Introduction / History
Because of their unique history and culture, Jews have a strong sense of identity. Although they have much in common with other Jews around the world, the Jews of Asia have a very distinctive lifestyle. Most of the Jews in this part of Asia are Ashkenazim, or descendants of the Jews who inhabited the Germanic region of Europe. This is due, in part, to the immigration of Bukharian Jews to Israel and the United States. One of their most distinguishing features is their use of the Yiddish language (a German dialect that has some Hebrew elements). Most of the Ashkenazim came into Central Asia from other parts of the Soviet Union before and during World War II.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Bukharan Jews are an indigenous group within Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. They are known as "Bukharan" because they settled primarily in Bukhara, Uzbekistan but they prefer to be known as "Israel" or "Yahudi." They claim descent from the ten tribes of Israel who were exiled to Persia in the fifth century. They speak Bokhara, a Jewish dialect of Tajik. Some Jews also live in India, mainly in Bombay and the surrounding areas. They are known as Bene Israel ("the Children of Israel"). They speak an Indo-Aryan language called Marathi.
The Jews of Ashkenazic descent have lifestyles that are very much like those of other Jews in the former Soviet Union. However, they were allowed greater freedoms than the Jews in other parts of the Soviet Union, and they clung to their Judaism tenaciously. While some of them work as peddlers, shoemakers, or barbers, many have become factory laborers or workers on "collective (community) farms." Recently, large numbers of Jews have left Uzbekistan due to economic hardship and fear of a nationalistic trend in the government.
What Are Their Beliefs?
In past centuries, the Bukharan Jews have experienced much discrimination from the predominant Muslim population. They were forced to live in isolated parts of the cities, called mahallas, to wear special signs on their clothing which marked them as Jews, and to pay special taxes. Only in the last ten years have Bukharan Jews been able to give cultural expression openly without fear of persecution. Today, a number of Hebrew study groups have been organized and are growing stronger.
During Soviet rule, both Bukharan men and women worked in factories that produced butter, bricks, or textiles. Recently, they have returned to many of their traditional crafts, such as shoemaking, hairdressing, tailoring, and photography. The women are particularly known for their dancing at both Jewish and Muslim weddings. There are also a large number of well-educated Bukharan Jews working as engineers, doctors, teachers, and musicians.
Bukharan Jewish males were the heads of their patrilineal (descent traced through the males) extended families. Now, a pattern of separate nuclear families is becoming predominant. Bukharan Jews nearly always marry other Bukharan Jews. The parents of the groom send a matchmaker to the parents of the bride, and both dowry and bride-price must be settled prior to the engagement. Divorce is permitted among Bukharan Jews and a law exists to regulate the marriages of widows.
In Bombay, the Jews are employed in numerous professions. Some of them work in the service industry or as clerks, mechanics, white-collar workers, and skilled laborers. A significant number are professionals such as doctors, teachers, and lawyers.
Most Bombay Jewish families are typical nuclear families. That is, they are composed of a man, a woman, and their dependents. In order to keep wealth and prestige within the family, the Bombay Jews have traditionally preferred marriage between cousins. Divorce is completely disapproved of and is very uncommon.
The Ashkenazic Jews who live in cities have a weak religious lifestyle and many have intermarried with Muslims. However, the Bukharan and Bombay Jews adhere to all traditional Jewish beliefs. They follow the Law of Moses by observing strict dietary laws, circumcising all male children, and observing the Sabbath. They also celebrate Jewish festivals like Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), and Passover.
What Are Their Needs?
Many of the Ashkenazic Jews have intermarried with the Muslim community. Because they are open to others outside the Jewish community, perhaps they will be open to the Gospel. The Bukharan Jews of Uzbekistan are uncertain about the direction of their nation. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan is going through rapid and drastic changes. Anti-Semitism (persecution of Jews) is a possible result of the rise in nationalism. The Bombay Jews are strongly influenced by tradition, making them unreceptive to change.
Each of these Jewish communities needs to be introduced to Jesus, their Messiah. Intercession must be made for the Jews if they are to come to an understanding of the Gospel and a saving knowledge of Christ.
Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth loving Christians to work among the Jewish communities.
Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to the missions agencies that are focusing on the Jews of Asia.
Pray that the Jewish people will understand that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah.
Ask the Lord to soften the hearts of the Jews towards Christians so that they might hear and receive the message of salvation.
Pray that God will grant Jewish believers favor as they share their faith in Christ with their own people.
Pray that strong local churches will be raised up in each Jewish community.
Scripture Prayers for the Jew, Bukharic-speaking in Uzbekistan.
Bethany World Prayer Center