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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Georgia

Legends - old Georgian Jews in slavery - "European" Jews - Jews from the Big Flight from Barbarossa arriving in Georgia and provoking new nationalism - Jews in Georgia since 1945

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971), vol.7, col. 424,
                  map of Georgia, Jewish communities in Georgian S.S.R.
                  From M. Neistadt, Tel Aviv 1970
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971), vol.7, col. 424, map of Georgia, Jewish communities in Georgian S.S.R. From M. Neistadt, Tel Aviv 1970. The Jewish communities at this time were with or without synagogue. With a synagogue were Sukhumi, Oni, Sachkhere, Kutaisi, Kulashi, Vani, Poti, Batum, Stalinir, Surami, Gori, Akhaltsikhe, and Tiflis (Tbilisi), Jewish communities without a synagogue were Zugdidi, Tskhaltubo, Mikha Tskhathaya, Abasha, Kobuleti, Zestafoni, Kareli, Khashuti, and Borzhomi.

from: Bessarabia; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 7

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)

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<GEORGIA (Rus. Gruziya), Soviet Socialist Republic in W. Transcaucasia.

[Legend about the Ten Tribes, exiled Jews, Rabbi Akiva, Bagrat family]

There is a tradition among the Jews of Georgia (the "Gurjim") that they are descended from the Ten Tribes exiled by Shalmaneser, which they support by their claim that there are no kohanim (priestly families) among them. According to another tradition, their ancestors were the exiles from Judah under Nebuchadnezzar. Some scholars believe that ... mentioned in the Talmud (Tam. 32a; Sanh. 94a) lies in the vicinity of Georgia and that Rabbi Akiva traveled as far as Georgia (RH 26a).

In any case Jewish settlement in Georgia has ancient origins. According to the "History of Armenia" of Moses of Chorene (5th century) the Bagrat family which gave kings to Georgia and Armenia was descended from one of the noblemen of Judah taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar. This source also relates that other families of the Georgian aristocracy were of Jewish origin.

[Jewish relics in Georgia]

The Georgian and Armenian traditions emphasize the role played by the Jews in the spread of Christianity in this region. In the vicinity of Mtskheta an Aramaic inscription in Hebrew character was found on the tomb of a certain Judah Gurk. Possibly the Jews of Georgia took part in the anti-talmudic *messianic movements from the ninth century on. At least one tradition which associates Abu 'Imran Musa al-Za'farani (Abu 'Imrān Mūsā al-Za'farāni) with Georgia refers to him as *Abu 'Imran al-Tiflisi (Abu Imrān al-Ṭiflisī). *Kirkisani (Kirkisānī) testifies that in his day there were still members of the sect known as the Tiflisites. The Georgian Jews were neighbors of the *Khazars and there were presumably cultural relations between the Khazars, the Alans, and the Georgian Jews.

Abraham *ibn Daud testifies to the faithfulness of the Jewish communities of Georgia ("the Land of the Girgasite and it is called Girgan") to Rabbanite Judaism. *Benjamin (col. 423)

of Tudela (after 1160) includes the Jews of Georgia ("the land of Goron, known as Garganin, they live along the bank of the Gihon River (Giḥon River), they [the Georgians] are the Girgasites and practice the Christian religion") among those whom "the exilarch authorizes in all these communities to appoint over every community a rabbi and hazzan (ḥazzan, cantor), because they come to him to receive semikhah and permission and they bring him gifts and presents"; this indicates that by the second half of the 12th century the Jews of Georgia recognized the authority of the Babylonian academies.

[Middle Ages - persecutions under king Diometius - Jews as slaves of the Muslims up to the 19th century]

About ten years after the visit of Benjamin of Tudela, *Pethahiah of Regensburg mentions the small number of Jews in the towns of Georgia. Marco Polo, who passed through Georgia in 1272, reports that there were Jews living in Tiflis, though they were not numerous. The institution of *servi camerae regis also appears to have reached Georgia.

