Kurdish Jews
  • יהודי כורדיסטן
  • کوردە جووەکان
  • Kurdên cihû
Rabbi Moshe Gabai, head of the Jewish community of Zakho, with Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi in 1951
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 Israelc. 200,000[2][3][4][5]
Israeli Hebrew, Northeastern Neo-Aramaic dialects (mainly Judeo-Aramaic), Kurdish dialects (mainly Kurmanji), Azeri Turkish (in Iran)[6]
Additional: Mizrahi Hebrew (liturgical use)
Related ethnic groups
Other Mizrahi Jews, Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardic Jews; also Samaritans

The Jews of Kurdistan[a] are the Mizrahi Jewish communities from the geographic region of Kurdistan, roughly covering parts of northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, northeastern Syria and southeastern Turkey. Kurdish Jews lived as closed ethnic communities until they were expelled from Arab and Muslim states from the 1940s–1950s onward. The community largely spoke Judeo-Aramaic. As Kurdish Jews natively adhere to Judaism and originate from the Middle East, Mizrahi Hebrew is used for liturgy. Many Kurdish Jews, especially the ones who hail from Iraq, went through a Sephardic Jewish blending during the 18th century.[7]

In the present-day, the overwhelming majority of Kurdistan's Jewish population resides in the State of Israel, with the community's presence coming as a direct result of either the Jewish exodus from Muslim states or the making of Aliyah by stragglers in the following decades (see Kurdish Jews in Israel).


Middle Ages

According to the memoirs of Benjamin of Tudela and Pethahiah of Regensburg, there were about 100 Jewish settlements and substantial Jewish population in Kurdistan in the 12th century. Benjamin of Tudela also gives the account of David Alroi, the messianic leader from central Kurdistan, who rebelled against the Seljuk Sultan Muktafi and had plans to lead the Jews back to Jerusalem. These travellers also report of well-established and wealthy Jewish communities in Mosul, which was a commercial and spiritual center in close proximity to Kurdistan. Many Jews fearful of approaching crusaders had fled from Syria and Palestine to Babylonia and Kurdistan. The Jews of Mosul enjoyed some degree of autonomy in managing their own community.[8]

Ottoman era

Tanna'it Asenath Barzani, who lived in Mosul from 1590 to 1670, was the daughter of Rabbi Samuel Barzani of Kurdistan. She later married Jacob Mizrahi, Rabbi of Amadiyah (in Iraqi Kurdistan), who lectured at a yeshiva.[9] She was famous for her knowledge of the Torah, Talmud, Kabbalah, and Jewish law. After the early death of her husband, she became the head of the yeshiva at Amadiyah and eventually was recognized as the chief instructor of Torah in Kurdistan. She was called tanna'it (female Talmudic scholar), practiced mysticism, and was reputed to have known the secret names of God.[10] Asenath is also well known for her poetry and excellent command of the Hebrew language. She wrote a long poem of lament and petition in the traditional rhymed metrical form. Her poems are among the few examples of the early modern Hebrew texts written by women.[11]

Kurdish Jews had lived in Kashan, Iran, and many Jews migrated to Turkey during the 1700s to 1800s. They were active in trade in rural villages in Turkey; regions like Gaziantep and Malatya had a substantial Jewish populations. They were usually quite concealed but did not have any negative interactions with other communities.

Immigration of Kurdish Jews to the Land of Israel initiated during the late 16th century, with a community of rabbinic scholars arriving to Safed, Galilee, and a Kurdish Jewish quarter had been established there as a result. The thriving period of Safed, however, ended in 1660, with Druze power struggles in the region and an economic decline.

Modern times

Main article: Kurdish Jews in Israel

Since the early 20th century some Kurdish Jews had been active in the Zionist movement. One of the most famous members of Lehi (Freedom Fighters of Israel) was Moshe Barazani, whose family immigrated from Iraqi Kurdistan and settled in Jerusalem in the late 1920s.

The vast majority of Kurdish Jews were forced out of Iraqi Kurdistan and evacuated to Israel in the early 1950s, together with the Iraqi Jewish community. Almost all the Kurdish Jews of Iranian Kurdistan relocated mostly to Israel as well in the same period. It was reported that the Kurds mourned the loss of their Jewish neighbours and even maintained their synagogues.[12]

The Times of Israel reported on September 30, 2013: "Today, there are almost 200,000 Kurdish Jews in Israel, about half of whom live in Jerusalem. There are also over 30 agricultural villages throughout the country that were founded by Kurdish Jews."[13]

On October 17, 2015, the Kurdistan Regional Government named Sherzad Omar Mamsani as the representative of the Jewish community at the Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs, but he was dismissed following assertions by the Jewish community in Israel that there were no Jews remaining in the Kurdistan Region.[14][15] However the sending of Hanukkah kits to Jews in Arab countries including Kurdistan[16] indicates there may be Jewish remnants hiding there.


