Page 17 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 31

Basic HTML Version

9
FISCHEL / LITERARY HERITAGE OF KURDISH JEWS
first and only Kurdish Jew ever to enter recorded history. He
attracted many followers among the Jewish communities even
in Persian Kurdistan, in Maragha, Urmiya, Salmas, Tabriz and
Khoy, as reported by Samuel b. Yahya al־Maghribi (1174 C.E .).
Benjamin of Tudela, the 12th century Jewish traveler, referred
to a net of “more than one hundred Jewish congregations in the
mountains of Hafton (Kurdistan) extending to the frontiers
of Media,” and estimated the Jewish population of Amadiya at
about 25,000.
The veil of obscurity hanging over these “Remnants of Israel”
was lifted six centuries after Benjamin of Tudela’s description,
when enterprising and courageous Western travelers and scholars
dared to penetrate into this region.
The most comprehensive and authentic account of the Kurdish
diaspora stems from the Jewish traveler Rabbi David d’Beth
Hillel, whose
Travels
(1828-1832) provided for posterity a vivid
description of the Jewish settlements of Kurdistan. With his sur-
vey of the Jewish communities in the Turkish, Iraqi and Persian
parts of Kurdistan, he has illuminated a hitherto hidden corner
on the Jewish map of Asia and has bridged a long-standing gap
in our knowledge.
The Kurds have a highly developed tribal consciousness and
the whole Kurdish population is organized on a tribal, feudal
basis. Every Kurd is first and foremost not an Iraqi, a Turki, or
an Irani, but a member of his tribe, and adheres to its law and
custom. The shape, color or form of the headgear and of the dress
for men and women is, in most cases, an external sign of the
tribal affiliation. The Kurd’s authority is the feudal lord or agha,
the head of the tribe, to whom he subordinates himself. In such a
tribally organized society Jews could not participate due to their
differences in religion, language and habits, and were regarded
as outcasts, pariahs, degraded and despised.
Although living within an agricultural society, a majority of
Jews were active as artisans, dyers, weavers, porters and in all
kinds of manual-physical labor; but others engaged in agricul-
tural pursuits. Some villages were completely inhabited bv Jewish
farmers who attended their soil, their vineyards, their fields and
orchards. (See E. Brauer’s ethnological studies on the Jews of
Kurdistan,
Yehude Kurdistan,
ed. by Raphael Patai, Jerusalem,
1947.)