no documentary evidence of a Khazar conversion to Judaism prior to the middle of the 9th century. Christian of Stavelot and the Life of Constantine (Saint Cyril) refer to a conversion that occurred in the 860s. We cannot doubt that there were Jews living in Khazaria before that time, but they were not of Turkic stock. So when someone attacks the Khazar theory with the argument "The Khazars of the 8th century married their daughters to Byzantine emperors, so their Judaism was superficial", be sure to remember the chronological inconsistency.
Moses Avigdor Shulvass, in his book History of the Jewish People, Vol. 2: The Early Middle Ages (Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1982), took a neutral stance on the question, writing that the fate of the Khazarian Jews "is an even greater enigma" (page 117) and "basically remains an enigma." (page 118) However, Shulvass does write that "At any rate, a Khazarian 'diaspora' did emerge after the downfall of the kingdom. Various sources mention the presence of Khazarians in the Caucasus, Byzantium, Kievan Russia, Hungary, and even distant Alexandria in Egypt. Khazarians are mentioned in the historical sources as late as the fourteenth century." (page 118) But he did not take a position about the ultimate descendants of these Khazars.
The Cultural Guide to Jewish Europe (Editions Du Seuil, 2004) called Koestler's hypothesis that Ashkenazim descend from Khazars "audacious and as-yet unverified" (page 400).
Returning to valid arguments against the Khazar theory, there are many who point out the weakness of Koestler's repetition of the idea that place-names in eastern Europe like Zydowo, Kozarzewek, Kozara, and Kawiory are of Khazar origin. See Rosensweig, page 152.
Rosensweig is correct (pages 153-154) to argue against Poliak's (and Koestler's) speculations that Polish shtetl lifestyles derived directly from the Khazars.
Also, the religious customs of the eastern European Jews are primarily from the West (Rosensweig, pages 157-158). We cannot dispute Weinryb that many clearly Germanic names are to be found among East European Jews of past and present times. But we can explain the Germanic influx as a merging with existing Jewish cultures in eastern Europe, rather than as the exclusive inhabitants of eastern Europe. Several scholars of the 20th century argued that the German Jews intermarried with Slavic-speaking Jews, whom Toporov and others argue are of Khazar origin. The fact that there were Slavic-speaking Jews is proven beyond doubt in Alexander Beider's book A Dictionary of Ashkenazic Given Names (Avotaynu, 2001). But only some of these Slavic-speaking Jews could have been Khazars; others were from the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia. Due to the demographic superiority of the German Jews, Yiddish names and Yiddish language came to predominate among all Jewish communities which formerly spoke Czech and East Slavic and other languages as the German Jews married the other Jews.
"In the twelfth century, the Jews of Russia, who naturally spoke the language of the country, began to be thrown into contact with the brethren of Germany, both through mercantile association and by reason of the influx of western Jews into Slavic countries after the Crusades.... These new-comers, whether by weight of number or because of their superior training in Judaism, imposed upon the older residents their culture and their very speech. The German dialect was thus introduced among Polish Jewry."
- Max Leopold Margolis and Alexander Marx, in A History of the Jewish People (Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1947), page 527.
"The label ''Ashkenazi'' does not necessarily mean that all Ashkenazi Jews came from Germany but that they adopted the cluster of Ashkenazi culture which included the specific Ashkenazi religious rite and the German-based Yiddish language. Thus, it is plausible that Slavic-speaking Jewish communities in Eastern Europe (which existed there from early times) became dominated in the sixteenth century by Ashkenazi culture and adopted the Yiddish language."
- Benjamin Harshav, in The Meaning of Yiddish (Los Angeles and Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1990), pages 5-6.
"Jews from the Rhineland were invited to Poland... And in Poland these immigrants now found old settlements of Jews who spoke Slavic, did not live in ghettos (though in separate sections of cities), and were not worried or threatened about their Jewishness. These Polish Jews assimilated their Ashkenazic brethren, newly arrived, and themselves began to speak - Yiddish."
- Leo Rosten, in The Joys of Yiddish (New York, NY: Pocket Books, 1970), page 526.
