by Mordechai ZakeneBook : Document
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Jews in Iraqi Kurdistan and the Kurdish tribal society   (2013-06-22)
The book of Dr. Mordechai Zaken is the most important book written on the Jews of Kurdistan. In fact, this book unveils the types and characteristics of the relations between tribal Kurdish Muslim chieftains, (called "aghas") and their Jewish subjects and protégés. It concentrates on several Kurdish...
The book of Dr. Mordechai Zaken is the most important book written on the Jews of Kurdistan. In fact, this book unveils the types and characteristics of the relations between tribal Kurdish Muslim chieftains, (called "aghas") and their Jewish subjects and protégés. It concentrates on several Kurdish towns and dozens villages, mostly in northwestern Iraqi Kurdistan, during the first part of the 20th century. According to the referees of his PhD dissertation, Dr. Zaken conducted his study remarkably well. His records are based on firsthand information, and are of the highest value. He interviewed more than 60 people, many of them more than once and up to seven sessions. The author discussions with elderly Kurdish Jews, add up to hundreds of hours of interviews, most of which were taped, analyzed and classified. This review is partly based on the reviews of two great scholars of Kurdish and Near Eastern history, Professor Joyce Blau of IANLCO (The Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales), Paris, and Professor Moshe Sharon of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The undersigned is an independent scholar and a descendant of Kurdish Jews. Both Moshe Sharon and Joyce Blau praised Mordechai Zaken for the immense fieldwork he conducted, for the methodology that he chose, and for his scholarly achievement. The book of Mordechai Zaken is a unique history book for three main reasons. First, the book is based practically (besides archival and other written sources) on hundreds of oral-history interviews conducted by the author, with elderly Kurdish Jews. He interviewed, between 1985 and 2002, more than 60 Jewish informants who lived previously in Kurdistan. In other words, Mordechai Zaken not only wrote the history of the Jews of Kurdistan, but in fact, he saved the history and sculpted or formed it from the oral memoires of Jewish Kurdish informants. Thanks to his research, it is available for the public, for the present and future generations. As Professor Moshe Sharon of the Hebrew University put it, Mordechai Zaken diligently and competently collected oral testimonies of Kurdish Jews and examined them carefully. By doing so, "he rendered a great service to the study of the history of the minorities in the Middle East in general as well as to the history of the Jews." Dr. Zaken saved the memoires of the Jews of Kurdistan from being lost forever. His book presents one of the best works of oral history and its importance is highly accentuated bearing in mind that there are very little written material and sources on the Jews of Kurdistan. Moshe Sharon concluded, "This is an original, comprehensive study on the Jewish community in Kurdistan during its last stages of its existence. I have no doubt that in his unique research the author has shown originality, independence and made major contribution to the study of the minorities in the Middle East, as well as to the social history of the Jews in modern times." Prof. Joyce Blau argues that Dr. Zaken's work well complements the Impressive work of the pioneer ethnologist Erich Brauer [(The Jews of Kurdistan, 1st ed., 1940 (Heb.); rev. ed., 1993 (Eng.). According to Prof. Blau, the result of his quest for oral documentation was significant. This huge amount of information has not only been well classified, but the author succeeded in making it a smooth and agreeable read. This detailed study has made a major contribution to the study of the recent history of the region of Iraqi Bahdinan. In sum, Mr. Zaken's thesis is highly original in both subject and method. The project he undertook is a significant one, in an academic area where there is still a dearth of knowledge, and his work complements the previous research, which does exist. He made excellent methodological choices both in doing an impressive number of first hand interviews, a in the careful and detailed way he treated the material he obtained; his data is highly valuable. His work is an important contribution to the study of the Jewish diaspora, to the study of the specificities of the Kurdish Jews, to the study Jewish relations with Moslems and Christians in Iraqi Kurdistan, and to the study of (Iraqi) Kurdistan. This book is also noted for its enthralling and readable style. The book is dotted with hundreds of new and vivid tales, the fruits of this tremendous study. Each time a fact or a certain topic is introduced, the author provides one, two, or three animated and telling stories from the personal experience of the Jewish Kurdish informants. These stories substantiate the subject discussed. The elderly Jewish informants shared with the author remarkable and gaudy personal accounts. Some of the informants had been previously Jewish subjects and protégés within the tribal Kurdish society, who had encyclopedic memory, as they had been the product of oral culture, in which the memory, the verbal skills and the active knowledge of languages were important tools in their survival. The author brings fascinating stories that demonstrate variety of subjects regarding the social and economic relationships between Kurdish aghas and their Jewish subjects. Finally yet importantly, this book has become an excellent source for the tribal Kurdish society, its rules of conduct and practices. It brings to life accounts about tribal figures that most Kurds have long forgotten them. These tribal figures, or aghas, embodied the special relations conducted with their Jewish subjects and protégés. Some of the most renowned aghas that have been discussed in the book are the following aghas: Shaikh Ahmad and Mulla Mustafa Barzani, Mahmud and Qadir Agha Zibari, Sa'id Agha and Dewali Doski, Shaikh Abdallah Barifkani, Hajji Malo, Shaikh Nuri, Hajji Abd al-Latif and Hajji Sha'ban (Amadia); Shaikh Mahmud Berzenji, Shaikh Muhammad Rabatke, Shaikh Tawfik of Sisnawa (Baijil), Hajji Sadiq Biro (Gulli), Jamil Agha and Salih Agha Sindi and Abd al-Karim Agha (Zakho). Of great significance are the chapters in the research dedicated to the methods adopted by Jews in order to survive in conditions of complete inferiority, submissiveness and dependence, and with no measures of self-defense or safety outside the tribal framework. Similar to ether Jewish communities in exile, the Jews learned to take advantage of every possible opportunity to overcome periods of distress, and the study reviews the various methods of survival used in such cases. A significant part of the research was dedicated to the economic life of the Jews. It describes the skills of innovation, inventiveness, enterprise and initiative, which characterized the economic activity of the Jews. Particularly interesting are the parts in the study describing the Jewish peddler who roamed around, frequently in hostile territory, having to protect himself not only against thieves and robbers but also against “partners,” imposed on him. The richer Jews, mainly in the large urban centers had to search for every way to defend their property and to use their wealth to survive and to contribute to the survival of the community. Using new reports and vivid oral tales, Zaken examines the question of patronage of the aghas and the financial support and services given in return by the Jews. Also discussed are the status, the safety and security of the Jews of Kurdistan, the slavery of rural Jews and the dominance of the aghas over their daily life. Examining the experience of Kurdish Jews in six urban centers, the author suggests three patterns of relations with the Kurds. In the first, the Jews enjoyed patronage of a powerful tribal agha(s). In the second pattern, a family of wealthy and generous Jewish leader(s) mobilized the safeguard for the Jewish community, thanks to its wealth and shrewdness. In the third pattern, the Jews had to mobilize their best ability and pay-off money to endure the caprices, the greed of urban aghas. In order to survive in the tribal society, most Jews sought patronage of local or tribal chiefs, paying fees and providing the agha with gifts and various services. Tribal Chieftains valued their rural Jews as asset both because of their important occupations and because of their submissive approach. Although the image of Jews was low, their reputation as loyal further fixed their status as asset. Indeed some greedy chieftains exploited wealthy Jews and abused their patronage, but many aghas acted justly. Rural Jews described several aghas as honest and righteous. The available records suggest that in spite of occasional exploitation, abuse and murders of Jewish merchants and peddlers, many aghas attempted to safeguard their Jews. Although most Kurdish Jews were urban dwellers, a significant number of KJ resided in hundreds of villages in rural Kurdistan with relative convenience and security and were able to provide livelihood for their families and maintain elementary spiritual needs. Several reports referred to rural Jews as slaves. Upon analysis and examination, most of these so-called Jewish slaves were non-tribal subjects and protégés under the complete dominance of their aghas. One part of the book deals with the economic position and professions of Kurdish Jews, notably of merchants, peddlers and weavers. The exploitation of Kurdish Jews by Kurds in a tribal setting was possible because the tribesmen had social, political and military dominance over non-tribal Jews. Living among Muslim Kurds for generations, Kurdish Jews experienced conversion to Islam. Mordechai Zaken engraved from the Jewish experience in Kurdistan 3 defense mechanisms that the Jewish communities and leaderships used in an attempt to annul conversion of Jewish women. These mechanisms are well described and befitted into the Muslim and tribal context. I reproduced this review, written by Lora Galichco, an independent scholar and a descendent of Kurdish Jews, as appeared in Amazon review of books. Mihmed Berzenji.
138 of 138 people found this review helpful.
The Jews of Kurdistan - a historical salvation study   (2013-07-07)
Mordecai Zaken has provided an enormous service to all those interested in Jewish Kurdish history and the status of minorities in the Middle East. It not only makes an invaluable resource for specialists (as the title of the book seems to imply) but the intimate stories he retells after hundreds...
Mordecai Zaken has provided an enormous service to all those interested in Jewish Kurdish history and the status of minorities in the Middle East. It not only makes an invaluable resource for specialists (as the title of the book seems to imply) but the intimate stories he retells after hundreds of hours of interviews with Kurdish Jews makes this fascinating look into the lives of the dhimmi accessible to those with only a general knowledge of the Middle East or Jewish history. The personal stories about army service, forced marriages, taxes, and the struggle to survive whisk the reader away into the now forgotten world of Kurdish Jewry.
She further commends Zaken for his methodological excellence in the difficult task of categorizing and analyzing oral sources. His overview of the social status of the Jews in Kurdistan provided in his "Preliminary Remarks" is insightful and concise.
128 of 128 people found this review helpful.
Jews and Tribal Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan during the 20th century   (2011-03-12)
The book by Mordechai Zaken has been seen as a major contribution to the study of the recent history of the region of Iraqi Bahdinan (Kurdistan) and a significant contribution to the history...
The book by Mordechai Zaken has been seen as a major contribution to the study of the recent history of the region of Iraqi Bahdinan (Kurdistan) and a significant contribution to the history of the Jewish diaspora in the orient. This study is very original. These are all quotes from one of the world's leading experts on the Kurdish culture and language and history, Professor Joyce Blau of INALCO, Paris.
Another important scholar who reviewed the PhD Thesis upon which this book was partly based is Professor Moshe Sharon, who has been the chair in Baha'i Studies and the Director of the Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum Palaestinae ath the Hebrew University, He wrote the following to the Research Committee:
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