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A peninsula of southern Russia, on the northern shore of the Black Sea. It was formerly known as Krim-Tartary, and in ancient times as Tauric Chersonese. As shown by inscriptions (see Bosporus) unearthed in various parts of the Crimea, organized Jewish communities existed there long before the destruction of the Temple. Jerome in his commentary on Obadiah (verse 20) reports, on the authority of his Jewish teacher Hananiah, that, according to a tradition prevalent among the Jews, the Assyrians and Babylonians conveyed their Jewish captives to the coasts of the Black Sea. As to the inscriptions and monuments found in the vicinity of Kertch and Yenikale see Harkavy in "Yevreiskiya Zapiski," published by A. Pumpyanski. The Crimean Jews were Greeks in language, customs, and social life, and enjoyed equal rights with their fellow citizens. But, while their neighbors influenced them, they also exercised a formative influence upon the religion of their neighbors; and the associations termed σεβόμενοι θεὸν ὕψιστον, that existed there, although not altogether Jewish, certainly showed traces of Jewish monotheistic influence ("Voskhod," 1901, No. 4; compare Schürer, "Die Juden im Bosporanischen Reiche," in "Sitzungsberichte der Berliner Akademie," 1897, p. 204).


In 47 C.E. the Romans conquered the Crimea, but the period of their domination was brief; for about the middle of the first century the Alans seized the country. In the second century they were displaced by the Goths; the latter, in their turn, being dislodged by the Huns in the fourth century. Although there are no records concerning the fate of the Jews during this period, it may safely be assumed that the successive masters of the country did not recognize any difference between the Jews and other inhabitants. Theophanes (671) speaks of the Jews of Phanagoria (Harkavy, "Ha-Yehudim u-Sefat ha-Slawim," p. 129). At the beginning of the seventh century the Chazars, a Turkish tribe which occupied the northern shores of the Caspian, overran the plains of the Crimea and gave their name to the greater part of the peninsula. The Chazars being of a mild and tolerant disposition, the Jews under their domination enjoyed complete freedom. This attracted to the Crimea many Jews from neighboring countries, especially from the Byzantine empire during the reign of Leo III. the Isaurian (718), who persecuted them relentlessly. They soon exercised a great influence over the Chazars. As the latter adopted settled habits and began to feel the need of a religion, many of the better classes, including the Chaghan, embraced Judaism. Thus the Crimean Jews became practically the rulers of the country until 1016, when the Chazars were dispossessed by a combined effort of the Russians and Byzantines. An account of all the Crimean cities in the possession of the Chazars (965) is given in King Joseph's letter to Ḥasdai ibn Shaprut.

Another Asiatic people of Turkish stock, the Pecheneges, who had established themselves in the Crimea at the beginning of the tenth century, expelled the Russians. During the domination of the Pecheneges, which lasted about a century and a half, the peninsula enjoyed great prosperity. At the beginning of the thirteenth century the Crimea became a province of the empire of the Kiptchaks, or Tatars. The new masters behaved generally with tolerance to the subjected people, and the Jews enjoyed equal rights with other inhabitants. A change, however, took place in their condition in 1258, when Berke, the third ruler of the Crimean Tatars, with his followers, embraced Islam, and the relations between the newly converted Mohammedans and the Jews became strained. About 1263 the Genoese established themselves at Kaffa, and the seaboard known as Gothia, extending to Cembalo (Balaklava), was ceded to them in 1315. Although many Jews lived in these places, little is known of them during the period of the Genoese domination, which lasted until 1475, when Mohammed II. subjected the Crimea and enslaved the Genoese and other Christians. In Taman at that time reigned the descendants of the Genoese Jew Simone de Guizolfi, who had secured this dukedom in 1419 by marrying the Princess Bichachanim.

Under the Khans.

Travelers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Busbeck, Cureus, etc.) tell of a considerable Jewish population in the Crimea (see Loewe, "Die Reste der Germanen am Schwarzen Meere," pp. 90, 115, 174, 183). Judging from some letters patent of 1594 granted to Jews of Karasu-Bazar, they were the victims of the rapacity of the Tatars. In these letters patent the khan deemed it necessary to prohibit the local authorities from stripping his protégés of their property—a proof that this was a common practise. A similar clause is found in another grant of 1743. A collection of letters patent granted to the Crimean Jews by various khans was published by Z. Firkovich (son of A. Firkovich), who pretends that these letters were given to the Karaites. The truth is that they were stolen by Karaites from the Krimchaki of Karasu-Bazar (Harkavy). Travelers in the Crimea in the seventeenth century report Jews as living at Kaffa (Theodosia), Karasu-Bazar, Koslow, Turleri, Bakhchi-Sarai, and Mankup (Des Lucca, "Relation des Tartares," i. 17).

