I know, I get tired of the “saving dying languages” trope too, it’s a worthy activity but the stories all run together after a while. And yet I found Shany Littman’s Haaretz article on Juhuri (Judeo-Tat, spoken by the so-called Mountain Jews) in Israel interesting enough to want to pass it on; I guess I’m a sucker for the minority languages of the Caucasus. The article focuses on the Theater of the Eastern Caucasus, “the only theater in the world that stages plays in the Juhuri language,” which was founded in 1923 in Derbent and has been operating in Israel since 2001, but it has a good discussion of the history of the language:

According to a tradition prevalent in the community, the Jews of the Caucasus are descendants of tribes exiled from the Kingdom of Judea after the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the First Temple. They settled in Persia, where they acquired one of the dialects of Persian, at the same time preserving a considerable vocabulary of Hebrew words. When the Persian rulers wished to strengthen the northern borders of the empire, they resettled these Jewish tribes in the Caucasus.

Until the 20th century, Juhuri was used mainly as the everyday spoken language…. When the members of the community began using Juhuri as a written language, they used Hebrew letters similar to Rashi script (a semi-cursive typeface for Hebrew used by early typographers). The first two books printed in Juhuri in Hebrew script – a prayer book and a book about Zionism – were published in 1908 and 1909, respectively…. In the mid-19th century, Russia annexed the region, and the Russian language began to spread in the Caucasus…. But only after the communist revolution did the mass transition from Juhuri to Russian begin….

[Poet Boris] Hanukayev says that during his childhood there was a very rich cultural life in Derbent conducted in Juhuri, even under the communist regime.”There were kolkhozes [collective farms] where almost the entire population was Jewish. They had theaters and musical troupes that performed in Juhuri,” he explains. “These plays were usually related to Persian folklore, because for the Jews, the high culture was Persian and Azeri, not Hebrew. We were not familiar with [Hebrew poets Haim Nahman] Bialik and [Shaul] Tchernikovsky. The authors we read were Yono (Yona) Semyonov, whose language was very rich and peppered with Hebrew words and expressions borrowed from the holy tongue, Mishi (Moshe) Bakhshiyev, who wrote prose and poetry, Hizghil (Yehezkel) Avshalumov, who wrote prose and satirical and humorous plays, Sergei Yezgayev, a poet and a philosopher, and Danil Atnilov, who was a poet with a surprising and subversive vision.”

There’s a lot more fascinating material in the article, and someone should write a book about these people if there isn’t one already. Thanks for the link, A S!


  1. The director of my son’s HS musical group. Jacob Avshalomov, is of Tat descent but grew up in Beijing.
    My sole source for his descent is the Wiki Tat article and its spinoffs. But the name Avshalomov seems common among the Tat.

  2. claudius says

    When I visited the jewish part of Quba, which has the largest compact settlement of Judeo-Tat speakers (much better kept than the muslim part over the river BTW), I asked two guys what language they spoke. “Yevreysky” they replied. I tried to nail down what this was precisely, but that was all they would say.

  3. I met Tat Jews – Горские евреи, Mountain Jews, as they are called in Russian – in Tabriz where they run a small café. I heard them speaking in an Iranian language, close to Persian and Kurdish, but largely unintelligible to a Persian speaker, and when I asked what language they were speaking they answered “Juhur”. They were extremely proud of living “here in Persia” for three thousand years (although they personally came over from Soviet Azerbaijan, but they also regarded their native region as traditionally part of Persia.) Although their community in the Caucasus has been fairly tapped by emigration to Israel, they still keep a number of interesting sites in Russian.

  4. “I asked two guys what language they spoke. “Yevreysky” they replied. I tried to nail down what this was precisely, but that was all they would say.”
    “I met Tat Jews – Горские евреи, Mountain Jews,”
    Well, there you go. That sounds like their own name for Tat, I’m guessing. I am also guessing they did not mean “Hebrew.”

  5. I am also guessing they did not mean “Hebrew.”
    Definitely. ‘Yevreysky’ can mean a lot of things, for example Yiddish.

  6. hat,
    … someone should write a book about these people if there isn’t one already …
    Looks like there is.

  7. Looks interesting!

  8. Looks like there is.
    What a pity it seems to be out of stock everywhere. I have only found one used copy in a Moscow online bookshop, but they do not deliver abroad.

  9. The current TLS has a glowing review (unavailable online) of a book called Dying Words: Endangered languages and what they have to tell us by Nicholas Evans. Google Books preview here.

