The Forgotten Diaspora (1)

February 3, 2023 Category: Uncategorized


From the 7th thru 10th centuries, the [k]Hazars dwelled the Pontic / Volga / Caspian Steppes, from the northern coast of the [k]Hazar Sea (what we now refer to as the “Caspian Sea”) to the north-eastern coast of the Black Sea.  Their territory extended westward into Sarmatia (what is now the Ukraine). {88}  The early Slavic conquerers (i.e. the Rurikids: rulers of Kieven Rus) referred to this area as the “Polovtsian” Steppes.  It makes sense, then, that they often labeled Tatars (spec. Kumans, Kipchaks, and [k]Hazars) “Polovtsy”.  Tellingly, this exonym pertained to Turkic peoples who had migrated from the Eurasian Steppes into Eastern Europe during the 11th century.  So when we look for mention of “[k]Hazars” in documents from the era, they are not necessarily referred to as such by those who encountered them. {90}

Lo and behold, many of the “Polovtsy” were Jewish.  The Slavic peoples of the LATE Middle Ages (that is: those who lived during the 13th thru 15th centuries) would likely have referred to the [k]Hazarian diaspora in this manner—categorizing them together with non-Jewish Turkic peoples who had come to Eastern Europe from the Eurasian Steppes during the HIGH Middle Ages (that is: between the late 10th and early 13th century).  Bottom line: In our search for references to the [k]Hazars, we must realize they were not always CALLED “[k]Hazars”.  Ethnonyms are fluid, and often the result of shifting geopolitical exigencies. {64}

In the medieval Occidental vernacular, the relevant area (the Eurasian Steppes) was known as “Tartary” / “Tatarstan”; hence the vague label “Tatars” (typically used as a derogatory term for Turkic-Mongol peoples of Eurasia). Thus “Jewish Tatars” is often just a Euphemism for Jews descended from the [k]Hazars. {44} The [k]Hazars asserted a unique ethnic identity pursuant to the dissolution of the Gök-turk Khaganate; and the demise of the Alans as a domineering power in the region. {9}

The figure who seems to have initiated the [k]Hazars as a distinct ethnic group was a leader of the “Onok” (Western Turkic) Khaganate in the Eurasian Steppes: Tong Yabghu of the Ashina, who–incidentally–was a contemporary of Mohammed of Mecca. (He ruled from 618 to 630.)  The [k]Hazar Empire seems to have begun in the late 660’s.  Over time, they came to dwell primarily in the land between the Caspian and Black Seas, to the north of the Caucasus mountains.  Ending up in the northern Caucuses was possibly due to pressure from the hegemonic Tang Dynasty, pushing out of China. Those descendants of the Ashina eventually expanded to eastern Sarmatia.

At its peak, the [k]Hazarian domain stretched all the way to the Cimmerian Bosporus (the Kerch Strait, south of the Sea of Azov), where the settlement of Tamantar-khan was located (on the Taman peninsula); and even to the (newly established) city of Kiev, farther north. There were several major [k]Hazarian cities–most notably: Balanjar, Samandar, Samosdelka, Sarighsin [alt. “Saksin-Bolgar”; later Mongolian “Sarai Batu”], Sugda / Sougdaia [Tatar: “Sudak”], Sarkil [alt. “Sarkel”; on the Lower Don], and the imperial capital: Atil [“Khamlij”] (on the northern end of the [k]Hazar Sea, near the mouth of the Volga River).

Sarkil was a vital mercantile hub, as it was situated at the nexus of the most important trade routes in Eurasia. Its location was precisely where the Volga, Don, and Danu Apr (Dnieper) Rivers intersect, and thus on the waterways that connected the Black / Azov Sea with the [k]Hazar (Caspian) Sea…as well as to locations to the north. Samandar was known for its wine vineyards; while Atil served as a market for silks from China and India—brought by merchants of the Silk Road. The [k]Hazar Empire also included the ancient Greek port-city of Theodosia (later re-named “Kaffa” by the Genoese) in the Crimea, on the Black Sea.

During the Middle Ages, merchants of the Silk Road used an offshoot of Syriac (Sogdian) as a prominent language.  But for cultural / linguistic interaction, there were more than just the merchants on the Silk Road.  Those who traveled its many byways represented a resplendent mosaic of creeds, some Buddhist, some Tengri-ist, some Manichaean, some Syriac Christian, and some (Radhanite) Jewish. The interaction of Persian and Old Turkic cultures occurred all across Eurasia.  There was even some linguistic admixture in the Caucuses—notably at Arda-bil (Persian for “holy place”) and at Dar-bent (Persian for “blocked gateway”; alt. “Derbent”).  The latter city was known as “Demir-kapi” in Old Turkic [iron gateway], which was rendered “Bab al-Hadid” in Semitic tongues.

Meanwhile, geo-political interaction between the Byzantines and [k]Hazars routinely occurred north of the Black Sea, at Khersones[os] (alt. “Cherson”) and throughout Sarmatia (what is now Ukraine).

The confluence of Turkic tribes in the relevant region (what came to known as “[k]Hazaria”) likely included vestiges of the Tatar / Oghuric peoples, a vaguely defined family of peoples and tongues associated with the nomadic Turkic peoples of the Steppes during the Middle Ages, as well as the Alans (especially the Burtas). {31} This was in conjunction with:

  • The Patzinaks (alt. “Baganaks” / “Becheneks” / “Pechenegs”) from the west
  • The [upper] Volga Bulgars from the northeast (the region later referred to as Tatarstan: which became the land of Kazan).  To this day, Kazan Jews are a remnant of their Turkic ancestors.
  • The Kumyks, Kimeks, Kumans, and–most significantly–the Kipchaks (all of whom were affiliated with the Kangar Union) from the east. (The medieval Kumyk capital, “Anzhi-Kala” was on the [k]Hazar Sea. It meant “Pearl Fortress”; and is now the Dagestani city of Makhach-kala.)

The predominant religion of ALL these peoples was Tengri-ism; which would enter its heyday under the Mongol Empire. A pre-Mongolic (possibly Avar) element can be adduced due to the use of the military honorific “Tar-khan” in [k]Hazarian nomenclature. 

Interestingly, the 9th-century Benedictine monk, Christian Druthmar of Stavelot referred to the [k]Hazars as Hunnic (reflecting a European legacy of stigmatizing non-Christians from the Eurasian Steppes as primitive barbarians). {12} Whether or not they were descendants of the Huns is entirely beside the point. The same supposition was made about the Magyars, and–for that matter–anyone else that was associated with the ancient Scythians. {42}

This salmagundi of peoples was subjected to the influence of Bulgars from the west–primarily as a result of the conquests of the great conquerer, Asparu[k]h in the late 7th century. Consequently, the lingua franca of [k]Hazaria ended up being a hybridization of Bulgar and other Turkic tongues (primarily an Oghuric tongue; the same roots as modern Chuvash).

Farther east were the (Kipchak) “Kangars” [alt. “Kangli”], a Turkic people who ruled from their capital, Utrar (alt. “Otrar”; referred to as “Faryab” in Persian / Sogdian), located on the Jaxartes River (referred to as “Syr Darya” in Persian / Sogdian), which flowed from the Hindu Kush into the Sea of Aral (“aral” is Turkic for “islands”).  Oghuric peoples who remained to the east of the Ural Mountains included the Kyrgyz / [k]Hakas, Kazakhs, Chulym Tatars, and Shorian Tatars (a.k.a. the “Mras-Su”)—all of whom descended from the Kara-Kalpak branch of the Kipchaks.  This common origin accounts for their similarities to the Turkic groups with whom we are concerned in the present monograph: Oghuric peoples like the Bashkirs, Kumyks, and Chuvash; and—yes—the [k]Hazaks.

Prior to the Samanids, Chach-Kand (Slavicized to “Tashkent” by the Russians) and Samar-Kand were part of the First (Göktürk) Turkic Khaganate, then the Kara-Khanids, who spoke the Karluk language.  Uzbeks and Hazaras also descended from the Karluk branch (pursuant to the Mongol infusion)…which was NOT Oghuric.  Indeed, the Oghuric line of Old Turkic is not to be confused with the Oghuz line, which descended from the Bozoks: a different offshoot of the Kimek-Kipchak confederation.  They originated well south of the Syr Darya, across the Kyzylkum desert, closer to the more southern river (the Amu Darya) in what is now Türkmen-i-stan and Khwarazm—the capital of which was [Old] Urgench. {106}

In the late 10th century, Al-Muqaddasi wrote about the (Oghuz) “Türkmen” in Khorasan and Transoxiana (the region south of the Aral Sea that is now southern Uzbek-i-stan and all of Türkmen-i-stan) in his “Ahsan al-Taqasim fi Marifat al-Aqalim”.  And in the 11th century, the Kara-Khanid scholar, Mahmud al-Kashgari wrote about the Oghuz line in his “Diwan Lughat al-Turk”.  This accounts for the ethno-genesis of the Seljuks, who would eventually become the Ottoman Turks.

The Seljuks—who had converted to a militant version of Sunni Islam—initially operated out of Nishapur (in Khorasan), but then re-located their capital as they transitioned westward.  Their hegemony brought them westward through Persia and across northern Mesopotamia (the Buyids were no match for the armies of Tughril)…then up into Anatolia, where they would later become known as Ottoman Turks (pursuant to the ascent of Osman “Ghazi” in the late 13th century).  Their dialect of Oghuz is what eventually became “Türkçe”; hence the English term, “Turkish” for the Turks of Anatolia.  Once the Ottoman capital was moved to Constantinople (re-christened “Istanbul”), the Seljuk’s ethnic identity was re-branded “Türkler” (rendered “Turkish” in English) from what had been “Turkmaniyya” in Arabic (i.e. the Türk-men people).  Upon the collapse of the Ottoman Empire (in the advent of the First World War), the nation-State, “Türkiye” (rendered “Turkey” in English) was established.  None of this had anything to do with the Oghuric branch of Old Turkic; or with the Turkic peoples of the Eurasian Steppes—whether “Tatars” or [k]Hazars.

