The Last Village of the Mountain Jews

Dec. 27 2018

Located not far from the capital city of Baku in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, the town of Qirmizi has somewhere between two and three thousand residents—all of whom are Jews. Once there were more such towns in Transcaucasia, populated by the Mountain Jews, who have distinct traditions and their own language, known as Judeo-Tat or Juhuru, that is closely related to Persian but draws heavily on Hebrew. Yoav Keren describes his recent visit there:

Three bridges separate Qirmizi [from the nearby Gentile town] Quba. One of them, which is closed to vehicles, is known as “the love bridge.” . . . This is where single Jewish men and women come to meet a match. “Girls walk the bridge with their mothers,” [our tour guide] explains, “while the guys look on from the banks. If a guy sees a girl he likes, his parents will approach her parents and ask for her hand.” . . . Around the corner from the bridge is the city’s wedding venue—a pillared hall that houses weddings, bar mitzvahs, and circumcisions. There’s a huge photo of the Western Wall inside. . . .

Azerbaijan is a Shiite Muslim country, and Azeris also make up 25 percent of the population of nearby Iran. But the people [of Azerbaijan] love Israel, and not only because it buys their oil and sells them weapons (including the Iron Dome missile-defense systems, which are lined up along the Azeri border with Armenia). The local Jews are respected and treated with tolerance. In central Baku, Jews wearing kippot walk around undisturbed—not something you would see in Paris or other European cities nowadays.

During Soviet times, there were eleven synagogues in Qirmizi, but they weren’t in use—Communism was the only religion. . . . Today there are only two synagogues left in in the town, but they are both active.

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