The Assyrian & Babylonian Exiles
A significant majority of the Ten Tribes of
Israel who constituted the northern Kingdom of Israel during the Biblical
Period were taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 721-715 BCE.
They were deported to areas adjacent to the place of exile: Media, Assyira
and Mesopotamia. This area is roughly what is today called Kurdistan.
The Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar II 604-561
BCE inherited the Assyrian Empire. After his war and conquest of
Judah, he also exiled many Jews to Babylon. These new exiles, together
with the members of the Ten Tribes exiled previously, constituted a large
Jewish population. Even when Cyrus permitted their return to Israel,
many - especially the wealthy - remained in Babylon. Certain towns,
e.g. Nehardea, Nisibis, Mahoza, had an entirely Jewish population, and
their position remained favorable during successive regimes.
In the 1st century BCE a Jewish State was
set up around Nehardea by two brothers, ANILAI (Anilaos) and ASINAI (Asinaios),
and this lasted for many years. The Jews of Babylon (Babylon was
an empire which contained Kurdistan) remained in constant touch with the
Jews of Israel and even supplied some of their leaders (e.g. Hillel) with
arms and supplies. During the Roman occupation, the Babylonian Jews
rose against the emperor Trajan, the revolt being bloodily suppressed by
his commander, Lucius Quietus (116 CE).
Under Persian and Parthian rule, the Jews
of Babylon (Kurdistan) enjoyed an extensive measure of internal autonomy,
being headed by an Exilarch (Exile Ruler). This ruler was of Davidic
descent and was the king's representative. The community was governed by
a council of elders.
Source: The Standard Jewish
Encyclopedia: Tribes, Lost Ten & Babylon
Chart: A History of the
People, by H.H. Ben-Sasson, p140
The Jewish Roots of Kurdistan
The history of Judaism in Kurdistan is ancient.
The Talmud holds that Jewish deportees were settled in Kurdistan 2800 years
ago by the Assyrian king Shalmaneser. As indicated in the Talmud, the Jews
were given permission by the rabbinic authorities to allow conversion from
the local population. They were exceptionally successful in their endeavor.
The illustrious Kurdish royal house of Adiabene, with Arbil as its capital,
was converted to Judaism in the course of the 1st century BCE, along with,
it appears, a large number of Kurdish citizens in the kingdom (see Irbil/Arbil
in Encyclopaedia Judaica).
The name of the Kurdish king Monobazes
etymologically to the name of the ancient Mannaeans), his queen Helena,
his son and successor
are preserved as the first proselytes of this royal house (Ginzberg 1968,
VI.412). [But this is chronologically untenable as Monobazes' effective
rule began only in CE 18. In fact during the Roman conquest of Judea and
Samaria (68-67 BCE), Kurdish Adiabene was the only country outside Israel
that sent provisions and troops to the rescue of the besieged Galilee (Grayzel
1968, 163) - an inexplicable act if Adiabene was not already Jewish].
Many modern Jewish historians like Kahle
(1959), who believes Adiabene was Jewish by the middle of the 1st century
BCE, and Neusner (1986), who goes for the middle of the 1st century CE,
have tried unsuccessfully to reconcile this chronological discrepancy.
All agree that by the beginning of the
2nd century CE, at any rate, Judaism was firmly established in central
Like many other Jewish communities, Christianity
found Adiabene a fertile ground for conversion in the course of 4th and
5th centuries. Despite this, Jews remained a populous group in Kurdistan
until the middle of the present century and the creation of the state of
Israel. At home and in the synagogues, Kurdish Jews speak a form of ancient
Aramaic called Suriyani (i.e., "Assyrian"), and in commerce and
the larger society they speak Kurdish. Many aspects of Kurdish and Jewish
life and culture have become so intertwined that some of the most popular
folk stories accounting for Kurdish ethnic origins connect them with the
The tombs of Biblical prophets like Nahum
in Alikush, Jonah in Nabi Yunis (ancient Nineveh), Daniel in Kirkuk, Habakkuk
in Tuisirkan, and Queen Esther and Mordechai in Hamadân, and several
caves reportedly visited by Elijah are among the most important Jewish
shrines in Kurdistan and are venerated by all Jews today.
