Synagogue in Bukhara
In the old quarter of Bukhara only two synagogues remained: the nearest and far synagogues. And once there were thirteen. In the 70s, Jews began to leave the Soviet Union, including the countries of Central Asia, and the synagogues were closed. And in Bukhara, the Jewish community has declined significantly: if in the past it consisted of 35,500 people, now there are just over 400 Jews.
In this article we will talk about the nearest synagogue of Bukhara, which is more than 400 years old. It is located next to the architectural ensemble Lyabi-Hauz in the very center of the city.
You will not immediately find it in the tangled streets of the Bukhara mahalla: once only Jews lived here. Now, in high houses with solid walls and small courtyards, Uzbeks and Tajiks live. However, every evening from Friday to Saturday in the neighborhood with them the Jews begin their traditional religious mass.
The rituals in the Bukhara synagogue are virtually indistinguishable from those conducted in Israel. Only bright suzane hanging on the walls tell about the fact that after all this is the synagogue of Bukhara.
However, this was not always. At the end of the 18th century, Joseph Maman Maarawy, a rabbi from Morocco, came to Bukhara. Having taken part in the religious service, he found that it was already far from that which European Jews were conducting, and in the Torah, which was kept here, lacks the last two books. The Bukhara Jews lost their religion and culture, and the visiting rabbi decided to improve it, for which he remained in Bukhara. Since then, religious ceremonies in Bukhara have been put in order, so now Jews from Israel or the United States, who visit Bukhara synagogues weekly, hardly see any differences.
The history of Bukhara synagogue
The construction of a synagogue in Bukhara is closely connected with the building of a place quite famous all over the world in the city - the architectural ensemble Lyabi House. As Bukhara scientists assert for the first time this story was mentioned in writing by Z.A. Amitin-Shapiro in 1921. The locals told him about this tradition, and it is this, and no other, that is considered the most faithful to this day.
In the XVII century, one of the viziers of Imam Quli Khan built a large mosque in the center of the city, the Honako Nodir Divan Begi. Next to the mosque there was a small courtyard belonging to a Jewish widow. Nodir Divan Begi, having decided that instead of her house a large reservoir could well have been built, he turned to her with a request to sell her yard for any fee. But the widow did not succumb to the vizier's persuasion and refused his offer.
Then Divan Begi turned for help to the Khan, being sure that he would resolve the dispute in his direction, because, as is known, Nodir Divan Begi was the uncle of the Khan. But Imam Quli Khan handed over the consideration of this question to the colleges of muftis who forbade taking the house from the hostess, since the Bukhara Jews paid a tax of "jizya" for the right to preserve their religion and had the same rights as Muslims.
The vizier had to confine himself to a reservoir of small size. Then his friends told him to take a small canal (aryk) from the city channel “Shokhrud”, so that it would pass near the Jewish house.
The ingenious plan worked. When the water began to wash away the foundation of the house, the woman turned to Nodir Divan Begi, to which he responded with the same conditions. The widow had no heirs and she did not need the money. She agreed to a deal with an official on her own terms, which provided for the issuance of a site for the construction of a Jewish synagogue in Bukhara. Nodir Divan Begi agreed with the woman and gave her his plot of land, which was located not far from her old house. Jews built a synagogue here, and the vizier expanded his reservoir to its present size.
It is known that the woman, after the construction of the synagogue, lived on its upper floor, but unfortunately her story did not preserve her name.
Today, the synagogue is also a monument of antiquity and is under state protection. This Bukhara synagogue keeps the Torah, which is 500 years old.
The synagogue in Bukhara is visited by many tourists, visitors to the city, and high-ranking officials.
Members of the community of Bukhara Jews piously honor the memory of their ancestors. In the place of honor in the synagogue there are photographs of 18 rabbis who in different years lived in Bukhara.
Bukhara Jews: how did they appear in Central Asia?
It so happened that all Jews living in Central Asia are called Bukhara. This does not mean that they come only from Bukhara - representatives of this nationality have lived in other cities for centuries, but traditionally they are called that way. Historians have several assumptions on this subject: someone associates the emergence of this phrase with Tamerlan, who after taking Bukhara, relocated several hundred Jewish families from there to Samarkand, calling the new Jewish community "Bukhara". Other historians hold the opinion that when Turkestan joined Russia, the Russian authorities clearly separated native Jews from Russians, and since the largest Jewish community lived in Bukhara, they all began to be called "Bukhara".
There are several versions of how Jews in general got to Central Asia. Some researchers claim that this happened during the Great Silk Road: they came to the region with trade caravans, and then they found occupation for themselves and stayed here. There is also an assumption that Jews were brought here during the time of the Achamenids for the development of the economy. Historians also call this version: in the 7th century, the Sassanids were defeated on the territory of modern Iran, and crowds of refugees, among whom were representatives of the Jewish people, went to our region. In general, be that as it may, Jews appeared here a long time ago: the first written evidence of them is dated to the XIII century; and the oldest synagogue, which archaeologists discovered on the territory of modern Turkmenistan, generally refers to the III century.