The path of the Seljuks is marked by later incarnations of Oghuz Turkic in the region where they originated (Türkmen south of the Aral Sea; Salar in Xin-jiang).  As the Seljuks migrated westward, vestiges of that Turkic language remained along the way—in part due to the prominence of the “Ak Koyunlu” [White Sheep] and “Kara Koyunlu” [Black Sheep] over the course of the 14th and 15th centuries.  Traces are still found across Persia (Khorasani, Chaharmahali, and Kashkai) as well as in northern Mesopotamia and the southern Caucuses (Azeri). {92}

I digress.  By the end of the 7th century, the [k]Hazars boasted a formidable empire. Testament to this fact: There is still a town in Wallachia (present-day Romania) that was referred to as “Kozar-Var” [Khazar Castle]. They’d even settled the site that would later be christened “Kiev”–based on the Turkic “Kui” for riverbank, and “Ev” for settlement. (The “Kozare” district in Kiev was named after the [k]Hazars.)  In fact, through the 18th century, central Ukraine and Crimea were still being referred to as [Land of] “Casari”. {11} {60} {87}

But why JUDAISM? The supposition that the [k]Hazars may have adopted Judaism due to refugees fleeing Byzantine lands is without evidence. (The idea that the ruling class of a thriving empire would suddenly adopt the religion of a few refugees from a foreign land is rather far-fetched.) The most likely candidate for the origins of such refugees would have been Phanagoria–a trading hub on the Taman peninsula. But that area was under (pagan, Onogur) Bulgar control in the 7th century, then under [k]Hazar control from the late 7th century until the demise of Georgios Tzul c. 1016. 

Being a merchant culture in the Eurasian Steppes, it is quite possible that the [k]Hazars adopted Judaism from the “Radhanites”: Jewish merchants who operated across the known world–from the Iberian Peninsula to China. (They seemed to have gotten their moniker from the Persians, for whom the moniker “Rah-Dan” means “one who knows the way”.) The Radhanites dominated the Silk Road UNTIL the collapse of the [k]Hazar Empire.

It was during the 8th century (in the advent of the Abbasid revolution in Dar al-Islam) that the [k]Hazars began converting to Judaism. {105}  At around that time, the Khagan known as “Bulan” (alternately referred to by the Judaic honorific, “Sabr-i-El”) claimed to have been visited by an angel–thereby receiving a revelation from the Abrahamic deity.  It was this visitation that inspired his own conversion. {13}

King Obadiah–a descendent of Bulan–established synagogues and Jewish schools throughout [k]Hazaria.  For two centuries, the Jewish contingent in [k]Hazaria burgeoned…until it became the largest Jewish community in the world.  This is attested in the logs of the well-traveled Jewish merchant, Eldad ha-Dani in the 9th century.  Tellingly, the Byzantine cynosure, Saint Cyril (after whom the Russian script was named) is recorded as having gone to [k]Hazaria (c. 860) in an attempt to convert the populace away from Judaism, but to no avail.

It comes as little surprise that, today, the [k]Hazars are rarely talked about. For, given conventional wisdom, it seems odd to suppose that the only Jewish Empire in history was TURKIC, not Semitic. {14}

The version of Judaism in [k]Hazaria was most likely something akin to Karaite, which had been developed in the 8th century on the outskirts of northeastern Persia. (During Late Antiquity, small Jewish communities had migrated as far east as Bukhara and Merv.) This can be surmised based on the fact that the [k]Hazars would not have had mainline Rabbinic sources available to them. Consequently, it is unlikely that they availed themselves of–or were even much familiar with–the Talmudic tradition popular amongst Mizra[c]him (Jews who were indigenous to the Levant), Sephardim (the diaspora across the Mediterranean basin), and the various cadres of scribes at the Talmudic academies in Mesopotamia. Karaite Judaism does not make use of Mishnaic Law (that is: the oral tradition that proliferated amongst Talmudic scholars). Instead, it relies solely on the contents of the Hebrew Bible as it originally existed: in Babylonian Aramaic. This would, indeed, be the kind of Judaism we would expect were a distant people to adopt the Faith “from scratch”. (It is conjectured that the rabbi involved in the initial conversion of the [k]Hazarian leadership, Isaac ha-Sangari, may have been a Karaite.)

Also worth noting are the Khavars / Kabars, who were alternately referred to as the “Khalyz” / “Khvalis” / “Khalyzians”.  These were [k]Hazarian rebels who defected to the Magyars and Pechenegs between the 830’s and 850’s.  (At one point or another, ALL these Turkic tribes had been vassals of the [k]Hazars. The Khavars seem to have been related to Avars and Bulgars as well.)  Lo and behold: Their Faith was Judaism. 

Archeological evidence backs this up.  The “Also-Szent-Mihaly” inscription in Mihai Viteazu (Transylvania) states that the Karaites were Khavars (that is: that the Khavars were Jewish).  Khavar / Khalyz graves at Chelarevo (in the Carpathian / Pannonian Basin) dating from between c. 800 and c. 1000 contain Turkic-Mongol skeletal remains; and use Judaic iconography.  (This archeological evidence is discussed by Gabor Vekony and Istvan Erdelyi.)  The Jewish Faith of the Khavars / Kabars was attested in “De Administrando Imperio” by Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII (from the 10th century); and in the accounts of Joannes Kinnamos of Galicia (from the 12th century). (Also reference the research of Paul Robert Magocsi in his 2010 work: “A History of Ukraine: A Land And Its Peoples”; p. 62.)

The [k]Hazar Empire was pluralistic, so accommodated a diversity of ethnicities.  Even as Judaism predominated, the empire’s populace included a mixture of Eastern Christian (i.e. Syriac; esp. Nestorian), Muslim, and Tengri-ist communities.  (There may have even been a smattering of Zoroastrians, Manichaeans, and Buddhists.)  There was clearly a burgeoning Jewish population in the capital, Atil, on the Lower Volga River; as well as a significant Jewish presence in the northern Caucasus–specifically in the city of Samandar.  There was even a Turkic Jewish (i.e. Krymchak / Tatar) presence at Kaffa (Greek “Theodosia”, rendered “Feodosia” by the Kieven Rus) and at Karasu-bazar (now “Bilogorsk”) in the Crimea.  The archeological evidence makes this clear: A synagogue was erected in Kaffa c. 909 by a Turkic- speaking people.

In the 860’s, the [k]Hazar imperium lost control of its western frontier to the Varangians of Kievan Rus, who were led by the famed king, Rurik. Even so, the prevalence of Judaism continued amongst the general populace. The final demise of the [k]Hazar Empire would come in the late 10th century with the rapacious conquests of the (pagan Slavic) Rurikid ruler, Svyatoslav Igorevich, who pushed his dominion–under the aegis of Kievan Rus–eastward into the Pontic steppes. {123}

So what do we know about the [k]Hazars?  Bulan seems to have been their first Jewish leader.  The most famous Jewish ruler of the [k]Hazars was the Bulanid king, Joseph, who ruled until the late 960’s from the [k]Hazarian capital, Atil. {10}  There still exist records of correspondence between Joseph and the Andalusian Jewish diplomat for the caliph of Cordoba: Hasdai ben Isaac ben Ezra “Ibn Shaprut” (dating from the late 960’s). {39} {90}  It was Joseph who was ousted when [k]Hazaria was overrun by Svyatoslav Igorevich (an event that is attested in Joseph’s aforementioned correspondence). The [k]Hazar imperium had already been weakened by revolts (especially by the Khavar / Kabar segment of its population).

Svyatoslav brought the polity of [k]Hazaria within Slavic dominion. A panoply of [k]Hazarian-Slavic miscegenation invariably ensued. Tellingly, early Russian sources refer to the captured region as “Volost Kazarskaya”: Land of the [k]Hazars. {67}

Here’s the thing: From the ascension of Bulan to the ousting of Joseph was over two centuries–more than enough time for significant conversion to have occurred throughout the [k]Hazarian populace. By the time the [k]Hazars were completely brought within the fold of Kievan Rus (in the late 10th century), Judaism had come to predominate amongst them. Moreover, it had been fully embraced by the Empire’s ruling class, which means the Faith was taken very seriously by those who were calling the shots.

It might be noted, though, that not everyone in [k]Hazaria converted to Judaism.  As mentioned, [k]Hazarian culture was renown for being atypically pluralistic. Due to the religious freedom in the [k]Hazar Empire, there were people of ALL Faiths living side-by-side, including some Muslims.  (As mentioned: In addition to the Abrahamic religions, the indigenous Turkic Faith of Tengri-ism would have likely persisted; though it would soon thereafter be primarily associated with the Mongols.)

Be that as it may, Judaism eventually came to predominate the Empire. What little historical documentation we now have bears this out. In the 860’s the Benedictine monk, Christian Druthmar of Stavelot stated that the [k]Hazars had adopted Judaism “IN FULL”. This may have been slightly hyperbolic, but it certainly conveyed the scope of the Faith in the [k]Hazarian realm. {12}

In his travelogue, the “Risala” c. 922, the (Arab) scholar of the Volga Bulgars, Ahmad ibn Fadlan noted: “The Khazars and their king are all Jews.” And in his “Mukhtasar Kitab al-Buldan” [Concise Book of Lands] c. 930, the Persian historian, Ibn al-Faqih of Hamadan noted: “All of the Khazars are Jews. Yet they have been Judaized only recently.” (Here, “recently” indicates that they had not descended from the Beth Israel of Antiquity; but, rather, had only emerged as a Jewish community during the Middle Ages.)  And throughout the Middle Ages, Slavic, Turkic, Syriac, Georgian, Armenian, and Arab peoples wrote about the Jewish [k]Hazars—a characterization that would not have made sense had the creed been constrained to a small cadre of aristocrats.

That the [k]Hazars were primarily Jewish was clearly the prevailing impression around the world. {15}  Had all these expositors been referring to ONLY the [k]Hazarian elite, this specification would have been made at some point.  It never was.  It comes as no surprise, then, that Medieval Russian epics refer to Kieven Rus defeating the “Jewish Giant” from Eurasia.