As shown by an epitaph in the cemetery of Chufut-Kale (Firkovich, "Abne Zikkaron," No. 512), the Karaites of that city were attacked in 1778 by the Tatars, twenty-seven persons being killed. Chufut-Kale, situated on a rocky mountain, became the forced abode of the Karaites, who were allowed to spend only their business hours in the Tatar capital. Arriving opposite the palace of the khans,they were required to alight and proceed on foot till out of sight. It can not be ascertained whether the Rabbinites also suffered from the riots of 1778, or whether they were subjected to the same treatment. In 1783 the Russians conquered the Crimea, and the history of the Jews there becomes merged in that of the Jews of Russia. From a letter (1784) sent from Chufut-Kale to Lutzk it is learned that the Jewish communities suffered heavily from the war between the Russians and the Tatars.

The Krimchaki.

There are three classes of Jews in the Crimea: the Krimchaki, the Karaites, and the Polish-Lithuanian Jews. The Krimchaki are the oldest settlers of the country. The time of their settlement in the Crimea can not be ascertained. They themselves assert that they went there in the sixth century. A tradition prevails among them to the effect that the manuscript ritual, which is still preserved in their synagogue at Karasu-Bazar, was transmitted from generation to generation for twelve centuries. It was composed by Moses of Kiev (compare Harkavy, "Altjüdische Denkmäler"). It is known under the title "Ḥazanya," and, with the exception of some slight variations, is the general Rumanian ritual. Harkavy, however, believes that the settlement of the Krimchaki is relatively of recent date. At present the greater number of them live in Karasu-Bazar, where they have their synagogue, presided over by a rabbi. In order that no profane discourse shall be held in the synagogue, they gather in the courtyard of the synagogue and wait there until the whole community is assembled. Then they enter and proceed at once with the service. As soon as this is concluded they leave the sanctuary in a body. They distinguish themselves by many other customs derived from the Tatars, whose language and customs they still retain. Thus, for instance, the ceremony of marriage takes place at dawn. Instead of using a "baldachin" ("ḥuppah"), they cover the bridegroom and the bride with a "ṭallit," while the bridesman and bridesmaid ("shoshbinim") twirl chickens round the heads of the couple seven times. Then, after killing the fowls, the bridegroom recites the consecrating formula, and the ceremony is concluded. The bride is not allowed to leave the house for seven days. The Krimchaki are engaged in handicrafts, viticulture, and agriculture. They are renowned for their scrupulous honesty.

The Karaites.

The Crimea was in the Middle Ages, and still is, the headquarters of the Karaites. Although the inscriptions on the scroll of the Law (Pinner, No. 10) preserved at the St. Petersburg Library, are proved to be forgeries, it is beyond doubt that in 1381 there were four Karaite communities in the Crimea—at Kaffa (Theodosia), Kale, Koslow (Eupatoria), and Yenikale—as is proved by a document of that date which is preserved at the St. Petersburg Library (Neubauer, "Aus der Petersburger Bibliothek," document 46).

List of Karaitic Authors.