"Of other Germanic or German-based languages, Yiddish did not take its final shape as a separate language of eastern, including EC, Europe until late medieval times. However, its immediate predecessor, Judeo-German (originating, as recent scholarship has shown, in Bavaria and Bohemia, and notably in the cities of Regensburg and Prague, and not, as was earlier thought, in the Rhine valley), spread, at least with the first wave of Jewish settlers, to Silesia, Poland proper, Lithuania, Belarus', and western Ukraine during the high and later Middle Ages. Earlier Jewish ethnic groups had arrived in ECE (or its fringes) from the southeast: the former Khazaria (and beyond) and Kievan Rus', switching in the new setting to some form of East Slavic speech, and from the Crimea - the so-called Karaites - who settled in Lithuania and Galicia and who long retained a mixture of Turko-Tataric and Hebrew."
- Henrik Birnbaum, "The Vernacular Languages of East Central Europe in the Medieval Period", in "...The Man of Many Devices, Who Wandered Full Many Ways...": Festschrift in Honor of János M. Bak, edited by Balázs Nagy and Marcell Sebõk (Budapest: Central European University Press, 1999), page 385.
"The origins of the Ashkenazi communities in Europe are very vague. ... At the same time that Jews in western Europe were migrating east, Jews from Khazaria were fleeing from that country. Beginning in the eleventh century, after their kingdom was overthrown and during the following two centuries, they settled in with the Jews coming from the west. In fact, it now appears that the Khazars were the dominating influence in what came to be Ashkenazi Judaism; the medieval Jewish communities in France and Germany were relatively small compared to the Ashkenazi populations of Eastern Europe, and there is relatively little mention of their eastward migration by contemporary writers. ... Likewise, the clothes and houses of the Ashkenazi shtetls more closely resembled those common in the steppe region of Khazaria than those in western Europe."
- Ernest L. Abel, in Jewish Genetic Disorders: A Layman's Guide (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2001), page 28.
"In Poland a sizable population of Jews from the west met a much smaller group who had arrived via the east. Hundreds of years before, these eastern Jews had walked from Israel by way of Byzantium. By this time they spoke some form of Slavic. And because their numbers were much smaller than the Ashkenazi Jews, they largely disappeared into their ranks. But they brought one more strand to be woven in."
- Miriam Weinstein, in Yiddish: A Nation of Words (South Royalton, VT: Steerforth Press, 2001), page 25.
See also Eckhard Eggers, Sprachwandel und Sprachmischung im Jiddischen (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1998) which discusses the mixing between Slavic Jews and Khazar Jews and Bavarian Jews.
From a very early time the Khazars were a diverse and generally tolerant people. A kagan's mobilization from the early days of the Khazar kingdom indicates that there were people with all sorts of hairstyles, living quarters, and lifestyles in the country. But it would be a mistake to interpret the Islamic sources by arguing that the Khazars were not Jews. Rather, the inhabitants of Khazaria were of diverse origins - Iranians, Turks, Slavs, Greeks, Goths, and others - and we cannot expect them to have always followed the faith of the ruling Khazar tribe, because the Khazar king never forced the religion of Judaism upon them.
It seems that after the fall of their kingdom, the Khazars adopted the Cyrillic script in place of Hebrew and began to speak East Slavic (sometimes called "Canaanic" because Benjamin of Tudela called Kievan Rus the "Land of Canaan"). These Slavic-speaking Jews are documented to have lived in Kievan Rus during the 11th-13th centuries. However, Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants from the west (especially Germany, Bohemia, and other areas of Central Europe) soon began to flood into Eastern Europe, and it is believed that these newer immigrants eventually outnumbered the Khazars. Thus, Eastern European Jews predominantly have ancestors who came from Central Europe rather than from the Khazar kingdom. The two groups (eastern and western Jews) intermarried over the centuries. This idea is not new. In a footnote in Chapter 2 of History of the Jews in Russia and Poland Volume 1 (English translation, 1916), the great Ashkenazic historian Simon Dubnow writes: "It is quite possible that there was an admixture of settlers from the Khazar kingdom, from the Crimea, and from the Orient in general, who were afterwards merged with the western element." (page 39).