  10. Definitely sounds interesting—thanks!

  11. marie-lucie says

    Nicholas Evans is a well-known Australian linguist. He knows what he is talking about.

  12. Hat: The article is frankly not that good, and it depresses me no end that journalists *everywhere* seem to be so bad when it comes to reporting about language and linguistics.
    First: 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.
    Second, the notion that the Hebrew loanwords in Judeo-Tat date back to such an early period is quite frankly improbable in the extreme. In all Jewish languages that I know of, hebraisms have been shown *not* to be survivals of pre-diaspora spoken Hebrew (the fact that the dominant vernacular in Judaea immediately before the diaspora was Aramaic does make this a fairly certain conclusion): instead they are learned borrowings, derived from a reading tradition.
    Third, the claim that Cyrillic was somehow linguistically ill-suited to the sounds of Tat is as inaccurate as the insinuation that this lack of fit between sound and script somehow hastened Russification.
    (Of course, the theory explains why Yiddish in the Soviet Union, one of the few Soviet languages which kept its inherited [hebrew] script in the twentieth century, is such a vibrant language, as opposed to moribund Soviet languages which had Cyrillic imposed upon them, such as Uzbek…okay, sarcasm off. I trust I’ve made my point).

  13. Wolfgang Kuhl says

    In 1997 the Еврейский Университет в Москве published the
    Татско (еврейскo)- русский словарь
    (LYQƏT ӘZ ÇUHURI Ә URUSI) compiled by Я.М. Агарунов.
    The Latin alphabet is used with additional letters Çç Әə Ħћ Ң Şş.
    This is the first publication of a Jewish-Tatish – Russian Dictionary of such volume. The dictionary contains about 9000 words and expressions of Jew-Tatish language, which is spoken by the Mountain Jews of the Caucasus. The Jew-Tatish language belongs to the south-western group of Iranian languages and has a considerable number of borrowings from Azerbaijani and Hebrew. The Kuba dialect originally spoken in Krasnaya Sloboda is represented in this dictionary.
    The Русско –татский (горско-еврейский) словарь
    (Гофноме эз уруси э жугьури) by Михаил Дадашев was published in 2006
    comprising about 20000 words, 700 proverbs and a list of male and female names.
    (Перечень наиболее распространенных имен горских евреев). The cyrillic alphabet is used.
    A few examples of Çuhuri proverbs (Russian meaning in parenthesis):
    Səg dərjorə lap zəgə, dərjo murdal nibu.
    (Если море собака будет лакать, море грязным не будет.)
    Əri kəs col vəkənyho ju midarov.
    (Для другого яму копающие сами в неё попадут.)
    Əz dyl gudəgho ħofd bo parcojəti giroşdə.
    (Через сердца маленьких людей семь раз царствование проходит.)
    Эз дуьл кутэхьэ одомигьо хьофдбо парчогьети гирошде.
    (Маленький человек много раз в жизни видит себя царем.)
    Имбуруз туьниге, себэхь менуьм.
    (Сегодня ты, но завтра я.)
    Уре сег э Эгьлаби гIэнж гуьрди, оммо у омори э Муьшкуьр сеге зере.
    (В Аглабях его укусила собака, а он пришел в Мюшкюр и стал собаку бить.)
    Э метеле гоф кем дери, эгьуьл – амбар.
    (В пословице слов мало, а ума – много.)
    Одомире дуь пойгьи, оммо абат ишу гьердуь еки нисди.
    (У человека две ноги, но шаг каждого разный.)
    Амбар гоф сохугьо, амбар гьэлет мибу.
    (Кто много говорит, тот часто ошибается.)
    Гьер одоми гIэйб хуьшдере нидануь.
    (Не каждый знает свой недостатки.)

  14. Thanks for the references and samples!

  15. I read that Studiolum visited a coffee shop in Tabriz owned by Mountain Jews who spoke Juhuri. If anyone knows the name and location of this coffee shop in Tabriz, please let me know. I was born in Tehran and am very interested in this group. I would be interested in contact with members of this group.

  16. Hello, Eshagh. The coffee shop was in the bazaar, in the carpet section. It was not far from the spot where I made the photo which I included in my blog post: . I was there in November 2007, and I have not returned to check whether it still exists. If you get to know anything about them, please let me know. Just now I’m preparing for a travel to the Juhuri villages in the Azerbaijani mountains, and every information and contact can be useful.