Further Readings and Bibliography:
Judaica, entries on Kurds and Irbil/Arbil; Louis Ginzberg, The Legends
of the Jews, 5th cd. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America,
1968); Jacob Mann, Texts and Studies in Jewish History and Literature,
vol. I (London, 1932); Yona Sabar, The Folk Literature of the Kurdistani
Jews (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982); Paul Magnaretta, "A Note
on Aspects of Social Life among the Jewish Kurds of Sanandaj, Iran," Jewish
Journal of Sociology Xl.l (1969); Walter Fischel, "The Jews of Kurdistan,"
Commentary VIII.6 (1949); Andre Cuenca, "L'oeuvre de I'Aflance Israelite
Universelle en Iran," in Les droits de I'education (Paris: UNESCO, 1960);
Dina Feitelson, "Aspects of the Social Life of Kurdish Jews," Jewish Journal
of Sociology 1.2 (1910); Walter Fischel, "The Jews of Kurdistan, a Hundred
Years Ago," Jewish Social Studies (1944); Solomon Grayzel, A History of
the Jews (New York: Mentor, 1968); Paul Kahle, The Cairo Geniza (Oxford,
1959); Jacob Neusner, ludaism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism in Talmudic
Babylonia (New York; University Press of America, 1986).
Kurdistan the Birthplace of
the Babylonian Talmud
Under the rule of the Jewish Queen Shlomis
Alexandra (also known as Shlomtzion, the widow of King Yannai, grandson
of Judah the Maccabee) 76-66 BCE, and under the advice of her brother Rabbi
Shimon ben Shetach, the Pharisees (Rabbinical Jews) split with the Sadducees
and other militant Jewish groups. Although the Pharisees opposed Roman
rule, they preferred academic study to military revolt.
In the years prior to the destruction of
the Temple in 70 CE, this rift in approach to Rome increased to the point
of open conflict with Rome and between the militants themselves.
The Hellenists sought to assimilate or appease Rome through adopting its
culture. The Pharisees sought to preserve the spiritual heritage
of Judaism through academies and study. The Herodians, Sadducees
and their Jordanian converts plotted revolt. Even though the
first revolt resulted in the destruction of the Temple, there was some
recovery. The second revolt under Bar Kochba in 135 CE, however,
was utterly crushed by Rome. There was a Jewish majority in Israel
for hundreds of years after this, but Israel as a autonomous political
entity ceased to exist.
After these events, the split became geographical.
The militant Jews headed south to Jordan and Southern Arabia, eventually
founding the Jewish State of Himyar (the Biblical Sheba) in what is now
Saudi Arabia and Yemen, still retaining the name "Iudean" or what has come
down to us as "Jews". They practiced a modified form of nationalistic Judaism
that was eventually transformed into Islam by the Prophet Mohammed.
The Rabbinic Jews moved first east, then north and eventually to Babylon.
Even after crushing the various Judean
revolts, the Romans allowed the Pharisees to establish centers of learning
in Yavneh (near modern Tel Aviv) and later in the Galilee and Golan heights.
The Roman conversion to Christianity under Constantine and its associated
intolerance, combined with the military aggressions of the Jews of Southern
Arabia led to a series of decrees essentially making Judaism an illegal
Babylon, specifically the area near what
is now called Kurdistan, provided a safe haven for Rabbinic - but not militant
- scholars. The Babylonian Talmud reflects a society
preponderantly based agriculture and crafts. They were learned in
Jewish Studies and had produced in the past the books of Ezekiel, Daniel
and Tobit. At the beginning of the 3rd century CE, Babylon became
the main center of Rabbinic studies. Academies were founded by R. Samuel
at Nehardea and by Rav at Sura. In the later 3rd century, the academy of
Pumpedita was founded to replace that at Nehardea (destroyed in 261 CE).
The importance of these communities was further enhanced with the abolition
of the Israeli Patriarch (Local Ruler) in 425 CE, when Babylon became the
spiritual center for all Jewry.
Chart: A History of the
Jewish People, by H.H. Ben-Sasson, p381
Islamic Conquest and the Babylonian
Persecutions in the 5th century CE led to
the Jewish revolt under Mar Zutra II. This leader held out for 7
years, but was finally captured and killed. The development of the
Talmud was discontinued about this time. The position of Jews continued
to be difficult until the Arab conquest (7th century). When the Arab
conquest began in 637 CE, the large and ancient Jewish and convert community
of Kurdistan favored and even assisted the Arab advance in the hope that
it would afford them deliverance from Sassanid persecution. Shortly
after the Arab occupation some Jews expelled from the remains of the Jewish
State in Himyar (what is now Saudi Arabia) settled in Kufa.
The Jews were forced to convert by a series
of discriminatory laws applied over the course of two centuries.
They suffered from the restrictions laid down by OMAR, and were excluded
from public office. Having no representation in government, unable
to build any new schools or synagogues, subject to special taxes and occasional
outbursts of religious violence -- the peasant community largely converted
by the end of the 9th century. Because of heavy taxation on cultivated
land, a unique change occurred in the Jewish community. For the first
time a small minority of Jews left agriculture and concentrated in the
larger towns, especially Baghdad, Basra and Mosul where they became traders
and craftsmen. The peasants, however, intermarried and became the
core of what we call today "The Kurds".
