More on Juhuri.

We discussed the Mountain Jews and their language, Juhuri (Judeo-Tat), back in 2010; now you can see glorious photos of the place where they speak it and read an account of meeting its speakers at Poemas del río Wang:

I met Mountain Jews for for the first time seven years ago, in a café of the Tabriz bazaar, where I was listening to the conversation of the waiters. The language was particularly familiar, some Iranian language, but not Persian, and not even Kurdish. “In what language do you speak?” I asked. “Be Juhuri, in Jewish”, they answered. “Come on”, I said, “I know two Jewish languages, but neither of them sounds like this.” “Well, this is then the third one. We, Mountain Jews speak in this language.” And they said that thousands of them live in the mountains of the “other”, northern, Azerbaijan, and farther north, in Dagestan, many more still.

Take the stuff about the Babylonian captivity with several spoonfuls of salt; as Etienne says in that 2010 post, “the notion that Judeo-Tat goes back to Persian acquired by Jews in the days of King Nebuchadnezzar is utter nonsense. From what little I know of Tat, it is clearly so similar to Modern Persian that it cannot have broken off from Persian at such an early date.” Otherwise, it’s an amazing account:

The most unusual fact about this shtetl is that it works. Anyone who has seen the deserted houses of the Galician shtetls and the Jewish streets of the Eastern European villages, the closed down synagogues or their empty places, and brought them to life again in the imagination with the characters of Sholem Aleichem, can see here how that world would look, had its inhabitants not disappeared. The traditional Jewish world of the Red Shtetl has only gradually modernized. The town center has been renovated, but they have also built a new mikve, a kosher butcher’s shop, and a community house called “The House of Happiness”, and the facades of the ostentatious palaces built in the places of the old wooden houses are still decorated with the motifs of traditional Jewish iconography.

And don’t miss this recent río Wang post on the same topic, with equally glorious photos of Lahıc (or Lahij).


  1. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    I know two Jewish languages, but neither of them sounds like this. Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino: I wonder which one he was omitting. Surely not Ladino, as the title “Poemas del río Wang” suggests a knowledge of Spanish? The only time I ever heard Ladino I was very struck by how similar it is to modern Castilian, despite several centuries of separation. When written in Roman characters it is perfectly intelligible to anyone who can read Spanish (once they get over the weird spelling). Of course, “several centuries” is much less than the time since the Babylonian captivity…

  2. He didn’t say “I know of two Jewish languages,” he said “I know two Jewish languages.” I’m quite sure he knows Ladino exists, but that doesn’t mean he knows it.

  3. In the last year or so I read an online article about this village but it appears to have gone into hiding. In a sort of parallel, there are two Circassian villages in Israel.

  4. Trond Engen says

    Also the two posts on Xinaliq.

  5. > He didn’t say “I know of two Jewish languages,” he said “I know two Jewish languages.” I’m quite sure he knows Ladino exists, but that doesn’t mean he knows it.

    But I think the sentence only really makes sense — especially the “come on” at the beginning — if by “I know two Jewish languages” is meant “I know both Jewish languages”.

  6. Well, English is not his native language — I don’t think it’s even his second language — so I wouldn’t set too much store by the precise wording.

  7. I don’t think “both” would have made sense for anybody who knows for a fact that there are more. And I think the true intent of the phrase was to serve as a pickup line of sorts, to make sure these people become interested in further conservation with a person who isn’t just a curious foreign interloper but someone who clearly has relevant and intriguing knowledge. In other installments of his blog, Studiolum often writes how a knowledge of some language other than the titular language of the nation opened doors for him – like once, in Iran as well, Russian *literally* opened doors of locked churches for him.

    (and yes, I think Italian was #2, if I still remember our conversations well)

  8. How the Mountain Jews of Azerbaijan Endure, by Evan Pheiffer:

    Deep in the Azerbaijani foothills of the southern Caucasus Mountains lives one of Europe’s most interesting communities, the Red Village Mountain Jews. For decades, the residents of the only all-Jewish village outside Israel and the United States — “Krasnaya Sloboda,” as the community is known in Russian (“Qirmizi Qasaba” in Azeri) — have been prosperous and pragmatic, with a foot in at least three worlds. […]

    On the one hand, the village is connected to the rest of the world through its own expatriates. While only 500 people live here in the winter, the village balloons to over 3,000 in the summer, when its many sons and daughters return from Moscow, Brooklyn, Tel Aviv and Baku. Indeed, the folks of Red Village are as likely to carry an American passport as they are a Russian or Israeli one. On the other hand, the village remains fairly isolated. It represents the last shtetl in Europe, according to some. Even seven decades of Soviet assimilation policies and 30 years of Azerbaijani nation-building have barely diluted its distinct identity.

    Seated on the left bank of the Kudyal across from their Muslim counterparts, the Mountain Jews are as subtly separated by geography as they are by language and religion. Inhabitants of both sides of the river stroll along the handsome 19th-century red-brick bridge each evening, but rarely do they cross to the other side. There’s an unspoken rule that Jews stay north of the river and Muslims south. “None of us has ever lived on that side,” says Regina, a 30-year-old Mountain Jewish woman whose parents live in Moscow but whose sister resides in Brooklyn. […]

    Though Russian speakers would rule them for the next 185 years, the Mountain Jews’ mother tongue is still Juhuri, also known as Judeo-Tat, a special dialect of Persian, which everyone still speaks at home. They are also proficient in Russian and many learn Hebrew, too. “As kids, we studied Hebrew at the local public school with an excellent teacher, until he moved to Moscow for a better job,” says Regina, lamenting her teacher’s departure. “Now he’s one of the most respected [Jewish] mullahs in all of Russia!”

    Their script alone reveals their deeply multilayered identity. For centuries, Mountain Jews wrote Juhuri with Hebrew letters. In 1929, however, the Soviet Union forced them to write their Judeo-Persian dialect in Latin script. A decade later, Cyrillic became the rule. Soviet Azeris received similarly confusing orders, switching from Arabic script to Latin in 1929, then to Cyrillic. Though Azeri reverted to its own idiosyncratic interwar Latin script in 1992, Juhuri remains in Cyrillic. As of 2022, the Mountain Jews write Persian in Cyrillic and Azeri Turkish in Latin. […]

    Whatever the case, Red Village’s religious school, or “beit midrash,” has also made a slight comeback. With roughly 30 boys and 30 girls, its pupils attend religious lessons in Hebrew and Juhuri in the morning before studying at the mixed public school in Azeri and Russian in the afternoon. “Wherever Jews go, they adopt the language and customs of the people who live there,” says Regina. “But they never forget their own, either. Never.”

  9. “To be honest, there’s hardly any difference between us and Ashkenazis,” says Regina.

    Come on. From age 6 to 14, my daughter went to school in Moscow with a girl from the Mountain Jewish community. A very nice girl and a good student. She told her friends that her family expected her to get married right after finishing school (at 17), to stay at home and have kids. Going to college would be impossible. That’s exactly what happened, to her former classmates’ disbelief and dismay.

    Indeed, “hardly any difference between us and Ashkenazis.” Unless she’s referring to some early 19th-century shtetl.

  10. Have you ever heard of the Lubavitchers?

  11. She was talking about the Ashkenazim of Moscow. “I asked whether Mountain Jews mix with other Jewish communities in Moscow” was the lead-in.

  12. Oh, right, sorry. I guess she was working hard at solidarity via elision of difference!

Speak Your Mind