The connection between Kurdish and Jewish:
Ancient tradition has it that Jews were settled in Kurdistan 2,800 years ago, part of the Ten Tribes dispersed by the Assyrian king Shalmaneser. Kurdish Jews identify themselves as amongst those described in the Prophets: “…the king of Assyria captured Samaria. He deported the Israelites to Assyria and settled them in Halah, at the [River] Habor, at the River Gozan ,places which are in fact within the Kurdistan region.
The first to highlight the Kurdish Jews’ tradition of antiquity was the medieval Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela (second half of twelfth century), who visited Kurdistan in the year 1170. He describes finding over one hundred Jewish communities, including the 25,000 strong community of Amadiya, for whom Aramaic was still a spoken language
In the twelfth century, when Benjamin of Tudela visited, both Kurdistan as a whole and its Jewish community in particular were at a high point in their history. Benjamin describes financially and religiously vibrant communities.
who is Benjamin of Tudela?
was a medieval Jewish traveler who visited Europe, Asia, and Africa in the 12th century. His vivid descriptions of western Asia preceded those of Marco Polo by a hundred years. With his broad education and vast knowledge of languages, Benjamin of Tudela is a major figure in medieval geography and Jewish history.
The Travels of Benjamin is an important work not only as a description of the Jewish communities, but also as a reliable source about the geography and ethnography of the Middle Ages. Some modern historians credit Benjamin with giving accurate descriptions of everyday life in the Middle Ages. Originally written in Hebrew, his itinerary was translated into Latin and later translated into most major European languages. It received much attention from Renaissance scholars in the 16th century.His journeys reveal the concurrent interconnectedness and diversity of Jewish communities during this time period
the travel of benjamin of tudela
The Kurdish Jewish woman enjoys much more freedom than her Jewish sisters in other traditional Jewish communities and she is far more independent than her counterparts among Kurdish, Turkish, Iranian or Iraqi Moslem women. The relationship between husband and wife is much more relaxed than that in other communities. Jewish women worked in the field with their husbands and rarely had to cover their face with a veil. Though the superior-inferior relationship existed, as in any patriarchal society, Jewish Kurdish men treated women with great respect, due to the women’s contribution to the wealth and hard work of the extended family.In the seventeenth century the relative freedom of Kurdish women in their community led to the ordination of the first woman rabbi.
Who is Asenath Barzani?
Asenath Barzani was the daughter of the highly respected Rabbi Samuel ben Nethanel Ha’Levi Barzani. She is considered the first female rabbi of Jewish history by some scholars, as well as one of the first recorded Kurdish women.
In her lifetime, Asenath Barzani was referred to by the title tanna’it rather than “rabbi” Nevertheless, since her father who was also a rabbi and was himself labeled Tannai (the male noun of Tanna’it) and not by the title rabbi, it is clear that in the Kurdistan of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the rabbi usually performed as Tannai, so it was determined likely that Asenath Barzani was therefore the first woman rabbi, while Regina Jonas (1902-1942) was the first woman who was called a Rabbi
Asenath Barzani’s narrative begins with the patriarchal sentiment that Rabbi Samuel did not have any sons “because of his sins” and Asenath was merely his smartest, most capable daughter. He taught Asenath how to read and study Torah, Talmud, Mishna, and Kabbalah, “I grew upon the knees of sages, pleasing my late father greatly with my wisdom, he taught me nothing but the holy work of studying the Torah day and night,” she recalled in one of her remaining letters.
Eventually her knowledge became well-known throughout the wider Middle East. When it was time for her to marry, her father chose his brightest pupil, Rabbi Jacob ben Abraham Mizrahi. Radical for perhaps any time period, Rabbi Samuel stipulated in the ketubah (marriage contract) that they would not be betrothed unless his daughter would focus her time as a Torah/Talmud scholar as opposed to typical domestic work.
After Asenath’s father passed away and while her husband was away serving the needs of Kurdistan’s other remote Jewish communities she effectively became the religious leader of Amediya and the surrounding villages.
Barzani Memorial Center north of Barzan
the surname Barzani references the specific region where they lived—Barzan—which lies a couple of hours north of the modern-day capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Erbil. It also connotes the name of the Barzani tribe.
In 1914, Barzan was the site of a Russian-supported Kurdish uprising against the Ottoman Empire, which was fought concurrently with the Bitlis uprising
Barzani Memorial Center north of Barzan
Kurdish women in Israel:
The first group of Kurdish Jews settled in Jerusalem in 1812. Later many also settled in Jaffa, Tiberias, Safed and Bet Shean, working mainly at farming in the agricultural settlements. The majority of Kurdish Jews who arrived in Israel before World War I came from four parts of Kurdistan: the area of the Turkish city of Diyarbakhir, the mountainous area of Tigris and Euphrates in the north of Iraq, the Kermanshah District of Iran, and the Orumiyeh lake and the city of Tibriz in the Persian district in Azerbaijan. The immigrants who arrived from Iraq via Syria (particularly those from Zakho) integrated very successfully into the agricultural scene and by the thirties a chain migration was established when the population of many Kurdish villages immigrated to Israel. In 1910 the Jewish Colonial Association attempted to settle Kurdish families in the agricultural settlement of Sejera, near Tiberias. They established agricultural settlements like those in Kurdistan, populated only by Jews from Kurdistan, such as the villages of David Alroy, Kefar Azariah, and Kefar Uriah and many others. In 1935 the population of Kurdish Jews from the Iraqi area totaled eight thousand souls, the majority of whom lived in Jerusalem. After the declaration of the state of Israel, the majority of Jews from the Iraqi part of Kurdistan immigrated to Israel with the mass migration of over 125,000 Jews from Iraq. In 1950 they suffered from the Muslims and had to seek shelter in Teheran until the time was ripe for the Jewish Agency to transfer them to Israel. This was followed by a mass migration of the Jews from the Iranian part of Kurdistan; entire villages were vacated as their population walked hundreds of kilometers to the aliyah center in Teheran, whence they were transferred to Israel.
Once in Israel, many formed farming settlements similar to those in Kurdistan. There is a large group in Jerusalem and in other, smaller cities. The women worked in crafts, cleaning, cooking and other services. Because entire communities moved together with no major change in their socio-cultural structure, the community as a whole and women in particular did not go through major changes or extreme culture shock. Further, unlike the Iraqi women, who were not accustomed to working outside the home, Kurdish women acted as the right hand of their husbands, quickly adapting to life in Israel.
A Kurdish-Jewish refugee
A Kurdish-Jewish refugee family preparing to board buses to Israel (circa 1950-51).
Writing by: Jwan Omar
Blogspost ( historical Jewish website)
Barazani, Asenath. Encyclopaedia Judaica. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. 3: 138
Who was the first female „rabbi?. Yekta Uzunoglu. Retrieved 2018-07-04.
Kurdish Women | Jewish Women's Archive. jwa.org
Howard Schwartz; (Illustrated by Monique Passicot) (2000)
101 Storie Ebraiche che non ti hanno mai raccontato (in Italian). Newton Compton Editori. ISBN 978-88-541-2995-5. Retrieved 6 June 2012.⚠️ ئی بابەتە بە زڤانی (🇬🇧 English) نویسیان، کرتەکەرە سەروو ئایکۆنوو ی پەی کەردەیوەو بابەتەکەی پا زڤانی کە نویسیان!
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