Saladin al Ayyubi
When slah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub
was born in 1138 to a family of Kurdish adventurers in the ( now Iraqi
) town of Takrit, Islam was a confusion of squabbling warlords living under
a Christian shadow. A generation before, European Crusaders had conquered
Jerusalem, massacring its Muslim and Jewish habitants. The Franks, as they
were called, then occupied four militarily aggressive states in the Holy
Land. The great Syrian leader Nur al-Din predicted that expelling the invaders
would require a holy war of sort that had propelled Islam's first great
wave half a millennium earlier, but given the treacherous regional crosscurrents,
such a united front seemed unlikely.
Saladin got his chance with
the death, in 1169, of his uncle Shirkuh, a one-eyed, overweight brawler
in Nur al-Din's service who had become the facto leader of Egypt. A seasoned
warrior despite his small stature and frailty, Saladin still had a tough
hand to play. He was a Kurd (even then a drawback in Middle Eastern politics),
and he was from Syria, a Sunni state, trying to rule Egypt, a Shiite country.
But a masterly 17-year campaign employing diplomacy, the sword and great
good fortune made him lord of Egypt, Syria and much of Mesopotamia. The
lands bracketed the Crusader states, and their combined might made plausible
Nur al-Din's dream of a Muslim-Christian showdown.
Ed Note: Many oriental
Jews fought alongside the Moslems to repulse the crusaders.
He conquered Jerusalem, and
it became even more central to the faithful. Saladin's family ruled less
than 60 years longer, but his style of administration and his humane application
of justice to both war and governance influenced Arab rulers for centuries.
His tolerance was exemplary. He allowed Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem
after its fall. The great Jewish sage Maimonides was his physician.
Ed Note: He allowed Jews
to flourish in Jerusalem and is credited for discovering the Western Wall
of the Jewish Temple after being buried by garbage under years of Roman-Byzantine
"The Genetic Bonds Between
Kurds and Jews"
by Kevin Alan Brook
Kurds are the Closest Relatives of Jews
In 2001, a team of Israeli, German, and
Indian scientists discovered that the majority of Jews around the world
are closely related to the Kurdish people -- more closely than they are
to the Semitic-speaking Arabs or any other population that was tested.
The researchers sampled a total of 526 Y-chromosomes from 6 populations
(Kurdish Jews, Kurdish Muslims, Palestinian Arabs, Sephardic Jews, Ashkenazic
Jews, and Bedouin from southern Israel) and added extra data on 1321 persons
from 12 populations (including Russians, Belarusians, Poles, Berbers, Portuguese,
Spaniards, Arabs, Armenians, and Anatolian Turks). Most of the 95 Kurdish
Muslim test subjects came from northern Iraq. Ashkenazic Jews have ancestors
who lived in central and eastern Europe, while Sephardic Jews have ancestors
from southwestern Europe, northern Africa, and the Middle East. The Kurdish
Jews and Sephardic Jews were found to be very close to each other. Both
of these Jewish populations differed somewhat from Ashkenazic Jews, who
mixed with European peoples during their diaspora. The researchers suggested
that the approximately 12.7 percent of Ashkenazic Jews who have the Eu
19 chromosomes -- which are found among between 54 and 60 percent of Eastern
European Christians -- descend paternally from eastern Europeans (such
as Slavs) or Khazars. But the majority of Ashkenazic Jews, who possess
Eu 9 and other chromosomes, descend paternally from Judeans who lived in
Israel two thousand years ago. In the article in the November 2001 issue
of The American Journal of Human Genetics, Ariella Oppenheim of the Hebrew
University of Israel wrote that this new study revealed that Jews have
a closer genetic relationship to populations in the northern Mediterranean
(Kurds, Anatolian Turks, and Armenians) than to populations in the southern
Mediterranean (Arabs and Bedouins).
In spite of their conversion to Islam, the
Kurds were never accepted as equals to other Islamic groups. Islamic
groups constantly feared a revival of the Jewish faith, and several Jewish
pseudo-messiahs, such as Abu Issa Al-Isfahani c. 700 and Shabbetai Tzvi
16th CE looked to this community to "raise a Jewish Army to liberate Eretz
Yisrael". Islamic end-times theologians saw the former as the model
of the "antichrist" Dajjal coming from Isfahan accompanied by 70,000 "Jews".
Thus Kurdistan's role as heirs to the Ten Tribes of Israel and a community
of immigrants and converts who grew up around the academies of the Babylonian
Talmud - the source of non-militant, Rabbinic Judaism of today - was effectively
and completely suppressed.
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