Email Email   


People of Turkish origin who lived in southern Russia and adopted Judaism in the 8th century. Originally, the Khazars were only a small nomadic tribe, but by alliance with stronger tribes of Arabs, Russians, and Byzantines and through constant warfare, they succeeded in establishing an empire that stretched from the steppes of Eastern Europe and from the Volga Basin to the Chinese frontier. In 960, Hasdai Ibn Shaprut, a Jewish scholar and physician to the Caliph of Cordova, received a letter from King Joseph of the Khazars, telling a remarkable story. Some centuries before, King Bulan of the Khazars had asked the religious leaders of the Jews, Christians, Mohammedans and Mohammedans to explain their religions to him. Most impressed by the description of the Jewish faith, Bulan adopted it for his entire kingdom and invited Jewish scholars to establish schools for the instruction of his people in the Bible, Talmud, and Jewish ritual. Bulan’s successors took Jewish names and encouraged the practice of Judaism within the country. Fascinated by the story, and grasping at the possibility of obtaining a land of refuge for persecuted Jews, Hasdai entered into correspondence with King Joseph and learned about the country of the Khazars. At a time when much of Europe was fanatically bigoted, the Khazars had established a rule of tolerance. The King’s palace was located on the Volga River near the site of modern Astrakhan. The Khazar capital conducted a flourishing trade in grains, hides, and fruit. Unfortunately, early in the 11th century, Russian attacks destroyed the Khazar kingdom completely. The people were scattered throughout Crimea, Hungary, and even Spain; most of them adopted Christianity and disappeared as a separate group. The story of the conversion of the Khazars to Judaism has been interpreted variously. Some scholars call it a fable; others claim that only the ruling class adopted Judaism. Fascinated by the story, the medieval poet Judah Ha-Levi described the philosophic discussion between King Bulan and the three religious leaders in his book Ha-Kuzari.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email