A strong literary movement existed in the Crimea for many centuries. Among the most renowned scholars of the Crimea were: Jacob ben Moses ha-Temani (of Teman, Greece), author of "Sefer ha-Piṭron" (about the tenth century); Jacob ben Solomon of Mankup, author of a Hebrew grammar (about the twelfth century); Ezechiah ben Gedaliah ha-Nasi, a pupil of Abraham Kerimi (1348); Samuel ha-Ḳodesh ben David, author of "Massa' la-Ereẓ ha-Ḳedoshah" (1641); Moses ben Elijah ha Levi, author of "Massa' la-Ereẓ ha-Ḳedoshah" (1654); Joseph ben Jacob of Kale, liturgist; Isaac Ḥazzan ben Moses, liturgist (d. 1664); Hillel Ḥazzan Kenui, liturgist; Jacob ben Mordecai, liturgist (died 1701); Abraham ben Jacob Yerushalmi, author of "Emunah Omen" and several astronomical work (1713); Joseph Ḥazzan of Kale, liturgist; Moses Chelebi Sinani, author of a work on the slaughtering of animals (d. 1722); Simḥah ben Joseph of Kale, author of "Me'il Shemuel" (d. 1743); Moses Pasha of Kale, author of a commentary on the "Aẓulah" of Aaron I.; Samuel ben Abraham of Kale, author of "Ner Shemuel" and other works; Elijah Yerushalmi ben Baruk, author of "'Asarah Ma'amarot" (eighteenth century); Simḥah Lutzki, author of the bibliographical work "Oraḥ Ẓaddiḳim," and of many other works (b. 1740-41); Simḥah ben Joshua, former Rabbinite, author of Biblical commentaries (1818); Joseph Solomon ben Moses (known under the abbreviation "Yashar"), ḥakam of Koslow, author of "Ṭirat Kesef" (1825); Abraham ben Joseph Solomon, liturgist; Mordecai ha-Ḥazzan Sultanski, author of "Abḳat Rokel" and many other works (d. 1862); Abraham Firkovich, author of "Abne Zikkaron" (1786-1874); Solomon ben Abraham Beim, ḥazzan of the Karaite community of Odessa (b. about 1820). See Karaites and individual articles on the various scholars.

Condition in 1755.

Information concerning the condition of the Karaite communities in the Crimea in the second half of the eighteenth century is furnished by several documents preserved in the St. Petersburg Library. In a letter dated 1755 and addressed to Abraham. ha-Shofeṭ, the writer gives details which are substantially as follows: "The total Karaite population of the four communities numbers 500 families: 300 at Kale; 100 at Koslow; 50 at Kaffa; 50 at Mankup. Near Kaffa is Sulchat, where formerly existed an important community, possessing the largest synagogue in the Crimea. To-day it is of little importance, possessing only a ḥazzan and a shoḥeṭ, who recite the prayers morning and evening. All the synagogues, schools, and habitations of the Karaites are of stone. In each of these communities there is a school in which study is carried on throughout the day under the supervision of a teacher; in Kale there were four schools, three of which, however, are now closed. In the first lived Samuel ben Joseph, the author of a commentary on the "Mibḥar," which he did not finish; in the second lectured R. Samuel, the author of "Ner Shemuel"; in the third, Elijah ha-Ḥazzan, the scribe; and in the fourth, Elijah Melammed ben Isaac. Samuel Ḥazzan lectured at Koslow; Hillel ben Isaac, at Kaffa; Judah Ḥazzan ben Shelomoh, at Mankup. In 1735 the Crimea was invaded by the Turks. At Koslow they destroyed fifty boxes filled with books belonging to Elijah ben Isaac Ḥazzan.

Another letter (1764) shows that the Karaites consideredit lawful to have two wives. In 1796 Catherine II. relieved the Karaites by reducing by one-half the poll-tax of twelve rubles which they, in common with the Rabbinites, had hitherto paid. When Nicholas I. issued the edict obliging Jews to serve in the army (1827), the Karaite S. Bobowich went to St. Petersburg, and, appealing to the edict of Catherine II., obtained the release of the Karaites from this obligation. They thus remained free from military service until 1874, when a new law was enacted compelling every Russian subject to serve in the army.

Karaitic Constitution.

Freedom from military service was not the only advantage the Karaites had gained over the Rabbinites. Other privileges—for instance, that of living and trading in any part of the empire—were granted to them. In 1837 they obtained for their rabbis the privileges enjoyed by the clergy of other faiths. A consistory, dealing with all the matters concerning Karaite worship in the Crimea, was established at Eupatoria. It is presided over by a ḥakam assisted by a ḥazzan and a shammash. These officials are elected by the people, but the election must have the assent of the government. Once the popular choice is sanctioned they can not be removed without the permission of the civil authorities. In addition to the salary which these officials draw from the Karaite communities, the government grants them 140 acres of land: 60 to the ḥakam, 40 to the ḥazzan, and 40 to the shammash. In 1894 the government established at Eupatoria a Karaite seminary of five classes, the inspector and the teachers of which enjoyed the same privileges as those of the gymnasium.

The most important of the Karaite communities found in the Crimea is that of Eupatoria, which numbers about 500 families. The Karaites are engaged in trade, in which they succeed well, owing to the privileges they enjoy. It is very probable that, besides the Krimchaki, there were not many Rabbinites in the Crimea during the later period of the domination of the khans. The relatively happy condition of the Jews in Poland at that time had tempted most of the Crimean Rabbinites to emigrate thither. This circumstance accounts for the fact that in 1462 thirty Rabbinites, who had been shipwrecked near Kaffa, were compelled to appeal for help to the Karaites, and also explains the absence of Crimean-Rabbinite contributions to Jewish learning.