  17. John Cowan says

    Note that the J of Juhuri (and the Ç of Çuhuri) represent /ʒ/, as established by the Cyrillic spelling Жугьури.

  18. I just came across a website of the Горские евреи community. Looks like it’s all in Russian though. And over at You Tube, there’s a documentary on this group produced by RTД, “an English-language documentary channel about Russia.”

  19. Hi,
    I read the article and it interesting to read that some one is doing some researches about my culture. Yiddish And Juhuri (yeverskiy) is the language of the Jews. Yiddish was talked by Jews in Europe (similar like German) and Juhuri in the Caucasus mountains (similar to Persian). The language is “dying” due to lack of intres of the younger generation to learn it, they are basically using the language of the country they live in (Hebrew in Israel, English in US, Russian in Russia). It will be exellent of some one will write an Juhuri English dictionary for continuing the legacy.

  20. David Marjanović says

    Note that the J of Juhuri (and the Ç of Çuhuri) represent /ʒ/, as established by the Cyrillic spelling Жугьури.

    I’m not sure about that. Wikipedia, citing a page that doesn’t exist anymore, says [d͡ʒ]; ж for [d͡ʒ] appears to be common in Soviet alphabets for languages that have a [d͡ʒ] but no [ʒ]*; and the Soviet Latin alphabets of the 1920s generally used ƶ for [ʒ], while ç was variously applied to [d͡ʒ] and [t͡ʃ].

    * I still don’t understand why none of them use good old џ. Abkhaz does, but that’s the one which has a long pre-Soviet history.

  21. An excellent point. There’s no reason in theory why Cyrillic, with appropriate modifications, couldn’t be used perfectly well for other languages, but in practice it sure creates a minefield.

  22. David Marjanović says

    It appears to have been Soviet policy that all the smaller languages in the RSFSR (for some arbitrary value of “small”, I suppose) had to be written with the exact same letter inventory as Russian (except, in the Caucasus, for the single additional diacritic letter palochka). Hence Abkhaz, in Georgia, has a more custom-made alphabet, while the closely related and very similar Abaza, on the Russian side, is written with mostly di- and trigraphs. The bigger languages in the other Soviet republics and in Siberia got extra letters, though often different ones for the same sound in different regions.

  23. David Marjanović says

    *facepalm* Mongolian. Mongolian does that: ж and з are /d͡ʒ/ and /d͡z/ (except both are voiceless by default, with ч and ц being aspirated).

  24. David Marjanović says

    …and there has been a Cyrillic letter for /d͡z/ ever since the alphabet was developed, but nowadays only Macedonian uses it: Ѕ ѕ, derived from lowercase ζ.

  25. David Marjanović says


  26. I am a Juhuro Mountain Jew from Dagestan. I’m very interested in my culture and grew up listening to my grandmother and parents speak it. I’m also an art history student, and the Caucasus/Iran are my area of interest. If any of you have questions about our culture still, feel free to ask me.

  27. Thanks for leaving a comment, and I will definitely ask you any questions that come up. It’s great to have this kind of international contact.

  28. Is there anywhere I can learn this language? Like many of you, my grandparents spoke it, grandmother still does but I’ve tried to learn from family before and it’s never precise enough or lesson-planned. Any information (app, which is doubtful), or otherwise is greatly appreciated!

  29. I got an e-mail from Sasha, who writes:

    I came across your post from many years ago about Juhuri/Mountain Jews, and you likely already know this, but I just wanted to let you know that there are books about us! The only one I have on hand with me right now is a collection called «Кавказские евреи горцы» by Judah Chyorny, Vasiliy Nemirovich-Danchenko, and Ilya Anisimov, published in 2017. The pieces in it are from 1869, 1880, and 1888, respectively. It’s only available in Russian of course. There is another older book, also in Russian, that I used to have in school but I don’t remember the title.

    Thanks, Sasha!

  30. David Marjanović says

    The video with the seven thousand Macedonians in full battle array is now private (!?!?!), but there are many others like it; here’s one.

  31. Zohar Avshalumov says

    If there is anyone that can find a dictionary or some kind of book that can teach the language, please do post it. I am a Gorsky Kavkazi Jew from Azerbaijan, I want to learn the language of my ancestors. I know very very little in the language.

  32. try
    Yakov Agarunov, Mikhail Agarunov “Bol’shoy slovar’ yazyka dzhuuri – Kele luget guun dzhuuri”



    electronic files of both books can be easily found online.

Speak Your Mind