The Ashkenazi Jews are also the direct descendants of the Israelites. Genetic tests seem to indicate that Jewish ancestry largely comes from the regions known today as Turkey, Armenia, Israel, and Iraq. Mediterranean Fever, for example, is found among some Ashkenazi Jews as well as Armenians and Anatolian Turks. Many Ashkenazi men who belong to the priestly caste (Kohenim) possess the "Cohan modal haplotype" (CMH) on the Y-chromosome. While not exclusive to Jews, the CMH is found mostly in peoples from the north-eastern Mediterranean region (and, incidentally, among Palestinian Arabs), and its distribution supports the claim that Jews who have the CMH have an ancestral line from the Middle East. A genetics study released in May 2000, led by Michael Hammer, contends that the results show that Ashkenazi Jews are more closely related to Yemenite Jews, Iraqi Jews, Sephardic Jews, Kurdish Jews, and Arabs than they are to European Christian populations, and that hardly any intermarriage or conversion has occurred to affect the Jewish groups over the centuries. A study the following year by Ariella Oppenheim et al. showed why it is important to include multitudes of comparisons between ethnic groups; Hammer had failed to test Kurds and any Slavic group other than Russians, whereas Oppenheim's team did so and therefore came to somewhat different conclusions. But, in general, evidence from both studies is strong that most Ashkenazic Jews descend from Judeans in their paternal lineages. DFNB1, a genetic mutation causing deafness, affects Jews as well as Palestinians and other Mediterranean populations, according to research by Dr. Aravinda Chakravarti. A particular mutation that causes coagulation factor XI deficiency is found among both Iraqi Jews and Ashkenazi Jews, from a common ancient ancestor over 2000 years ago. Discussions and summaries of genetic evidence are here.
The population geneticist Nathaniel Michael Pearson worked with the Human Genome Project a few years ago and helped to collect DNA samples from North Caucasians, Turks, Sino-Tibetans, and other groups. Pearson is of Ukrainian Jewish background and compared his paternal Y-chromosome sample to those of men from other groups. His DNA matched with an Uzbekistani Uzbek, an Uzbekistani Tajik, and two men from New Delhi in northern India. Pearson believes that the Central Asian haplotype he has could be connected to the Khazar Turks. However, he told me that this haplotype (Q1b, also known as Q-P36) "appears at only a couple percent frequency in a large Ashkenazi sample (and strangely shows a slightly higher, but still very low, frequency among Moroccan Jews)". In other words, this particular possibly-Khazar ancestral strain represents a minority rather than a majority of Eastern European Jews. On the paternal side, Khazar ancestry in Ashkenazic Jews appears to have totalled between 5 and 19 percent, depending on which haplogroups one believes derive from the Khazars (there are four good possibilities). And while maternal DNA (mtDNA) studies have shown substantial links between Ashkenazi Jews and the peoples of Europe, these non-Israelite inputs into the Ashkenazi genepool still do not represent the majority of total maternal and paternal Ashkenazi ancestry, and probably only a small portion of these European inputs come from Khazar women. A genetic study published by Harry Ostrer and his team in 2010 showed that Ashkenazic Jews have more northern Mediterranean ancestry than Slavic/Khazar ancestry, and also showed strong links between Ashkenazim and Italian Jews, Greek Jews, Sephardic Jews, and Syrian Jews.
The Israelite traces among the East European Jews came from three sources: (1) Sephardic Jews fleeing Spain and Portugal and resettling in Lithuania and Poland, (2) Roman Jews, and from (3) Khazarian Jews who merged with Israelites, just as the Schechter Letter states "they became one people". The Khazars and the Israelites mixed with each other.
Are all Jews around the world descended from the Khazars? Certainly not. East European Jewish ancestry originates substantially from ancient Judea, and the same is true of most other modern Jewish populations (with the exception of groups like Libyan Jews and Ethiopian Jews). But, it is rational to conclude that some Jews also have some Khazar ancestors.
Kevin Alan Brook is the author of The Jews of Khazaria, the most recent general history of the Khazars in English, and the article "The Origins of East European Jews" in Russian History/Histoire Russe volume 30, numbers 1-2 (Spring-Summer 2003), pages 1-22.
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