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Bukharan Jews and the Dynamics of Global Judaism

Alanna E. Cooper

Publication Year: 2012

Part ethnography, part history, and part memoir, this volume chronicles the complex past and dynamic present of an ancient Mizrahi community. While intimately tied to the Central Asian landscape, the Jews of Bukhara have also maintained deep connections to the wider Jewish world. As the community began to disperse after the fall of the Soviet Union, Alanna E. Cooper traveled to Uzbekistan to document Jewish life there before it disappeared. Drawing on ethnographic research there, as well as among immigrants to the US and Israel, Cooper tells an intimate and personal story about what it means to be Bukharan Jewish. Together with her historical research about a series of dramatic encounters between Bukharan Jews and Jews from other parts of the world, this lively narrative illuminates the tensions inherent in maintaining Judaism as a single global religion over the course of its long and varied diaspora history.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Indiana Series in Sephardi and Mizrahi Studies

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii

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PREFACE: Reining in Diaspora’s Margins

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pp. ix-xx

For countless generations, Jewish houses of prayer, schools, neighborhood associations, and markets dotted the landscape of Central Asia’s ancient silk-route cities. Although historians are not certain when Jews first appeared in the region, most believe they were among those who were exiled—or whose...

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pp. xxi-xxiv

This work is about the way in which unity can be constructed and maintained in the midst of tremendous flux and dispersion. Indeed, the book itself brings together in a single volume almost twenty years of research and writing, done in many locales. My deep love and devotion to the subject matters have...

Part 1. Introduction

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1 First Encounter: Bukharan Jewish Immigrants in an Ashkenazi School in New York

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pp. 3-14

During the cold war, when tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States were high, the plight of the Jews of the USSR was on the forefront of the American Jewish public agenda. The refusenik movement, in particular, was given great attention and publicity. Among its heroes were Anatoly...

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2 Writing Bukharan Jewish History: Memory, Authority, and Peoplehood

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pp. 15-32

On my first day of teaching at Torah Academy, before I knew that my students were immigrants from Soviet Central Asia, I looked at the many faces in my classroom, and was perplexed. Noticing that most had olive skin, deep-brown eyes, and dark hair, I wondered why they looked so different from the...

Part 2. Eighteenth-Century Conversations

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3 An Emissary from the Holy Land in Central Asia

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pp. 35-56

Much is at stake in writing the past of the Bukharan Jews, for their story —ostensibly about a small, marginal diaspora group—actually encapsulates the dynamics of Jewish history and Jewish People in the broadest sense. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the tale of an eighteenthcentury Sephardi emissary...

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4 Revisiting the Story of the Emissary from the Holy Land

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pp. 57-66

In addition to recounting Avraham Ya‘ari’s story of Yosef Maman, the previous chapter narrated the journey of Ya‘ari’s tale from obscurity into mainstream literature. This meta-narrative suggests that Ya‘ari’s depiction of Maman became accepted as a definitive moment in Bukharan Jewish history due...

Part 3. Nineteenth-Century Conversations

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5 Russian Colonialism and Central Asian Jewish Routes

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pp. 69-87

The story of Yosef Maman’s arrival in Central Asia at the turn of the eighteenth century signifies the onset of new forms of engagements between the Jews of Bukhara and the Jewish world that lay to the west. These relationships intensified in the nineteenth century as Imperial Russia encroached on Central Asia...

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6 A Matter of Meat: Local and Global Religious Leaders in Conversation

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pp. 88-119

By the spring of 1904, the slaughtering controversy—which had already been brewing in Samarkand’s Jewish community for several years—exploded. Perhaps it happened at Passover time, when the city’s Jews sat down to partake of the holiday feast at tables that seemed empty. Surely, they were replete with...

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7 Building a Neighborhood and Constructing Bukharan Jewish Identity

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pp. 120-136

The previous chapters outlined two versions of the Center-Periphery Paradigm, shedding light on the mechanisms involved in maintaining a normative Judaism in the face of diaspora. The current chapter switches to an examination of a very different construct used to conceive of and maintain Jewish unity...

Part 4. Twentieth-Century Conversations

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8 Local Jewish Forms

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pp. 139-168

The cosmopolitan, global quality of the Bukharan Jewish community was short-lived. In the 1920s the Soviets dismantled the remaining vestige of the Bukharan emirate, cut through the old borders, carved new ones, and incorporated the region into the USSR. Where the emirate once stood, two new political entities...

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9 International Jewish Organizations Encounter Local Jewish Community Life

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pp. 169-202

When the Soviet Union dissolved, emigration restrictions lifted and the Jews of Central Asia (like those in the rest of the Soviet Union) began leaving en masse. By 1993, the first time I visited Uzbekistan, the Bukharan Jewish population, which had numbered approximately 35,000 in 1989, had...

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10 Varieties of Bukharan Jewishness

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pp. 203-229

Whereas the previous chapter focused on the ways that Judaism and Jewish identity are being debated in the post-Soviet era, this chapter returns to the Edah Paradigm to explore current debates surrounding Bukharan Jewish identity. In this analysis, our gaze shifts away from Central Asia to explore...

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11 Negotiating Authenticity and Identity: Bukharan Jews Encounter Each Other and the Self

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pp. 230-252

Having explored the experiences of Bukharan Jews who emigrated (or whose ancestors emigrated) from Central Asia during four different eras, and under four very different sets of circumstances, we return here to a critical examination of the Edah Paradigm. This conceptual framework is used as a vehicle to...

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12 Jewish History as a Conversation

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pp. 253-262

In the winter of 1997, two large-scale Bukharan Jewish celebrations were held in Tel Aviv in celebration of Hanukkah. This holiday marks the Jews’ second-century bce victory over Greek cultural, spiritual, and national subjugation. Its central message is that with courage and commitment, group identity, autonomy, and...


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pp. 263-284


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pp. 285-294


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pp. 295-305

E-ISBN-13: 9780253006554
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253006431

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Indiana Series in Sephardi and Mizrahi Studies