The Jews of Asia
A cluster of 6 Jewish groups in 5 Asian countries.
Because of their unique history and culture, Jews have a strong sense of identity. Although they have much in common with other Jews around the world, the Jews of Asia have a very distinctive lifestyle. Most of the Jews in this part of Asia are Ashkenazim, or descendants of the Jews who inhabited the Germanic region of Europe. One of their most distinguishing features is their use of the Yiddish language (a German dialect that has some Hebrew elements). Most of the Ashkenazim came into Central Asia from other parts of the Soviet Union before and during World War II.
Bukharan Jews are an indigenous group within Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. They are known as "Bukharan" because they settled primarily in Bukhara, Uzbekistan; but, they prefer to be known as "Israel" or "Yahudi." They claim descent from the ten tribes of Israel who were exiled to Persia in the fifth century. They speak Bokhara, a Jewish dialect of Tajik. About 10,000 Jews live in India, mainly in Bombay and the surrounding areas. They are known as Bene Israel ("the Children of Israel"). They speak an Indo-Aryan language called Marathi.
What are their lives like?
In past centuries, the Bukharan Jews have experienced much discrimination from the predominant Muslim population. They were forced to live in isolated parts of the cities, called mahallas; to wear special signs on their clothing, which marked them as Jews; and to pay special taxes. Only in the last ten years have Bukharan Jews been able to give cultural expression openly without fear of persecution. Today, a number of Hebrew study groups have been organized and are growing stronger.
During Soviet rule, both Bukharan men and women worked in factories that produced butter, bricks, or textiles. Recently, they have returned to many of their traditional crafts, such as shoemaking, hairdressing, tailoring, and photography. The women are particularly known for their dancing at both Jewish and Muslim weddings. There are also a large number of well-educated Bukharan Jews working as engineers, doctors, teachers, and musicians.
Bukharan Jewish males were the heads of their patrilineal (descent traced through the males) extended families. Now, a pattern of separate nuclear families is becoming predominant. Bukharan Jews nearly always marry other Bukharan Jews. The parents of the groom send a matchmaker to the parents of the bride, and both dowry and bride-price must be settled prior to the engagement. Divorce is permitted among Bukharan Jews and a law exists to regulate the marriages of widows.
In Bombay, the Jews are employed in numerous professions. Some of them work in the service industry, or as clerks, mechanics, white-collar workers, and skilled laborers. A significant number are professionals such as doctors, teachers, and lawyers.
Most Bombay Jewish families are typical nuclear families. That is, they are composed of a man, a woman, and their dependents. In order to keep wealth and prestige within the family, the Bombay Jews have traditionally preferred marriage between cousins. Divorce is completely disapproved of and is very uncommon.
What are their beliefs?
What are their needs?
Each of these Jewish communities needs to be introduced to Jesus, their Messiah. Intercession must be made for the Jews if they are to come to an understanding of the Gospel and a saving knowledge of Christ.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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