A few prominent men from the earlier times of the Tatar domination deserve to be mentioned: Abraham Kerimi (fourteenth century), author of "Sefat Emet"; his son-in-law Eliakim; Moses ben Jacob, the exiled (1449) liturgist and author of many works; Asher ha-Kohen (1449); Kalman Ashkenazi (fifteenth century); Isaac Panyanto; Jeremiah Isaac Banin; Moses Kokos (1584); Baruk of Kale, author of "Meḳor Baruk," and his brother Mordecai of Kale; David ben Eliezer Laḥno, author of "Mishkan David."

With the occupation of the Crimea by the Russians the Rabbinites gradually increased, and communities consisting chiefly of Polish and Lithuanian Jews are found throughout the country, which forms a part of the government of Taurida, Simferopol being its capital. The most important communities are: Armiansk-Perekop, Bakchi-Serai, Chufut-Kale, Eupatoria, Yenikale, Karasu-Bazar, Kertch (Bosporus), Kaffa (Theodosia). The Jewish population in the four Crimean districts is divided as follows: Eupatoria, 3,192 (5.06 per cent of the whole population); Perekop, 1,549 (3.01 per cent); Kaffa, 9,670 (6.05 per cent); Simferopol, 17,687 (8.85 per cent).


Many Jewish antiquities were unearthed in the last century in various places in the Crimea. These antiquities consist of: (1) Judæo-Greek inscriptions, the authenticity of which is beyond any doubt. They give evidence that organized Jewish communities existed in the Crimea long before the common era. (2) Tumulary inscriptions to the number of 751, collected by the Karaite ḥakam Abraham Firkovich, in his "Abne Zikkaron," Wilna, 1872. The inscriptions were found in the cemeteries of the following places: 546 in Chufut-Kale, called "Emeḳ Yehoshofaṭ," dating from 151 to 1842; 5 at Sulchat, dating from 910 to 1140; 72 at Mankup, dating from 866 to 1777; 28 at Kaffa (Theodosia), dating from 1078 to 1845; 100 at Eupatoria, dating from 1593 to 1852. A. Harkavy expressed doubts concerning the dates of some of these inscriptions, believing them to have been altered by Firkowich. In Harkavy's opinion none of these inscriptions antedates the thirteenth century. In his "Abne Zikkaron" Firkovich gives the text of epigraphs which he pretended to have found on scrolls of the Law and on Bibles which he had collected and sold to the St. Petersburg Library. These epigraphs, which, if genuine, would throw some light on the history of the Jews in the Crimea during the domination of the Chazars, were manufactured by Firkovich himself, as has been demonstrated by A. Harkavy. See Firkovich, Abraham.

  • Latyshew, Inscriptiones Antiquæ Oræ Septentrionalis Ponti Euxini Grœcœ et Latinœ, 1890, ii., No. 50;
  • Ashik, Bosforskœ Tzarstvo, i. 92-93;
  • Schürer, Die Juden im Bosporanischen Reiche, in Sitzungsberichte der Berliner Akademie, 1897, pp. 204-225;
  • Harkavy, Ha-Yehudim u-Sefat ha-Slawim;
  • idem. Ob Yazykye Yevreyev, etc.;
  • idem, in Ha-Karmel, iv., Nos. 31, 43;
  • v., Nos. 2, 3, 9, 10;
  • idem, in Magazin, vi. 118;
  • idem, in Russki Yevrei, 1883, Nos. 5 and 6;
  • idem, Altjüdische Denkmäler aus der Krim;
  • Chwolson, Trudy 5vo Archcologicheskavo Syezda v Tiflisye, Moscow, 1887;
  • idem, Achtzehn Hebräusche Grabinschriften aus der Krim, 1865;
  • idem, in Corpus Inscriptionum Hebraucarum;
  • Fuenn, in Ha-Karmel, ii., iii., v.;
  • E. Deinard, Massa' Ḳrim;
  • idem, Toledot Ḳrim;
  • Neubauer, Aus der Petersburger Bibliothek;
  • Geiger, Jüd. Zeit. v. 221, vi. 234, x. 228, 304.
H. R. I. Br.
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