The Jews of Kurdistan
A Study in Survival (2nd & Revised Edition)
Mordechai Zaken


The book tells the story of the Jews in Kurdistan, the Jewish subjects that had lived and survived under the patronage of their tribal chieftains (or “aghas,” i.e., masters). The book tells the story of their relationships with their Kurdish “aghas” and with their tribal neighbors within the tribal Kurdish society, during the 19th and 20th centuries, in towns as well as in distant villages.

The study is based on hundreds of first-hand oral history accounts, conducted by the author between 1985 and 2002, with more than 60 elderly Jews, originally from Kurdistan, who shared their rich and fascinating oral memoirs on the tribal Kurdish society with the author, who was then able to reconstruct the history of the Jews and the tribal Kurdish society.

Reviews

The book of Dr. Mordechai Zaken is the most important book written on the Jews of Kurdistan.

– Lora Galichco
Independent Scholar
Descendent of Kurdish Jews

This is an original, comprehensive study on the Jewish community in Kurdistan in the last stages of its existence, during the first half of the 20th century. The scope of this study is far wider than its name. It emphasizes the various aspects of the relationships between the Jews and their lords – the Kurdish shaykhs- and the Kurdish population.

I have no doubt that in his unique research the author has shown originality, independence and made major contribution to the study of the minorities in the Middle East, as well as to the social history of the Jews in modern times.

– Professor Moshe Sharon
Chair in Baha’i Studies
Director of the Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum Palaestinae

The result of his quest for oral documentation was considerable. This huge amount of information has not only been well classified, hut the candidate succeeded in making it a smooth and agreeable read.

Mr. Zaken’s thesis is highly original in both subject and method. The project he undertook is a significant one, in an academic area where there is still a dearth of knowledge, and his work complements the previous research which does exist. He made excellent methodological choices both in doing an impressive number of first hand interviews, a in the careful and detailed way he treated the material he obtained; his data is highly valuable.

His work is an important contribution to the study of the Jewish diaspora, to the study of the specificities of the Kurdish Jews, to the study Jewish relations with Moslems and Christians in Iraqi Kurdistan, and to the study of Iraqi Kurdistan itself. I highly commend this thesis, and congratulate Mr. Zaken on His work.

– Professor Joyce Blau
INALCO, Paris

Mordechai Zaken studies the life of the Jews of Kurdistan (mainly Iraqi Kurdistan) as a minority group among their mostly Muslim neighbors. Following a short introduction on Kurdistan and the position of its Jews, the study is divided into four parts: urban Jews and their tribal aghas (chieftains); rural Jews and their tribal aghas; some aspects of daily and personal life, focusing of safety of life, economic life, and conversion; and the period between WWI and the emigration to Israel.

Because most Kurdish Jews emigrated to Israel in the early 1950s and the reports on their lives in Kurdistan are few, much of the study is based on interviews Zaken conducted in Israel between 1987 and 2002 with 56 Kurdistan-born Jews, and interviews with Kurdish Jews that were conducted in the 1970s. The study is very detailed and provides much hitherto unknown information on Kurdish Jews and their relations with their Muslim neighbors.

Among the lesser known issues are conversion of Jews to Islam, the Jewish experience during WWI, and the period prior to the mass emigration to Israel. Despite the existence of the part dealing with daily and personal life, very little description and analysis refers to women (except for kidnapping and forced conversion).

All in all this is an important contribution to the study of Kurdish Jews within the framework of the larger Muslim society, and is of interest to the study Middle Eastern and North African Jews, the study of minorities, and of Iraq in general.

– Rachel Simon
Princeton University

Mordechai Zaken studies the life of the Jews of Kurdistan (mainly Iraqi Kurdistan) as a minority group among their mostly Muslim neighbors. Following a short introduction on Kurdistan and the position of its Jews, the study is divided into four parts: urban Jews and their tribal aghas (chieftains); rural Jews and their tribal aghas; some aspects of daily and personal life, focusing of safety of life, economic life, and conversion; and the period between WWI and the emigration to Israel.

Because most Kurdish Jews emigrated to Israel in the early 1950s and the reports on their lives in Kurdistan are few, much of the study is based on interviews Zaken conducted in Israel between 1987 and 2002 with 56 Kurdistan-born Jews, and interviews with Kurdish Jews that were conducted in the 1970s. The study is very detailed and provides much hitherto unknown information on Kurdish Jews and their relations with their Muslim neighbors. Among the lesser known issues are conversion of Jews to Islam, the Jewish experience during WWI, and the period prior to the mass emigration to Israel. Despite the existence of the part dealing with daily and personal life, very little description and analysis refers to women (except for kidnapping and forced conversion).

All in all this is an important contribution to the study of Kurdish Jews within the framework of the larger Muslim society, and is of interest to the study Middle Eastern and North African Jews, the study of minorities, and of Iraq in general.

– Rachel Simon
Princeton University

About the Author


Mordechai Zaken
, Ph.D. (2004) in Near Eastern Studies, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, specializes in the history of the Kurds, the Oriental Jewry, and the non-Muslim minorities in the region. He served as the Adviser on Arab Affairs to the Prime Minister of Israel (1997-99).

Comments and questions are welcome.

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