DERBENT (called by the Arabs Bab al-Abwab ["Main Gate"], or Bab al-Khadid ["Iron Gate"]):

Seaport in the Russian province of Daghestan (Caucasus), on the western shore of the Caspian Sea. The city of Derbent was founded by the Persian king Khobad at the beginning of the sixth century, to protect the Persian possessions against the attacks of the Chazars; but a fortified settlement existed there long before that time. The Jewish population of Derbent and its neighborhood are probably the descendants of the military colony which Anushirwan (530-578) established there. The suggestion of Joseph Schwarz that Derbent is the "Terbent" mentioned in the Talmud (Yer. Meg. iv. 75), is therefore without foundation. With the extension of the Chazar kingdom the Jewish community in Derbent increased rapidly, so that in the eighth century it probably had a larger population than it has to-day.

The Jewish community of Derbent was of some importance during the period of the Chazar kingdom. Ibn Ḥauḳal tells of a thriving slave-market in Derbent, where merchants of all nationalities met. The place was then much larger than Tiflis. When the Russians devastated the Chazar city Semender, the surviving inhabitants of that city, with those of Atel (capital of the Chazars), among them being many Jews, fled to Derbent (Harkavy, "Skazanie Musulmanskikh Pisatellei o Slavyanakh i Russkikh," p. 220). Derbent was annexed by Russia in 1806. Wilhelmus de Rubruquis in describing the walls of Derbent (1254) relates that the whole country was largely inhabited by Jews (G. de Roubrouck, "Récit de Son Voyage," p. 280, Paris, 1877).

According to Anisimov, the Jewish population in 1888 was 1,671; they had 220 houses, 160 gardens, 19 shops, 1,020 deciatines (about 2,754 acres) of land, 4 synagogues, 6 rabbis, and 8 schools with 95 pupils. The Jewish population in 1891 was 2,490 in a total of 15,265. The Jewish quarter is south of the city and outside the wall.

Birth Customs.

Some of the Jewish customs of Derbent are noteworthy. A woman during her confinement kneels down, and the midwife receives the child and deposits it in a wooden vessel. She then pours salt over the child, cleans it, and puts it without bandages in a cradle. On the eighth day the people gather in the synagogue, and the "shammash" (sexton) takes the child to the synagogue for circumcision. The honor of holding the children is sold for the whole year on the Festival of the Rejoicing of the Law (Simḥat Torah) to the highest bidder. The money goes to the rabbi. Except the midwife and the nearest female relative of the mother, nobody is allowed in the birth-chamber for seven weeks after the birth. The father is not permitted to bathe or to write for seven weeks from the day of the birth. During this period no one is allowed to go on the roof of the house, and it sometimes happens that serious assaults result from people not obeying these laws. If the child is a female, the old women gather in the house of the mother and choose its name, not even informing the rabbi. During these seven weeks it is permissible neither to take fire from the house nor to borrow any utensils.

The children are allowed to grow up very wild, and are far from cleanly. The boys are taught to ride horseback and to handle arms, and boys of not more than fourteen years frequently kill one another in quarrels or fights. In the shabby, filthy, lowceilinged school buildings forty pupils are sometimes huddled together without order. They sit with crossed legs and study the alphabet, the prayerbook, and the Pentateuch in the Tat language. There are many, however, who receive no education at all.

Preliminaries to Marriage.

When a young man is about to select a wife, he is expected first to negotiate a settlement with the parents of the girl, and in such a case the oldest brother of the girl is the spokesman. If this brother sanctions the marriage, then the mother of the young man begins to bargain about the price to be paid for the bride, which must not be less than sixty rubles. Feasts are arranged for the day after the conclusion of the bargain, first in the house of the girl, and then in the house of the young man. On the second day the fathers of both parties conclude the bargain in the house of the rabbi, with whom the contract of engagement("tenaim") is deposited. Sometimes very young girls are promised in marriage, and as the marriage can not by lawtake place before the girl has reached the age of thirteen, the young man is obliged to clothe her and send her presents. In case the contract is broken by the girl, she must return all the presents. In Derbent there is no law of engagement ("erusin"), as in Kuba and other places in the Caucasus, where a regular betrothal ceremony takes place, the young man uttering the words "Hare-at," etc., during the betrothal. The betrothed man is not allowed to enter the house of his prospective bride until the day of the wedding. The marriage ceremony must take place on Wednesday or on Thursday. The wedding-feast lasts for many days. See Chorny, "Sefer ha-Masa'ot," pp. 298-310.

  • Chorny, Sefer ha-Masa'ot, pp. 298-310;
  • Veldenbaum, Putevoditel po Kavkazu, p. 337, Tiflis, 1888;
  • Erckert, Der Kaukasus und Seine Völker, p. 218, Leipsic, 1887;
  • Dorn, Caspia, p. 277, St. Petersburg, 1875;
  • Hahn, Kaukasische Reisen und Studien, p. 171, Leipsic, 1896;
  • Anisimov, Kavkazskie Yevrei, Moscow. 1888;
  • two pamphlets by Dr. Sharbat ben Nisim, wrongly ascribed in Jew. Encyc. i. 607 to his son, Ilia Sharbatovich Anisimov.
H. R.
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