So where does this leave us? In order to make the claim that the Ashkenazim of eastern Europe are primarily Semitic (i.e. NOT Turkic), one would have to suppose that two things happened:

First Option:  Short of being completely wiped out (by some sort of genocide) pursuant to the conquests of Svyatoslav, virtually the entire [k]Hazar population would’ve had to have abruptly converted OUT of Judaism.

Second Option:  There would’ve had to have been a sudden, massive migration of (Semitic) Jewish people FROM the Levant (and/or from someplace where Jews from the Levant had migrated in the not-too-distant past; i.e. the Mediterranean basin) and/or from western Europe TO northeastern Europe at some point before 1000 A.D. This would need to have occurred in order to account for the preponderance of Jewish people that ended up in the region rather suddenly.  This would need to have occurred shortly after Svyatoslav’s conquests in [k]Hazaria. {16}

There is zero evidence that EITHER of these events occurred.  Moreover, there are plenty of reasons why such events would not have made any sense.

Regarding the first option: Svyatoslav was pagan; so had no interest in evangelism–let alone in religious persecution. In other words: His concern was territorial conquest, not religious hegemony. This means that, upon being overtaken, the [k]Hazarian Jews would not have suddenly been coerced into converting out of their Faith (to paganism). {17}  Instead, they would have found themselves in a situation that was tolerable even if unpalatable. Their society had been overtaken by a power that–while not supportive of their institutions–was probably indifferent to their (Jewish) Faith. So there would have been some incentive to seek greener pastures–though not with any sense of urgency.

Regarding the second option: The population of Jewish people seems to have SUDDENLY grown in what is now Germany, Poland, Greater Lithuania (including Belarus and Latvia), and northern Ukraine around this time (the 10th and 11th centuries); which means that some geo-political event must have spurred a SUDDEN mass-migration. During the relevant period (the century or two preceding the Crusades), nothing of the kind occurred on the Italic peninsula, on the Balkan peninsula (Greece and Dacia), or anywhere in Anatolia. Nor did anything of the kind occur in either the Iberian peninsula (Andalusia), Gaul (Gallia), or the Frankish lands (Frankia).  (At that point, the relevant areas in France would have been Occitania in the south and Lotharingia in the northeast.)

In considering the aftermath of the [k]Hazarian diaspora, the question arises: How plausible is it that an entire religious community—once the sovereigns of a geographical region—can come to be absent from that region?  History furnishes us with a few case-studies—from the Jews of the ancient Talmudic academies in Babylonia (now Iraq) to the Muslims of medieval Andalusia (now Spain): both almost entirely gone.  Vanished?  No.  Just displaced. {110}

The conclusion, then, is quite straight forward: The [k]Hazarian Jews must have GONE SOMEWHERE.  But WHERE?  More to the point: How can we be so sure that the Jewish remnant of [k]Hazaria ended up in eastern Europe rather than somewhere else?  Following the [k]Hazar Empire’s downfall, Jews who wanted to live elsewhere had an option to go in one of four basic directions. Let’s look at each in turn:

Possibility One:  Egress southward–across the Caucasian mountains–into Seljuk territory would have been extremely unlikely for two reasons.

First: The Seljuk Turks had recently left the (tolerant) Faith of Tengri-ism for a virulent strain of (Hanafi) Sunni Islam. This “Salafi” zealotry would go into overdrive in the 1030’s with the ascension of Tughril.  Ethnically, the Seljuks were primarily Oghuz peoples hailing from well east of the [k]Hazar (a.k.a. “Caspian”) Sea, and slightly to the south, in Khorasan. {114}  This was a time of rapacious Seljuk conquest; so any migration in that direction (over the Caucuses mountains–into Shirvan and the Armenian plateau on the other side) would have offered only peril. {24}

Second: The topography would have been a formidable obstacle. For a pastoral people (of agrarians and merchants) seeking to emigrate from [k]Hazaria, traversing the Caucuses Mountains would not have been a viable option. Note that by 1071, the Seljuks had conquered as far as Manzikert in western Anatolia (in addition to Antioch, Edessa, and Nicaea); yet EVEN THEY deemed attempts to traverse the Caucuses mountains (to expand northward) a quixotic venture. If the mountain range thwarted some of the world’s most voracious conquerers, it surely was not a viable option for bands of migrating families–including women and children–with rickety horse-carts.

Possibility Two:  Egress eastward, farther into the Eurasian Steppes was not an option either.  This would have entailed venturing into the realm of the Kumen-Kipchaks—heading toward Talas / Taraz, Shavgar, Balasagun, Samar-kand, Chach-Kand (Tashkent), Utrar, Kashgar, Bukhara, Bish-kek, Tash-kent, Eni-Kent, and [Old] Urgench.

At the time, the (Oghuz) Yabgu maintained sovereignty over that region–which was traditionally Kumen-Kipchak.  (Farther to the northeast was the Kimak Khanate.)  Though the Yabgu were primarily Tengri-ist, it was THEY who had allied with the Kieven Rus in the siege of the [k]Hazar Empire. (!)  (This alliance was attested in the chronicles of Abu al-Qasim ibn Hawqal of Nisibis, who was in the area at the time.)  Meanwhile, many of the (upper) Volga Bulgars, operating out of the cities Kazan and Bolghar slightly to the northeast (and who were never on good terms with the [k]Hazars) converted to Islam in the 10th century.  They would have harbored only resentment toward their former subjugators.

Hence there was only hostile territory to the east. {114}

Things would only become more menacing by the 1020’s, as the (non-Seljuk) Oghuz became increasingly militant (and hegemonic), aggressively pushing westward into the eastern frontier of the former [k]Hazaria.  If anything, that rampage would have forced any remaining [k]Hazars to seek refuge by fleeing WESTWARD, into Europe. And so it went.

Possibility Three:  Egress northward, deeper into Kieven Rus (and into much colder climes) would have been an utterly pointless–nay, foolhardy–venture. Frigid temperatures and the barren land of tundra held no prospects to an agrarian people, or for merchants.

The only other option for egress, then, was westward.

Bear in mind: The Turkic tribes of the Eurasian Steppes had been nomadic peoples for hundreds of years–going back to the heyday of the Huns. Hence it would have been perfectly natural for a band of such people to uproot themselves and relocate as the need arose–in the Middle Ages just as in Late Antiquity. Indeed, the westward movement of Eurasian peoples had a very long history going back to the Iron Age–with the Cimmerians.  The Turkic origins of some of the communities that came to be categorized as “Slavic” actually dates back to the Scythians, followed by the Massagetae and Sarmatians…ALL of whom originated in the Eurasian Steppes.  (Later, Turkic tribes like the Alans, Avars, and Bulgars also migrated westward, though they did not adopt a Slavic identity.)

There is no evidence for Jews anywhere significantly east of the Rhine Valley (that is: in east Frankia: Saxony / Thuringia / East Frankonia / Bavaria) prior to c. 1000.  How can this be adduced?  During this time, there are no records of a Jewish presence (yet) in key geo-political locations (like Regensburg, Merseburg, and Magdeburg).  At no point are Jews mentioned in the annals of Henry “the Fowler” of Saxony, founder of the Ottonian dynasty. Nor are any mentioned in the records of the monumental Battle of Lenzen: when the Saxons pushed the Slavs out of the region c. 929.  Nor are any mentioned in accounts of either Count Thietmar or Gero Magnus.  There WERE, however, Magyars impinging on the region. (Hence the Battle of Riade in 933.)

Prior to c. 1000, when we find accounts of a small Jewish presence in northern Europe, it was only to the west: in Lotharingia–notably: during the tenure of Bruno the Great (Henry the Fowler’s son) in Cologne.  When Jews finally appear in the historical record in Saxony / Thuringia / East Francia / Bavaria, it is when the [k]Hazarian diaspora would have arrived. Indeed, the sudden incidence of Judaism in Lusatia / Silesia at THAT PARTICULAR TIME (just after c. 1000) can be explained in no other way.

The sudden appearance of Jews in Ashkenaz would not have been due to the expulsion from France, as that did not occur until 1182. {40}  NOR would it have been due to the expulsion from England, as that did not occur until the last decade of the 13th century (in a vulgar twist of irony, merely 75 years after the Magna Carta). {18}  The first major Jewish migration from western Europe to eastern Europe occurred in 1343, to Poland, at the behest of Casimir the Great.

If one looks at a comprehensive map of the migrations of Jewish people over the course of the Middle Ages, one will not find a single arrow pointing from ANYWHERE in Europe to destinations east of the Rhine Valley (the land of Ashkenaz) prior to the 12th century. Yet significant Jewish communities suddenly appeared there (in the 11th century) nevertheless. They could have only come from the east. So who would those migrants have been?

The [k]Hazarian diaspora.

The suggestion that a massive migration suddenly occurred northward, from the Italic peninsula OVER the Alps seems a bit of a stretch…as is the suggestion that a massive migration suddenly occurred northward from the upper Balkan peninsula over the Julian and Dinaric Alps (then over the southern Carpathian Mountains). Are we to suppose that, all of the sudden (the late 10th / early 11th century), massive numbers of Jews on the northeastern Mediterranean rim were moved to undertake the arduous task of traversing such terrestrial obstacles, deeper into the Holy Roman Empire…without any discernible motive…and without any identifiable impetus? Supposing such an event occurred flies in the face of common sense. Pace the existence of the trading route known as the “Amber Road”, this was a highly unlikely course. {19} {79}

Yet, short of accounting for a sudden LATERAL surge of Jewry into the Rhineland, we are forced to make such a supposition; if, that is, we are to entertain an alternative to the present explanation–an explanation that accounts for BOTH a motive and an impetus at exactly the time we should expect.

So WHAT OF the Jewish people of the eastern Mediterranean basin? As it turns out, the oldest Jewish community in the world, the Romaniote Jews, traces its origins back to Greece (esp. Thessalonika) in Late Antiquity, as attested in the travelogues of Benjamin of Tudela from the 12th century. But there is no evidence that Ashkenazim can trace their origins back to the Romaniotes.

