by Kevin Alan Brook
Reassessment Based upon the Latest Historical,
Archaeological, Linguistic, and Genetic Evidence
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.
The "traditional" view is that Eastern European Jews descend almost
entirely from French and German Jews. This essay presents the pros
and cons of the controversial "Khazar theory" of Eastern
European Jewish origins and will attempt to provide a likely
middle-ground solution to the question. Unlike other treatments of
the question, this essay uses recent discoveries, is meant to be
objective, and is fully sourced so that you can be guaranteed of the
authenticity of the information. In summary, I argue in this essay
that Eastern European Jews descend both from Khazarian Jews
AND from Israelite Jews.
Evidence in favor of the Khazar theory
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 Portuguese Jews into Poland and Hungary.
Judaism is almost always noted in our medieval documentary sources
as having been the most important religion in the Khazar kingdom. It
is often the only religion cited when referring to the Khazars. And
the Hebrew script is noted as being the script of 10th
century Khazars. Here are some examples:
"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)... circumcised
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
- Denkart, a Persian work
"All of the Khazars are Jews. But they have been Judaized
- Ibn al-Faqih, a 10th
"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
"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
circumcised, 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 Russians to suffer
the same fate?'"
- The Russian Chronicle,
describing a visit of Khazar missionaries to Kiev in the year
"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 circumcised 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).
Constantine Akropolites (1250-1324) copied 11th-century
stories about Saint Zotikos and the leprosarium that he founded in
Pera, a suburb of Constantinople. The stories reveal the settlement
of Jewish Khazars in Pera, near the leprosarium, and how these
Khazars had married with other Jews and become fully integrated into
the Jewish district. (See: "The Legend of Saint Zotikos According to
Constantine Akropolites", ed. Timothy S. Miller, Analecta
Bollandiana 112 (1994): 339-376.)
In the early 10th century, the Jews of Kiev wrote a
letter of recommendation on behalf of one of the members of their
community, whose name was Yaakov bar Hanukkah. The letter is known
as the Kievan Letter and was discovered in 1962 by Norman Golb of
the University of Chicago. The names of the Kievan Jews are of
Turkic, Slavic, and Hebrew origins, such as Hanukkah, Yehudah,
Gostata, and Kiabar. There is an argument that these Jews were
Israelites who adopted local names, but others argue that they were
Jews of Khazar origin to whom Turkic names were native.
"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 burial practices of the Khazars
were transformed sometime in the 9th century. Shamanistic
sun-amulets disappeared from Khazar graves after the 830s, according
to Bozena Werbart, and so did other sorts of items:
"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
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 fragrantly pagan features of
their burial-ritual, trenches forming hollow squares among
- Jonathan Shepard, "The
Khazars' Formal Adoption of Judaism and Byzantium's Northern
Policy." Oxford Slavonic Papers, New Series 31 (1998): 16-17.
Khazarian and Hebraic imagery can often
be found on the same artifact:
"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
In 2002, a coin from the Viking "Spillings
Hoard" of Gotland, Sweden was identified as having been minted by
Jewish Khazars, due to its markings and its inscription "Moses is
the messenger of God" in place of the usual Muslim inscription
"Muhammad is the messenger of God". The coin is an imitation of
Arabic coinage and contains the fictitious mintmark "Madinat as-Salam
779-80". Numismatists conclude that it was actually minted in 837 or
838 in Khazaria.
"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
- Olivier Truc, "Une pièce au
puzzle kazhar", Libération (July 16, 2002): 26-27.
Hebrew characters were allegedly found
engraved on utensils from a Khazarian site in the Don river valley
of Russia. One prominent scholar thinks this discovery is a hoax,
and no solid evidence of the discovery has yet been presented to a
scholarly journal or conference, despite the unconfirmed allegation
that it was mentioned at the 1st International Khazar Studies
Colloquium by Gennadii Afanasyev.
A so-called "Jewish Khazar" ring was buried in a grave in medieval
"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
- 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.
