History: Under the Soviets

Military actions carried out after the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, ending in 1920 with the conquest of Bukhara by the Red Army and the abolition of the Emir's rule, were regarded by the Bukharan Jewish masses as a further manifestation of the conflict between the Russians and Muslims; despite the harsh decrees of the Russian regime, many sided with the Russians. The radical Jewish intelligentsia in Turkistan supported the idea of establishing a democratic republic, whether an independent state or tied to Russia on the basis of local autonomy. Two representatives of Bukharan Jewry, Raphael Potilahov and Jacob Va'adiayov, served in 1918 as ministers in the short-lived autonomous government in Khuqand. Radical representatives of the Jewish community in Bukhara supported Muslim modernists (jadids) in their demands for reform; one of the Jewish radicals, Yunusov, was executed after the Bukharan authorities broke up a jadid demonstration in 1918.

The entrenchment of the Soviet regime brought to an end the existence of the upper strata of Bukharan Jews. Most of them lost all rights because they had been engaged, according to the Soviet conception, in occupations of exploitation. Even the petty traders, who constituted a significant part of the community, were deprived of rights. Heavy taxes were imposed on the craftsmen and most of them had no choice but to work as laborers in government-supervised enterprises. Thus there were many Jews among the workers in the national factories, especially those near the Jewish quarters such as the silk-mill of Samarkand, or the cotton gin in Khuqand. Co-operatives of tailors, shoe repairers and barbers were organized, and many former craftsmen had to join them.

From 1926 on, under the aegis of OZET (the Soviet organization for the encouragement of agriculture among the Jews), many attempts were made to set up Jewish kolkhozes in Uzbekistan. In 1929 there were 26 such kolkhozes, but the experiment failed and by the early 1950s only two still existed. The censuses of 1959 and 1970 show that the number of Jewish rural dwellers in Central Asia was negligible.

Attempts were also made to weaken and ultimately to eradicate religious ideology. Notwithstanding the fact that this policy was prosecuted more cautiously in Central Asia than in the European sector of the Soviet Union, most synagogues were closed down by the late 1920s and early 1930s. The campaign against the Jewish religion increasingly intensified throughout the 1930s, halted for a few years during World War II, but was resumed in greater force in the late 1940s. It resulted in a situation in which only one synagogue remained in each of most of the large communities, while in smaller centers prayer services were held in private homes. Nevertheless, the great majority of members of the community of all ages, regardless of education or social status, maintain traditional religious observances relating to the human life-cycle: circumcision, marriage and burial practices. Maintenance of kashrut and observances related to the yearly cycle (e.g., weekday prayers individually or in a minyan, Sabbath observance, synagogue service on Sabbath and the festivals, traditional practices relating to Passover and Sukkot, fast days) is more widespread among the older members of the community and in the lower echelons of social and educational status.

The Soviet authorities initially declared war on traditional anti-Semitism but anti-Jewish hostilities did not abate, and even intensified periodically. Thus, for example, there were blood libels in 1926 in Charjui (now in the Turkeman Soviet Socialist Republic), and in 1930 in the village of Aghaliq near Samarkand. After World War II, an anti-Semitic campaign was directed from above. In 1948–53, when there was intensive anti-Jewish agitation in the U.S.S.R. in general, the press in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan also printed some "satirical" feuilletons whose villain was the local Jew. Since the late 1940s the Jews of these two republics have been excluded from the regulation that gives priority to natives of the region in studies at the local universities and the prestigious institutes of higher learning in the major academic and cultural centers of the U.S.S.R., such as Moscow and Leningrad, according to the quota allotted to every distant republic.

In 1956, during and following the Sinai Campaign, letters and declarations signed in the names of Bukharan Jews appeared in the newspapers of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, in not a few cases the signatories had been compelled to write the letters or to sign letters written in their name by others.

New blood libels erupted against the background of increased anti-Jewish public sentiments. In 1961 an old Jewess of Marghelan was accused of kidnapping a two-year-old Uzbek child and killing him for religious purposes. The child was found shortly thereafter in perfect health. A similar event occurred in Tashkent in 1962. In 1967, after the Six Day War, articles appeared in the press signed by Bukharan Jews and in 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, some Bukharan Jews spoke at meetings condemning Israel and displaying "solidarity with the peoples of Egypt and Syria who are struggling for their freedom." In these years too, in many cases, this was in obedience to instructions given by the organizers of the campaigns. On the other hand, however, instances are known in which local Jews refused to sign letters condemning Israel or to speak at anti-Israel meetings.

At the onset of the Soviet rule a network of secular government schools was established for the Bukharan community; the first teachers in these schools were Ashkenazi Jews, who did not know the language of the Bukharan Jews, and the language of instruction in these schools was Hebrew. From 1923, however, Judeo-Tajik became the language of instruction at schools. In 1921 a teachers' seminary was opened in Tashkent, and in 1925 a newspaper entitled R[shnoyi began to appear in this language (its name was changed to Bayroq-i Mihnat in 1930). In 1929 the alphabet of Judeo-Tajik was changed from Hebrew to Latin. A literary journal entitled Hayot-i Mihnati began to appear in the early 1930s, and several years later a Judeo-Bukharan language theater was established in Samarkand, as well as a "section" of Judeo-Bukharan writers. In the 1930s Tashkent became the center of book publishing in Judeo-Tajik. Numerous books were issued in this language, especially propaganda works and textbooks, but also original literary creations.

The wave of imprisonments of 1936–38 dealt a harsh blow to cultural activity. In 1938–39 the newspapers were closed down, theatrical activity was terminated and in 1940 the publication of Judeo-Tajik books as well as the functioning of the Judeo-Bukharan schools was discontinued. The elimination of Judeo-Bukharan culture greatly accelerated the processess of assimilation with the community. In the large cities of Central Asia, where the Bukharan Jewish population is mainly concentrated, thirty years after the elimination of the community's cultural life and particularly its network of schools, the Judeo-Tajik language was the major means of communication in all areas of life only among those aged 55–60 or more. For most middle-aged Jews the cultural language is Russian, while the language of the community is spoken in the home. The younger generation often prefers Russian to the language of the community even in daily domestic usage. As for the children—some of them do not understand the language at all, and some of them understand but cannot speak it. Thus, the same intensive process of linguistic assimilation that occurred in the Ashkenazi community of the Soviet Union in the late 1920s–early 1930s is occurring, one generation later, within this community.

A basic change in the occupational composition of Bukharan Jewry occurred during the period of Soviet rule. The complex hierarchical structure of the Soviet society, in which personal social status is directly related to education, resulted after World War II in a sizeable increase in the members of the community who had received secondary and higher education. The most widespread occupations in the community still remain those that had constituted the primary means of livelihood at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century (i.e., hairdressing, shoe repairing, and instead of petty trades—selling in government stores); however, there was a great increase in the professions (doctors, teachers, engineers) and the free professions (actors, singers, artists, lawyers, etc.)