It is said that Samuel of Speyer (late 12th century) was from the Sephardic “Kalonymos” family of the Italic peninsula (Romanized to “Kalonymus”).  There are, it turns out, apocryphal tales of Kalonymos progeny settling in Lotharingia as early as the 10th century.  However, none are corroborated by historical evidence (a matter I explore in the Appendix).  The earliest attested “Kalonymos” in the region is referred to as “Kalonymus ben Meshullam” (purportedly the son of the Roman Halakhist, “Meshullam the Great”). Said to have lived in the late 11th century, he is now primarily associated with Worms and Mainz.

This apocryphal figure played a role in tales about the (equally apocryphal) Amnon of Mainz.  He is sometimes even featured in legends about the composition of the “Unetanneh Tokef”. The lines between fact and fiction here are quite blurred. {32}

And what of the oft-touted Kolonymos lineage?  What we DO know about this storied family is limited.  (Again: I explore this topic in the Appendix.)  It settled in the “Hachmei Provence” of Occitania (primarily at Narbonne and Lunel) at some point in the 11th century. (There are records of Jews settling in southeastern France dating back to a small presence in Valentia in the 6th century; and some may have settled as far north as Orléans.)  This community (known as the “Hachmei Provence”) had been founded in the 8th century by Makhir ben Yehudah Zakkai.  It is associated with such figures as Merwan “ha-Levi” and Moses ha-Darshan–both of whom lived in the 11th century; and is best known for Abraham ben David (from the 12th century) and “Isaac the Blind” (from the late 12th / early 13th century). {119}

Here’s the thing: ALL these historic figures remained in the south of France. The famed Kalonymos ben Todros lived in Narbonne in the 12th century. The famed Kalonymos ben Kalonymos lived in Avignon in the late 13th / early 14th century. In other words: During the period in question, there does not seem to have been any discernible tendency for the Jews of Occitania to move up to the Rhineland. This makes sense, as there was no impetus for doing so at the time.

When descendants of the Kalonymos family would have eventually made it as far north as Lotharingia, it must have been at some point after the 12th century. {32}  In other words: Even when we consider the most likely candidate (family) for a northward migration to the Rhineland from southwestern Europe, we find no evidence. The record is clear: The original Ashkenazim had a background that had little to do with migrations from the Mediterranean basin.

The Eurasian Steppes, however, were a different story. In the advent of the [k]Hazar Empire’s demise, the region would have become a slightly less hospitable place for Jews (though not perilous).  Svyatoslav’s heir, Vladimir “the Great” of Novgorod (r. 980- 1015), who had converted to Christianity, was seeking to convert pagans under his dominion.  Those not of the Abrahamic Faith would have been oppressed; and thus compelled to either convert or flee.  Being Abrahamic, Jews may well have been given a pass.  While some [k]Hazarian Jews and Tengri-ists may have opted to acquiesce and become Christian, things probably began to look increasingly dire for non-Christians (especially pagans).  By THAT point, there were surely plenty of Jews who would have seen an exodus westward as a viable–nay, appealing–option. Though not in immediate peril, they were probably keen on finding a new place to call home.

But let’s back up. What of Jews of the period prior to c. 1000 A.D. (spec. during Late Antiquity)? Pursuant to the eviction of most Jews from Palestine under the Roman Empire (esp. after the Bar Kokhba revolt in the 2nd century), the diaspora scattered Beth Israel…

  • Eastward into Mesopotamia.  Hence the establishment of the Talmudic academies at S[h]ura, Pum-nahara, Pum-bedita, and Nehardea in the 3rd century. (The academy at Pum-bedita would be relocated to Mahuza [a.k.a. “al-Mada’in”] in the 4th century.)
  • Westward across the Mediterranean basin.  This means: into north Africa (esp. Elephantine in Egypt, though eventually along the Maghreb) as well as the Balkan, Italic, and Iberian peninsulas. Hence the Romaniotes in Greece, as well as the efflorescence of Jewish scholars in Morocco and Andalusia during the Middle Ages).

It is therefore prudent to surmise that the only Semitic Jews are those who are descendants of the Maccabees of the 2nd and 1st century B.C. and/or descendants of the Sadducees and Pharisees of Late Antiquity (that is, up until the revolt against Roman Emperor Heraclius c. 614-630)…all of whom went in one of those two directions. In other words: The portion of Beth Israel with Semitic ancestors are those Jews who ended up either in the Mediterranean basin (the Sephardim) or in Nabataea / Idumaea and Mesopotamia (the Misra[c]him).

Looking farther to the east, another query is worth making: From whence did the (Turkic) Jews of Bukhara / Samarkand[a] come?  The first synagogue was erected there in 1620. The community seems to have emerged in the region at some point during the Middle Ages, though—here’s the catch—not BEFORE the [k]Hazar Empire; and probably not AFTER the Seljuk Turks overtook the region. This was the heyday of the Silk Road. As such, the only Semitic Jews who would have traveled this route would have been the Radhanites. Turkic Jews would only have emerged there from an indigenous population.

Pace a small group of Bukharan Jews from Persia, there is no record of a diaspora from the Middle East that ended up in region between the Jaxartes and Oxus rivers (e.g. Bukhara and Samarkand[a]) during Late Antiquity.  Consider that such a migration would have involved going across all of Mesopotamia AND all of Persia, northward over the Kopet Dag mountains, across the barren Kara-kum Desert, and into the land of the Oghuz Turks.  Such a large-scale migration is rather far-fetched. {113}

Barring some scant evidence for tiny enclaves in central Gaul, prior to the downfall of the [k]Hazar Empire, the farthest north in Europe that Jewish communities could be found were the Alps and Pyrenees.  As mentioned, Jews primarily settled in Occitania (southeastern France), though a few may have made it as far north as Valentia–or possibly even Orléans–as early as the 6th century.  There would have been no motive to settle deeper into the Holy Roman Empire (e.g. the Burgundian lands) during the post- Carolingian era.

On the Balkan peninsula, few-if-any Jews would have ventured north of the Balkan (Sharr / Pindus / Pirin / Rila) mountains–on the other side of which was nothing but violent turmoil. Indeed, lands to the north of that mountain range were a crucible of on-going hostilities between the Byzantines, Kieven Rus, Bulgars, Magyars, and Pechenegs. Certainly, no Jews would have made it past the southern Carpathian mountains. Why would have they even tried?

As for the Italic peninsula, there was the issue of the terrestrial impediment known as the Alps.

This includes the Julian and Dinaric Alps, a formidable range of mountains stretching across Carantania (Slovenia and northern Croatia, at the north end of the Baltic peninsula), which would have also obstructed movement northward from the Mediterranean basin. Hence: When it comes to topography, ingress to Lotharingia would have needed to have been LATERAL–that is: from northern France and/or from somewhere to the east. The genesis of the earliest Jewish enclaves north of these mountain ranges are shrouded in mystery; yet we know that their beginnings POST-dated the [k]Hazar Empire.

The earliest Jewish presence in northern Europe seems to have occurred at Cologne, a municipality in East Frankia (Lotharingia). {21}  A small community of Jews had settled at the behest of bishop Bruno “the Great” in the 10th century. {58}

Though Jews would not have been inclined to venture unbidden to that area prior to said overture, it IS POSSIBLE that a small cadre of Jews dwelled in Cologne in the centuries prior to Bruno’s invitation. However it is reasonable to assume that a significant number would not have existed in the city prior to this point, as–during the 9th century–the Carolingians were aggressively converting everyone in the area (spec. pagan Saxons and Frisians) to Christianity. Moreover, the Vikings razed the city in 882. (Raping and pillaging by Norsemen was not uncommon in that region up to the 10th century.) Bruno’s invitation was probably the beginning of Jewish presence.

Understanding the geo-political exigencies of the time furnishes us with additional historical context.  By the 10th century, the Saxons had beome Roman Catholic. Around this time, the Magyars (a Turkic people related to the Chuvash who had diverged from [k]Hazar dominion c. 862) had made major inroads into Eastern Europe. In 924, the (Christian) Ottonians begrudgingly agreed to pay tribute to the (pagan) Magyars in return for the latter ceasing their violent incursions. (For more on this, see Postscript 1.) Suffice to say: Turkic peoples from the Eurasian Steppes making inroads into Eastern Europe was nothing new. (The Alans eventually made it all the way to the Iberian Peninsula!)

Soon thereafter, though, the power of the Ottonians was ascendent. Subsequently, the Saxons transitioned from subjugation to resistance…and then went on the offensive. By 955, German King Otto had defeated the Magyars in the storied battle of Lechfeld. {73}

By the time Otto had subdued the Turkic (Magyar) peoples in his domain, it was not uncommon for people to migrate from northern France to Germanic lands.  In the 960’s, the famed Christian cleric, Adalbert of Alsace-Lorraine went to be educated in Mainz…and eventually became the first archbishop of Magdeburg. {41}  So it is no surprise that some of those heading in that direction at the time may have also been Jewish.

In recognizing that the [k]Hazarian diaspora moved westward, we might ask: Who else might have done so? That is: What of eastern EUROPEANS who engaged in a westward migration? During the Dark Ages, the Germanic tribes of the Prussian / Pomeranian (Baltic) lands opted to retreat to the west, back across the Elbe and into the Rhineland–which offered fecund countryside beyond the reach of the “Wends” (Slavs). (The first Prussians / Pomeranians were descendants of the Germanic tribes of Antiquity.) It’s safe to assume that a few centuries later (that is: in the late 10th century), an isolated band of Turkic peoples seeking more hospitable climes would have had similar reason to ALSO move westward; with their sites also set on the same verdant environs. (The Franks would not start pushing back into the lands east of the Elbe until the 12th and 13th centuries.) So around this time, the [k]Hazars were not the only peoples–let alone the only Turkic peoples–moving into Europe from the east.

In addition to the Magyars making inroads into eastern Europe, there was also a major influx of Avars and Bulgars farther to the south. (Not until Otto’s aforementioned victory over the Magyars at Lechfeld, and the concomitant hegemony of the Slavs, did such incursions cease.) But the [k]Hazarian Jews were different: They may have been Turkic, but they were not pagan; and they were clearly not trying to conquer anyone. Moreover, being traders and farmers, they would have been more than willing to adapt their native tongue to the indigenous (Germanic) tongue–as merchants tend to do with their consumer-base. Being unassuming nomadic Jews, they would not have posed a threat to Christendom; and certainly would not have been seen as a threat to the local cynosures–who surely welcomed commerce from pliant new subjects.

