JewishGen Discussion Group #JewishGen Re: Origins of Yiddish Civilisation? #general


Judith Romney Wegner
 

At 2:54 PM +0100 7/5/06, Ben Forman wrote:
I've been away on holiday for a few weeks, and whilst relaxing on the
beach I read "Yiddish Civilisation: the Rise and Fall of a Forgotten
Nation" by Paul Kriwaczek.
It's a very interesting book and enjoyable too, but the initial thrust
of the book is that much of Eastern European Jewish origins are in
conversions of large numbers of Pagans/Polytheists(sorry if the
terminology is wrong) in south eastern Europe (Crimea, Bulgaria, Greece
region) before the advent of mass conversion to Christianity. He
supports this by referring to rulings and other documented evidence
which refers directely to those converting to Judaism, which he argues
must have been wide spread if rulers felt there was a need for
legislation regarding it. He argues that this conversion went right the
way into the middle ages, when Jews heading East to escape the
inquisition encountered many isolated societies of early converts who
had to be "reminded" of their Jewish tradition.
This theory (which if true has clear relevance for Jewish genealogy)
has been around for some time. The principal pagan ethnic group
believed (as a matter of historical fact, not mere legend) to have
converted to Judaism back in the 8th century CE is the "Khazars" --
more precisely the King of the Khazars and his courtiers. (The
Kingdom of Khszaria, located just north of the Black Sea, lasted
about five hundred years >from roughly the 6th to the 11th century --
which was a period when Christianity had not yet penetrated to the
outer reaches of pagan Northern Europe and Western Asia.)

The story of the conversion appears in several sources. Among
others, It is told by Judah HaLevi in his book The Kuzari ("the
Kuzai" means literally "the Khazar", in context referring
specifically to the king of the Khazars). Ha-Levi's book claims (but
this version may be mere legend) that the conversion of the Khazars
occurred after the king invited a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim to
attend his court and argue the case for their respective religions --
following which the King was to decide which religion he and his
court would officially espouse. No points for guessing who won the
contest, according to Judah ha-Levi -- but in all fairness the
conversion of this group does seem to be a historical fact, however
it came about. Judah ha-Levi (an 11th-12th century scholar)
apparently got the "scoop" >from an alleged exchange of letters
between the 9th-century Jewish scholar Hasdai ibn Shaprut and the
King of the Khaxars (I mean the king reigning in Hasdai's time,
which was not too long after the famous conversion occurred.

Why should all this matter to Jewishgenners? The point is that
today, certain scholars and politicians (especially those
sympathetic to the Arab case for Palestine) are pushing the view that
all Ashkenazi Jews now living are descended not (as we believe) >from
the ancient tribes of Israel but >from converted Khazars! And it
seems that the recent spate of DNA testing by Jewishgenners
(including the present writer, courtesy of her brother) has indeed
produced some results consistent with that claim. (However I hasten
to add that experts say that even if tis is truo, this does not
preclude the possibility that our more remote ancestors nonetheless
do trace back to Judea at the time of the 2nd temple (i.e the last
500 years BCE). Indeed other tests -- specifically tests done on
people claiming descent in the male line >from the Kohanim (priests)
who administered the Second Temple, actually do offer some support
for that claim also.

I'm keeping my fingurs crossed (if that's not a mixed metaphor!)
awaiting future developments in the testing field. This Jewish
princess does not want to find out that she's only a Khazarian
Princess after all!

Judith Romney Wegner

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