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Jewish Subjects and Their Tribal Chieftains in Kurdistan (Jewish Identities in a Changing World) [Hardcover]

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Item description for Jewish Subjects and Their Tribal Chieftains in Kurdistan (Jewish Identities in a Changing World) by Mordechi Zaken...

This volume deals with the experience and the position of non-tribal Jewish subjects and their relationships with their tribal chieftains (aghas) in urban centers and villages in Kurdistan. It is based on new oral sources, diligently collected and carefully analyzed.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: BRILL
Pages   375
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.75" Width: 6.5" Height: 9.5"
Weight:   1.9 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Publisher   BRILL
ISBN  9004161902  
ISBN13  9789004161900  

Availability  0 units.

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Product Categories

1Books > Special Features > New & Used Textbooks > Humanities > Religious Studies > Judaism
2Books > Special Features > New & Used Textbooks > Social Sciences
3Books > Subjects > History > Jewish > General
4Books > Subjects > History > Jewish
6Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Judaism > History of Religion

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Tribal Justice in Kurdistan  Jan 29, 2010
Mordecai Zaken has provided an enormous service to all those interested in Jewish Kurdish history and the status of minorities in the Middle East. It not only makes an invaluable resource for specialists (as the title of the book seems to imply) but the intimate stories he retells after hundreds of hours of interviews with Kurdish Jews makes this fascinating look into the lives of the dhimmi accessible to those with only a general knowledge of the Middle East or Jewish history. The personal stories about army service, forced marriages, taxes, and the struggle to survive whisk the reader away into the now forgotten world of Kurdish Jewry.

The 1951/52 mass exodus of Kurdish Jews to Israel meant the dissolution of the Jewish community in Kurdistan. Joyce Blau, the noted scholar of Kurdish language and society, has thanked Zaken for preserving the personal accounts of the political, religious, and economic pressures on Kurdistan's Jews. She further commends Zaken for his methodological excellence in the difficult task of categorizing and analyzing oral sources. His overview of the social status of the Jews in Kurdistan provided in his "Preliminary Remarks" is insightful and concise. Those comments provide a sociological context for the oral testimony which reveals the intricate texture of an ancient Jewish community.

Zaken's research reveals the extraordinary and tenuous nature of Jewish life in Kurdistan. The Jews were considered valuable assets because they owed gifts, taxes and forced labor to their tribal agha, or chieftain. As a result, the agha had a vested interest in protecting `his Jews.' But when a blood feud broke out between Kurdish tribesmen it was not unusual for one side to kidnap or kill Jews `belonging' to the rival party. Retaliation would often mean killing or kidnapping more Jews.

There are accounts of aghas who rendered justice for `their Jews'. In one story, when a Jewish merchant's donkey is stolen in a neighboring town and the local mukhtar declines to assist, the agha is willing to use his clout to get the animal back. In another story, an agha requires that two thieves return `one animal for every leg that was stolen.'

Zaken's stories of payments, forced labor, and loyalty owed by Jews to their agha, reveal the difficulties faced by non-Muslims living as dhimmis in this part of the Middle East. His analysis of this system is methodologically sensitive and concludes that the system was not slavery in a western sense nor as understood by Islamic law. Yet the situation of the Kurdish Jews in these oral accounts is shown to be no less terrifying.

Given the immense power of tribal society, it is surprising to learn of the almost exclusively Jewish town of Sandur where hundreds of Jews lived in an independent farming community. It functioned as something of a `city of refuge' to which Jews could flee in order to be protected from their Muslim pursuers. It would be fascinating to learn why the town was tolerated, and given that it was, why didn't similar towns arise as a way of protecting Jewish life and property?

It is also surprising to discover that many Jews had lived for centuries in rural villages with only two or three other families. In such villages there were no synagogues, no trained kosher slaughterers nor any means of Jewish education. Further, is it not clear how marriage was handled within such tiny scattered communities. This raises the question of how Jewish life was perpetuated in such difficult circumstances.

Although it's obvious that English is not Zaken's first language, the prose is readable and engaging. However, the book would be more accessible if there was a better index. It would also be fascinating if Zaken would include his yet unpublished material on the Christian minority in Kurdistan and compare the different survival strategies used by Christians and Jews in the same geographical areas. This would make the book more interesting to a larger number of readers and might break further new ground in the study of Middle Eastern minorities. His organization of the material by geographical regions and by urban versus rural society is sensible, making the book a good reference work for future students. Zakan's book is highly recommended for anyone interested in the Middle East, the history of modern Iraq, or Jewish life in Arab societies.

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