JewishGen Discussion Group #JewishGen Re: Jews in Eastern Europe **before** Ashkenazim #general

Judith Singer

Yes, definitely there were ethnic Jews (not Khazars) in Eastern Europe before
the Ashkenazim.

Very very briefly: According to Armenian and Georgian historians, after the
destruction of the First Temple, Nebuchadnezzar deported Jewish captives to
Armenia, the Caucasus and Georgia. These exiles were joined later by other
Jews. Also, marble slabs with Greek inscriptions, preserved in the Hermitage
and other locations, show that Jews lived in the Crimea and along the entire
eastern coast of the Black Sea at the beginning of the common era, and that
they possessed well-organized communities with synagogues.

Jews >from the Crimea moved eastward and northward and founded Jewish
communities along the shores of the Caspian Sea and the lower Volga. This
apparently led to the conversion of the leader and nobility of the Khazars.
The conversion of the Khazars ruling class attracted new Jewish settlers to
the region of the lower Don, the Volga, and the Dnieper. When the Khazar
kingdom was conquered by 969, many Jews >from the area fled to the Crimea,
the Caucasus, and the Russian principality of Kiev, where they were
tolerated but not welcomed.

In 1321 Kiev, Volhynia, and Podolia were conquered by Grand Duke Gediminas
of Lithuania. He had already granted rights to the Jews in the original area
of his grand duchy and now extended the same to the Jewish inhabitants of
the conquered territories. Especially after Gediminas' grandson Vytautas
issued charters of privileges to the Jews applicable to the entire Grand
Duchy (which at one time spanned Europe >from the Baltic to the Black Sea),
Jews living in lands south and east of Belarus and Lithuania were attracted
to settle in the more sparsely populated northern areas.

The Jews >from Crimea, the Caucasus, etc. areas spoke Judeo-Slavic, not
Yiddish, but they were few in number compared to the number of Jews who fled
from Western Europe to Germany and then Poland and Lithuania. Yiddish became
the language of all the Jews in Eastern Europe, but there are words in
Yiddish that are of Slavic rather than Germanic origin.

(The above is largely >from the Jewish Encyclopedia article on Russia,
Also valuable as a quick introduction is the Wikipedia article,
Any history of the Jews in Eastern Europe that includes the entire period
of their history there will furnish more detail.)

From: "David Goldman" <lugman@...>
I have been wondering what kind of information may exist about Jewish
communities in the Lithuania, Russia, Belarus areas **before** the arrival of
Ashkenazi, Yiddish-speaking migrants >from Germany. I am acquainted with the
story of the Khazars, but have there been other discoveries about Jews who
may have migrated centuries before >from the Byzantine Empire or elsewhere
and who eventually merged with the German Jewish migrants?

Some Russian/Ukrainian Jewish last names are German while others are Slavic
(in addition to names reflecting the names of towns or regions). I realize
that Jews were taking last names in the 18th century, but is is possible
that some of the names reflect origins other than those of the Ashkenazim in
Germany? There are German names such as Goldstein, Wasserman, Ziselman on
the one hand, and other names such as my ancestral names of Olyan and
Kabakov which are not German. Could some of those with Slavic last names
have origins among Jews who migrated into those Eastern European areas
before the Ashkenazim >from Germany?

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