The [k]Hazarian nomads’ choice of the Rhineland as a viable destination was made especially conspicuous due to the “Magdeburger Recht” [Rights of the People of Magdeburg], instituted in the 10th century by Otto–who, by then, had become Holy Roman Emperor. This decretal was issued at EXACTLY the right time. It likely served as an inducement to the disaffected [k]Hazarian Jews, as it conferred local autonomy to municipalities in the region–thereby creating a political climate that would have been (comparatively) hospitable to those of the Jewish Faith.

The political appanage accorded to this region accounted for the rise of the Gentile barons along the Rhine in the 11th century–a felicitous condition that would endure for the next couple centuries. Being as they were BARONS (who were happy to be emancipated from the ecclesiastic dominion of the Holy Roman imperium), they did not care much about religion; they cared about MONEY. So these Gentile lords (known as “burghers”) would not have had any truck with the influx of (non-rabbinical) [k]Hazarian Jews into their patchwork of mini-fiefdoms. The Turkic people from the east were–after all–primarily farmers, merchants, and craftsmen (read: sources of tax revenue), not proselytizers (that is: possible headaches).

A clue that the Jewish people who settled in this region were not of a Semitic background is the decision by some to use “schultheize” (later rendered “Schultz”) as a surname. The term referred to someone tasked by manor lords to collect dues from merchants and peasants.  This would have been a viable station for the new immigrants.  Clearly, those with Sephardic (read: Hebraic) origins would not have been inclined to adopt such a label.  The name would have only been adopted by people of non-Semitic heritage who felt obliged to employ a new onomastic. As we’ll see, the [k]Hazarian diaspora ended up opting for local (Germanic) nomenclature BY DEFAULT. (The tendency for Ashkenazim to adopt Germanic vocational names as FAMILY names will be discussed later.)

As far as candidates for hospitable environs went at the time (to wit: places that were suitable for migrant Jews searching for a new homeland), the Rhineland would have certainly stood out. It should come as no surprise, then, that the [k]Hazarian diaspora ended up there.

But the question remains: What occurred in the Rhineland PRIOR TO the influx of [k]Hazarian Jews? When it comes to a Jewish presence, the answer is: not much.

Let’s take a look at notable Sephardim in the Rhineland during the pre-Ashkenazic era.  In the late 10th / early 11th century, Gershom ben Judah taught in Metz.  (He had purportedly studied under Yehuda “Leon[tin]” ben Meir in Mainz.)  His student, Yaakov ben Yakar of Mainz, would be a mentor of Rashi.  As mentioned, it was only during the 11th century that a small amount of (Sephardic) Jews from western / southern Europe began to settle in Lotharingia–mostly in the Rhineland.  After the first tiny enclave in Cologne, there were five primary locations:

Mainz [known at the time as “Magonta” / “Maguntia”]: The first dependable record of a Jewish figure in the city was the Sephardic “gaon”, Judah ben Meir (a.k.a. “Léon[tin]”)…or so the story goes. (As with so much at the time, this seems to be based more on hearsay that hard documentation.) That was toward the end of the 10th century. There is also mention of Eliezar ben Isaac “ha-Gadol” teaching in the area. A small community seems to have emerged in the early 11th century, led by a student of Judah ben Meir: Gershom ben Judah of Metz (a.k.a. “Me’Or ha-Golah”; “The Light of the Exile”).  And as mentioned earlier, there was an apocryphal tale about an “Amnon”, who lived during the 11th century. A sign that the Jewish community was quite limited at the time is that the first Synod at Mainz did not occur until 1196.  (There was another Synod at Mainz in 1233.)  Also of note were Eliakim ben Meshullam (who was also associated with Worms and Speyer).  Some students of Gershom ben Judah also settled in Mainz—notably: the rabbi, Eliezer ben Isaac “ha-Gadol” and the Tosafist, Elijah ben Mena[c]hem “ha-Zaken”.

Speyer [German: “Speier”; Frankish: “Spira”] (located at the site of the Roman “Civitas Nemetum”): Isaac ben Asher “Ha-Levi” (a.k.a. “Riba”) was the most notable figure.  A small number of Jews from Mainz relocated to this city at the behest of bishop Rüdiger Hu[o]zmann in the late 11th century (during the Salian epoch)–most notably: Judah ben Samuel. {56}

Lorraine [including Alsace], Troyes [now “Champagne”], and Worms: Shlomo Yitzchaki (a.k.a. “Rashi”) arrived at these locations toward the end of the 11th century; and seems to have started small communities in each of them by c. 1100. (Rashi is sometimes mentioned along with the aforementioned Eliezer ben Isaac “ha-Gadol”.) Note that the famed Synod of Takkonot (at Troyes) did not occur until 1078 (followed by another one in 1160).

Records of these Jewish enclaves prior to the Renaissance are quite sparse.  So, thus far, there were a few Sephardim tentatively venturing into Lotharingia—mostly to teach.

Bear in mind that there had been Jews in Metz, France since at least as far back as the 9th century. We first hear of Jews in Bingen via a reference by Benjamin of Tudela in the late 12th century. And we don’t hear of Jews in Würzburg until after that. There were some tiny Jewish communities in the region by the end of the 11th century–which had only recently been established. How do we know this? The Rhineland massacres of 1096 occurred in Cologne, Trier(s), Speyer, Worms, and Mainz…as well as in Magdeburg (at the northern end of the Elbe River, in Saxony), Saxony (at the southern end of the Elbe River, in Bavaria), and even in Prague (in Bohemia).  These were not yet burgeoning Jewish centers.  (In Regensburg, the city’s Jews were few enough for the authorities to quickly round up—in the course of a weekend—and subject to a hasty forced baptism in the Danube.)

These were the LAST Sephardim in the Rhineland before the [k]Hazarian diaspora began populating the area (that is: prior to Ashkenazim becoming the predominant Jewish presence).  It is a mistake, then, to portray these figures as early Ashkenazim.  (Some of their TEACHINGS may have eventually had some influence on some of the first Ashkenazim; but that does not mean that Ashkenazi Jews were their descendants.  It would be surprising if such prominent figures had NOT left any Judaic legacy in the region.)

To reiterate: There was certainly no MAJOR Jewish presence in northeastern Europe prior to the 11th century.  And THEN…there was a sudden influx…from…somewhere. In keeping with this timeline, the first synagogue to be erected in the region (at Erfurt) was built shortly after 1100. {22}

The [k]Hazarian migration is the only thing that could possibly account for the sudden appearance of a significant number of Jews in this region at THAT particular point in time. {16}  To put this in temporal perspective, note that synagogues had existed in southern and western Europe since Late Antiquity–including at Delos and Sepphoris (in Greece), at Ostia and Bova Marina (in Italy), and even at Barcelona (in Spain).  Yet NONE existed in northeastern Europe before 1100.  To suppose that Jewish communities had been settled in the Rhineland any earlier, we are forced to believe that–unlike anywhere else in Europe–they inexplicably waited for OVER A MILLENNIUM before finally opting to build a synagogue.

Archeology reveals the chronology—and thus direction—of migration, as well as the period during which it occurred.  Looking at the timeline of the earliest synagogues established in locations between the the eastern end of the Mediterranean basin (e.g. western Anatolia, the Balkan peninsula, and the Italic peninsula) and Lotharingia (spec. east of the Rhine) is very revealing.  If Sephardim had migrated FROM the eastern end of the Mediterranean basin TO Lotharingia, we would expect to find the oldest instances farthest southeast, with increasingly recent instances as we move northward…ending up in Ashkenaz by the 11th century.  Instead, we find the EXACT REVERSE.

Jewish communities started settling in the vicinity of Vienna in the late 13th / early 14th century. In Hungary, the earliest instances are from the late 14th century.  In the Balkans, the earliest instances are from the early 15th century.  Nothing in northwestern Ukraine (Volhynia / Podolia / Polesia / Galicia) until the late 16th century.  Nothing in Wallachia (Romania) until the late 17th century. Nothing in Bulgaria until the mid-19th century!  The sites BEGAN in Lotharingia, and then occur LATER as one moves south-eastward.  Thus: The archeological record shows Ashkenazim migrating downward, not Sephardim migrating upward…meaning the origin of the Ashkenazi population must be explained in some way other than Sephardim coming northward from the eastern end of the Mediterranean basin. {20}

So what ever happened to the original Sephardic enclaves in Lotharingia?  To wit: How can we be so sure that they DIDN’T end up CONTINUING to migrate into Eastern Europe (thereby accounting for the emergence of the Ashkenazim)?  Let’s start with Rashi, as he was the first prominent Jewish figure in the area (who was Sephardic). As it turned out, the majority of those who followed Rashi eventually ended up back in central France.  That is: They did not continue to reside in Ashkenaz.  His star pupil, Joseph ben Simeon Kara (“Mahari”) remained in Troyes.  His other star pupil, Simhah ben Samuel of Vitry, ended up in central France.  Rashi’s other notable students were Meir ben Baruch of Worms (a.k.a. “Meir of Rothenburg”) and Isaac ben Asher “ha-Levi” (“Riba”), who flourished in Speyer…where his mentor, Eliakim ben Meshullam taught (after having himself studied at Mainz and Worms).  HIS student was the tosafist, Meir ben Samuel…who promptly relocated in north-central France (at Ramerupt).

In the 12th century, both of Rashi’s famed sons-in-law, Meir ben Samuel (“RaM”) and Judah ben Nathan (“RiBaN”)–both of whom hailed from Ramerupt–remained in France, attending Talmudic schools in Lorraine. The sons of the former (Samuel / “RaSh-BaM”, Isaac / “RiBaM”, and Jacob / “Rabbeinu Tam”) remained in Troyes (northern France). The sons of the latter ended up teaching in Paris.  These men were not Ashkenazi; they were Sephardim of northern France during the 12th century. (Eliezar ben Joel “ha-Levi” (a.k.a. “Ra’avyah”) is said to have taught in Bonn. But it is unclear what his background may have truly been.)

