Mountain Jews

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Mountain Jews (Juhurim)
Total population: 1926: 26,000 (est.)

1959: 25,000 (est.)

Significant populations in:

Dagestan, Azerbaijan; no good numbers available

Language Juhuri, Tati, Azeri
Religion Judaism
Related ethnic groups

Related by traditions:
  Mountain Jews

Possibly ethno-biologically related to:

Mountain Jews, or Juhurim, are Jews of the eastern Caucasus, mainly of Dagestan. Also known as Caucasian Jews.



In literature they have been referred to as Mountain Jews, Jewish Tats, Juhur and Dagh Chufuti. In Russian, they are known as Gorskiye Yevrei, meaning "Mountain Jews". The designation Tati is considered pejorative.


The majority of Caucasian Mountain Jews live in Dagestan, Kaitag and Magaramkend (three settlements), and in Derbent and Makhachkala, they can be found in a few Azerbaijani villages (Krasnaya Sloboda part of Quba, Vartashen) and in some towns. A small number have settled in North Caucasia — Gorny and Nalchik. In the period 1970–1990 the majority of Mountain Jews migrated to Israel; some moved to Moscow.


Missing image
Jewish Girls of the Caucasus by George Kennan, in National Geographic, October, 1913

The population is difficult to estimate, as during the censuses the Mountain Jews have been counted as members of the overall Jewish community, or as Tats whose language they speak. In 1926 they numbered approximately 26,000; in 1959 about 15,000 lived in Dagestan (the Russian Federation total was 16,707) and more than 10,000 in Azerbaijan. In 1979 the overall number of Jews in Dagestan was 19,000 and 35,000 in Azerbaijan, the percentage of Mountain Jews is unknown. Ethnologue ( reports their number at 101,000:


See main article Juhuri language.

The Mountain Jews speak Juhuri, or Judo-Tat language, which is closely related to Modern Persian; it belongs to the Iranian division of the Indo-European languages.

Ethnic origins and History


In terms of ethnic origin, it is assumed that the Mountain Jews and Tats have inhabited Caucasia for a long time. Their distant forefathers once lived in southern Azerbaijan, the north-western part of present-day Iran. It was there that they adopted the Tat language but retained Judaism as their faith (the Tats are Muslim). Having become largely assimilated, the predecessors of the Mountain Jews settled on the west coast of the Caspian Sea in the 5th–6th century and from that time on their history has been related to the mountains and the people of Dagestan. Juhuri tradition says that they have lived as Jews in the eastern Caucasus since 722 BC.

There are several theories about their origins. One is that they are descended from Jewish military colonists settled by Parthian and Sassanid rulers in the Caucasus as frontier guards against nomadic incursions from the Pontic steppe. Some historians believe that they are ethnic Tats converted to Judaism; still others regard the Muslim Tats as Mountain Jews that converted to Islam. Yet another theory is that they are descended from the Khazars; however, this seems unlikely since they appear to have been settled in the Caucasus prior to the rise of the Khazar polity. Nevertheless they may have been allied or subject to the Khazar Khaganate, and likely accepted Jewish Khazars into their communities following the fall of Khazaria in the tenth and eleventh centuries CE.

The Mountain Jews resettled from the mountains to the coastal lowlands in the 18th–19th century but carried the name "Mountain Jews" with them.

Any specific Mountain Jew features, distinguishing them from the Islamic environment, originate in Judaism. In the villages (aouls) the Mountain Jews settled in a part of their own, in towns they did the same, although their dwellings did not differ from their neighbours’. The Mountain Jews also took to wearing the highlanders’ dress. Judaistic prohibitions ensured they retained specific dishes and faith still enshrined in the rules for family life.

If elsewhere in the Jewish diaspora it was forbidden to own and till land (cf. the Jews of Central Asia), at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century the Mountain Jews were farmers and gardeners growing mainly grain. Their oldest occupation was rice-growing but raising silkworms and tobacco was also popular. The Jewish vineyards were especially famous. The Jews and their Armenian neighbors were the main producers of wine, an activity banned for Muslims by religion. Judaism, in turn, strictly limited any meat consumption and unlike their neighbours the Mountain Jews raised few domestic animals.

Missing image
Mountain Jewish elder, c. 1900 (source unknown)

At the same time they were renowned tanners. Tanning was the third most important activity after farming and gardening and at the end of the 19th century 6% of Jews were engaged in this trade. Handicrafts and commerce were mostly practiced by Jews in towns.

The Soviet authorities bound the Mountain Jews to collective farms but allowed them to carry on in their traditional ways, growing grapes, tobacco and vegetables and making wine. However, the former isolated lifestyle of the Jews has practically been eradicated and they now live side by side with other ethnic groups.

Originally education was only for the boys who attended synagogue schools. With sovietization, Tat became the language of tuition at newly-founded elementary schools. It remained so till the beginning of World War II. The publication of the first native-language newspaper, Zakhmetkesh (Working People), began in 1928. After the war Russian became the only acceptable language at Dagestan schools and the publication of the newspaper stopped. Today Mountain Jewish intellectuals are active in the Dagestan cultural scene. Several of them are prominent actors and artists and there are writers and poets. However, only amateur theatricals and concerts are there to highlight their culture. Mountain Jewish cultural activities in Azerbaijan are suppressed by flourishing Azerbaijani chauvinism.



  • Some text used with permission from The original text can be found here (

External links

  • (, website first put together about Juhuro "Mountain jews" by Vadim Alhasov in 2001, and later supported by Vitaliy Shalem (in Russian), who is updating the Russian-language portion weekly. As of March 2005 the English version ( has not been updated for a long time.
  • GJDate.Com (, an online discussion and dating service site for Mountain Jews (in English and Russian)
  • Ethnologue article on Judo-Tat (Żydzi górscy

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