Page 16 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 31

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WALTER J. FISCHEL
The Literary Heritage of the Kurdish Jews
ORIGIN AND MODE OF LIVING
K
u r d is t a n
,
the country of the Kurds, not an independent po­
litical entity, is that vast territory which is divided between Iraq,
Turkey and Iran, and inhabited mainly by Kurdish tribes. It is
one of the most rugged mountainous parts of Western Asia, split
up by ravines, gorges and swollen rivers; nature herself seems to
have determined to render it an inaccessible and impregnable
fortress.
In this area amid magnificent, majestic scenery, stretching from
Mosul on the Tigris across to Persian Azarbaijan, people of great
racial, ethnic, religious and linguistic diversities live—all rem­
nants of the past. They include Circassians, Turkomen and Per­
sian tribesmen, Oriental-Christian groups of many denominations
(Nestorians, Assyrians, Jacobites, Armenians), Yezidis (so-called
Devil Worshippers) and Mandaeans; in short, a throbbing ethno­
logical museum, a rich field for the historian, linguist and
ethnologist.
Within this web of ancient races, sects and creeds, Jews also
lived “since time immemorial,” scattered over hundreds of small
settlements, isolated from each other and exposed to the ravages
of nature and of man.
The origin of the Kurdish Jews is shrouded in obscurity. T ra ­
dition regards them as descendants of the exiles from Samaria
whom Salmanassar (722 B.C.E.) carried to “Hala, Chabor and
to the cities of Media.” The Targumim of Onkelos and Jonathan,
the Peshitta and some Talmudic references identify Kardu with
Kurdistan, the land of the Kardini, and with the territory of
Mount Ararat, on which, according to biblical tradition, the ark
of Noah rested after the deluge.
Nothing was known to the outside world about this
Galut
Kurd,
the dispersion of the Jews in Kurdistan, until they leaped
into prominence with the appearance in central Iraqi Kurdistan
circa 1147,of the pseudomessiah, David Alroy of Amadiya, the