Also in the 12th century, Judah ben Samuel ben Kalonymos “ha-[c]Hasid” of Speyer (later associated with Regensberg) considered himself the progeny of the Jews of “Zarfat” (France). He even used French vernacular in his writings (spec. the “Sefer Ha-[c]Hasid”); something no Ashkenazi Jew would have done. (See the Appendix for more on the alleged ancestry of Judah ben Samuel “ha-[c]Hasid”.)

Later in the 12th century, Rashi’s most famous great-grandson, Isaac ben Samuel “the Elder” of Ramerupt (“Ri ha-Zaken”) ended up teaching at the yeshiva in Dampierre, in north-central France…where his son, Elhanan ben Isaac would live. His famous pupil, Judah ben Isaac Messer Leon, ended up in Paris.

Rashi’s legacy in “Zarfat” was clear.

Other notable French Tosafot of the late 12th / early 13th centuries included Samuel ben Solomon of Falaise (“Sir Morel”), Jacob of Orléans (who lived primarily in central France, though he ended up in London), Samson ben Abraham of Sens (“Rash-ba”), Je[c]hiel ben Joseph of Meaux [Paris] (“Vivus Meldensis”), and Moses ben Shneor of Évreux. None were in Lotharingia. Asher ben Je[c]hiel (the “Rosh”)—along with his famed son, Jacob ben Asher (“Ba’al ha-Turim”)—hailed from Cologne; yet he opted to migrate to Toledo in Andalusia c. 1300.  During the 12th and 13th centuries, Isaac ben Asher “ha-Levi” of Speyer (a.k.a. “Riba”) taught in Lorraine; Joseph Kim[c]hi of Narbonne (as well as his sons, David and Moses) taught in Occitania.

The prevailing direction of migration was clearly not eastward.  It was in the opposite direction.

The Sephardic figures who had moved eastward into Lotharingia (Cologne, Speyer, Worms, Mainz, etc.) over the course of their lives were going back to their roots in “Zarfat”. They were not the progenitors of the Ashkenazim. It was very rare for any Tosafist to migrate east of Lotharingia during this period. They remained in “Zarfat” through the 13th century. Meir ben Baruch of Worms (a.k.a. “Meir of Rothenburg”) trained in both Paris and Würzburg. He was not referred to as “Ashkenazi”; rather, he was known as “the greatest Jewish leader of Zarfat”.

To reiterate: The major Talmudic schools were in Lorraine and Hachmei Provence (Occitania); where many of Rashi’s students ended up.

Jacob ben Asher ben Je[c]hiel (a.k.a. author of the “Arba’ah Turim”, on which Joseph ben Ephraim Karo would base his landmark work) was born in Cologne c. 1269. He moved with his father to Andalusia and ended up pursuing his career in Toledo. The first Talmudist to appear in Austria was Avigdor Cohen ben Elijah, who—after studying under the famed Tosafist, Simha ben Samuel of Speyer (himself a student of Eliezer ben Samuel of Metz)—moved to Vienna, where he taught Meir ben Baruch of Worms (who would go on to teach in Rothenburg, Bavaria). {81} Soon thereafter, the Sephardic expositor from France, Isaac ben Moses (a.k.a. the “Riaz”) pursued his career in Vienna, Austria. {82}

So by the 13th century, we find that a few Sephardim were (tentatively) venturing into Germanic lands; though hardly enough to account for the burgeoning population of Ashkenazim across Eastern Europe. It wasn’t until 1528 that George the Pious (the Margrave of Ansbach) extended an invitation to Jews to establish a small community in Bavaria (specifically, in Fürth). It makes sense, then, that the first synagogue wasn’t built there until 1617.

This trend persisted even into the 15th century–as with the famed pedagogue, Judah ben Eliezer ha-Levi of Mainz, who ended up migrating to the Italic Peninsula (to teach in Padua). Clearly, Sephardim in the region preferred moving away from, rather than farther into, Ashkenaz.

In sum: All these prominent Jewish figures were indicative of an overwhelming trend. There was clearly NOT a major movement of Sephardim from France into Eastern Europe during the relevant period; which would have otherwise accounted for the sudden emergence of Ashkenazim. Pursuant to the arrival of the [k]Hazarian Diaspora in the Rhineland, the tendency for Sephardim in Lotharingia was to migrate back WESTWARD. And yet…the population of Jews in Lotharingia BURGEONED. If not Sephardim, then from whence did they come Not from the frigid shores of the Baltic. Not from the high slopes of the Alps.  They came from the EAST. {20}

More ethnographic work needs to be done on eastern Europe between the 9th and 15th centuries. Unfortunately, when it comes to ethnography in the Middle Ages, data is quite sparse. Even where it exists, it is largely based on hearsay and speculation (rather than on a meticulously-conducted census).

Inevitably, some Sephardim eventually entered the Ashkenazi orbit. Notable were the progeny of the famed French Tosafist, Elhanan ben Isaac ben Samuel Jaffe of Dampierre (himself a descendent of Rashi). But such people (e.g. the Jaffe family) did not migrate to Eastern Europe until the end of the 12th century. This says nothing about the origins of the Ashkenazim; it just reminds us that—over the centuries—some parts of Beth Israel gradually interspersed with other parts. {22}

In Eastern Europe, such latter-day miscegenation would account for the modest percentage of Semitic genes that are now found in the Ashkenazi (Turkic) haplo-group. Miscegenation—by definition—dilutes ethnic purity over time, and often elides ethnic origins.  When it comes to Turkic peoples who migrated into Europe, a notable case-study is the Gagauz: a (Kipchak) Turkic people who came to have predominantly European features, and remain Christian to the present day.  The Gagauz seem to have descended from the Kutrigurs / Utigurs, who originated in the Pontic Steppes; and are likely related to the Bulgars and Kumens.  The difference, of course, is that they have no reason to elide their Turkic provenance. {120}

So when did the miscegenation between the Jews of Western Europe and the Ashkenazim begin? After the violent expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula by the Roman Catholic rulers (pursuant to the Reconquista, which culminated at the beginning of 1492), SOME Sephardim may have ended up in Eastern Europe.  This may have been, in part, due to the favorable immigration policies of the Polish-Lithuanian rulers, who’d been working with the [k]Hazarian Diaspora for centuries. {116}  But the majority of expelled Sephardim migrated SOUTH, into north Africa; and others made their way into the relatively hospitable Ottoman Empire. (In 1492, Ottoman Sultan Bayazid II invited the Jews who’d been expelled from Spain to settle in his empire.)

Why the favorable treatment of Jews by the Polish-Lithuanian rulers? There’s no simple explanation. But a plausible hypothesis is that the Polish ruler from 1333 to 1370, Kazimierz III (a.k.a. “Casimir the Great”) had motivations to be favorable to the Jewish people in his realm (including Silesia and Volhynia-Galicia) due to having a Jewish mistress: Esterka of Oposzno. As it turns out, “Esterka” was the Sogdian version of “Esther”; used by traders along the Silk Road through the Dark Ages. {62} Casimir was known for favoring marginalized communities. He made it a point to stand up for Jews against the Slavic nobility and Christian clergy; and introduced democratic reforms that were remarkable for the era.  (Accounts of this can be found in the writings of the 16th-century Sephardic Chronicler, David ben Shlomo Ganz; who was from the Rhineland.)

It’s worth noting that it was not until the 17th century that we see the efflorescence of MODERN Jewry in Eastern Europe (that is: Ashkenazi Jews asserting their identity as it now exists); whereupon the Ashkenazim adopted an identity that was entirely divorced from their Turkic forebears. Interestingly, it was in the middle of the 17th century that the Khamel-nytsky rebellion occurred—resulting in the deaths of over a hundred thousand Jews in Volhynia and Podolia at the hands of indigenous Ruthenians and Zaporizhian Cossacks. This travesty was catalyzed—in large part—by a simmering resentment over the status of Jewish “arendators” (that is: the favorable treatment of Jews by the Polish-Lithuanian “szlachta” [nobility]). The (adamantly Christian, ethno-centric) Cossacks had always harbored enmity toward Turkic peoples (as well as the region’s Polish-Lithuanian rulers).

So what happened?  The vehemently anti-Semitic “starosta” [chief administrator], Bohdan Khamel-nytsky of Chyhyryn [Chigirin] (who identified as Cossack) forged a temporary, strategic alliance between the (Kumen- Kipchak) Crimean Tatars and the Hetman Cossacks in a gambit to bolster his revolt against the despised Polish-Lithuanian rulers (who, to reiterate, had been hospitable to Jews in the region for centuries). The rebellion usurped power from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, massacring numerous Jewish communities in the process.

This devastating turn of events would have served as a catalyst.  It is likely that, following this traumatic event, Ashkenazim made it a point to shed their Turkic identity. Thereafter, they would define themselves—above all else—as Eastern European Jews, besieged by hostile Gentile forces from all sides. A contra-distinction between them and other Turkic peoples would have made sense; as they no longer had anything in common with the Turkic tribes of the era (many of whom were, by then, Muslim); nor did they have any incentive to engage in trade with them.

Such exigencies would set the stage for two notable developments in the 18th and 19th centuries: Hassidic Judaism (which opted to circle the wagons, as it were) and early Zionism (which sought a safe haven for the denizens of Beth Israel). Hence the appearance of the “mestechko” (diminutive of “mesto”) and the shtetl (diminutive of “shtot” / “stadt”): designated cordons for small Jewish communities scattered across the Pale Of Settlement. With this revamped identity, there would emerge an ardent desire to find a land that Jews could call their own (see my essay: “The Land Of Purple”).

For those contending that Rhineland Jews did NOT come from the [k]Hazars, the implication is that the entire Jewish population of [k]Hazaria vanished shortly after c. 1000. In other words: We are expected to believe that an entire kingdom of Jews simply dissolved into the ether. As already mentioned, this could only mean one (or both) of two things:

  1. The FAITH OF an empire’s worth of people–around two million souls–somehow evaporated within a couple generations.  Not only is there no evidence for this; it makes no sense. {17}
  2. There was a genocide of all [k]Hazars…by someone…for some reason.  By whom?  Why?  No plausible answer is forthcoming.

