Crimean Jews’ Medieval Cemetery

March 22, 2023 | Matti Friedman
About the author: Matti Friedman is the author of a memoir about the Israeli war in Lebanon, Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier’s Story of a Forgotten War (2016). His latest book is Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel (2019).

When Russia became the home of the world’s largest Jewish population near the end of the 18th century, the overwhelming majority of these Jews lived in Polish territories recently acquired by the tsars. They were predominantly descendants of Jews from Germany and elsewhere in Europe. But in 1783 St. Petersburg also conquered the former Ottoman province of Crimea, which had its own Turkic-speaking Jewish population dating back at least to the 14th century, and perhaps to antiquity. Matti Friedman tells the story of a gravestone found in the medieval Jewish cemetery of Tmutarakan—one of the oldest extant Crimean Jewish artifacts. (Video, 9 minutes.)

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