One of the main problems in the history and historiography of the Jews of Kurdistan was the lack of written history and the lack of documents and historical records. During the 1930s, a German-Jewish ethnographer, Erich Brauer, began interviewing members of the community. His assistant, Raphael Patai, published the results of his research in Hebrew. The book, Yehude Kurditan: mehqar ethnographi (Jerusalem, 1940), was translated into English in the 1990s. Israeli scholar Mordechai Zaken wrote a Ph.D. dissertation and a book, using written, archival and oral sources that traces and reconstructs the relationships between the Jews and their Kurdish masters or chieftains also known as Aghas). He interviewed 56 Kurdish Jews altogether conducting hundreds of interviews, thus saving their memoires from being lost forever. He interviewed Kurdish Jews mainly from six towns (Zahko, Aqrah, Amadiya, Dohuk, Sulaimaniya and Shinno/Ushno/Ushnoviyya), as well as from dozens of villages, mostly in the region of Bahdinan.[17][18] His study unveils new sources, reports and vivid tales that form a new set of historical records on the Jews and the tribal Kurdish society. His PhD thesis was commented by members of the PhD judicial committee and along with the book upon which it has been translated into several Middle Eastern languages, including Arabic,[19] Sorani,[20] Kurmanji,[21] as well as French.[22]


See also



  1. ^ Kurdish: کوردە جووەکان, romanized: Kurdên cihû, lit.'Kurdish Jews'; Hebrew: יהודי כורדיסטן, romanizedYehudei Kurdistan.
  1. ^ Iraqi Kurdistan's First Jewish Leader Wants To Revitalize Judaism And Boost Israel-Ties, But Challenges Lie Ahead By Michael Kaplan, 10/23/15
  2. ^ Zivotofsky, Ari Z. (2002). "What's the Truth about...Aramaic?" (PDF). Orthodox Union. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 June 2011. Retrieved 14 January 2007.
  3. ^ "(p.2)" (PDF). slis.indiana.edu. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 June 2006.
  4. ^ "Kurdish Jewish Community in Israel". Jcjcr.org. Archived from the original on 28 July 2013. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  5. ^ Berman, Lazar (30 September 2013). "Cultural pride, and unlikely guests, at Kurdish Jewish festival". timesofisrael.com.
  6. ^ "курдские евреи. Электронная еврейская энциклопедия". Eleven.co.il. 27 December 2006. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  7. ^ "מגורשי ספרד בעיראק – הוצאת דרכון פורטוגלי – משרד עו"ד בת"א וירושלים".
  8. ^ Ora Schwartz-Be'eri, The Jews of Kurdistan: Daily Life, Customs, Arts and Crafts, UPNE publishers, 2000, ISBN 965-278-238-6, p.26.
  9. ^ Sylvia Barack Fishman, A breath of Life: Feminism in the American Jewish Community, UPNE Publishers, 1995, ISBN 0-87451-706-0, p. 186
  10. ^ Sally Berkovic, Straight Talk: My Dilemma As an Orthodox Jewish Woman, KTAV Publishing House, 1999, ISBN 0-88125-661-7, p.226.
  11. ^ Shirley Kaufman, Galit Hasan-Rokem, Tamar Hess, Hebrew Feminist Poems from Antiquity to the Present: A Bilingual Anthology, Feminist Press, 1999, ISBN 1-55861-224-6, pp.7, 9
  12. ^ "Learn About Kurdish Religion". The Kurdish Project. Retrieved 9 October 2023.
  13. ^ "Ancient pride, and unlikely guests, at Kurdish Jewish festival". timesofisrael.com.
  14. ^ "Dismissal of Jewish representative 'administrative,' unrelated to Baghdad: KRG".
  15. ^ "Publicity seeking Kurdish official brings back memories of Jewish Kurd aliya fiasco". www.jpost.com. 7 December 2015.
  16. ^ Israel 365 News December 2,2021
  17. ^ Joyce Blau, one of the world's leading scholars in the Kurdish languages, culture and history, suggested that "This part of Mr. Zaken’s thesis, concerning Jewish life in Bahdinan, well complements the impressive work of the pioneer ethnologist Erich Brauer."[Erich Brauer, The Jews of Kurdistan, First edition 1940, revised edition 1993, completed and edited by Raphael Patai, Wayne State University Press, Detroit])
  18. ^ Jewish Subjects and their Tribal Chieftains in Kurdistan A Study in Survival By Mordechai Zaken Published by Brill: August 2007 ISBN 978-90-04-16190-0 Hardback (xxii, 364 pp.), Jewish Identities in a Changing World, 9.
  19. ^ Yahud Kurdistan wa-ru'as'uhum al-qabaliyun: Dirasa fi fan al-baqa'. Transl., Su'ad M. Khader; Reviewers: Abd al-Fatah Ali Yihya and Farast Mir'i; Published by the Center for Academic Research, Beirut, 2013,
  20. ^ D. Mordixi Zakin, Culekekany Kurdistan, Erbil and Sulaimaniyya, 2015,
  21. ^ French into Kurmanji translation of an article by Moti Zaken, "Jews, Kurds and Arabs, between 1941 and 1952", by Dr. Amr Taher Ahmed Metîn n° 148, October 2006, p. 98-123.
  22. ^ Juifs, Kurdes et Arabes, entre 1941 et 1952," Errance et Terre promise: Juifs, Kurdes, Assyro-Chaldéens, etudes kurdes, revue semestrielle de recherches, 2005: 7-43, translated by Sandrine Alexie.