Jewish symbols were placed on bricks at
another burial site in medieval Hungary, which is now located in
"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 CHelarevo, 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
- 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),
In addition to the Hungarian site above,
the Star of David was found at two sites in the Khazar kingdom, even
though it is unclear whether the symbol was used there for Jewish
"Engravings of the six-pointed
Jewish star of David were found on circular Khazar relics and
bronze mirrors from Sarkel and Khazarian gravefields in
- 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
- 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 - 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.
Scholarly opinions in favor of the Khazar theory
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 Khazars 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
- 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 Z'ydzi 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
- 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
- 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 (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),
"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
- Leo Trepp, in Eternal Faith, Eternal People: A Journey
into Judaism (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1962), page
"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
- 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
- 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
"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
- 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."
- Samuel 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
- Lawrence Jeffrey Epstein, in Questions and Answers on
Conversion to Judaism (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1998), page
"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
"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
- 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 après 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),
"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
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
- 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
- Leon Poliakov, in The History of Anti-Semitism: From
the Time of Christ to the Court Jews, trans. Richard Howard
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), page
"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.
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
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.
Notable modern Jews and Jewish communities who claim Khazar ancestry
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
"[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
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.
Arguments against the Khazar theory
Judaism was never widespread in
Khazaria, having been limited only to the ruling classes.
Ibn Rustah's account accurately
describes the Jewish phase of Khazar life (10th century) and
since he says most Khazars followed the Turkic religion the
Khazars were not Jews. FALSE
The idea that Khazars migrated
westward is not supported by any scholars. FALSE
The idea that Khazars migrated
westward is not backed by any evidence. FALSE
Khazars never lived in Kiev. FALSE
The Khazars were really Karaites,
not Rabbinites. FALSE
The modern Karaims speak Turkic, and
the Khazars spoke Turkic, so they must be one and the same
people with the same type of Turkic. FALSE
All the Khazars became Orthodox
Christians, none remaining Jews. FALSE
All the Khazars became Muslims, none
remaining Jews. FALSE
There were no recognizable Khazars
alive after the 11th century. FALSE
No Turkic words exist in the Yiddish
The Khazars were not a highly
cultured people. FALSE
The Byzantines and the Khazars were
allies in the 8th and early 9th centuries - how was this
possible if the Khazars were really Jews and the Byzantines were
Christians? FALSE CHRONOLOGY
There are no modern Jews who
remember their Khazar heritage. FALSE
No Polish place-names were named
after the Khazars. TRUE
Polish shtetl life did not derive
from the Khazars. TRUE
The majority of Polish Jews came
from the West, not the East. TRUE
Most Ashkenazi Jews have Germanic,
not Turkic, surnames and customs. TRUE
Most Ashkenazi Jewish genetic lines
trace to the Middle East. TRUE
Since the Ashkenazi Jews are
genetically Israelites, then it is not possible that they had
any ancestors who lived in the Khazar kingdom. FALSE BECAUSE
KHAZARIA WAS A DESTINATION FOR THE JEWISH DIASPORA, AND
KHAZARIAN JEWS INTEGRATED WITH OTHER 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
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
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
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 whatsoever. 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
"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
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'll have to re-read it and then
reconsider what I said.
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
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
"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
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
"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
("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
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
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
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
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."
Thomas C. Hubka in Resplendent
Synagogue: Architecture and Worship in an Eighteenth-Century Polish
Community 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."
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
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
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.
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
"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
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.
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. 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,
- 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
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,
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
"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 preceded 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
"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?''"
here 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
"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
- Benjamin Harshav, in The Meaning of Yiddish (Los
Angeles and Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1990),
"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 -
- 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.
"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.
PART 5. Conclusions
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
However, he told me that this haplotype
"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. 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 some of these
European inputs come from Khazar women.
Additional, more comprehensive genetic testing may help us to
understand the extent of any Khazar contribution to the Ashkenazi
gene pool. For now, I can point out that the Israelite traces among
the East European Jews came from three sources:
(1) Sephardic Jews
fleeing Spain and Portugal and resettling in Lithuania and
(2) Roman Jews
(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.