So what of the numbers involved in the [k]Hazarian diaspora? There is no solid census data on the population of the [k]Hazar Empire at the time of its downfall at the end of the 10th century, let alone of exact percentages of religious affiliation amongst the general populace. (The vast majority–if not the entirety–of the ruling class were Jewish.) The best guesses place the population of the Empire at roughly two million at its peak–a significant portion of which were likely Jewish. By the time a distinctly [k]Hazarian people were defunct (that is: by 1071), it is quite possible that some of those who were Jewish had drifted away from their Jewish identity…or even converted to another Faith. But that eventuality would have STILL left on the order of hundreds of thousands of disaffected Jews seeking a place to call home. As with all diasporas, we find a wayward ethnic group seeking greener pastures.

Unsurprisingly, the record of this transitional period are quite sparse.

It was only when Jewish communities started burgeoning in Eastern Europe (during the Renaissance) that records become more robust. The High Council for Judaic jurisprudence for the Rhineland was not established until the 12th century. This indicates that Jewish activity did not go into full swing until AFTER a major influx of [k]Hazarian Jews from the East. If Jews had been there all along, an earlier council would have been warranted. And so it went: The the first occurrence of such an event was not until just after the arrival of the [k]Hazarian Jews. The timing of the establishment of the High Council indicates there was no significant presence of Jews in the region prior to c. 1100.

We’ve already addressed the VIABILITY of a westward migration of these Turkic Jews from Eurasia; but what would have motivated said migration?  In other words: If the (non-Semitic) Judaic descendants of the [k]Hazars steadily migrated westward during the Late Middle Ages, what incentive might they have had to move? As mentioned, in the generation following Svyatoslav’s conquest (and the collapse of the [k]Hazar Empire), things were most likely not ideal yet probably not unendurable–as there were not likely pogroms against the quiescent Jewish communities scattered across the countryside.

As it turns out, the (sudden) desire to venture west would have been largely due to the fact that there emerged virulent anti-Semitism in Kievan Rus (read: Tsarist Russia) at—lo and behold—around the same time the influx of Jews into the Rhineland occurred.  Note that Tsarist regimes were initially ethnically Bulgar (read: pagan) going back to the 10th century; yet–as mentioned–they eventually transitioned to Christianity as the dominion was Slavicized (in keeping with the hegemony of Kieven Rus).  It is no surprise, then, that the Slavic rulers came to have an increasingly religious (read: theocratic) agenda as time progressed.

To repeat: Svyatoslav’s son, Vladimir “the Great” of Novgorod came to power in the late 10th century; and converted to Christianity–an evangelical Faith. It was he who is most responsible for Christianizing the region (starting c. 988). {23} Vladimir’s contempt for non-Christian activity was likely the first impetus for the migration of [k]Hazarian Jews westward, beyond the realm of Kievan Rus, and thus out of reach of said persecution…ultimately to join the small (Sephardic) Jewish enclaves that already existed in the six locations listed above: Cologne, Mainz, Speyer, Alsace-Lorraine, Troyes, and Worms.  Be that as it may, Vladimir is not known to have persecuted those who were Jewish; and was even known to have been relatively amicable with Jewish leaders.  This stands to reason, as he would have had no ax to grind with them (being, as they were, people of the Abrahamic tradition). His main animus was toward pagans.

It is prudent to surmise that Vladimir was most likely indifferent to Jews…so long as they did not cause any problems.  This is merely to say that while he may not have endorsed their Faith, he was probably not hostile to it. (There was no support for Judaism, but neither was there persecution…yet.) Again, we come to a situation where a disaffected community would have been seeking greener pastures…even as they may not have been in immediate peril.  The threat would set in with the advent of the Tzars, who soon became more zealous (read: oppressive) with their Christian Faith. {122}

And so it went: To distance themselves from the increasingly theocratic Tzars, the [k]Hazarian Jews eventually migrated westward toward the Rhineland–that is: through Sarmatia / Ruthenia (what is now Ukraine). {88}

The route of migration was roughly as follows:  The Donbas (i.e. the Donets [River] Basin; what would later be the eastern-most region of Ukraine) was primarily a nomadic nether-land in western [k]Hazaria; though, at their peek, their domain would reach as far as Kiev. {87} The first phase, then, would have been crossing the Dnipro River (a.k.a. the “Dnieper”), which had represented their western-most frontier, into Severia.  Then…

  • Onwards through Ruthenia.  The Kieven Rus referred to this region variously as “Volhynia”, “Galicia”, and “Lodomeria”, and—of course—as (part of) Kieven Rus. {88}  It is worth noting that, during the Middle Ages, the ethnic inter-mixing of this region was extensive, and territorial affiliations were perpetually in flux.  Such an exigency precludes simplistic categorization schemes.  Over time, the region to the northwest of the Black Sea (that is: between the Carpathian Basin and the Dnieper River) was variously claimed by the Pechenegs, Bulgars, Magyars, Avars, and even the western-most [k]Hazars: all Turkic peoples who—other than quibbling amongst each other—were routinely interacting with the Byzantines to the south and the Slavs to the north. {99}
  • Onwards through the lowlands of Polesia and/or the uplands of Podolia (at the northern edge of Galicia-Volhynia).  This route may have taken them as far south as Bessarabia / Moldavia.
  • Onwards through the flatlands skirting the Oder River…through Silesia and Moravia / Bohemia, north of the Sudeten Mountains; and even into the hills and meadows of Lusatia / Sorbia.  This included the land of the Vistulans (north of the Carpathian Mountains, in what would later be called “Lesser Poland”). This course may have taken them as far north as the coastal lowlands of Pomerania (which was still pagan), through Turovian Rus (what is now southern Bela[ya]-Rus); at the time, a Drevlyan area associated with the principality of Kiev.
  • They would have then headed westward through the meadows, vales, and hillocks of Bohemia / Moravia and Silesia.  Such a route made sense, as Jewish merchants (that is: Radhanites and [k]Hazars) had been familiar with the trading hub at Pr[z]emyshl for centuries.  During that time, Pr[z]emyshl—a city in Bohemia / Moravia—was ruled by Polans (spec. the Lend[z]ians / Vistulans), prior to be overtaken by the Piast dynasty. {95}  It seems to have been a common destination for those traveling north from Kiev (which, recall, had previously been a [k]Hazarian city). {87}
  • From Silesia, the migration would have proceeded westward through Bavaria and Frankonia (in East Frankia)…then onward into the Rhineland (part of Lotharingia).

The movement westward was likely leisurely and intermittent, following a meandering path; which is simply to say that the migration was not rushed.  It was a diaspora seeking greener pastures, not a harried exodus seeking sanctuary from immediate danger.  It moved westward in an ad hoc manner; and did not necessarily have a specific destination in mind from the get-go.  Eventually, the Rhineland would have emerged as a viable haven—what with the Magdeburger Recht that had just been issued by Emperor Otto.  Along the way, these (mostly Jewish) Turkic nomads would have primarily encountered relatively hospitable environs rather than hostility.  Nevertheless, they seem to have been motivated to continue westward, beyond the frontiers of the Kieven Rus.

This migration occurred primarily during the Ottonian Dynasty, who’s primary antagonists were the (Slavic) Poles, (Turkic) Magyars, and (Hellenic) Byzantines. The migration would have been completed during the Salian Dynasty. 

Others of the [k]Hazarian diaspora settled along the way, remaining west of the Dnieper River, in Crimea–beyond the reach of persecution of both the Kieven Rus and Byzantines. It is likely that–initially–these migrants did not (yet) opt to settle in what is now Poland or Greater Lithuania, as the realm was under the (very religious) Piast Dynasty at the time; not to mention various unfriendly Slavic tribes. Consequently, it was not (yet) adequately hospitable.

An alternate way to view this westward migration is to couch it in Turkic terms. Thus the [k]Hazarian diaspora moved from Khazar-Orszag / Levedia (at the eastern edge of Ukraine), through Etel-kuz / Etel- köz (the Ukraine), and onward into Eastern Europe.  The possible destinations would either be a more southern region like Pannonia (as with the Magyars) or to a more northern region like Bohemia / Moravia / Silesia, Lusatia / Sorbia, Bavaria, and eventually to the Rhineland…depending on which Turkic tribe was migrating, why they were migrating, and at what point in time they were migrating. This is a reminder that several westward migrations (of various Turkic peoples) occurred during this period; often due to some sort of displacement. Such displacement could have been either culturally or militarily-induced, depending the geo-political exigencies of the lace and time.  (To reiterate: The Alans ended up migrating all the way to Andalusia!)

From whence did these alternate geographical labels come? After the Avars were ousted from the region, the Donbas was controlled by a Magyar tribal leader known as “Lebedi” / “Levedi”: predecessor to the fabled Magyar patriarch, Almos. Hence “Levedia”. In the early 9th century, the Kangars (a sub-group of the Pechenegs that had been displaced by the [k]Hazars) arrived, forcing the Magyars to cede the territory and subsequently move farther west. Meanwhile, “Etel-köz” translates literally to “river[s] middle” (meaning “between rivers”; possibly referring to the land between the Dnieper and Volga).

I explore the connection between the Magyars and [k]Hazars in Postscript 1.  For now, it’s instructive to note that, in the early 10th century, Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII “Porphyrogenitus” wrote that the Magyars “had dwelled since the days of old next to Chazaria, in the place called Levedia.” He added that the Magyars “lived together with the Chazars for [many] years, and fought in alliance with the Chazars in their wars.”  The background here is worth noting. Pursuant to an uprising against the K[h]agan, the (Jewish) Khavar / Kabar tribe of [k]Hazaria merged with the early Magyars in their migration westward–settling in what is now Hungary (accounting for what came to be called “Oberlander” and “Untarlander” Jews).  The Magyars are known to have Ural-Altaic (i.e. Turkic) origins–which makes perfect sense given the [k]Hazarian infusion. {74}

The record is quite clear. The [k]Hazar population in Hungary increased when the ruling Magyar Grand Prince, Taksony (who was pagan and on good terms with the Turkic peoples of the Eurasian steppes) invited [k]Hazarian Jews to settle in his realm in the 960’s. Already residing there were another Turkic people, the Khavars / Kabars, who had–ironically–sought refuge there in the 9th century from the [k]Hazars (even though they themselves were, in large part, Jewish).

