- (Kurdish)Kurdish Jewish communities existed from time immemorial until they immigrated to Israel following the creation of that state in 1948. Traditionally these Kurdish Jewish communities and much larger Jewish communities in Iraq dated from the ten lost Jewish tribes that, according to the Bible, were exiled to Assyria after the ancient Assyrians conquered Israel in 722 BCE. Other traditions also attributed these Jewish communities to the Babylonian captivity following the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE.Estimates show that just before the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948, there were 187 Jewish Kurdish communities: 146 were in Iraq, 19 in Iran, 11 in Turkey, and another 11 in Syria and other places. These estimates also indicate that there were perhaps 25,000-30,000 Jewish Kurds, some 22,000 of them in Iraqi Kurdistan. The much larger Jewish community in Iraq numbered around 125,000.It seems that the Jewish Kurds got along fairly well with the other Kurds. Muslim Kurds attended Jewish Kurdish folk and religious rites and often participated in them. At times, of course, Muslim Kurds inflicted indignities, exploitations, and even atrocities upon their Jewish relatives, but largely, the Jewish Kurds managed to hold their own.Studies indicate that, like their Muslim Kurdish brothers and sisters, the Jewish Kurds were rather coarse, violent, and given to brigandage. The Jewish Kurds were also brave and physically strong. Their humor tended toward the sexual and scatological. Most of these traits probably derived from the much larger Muslim cultural environment. It is particularly interesting, therefore, how the Jewish Kurds managed to maintain so many Jewish characteristics, such as literacy in a society that was mostly illiterate. The Jewish Kurds spoke neo-Aramaic (Targum).The establishment of the state of Israel brought an end to this more than 2,500-year-long existence of these Jewish communities. Early in the 1950s, virtually all of them—including, of course, the much larger Jewish Iraqi communities — were airlifted to Israel, where they quickly began to assimilate. Nevertheless, as recently as 1994, the present author, in company with several Muslim Kurds from Iraq, visited a Jewish Kurdish cooperative near Jerusalem. Both Kurdish groups greeted each other like long-lost brothers. In the late 1990s, Yitzhak Mordechai, a Jewish Kurd from Iraq, rose to be the Israeli defense minister in one of the Likud governments.
Historical Dictionary of the Kurds. Michael M. Gunter.
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