We’ve noted the antipathy toward non-Christians by the Christianized Slavs (esp. the Tsars of Kievan Rus); but wasn’t there a skein of EXPLICIT anti-Semitism in the Holy Roman Empire at the time?  Indubitably.  Yet in the relevant period (the 11th century), migrating to Lotharingia (spec. the Rhineland) may have appeared to pose a lower risk of persecution than would have remaining in the dominion of the Kieven Rus.  This was especially the case in the advent of the aforementioned “Magdeburger Recht” issued by Holy Roman Emperor Otto.  It is quite possible that the Roman Catholic Church would have seemed to the [k]Hazarian Jews to represent less peril than the Christianized Slavic rulers (or, later, the Tsars), who were–by that point–wreaking havoc on their original homeland.  Note, for instance, that in 1074, German king (soon to be Holy Roman Emperor) Henry IV offered a tax abatement for the Jews of the ShUM cities (Speyer, Worms, and Mainz). {72}

Put plainly: Up until the onset of the Crusades at the end of the 11th century, the coast was (relatively) clear in the Rhineland…and certainly more favorable than was the Tsarist dominion.  Note that even after the Crusades began, the bishop of Triers offered refuge to wayward Jews.

Once it became safer, there was eventually a migration into what is now northwestern Ukraine (spec. Volhynia), via the route outlined above; though they would nto have remained there during their initial (westward) migration.  Records for Jewish communities in that region did not emerge until the 12th century–which accords with the present timeline.

The infamous Rhineland massacres occurred in 1096. {26}  The violence was instigated by the mass- hysteria of the First Crusade (which had begun the prior year). Before that, there is no record of a pogrom in the region. It might also be noted that the denizens of Pomerania did not start converting to Christianity until the 1120’s (due to the missionary work by Otto of Bamberg); so there would not have been any religious oppression in that area up until (at least) that point in time.  In other words: Relatively safe passage for migrant Jews would have existed during the relevant period (i.e. most of the 11th century).

Later, Jews were able to settle slightly farther back east (in Greater Lithuania) at the behest of the Grand Duke of Poland, Boleslav “the Pious” of Kalisz; but that was not until the 13th century.  Jewish settlements appeared in Grodno on the Nemunas and in Bohemia on the Vltava.  This is why the oldest synagogue erected in the area was the one at Josefov in Prague (now the site of the “Alt-neu Schul”) in late 13th century. {20}

Another catalyst for Ashkenazim coming back eastward was the hysteria in Europe from the Black Death.  Especially severe reactions to the plague occurred in Cologne, Mainz, and Frankfurt.  Used as scapegoats for the inexplicable affliction, Jews there were aggressively persecuted…and eventually, in 1349, massacred.  To escape such violence, they migrated en masse into the Lithuanian / Polish realm; and to points even farther east.  All this is well- documented.

It makes sense, then, that the first Jewish presence in what is now Greater Lithuania (spec. Latvia) was in the 14th century, mostly in Vilnius.  This seems to have begun at the behest of Grand Duke Gediminas in the 1320’s.  As it turns out, this is EXACTLY when the “Lipka Tatars” (i.e. Turkic Jews) are recorded has having first settled in the region. (!) There are Karluks still in Lithuania to the present day.

Abiding Tengri-ism is instructive regarding how we might identify vestigial creeds. Many Lipka Tatars–dwelling in the region formerly known as Greater Lithuania–are STILL Tengri-ist. Others are Muslim. By contrast, the vast majority of Karaim remain Jewish; yet–in acknowledging their Turkic ancestry–they do not consider themselves Ashkenazi. Many Volga Tatars (esp. the Chuvash) are Tengri-ist to the present day; though many have converted to either Islam or Eastern Orthodox Christianity due to geo- political exigencies (and probably lots of social pressure). Some Kalmyks, Mari, Mansi, and Khanty are also still Tengri-ist. Other descendants of the Kipchaks include the Bashkirs (of Badzhgard) and Kryashens (of Astra-Khan and Kazan), both of whom still practice Tengri-ism. Meanwhile, many of the Mordvin, Erzya, and Moksha people remain pagan, as they were not as influenced by Judaism–dwelling, as they did, on the periphery of the [k]Hazarian orbit.

Interestingly, other Volga Tatars like the Mishar (also descendants of the Kipchaks) were never Christianized by the Slavs; and did not convert to Islam until the late 13th / early 14th century (under the Golden Horde). This is a reminder that ethnic identities change over epochs. How quickly we in the modern world are inclined to disregard the way things may have been before our own era. It is easier to simply assume that the legacies we NOW covet are an accurate way to gage history. Most ethnic groups are what they are NOW because they underwent a metamorphosis.  When succumbing to the trappings of ethnocentric thinking, we are apt to believe things as they are now is how things have been ALL ALONG.  We must disabuse ourselves on this misconception.

Later, yet more Jewish communities were invited into that region at the behest of the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Vytautas of Trakai (a.k.a. “Vitold the Great”) in the early 15th century. Again, this corresponds with reports that he extended an invitation to TATARS. (!) How had these Tatar refugees gotten to Europe IN THE FIRST PLACE? Given the history outlined here, the answer is obvious.

Thus the [k]Hazarian diaspora (now fashioned as “Ashkenazim”) proceeded by tentatively coming back (slightly) eastward–that is: into Greater Lithuania, including what is now the Baltics, Poland, and Belarus.

Another pertinent fact: In the early 1200’s, there was a sudden influx of rabbis (by some estimates, as many as 300) from northern Europe into Palestine. Why this timing? And why so suddenly? This seems odd, as the (vehemently anti-Semitic) Crusades were still being undertaken (esp. through the campaigns of Catholic fanatic, King Louis IX of France).  The explanation can only be that at that time, there had recently emerged a Jewish population in northern Europe–to wit: a new reservoir of rabbis, some of whom had an interest in traveling to the city of David (an option that may have been unavailable to them until then). Granted, some of those rabbis may have come from Normandy (or other places in northern France, like Troyes); but certainly not all of the them. To account for a sudden desire for rabbis IN THAT REGION to visit the Holy Land AT THAT PARTICULAR TIME (yet no earlier), there must have recently emerged a community of Jews for whom such a pilgrimage was a new prospect.

Another question is worth asking: In light of the demise of the [k]Hazar Empire, for how long did the region of [k]Hazaria continue to be known as such?  When the famous Maghrebi / Andalusian cartographer, Muhammad al-Idrisi of Sebta created his famous map of the known world for the Sicilian King Roger II of Palermo c. 1154, he labeled the region “Ard al-Hozar”: Land of the [k]Hazars. Within it, he designating the cities of Sharkil (as “Al-Baida”), Atil, Samandar, and Balanjar.  He labeled “Ard Burtas” and “Ard Bulgar min Al-Turk” to the north, “Arminia” to the south, and “Bilad Allanai” [Country of the Alans] to the west. Sure enough, the Caspian Sea was labeled “Bahr al-Hozar”. He even placed a city named “Hozaria” on the eastern coast of the Black Sea. (The map is fascinating, as it places the north at the bottom, the south at the top.) The problem, of course, is that Svyatoslav had conquered the [k]Hazars almost two centuries earlier (c. 965-969). Al-Idrisi, it seems, was under the impression that the [k]Hazars qua [k]Hazars were still around. The question, then, is: What might have given him this impression? We can only speculate. Chances are, Al-Idrisi was not necessarily aware of their displacement, nor of specific migration patterns; as he was concerned with geography, not with ethnography. And it is plausible that the north Caucuses may have STILL been known by their earlier name, Slavic hegemony or not.

Let’s fast-forward to the modern era. By the time the so-called “Pale of Settlement” was established in eastern Europe at the end of the 18th century, how ethnically Semitic the indigenous practitioners of Judaism might have been is–to put it mildly–debatable. It is reasonable to surmise that it was not much, if at all. The Pale of Settlement stretched from Greater Lithuania (spec. the Baltic region) down to Ruthenia (spec. Volhynia; now northwestern Ukraine). The northern portion of the Pale Of Settlement is now mostly Latvia / Lithuania, Poland, and northern Belarus; the southern portion is now southern Belarus and northern Ukraine. As we have seen, most of the Jewish people in this area would NOT have originally come from the Mediterranean basin. {20}

To summarize: The majority of Jews who first came to settle in eastern Europe had come from the Pontic / Volga Steppes.  This population was effectively the [k]Hazarian diaspora.  At that point in history, the non-Semitic contingent of Beth Israel accounted for a small minority of global Jewry (i.e. those who subscribed to Mosaic law yet were not Christian); as over 97% of the world’s Jewish people was Semitic. To reiterate: It was the Sephardim of the Mediterranean basin and the Mizra[c]him of the Middle East (originally dubbed “Mu-starab-im”: those who are Arab) who likely boasted what remained of Beth Israel’s genetically Semitic origins.

Not coincidentally, it was ALSO in the late 11th century that the aforementioned Talmudic academies in Mesopotamia became defunct–an eventuality that corresponded with the demise of the Babylonian Exilarchate. For at that point (the end of the Masoretic era), the center of Judaica was making the transition to the West, especially to Andalusia; as Maimonides attests. {52}  It was around this same time that the famed Talmudic academy at the Occitanian port-city of Narbonne (in the south of France, on the Mediterranean coast) was established (where Jews had been present since Carolingian King Pepin “the Short” invited them to settle in the city in the 760’s). Obviously, Jews were not evacuating the Mediterranean basin at that time; they were SETTLING IN it.

The famed Talmudic academy at Kairouan (in Morocco) was established around the same time.  European Sephardim were NOT migrating en masse to northeastern Europe; they were planting further roots on the Mediterranean basin.  So the only way to account for new Jewish communities emerging in the newly- coined “Eretz Ashkenaz” is from another source.

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