In 1428 King Alexander I conferred 27 Jewish families on the former Catholicos and the patriarch Diometius. Persecutions of the Georgian Jews are connected with the name of this king.

With the feudal disintegration of the kingdom and the general insecurity of the 15th century, the sufferings of the Jews increased. Their dependence on the landowners grew and they had to perform onerous duties. Some Jews were actually degraded to the status of slaves and Jewish girls were sold to the harems of the Muslim rulers. This situation continued until the beginning of the 19th century, when Georgia passed to Russia.

Memories of the oppressions and injuries they underwent in this period were still alive within the Georgian communities during the second half of the 19th century. In 1780 a German traveler reported that the village Jews of Georgia did not observe the precepts and were therefore referred to by their coreligionists in the towns as "Canaanites". The belated contacts with the Jewish culture of Babylonia, prolonged oppression, and constant migration were apparently responsible for the absence of creative cultural achievement among Georgian Jewry. Their spoken language is that of the local inhabitants. (col. 424)

[Russian rule: arrival of "European" Jews since 1804 - new prohibition decrees since 1825 - numbers]

The Russian authorities did not differentiate the Jews of Georgia from the rest of the population. During the first period of Russian rule at least, the restrictive legislation imposed on the Jews throughout Russia was not applied to them. The statue of 1804 authorized the settlement of "European" Jews in the Caucasus; however, only a limited number of craftsmen arrived in Georgia.

the senatorial decree of 1825 prohibited Jews from settling in the Caucasus, and the regulation concerning the Jews of 1835 excluded Georgia from the territories in which Jewish residence was permitted.

The expulsion of the Jews was even mooted [[in discussion]], but the local authorities violently opposed it claiming that a considerable number were engaged in agriculture and commerce while others were serfs [[slaves]].

In 1835 there were 1,363 Jews with 113 Karaites living in the town of *Kutais (Kutaisi) and its surroundings, 1,040 in Gori, 623 in Akhaltsikhe, and 61 in *Tiflis (Tbilisi). The total Jewish population of Georgia and the region beyond the Caucasus was 12,234.

[Blood libel in 1878 rejected - census of 1897 - "European" Jews and tensions between the Jews - racist Zionists in Georgia - "pioneers" for Herzl Israel]

In 1878 a *blood libel case occurred in Georgia, the Jewish inhabitants of a village in the vicinity of Kutaisi being accused of the murder of a six-year-old girl. The trial took place in 1879, and the accused, who were defended by noted Russian advocates, were declared innocent.

According to the census of 1897, there were 18,574 Jews living in Georgia (9,710 in the province of Tiflis, 8,864 in the province of Kutais) of whom 6,665 were local Georgian Jews; however, the latter figure maz not be accurate. The largest communities were in Kutaisi (4,843), Tiflis (3,668), Akhaltsikhe (1,533), and *Batum (1,179).

Communities of European Jews had already been established in Georgia by the end of the 19th century, and the relations between these and the local Jews were strained. A number of Georgian rabbis who studied at the yeshivot [[religious Torah schools]] of Poland and Lithuania helped to promote better relations between the two groups. Jewish soldiers from European Russia who served in the Caucasus also made contacts with the Georgian Jews and spread [[racist]] Zionism there. Extensive [[racist]] Zionist activity was initiated by communal leaders from among the many refugees who reached Georgia during World War I from the western regions of Russia, and a number of pioneers stayed in Georgia on their way to Erez Israel (Ereẓ Israel). Georgian Jews began to settle in Erez Israel (Ereẓ Israel) in 1863. In 1914 there were about 500 members of the "Gurji" community in Erez Israel (Ereẓ Israel), most of them in Jerusalem. By 1920-21, their numbers had increased to approximately 1,700.

[1918-1941: 21,105 Jews in 1926]

After the establishment of the short-lived independent Republic of Georgia in 1918, the Jews were granted full equality of rights and a number held important positions. According to the 1926 census, there were 21,105 Jewish inhabitants (0.8% of the population) in the Soviet Georgian Republic though in fact the number was greater; it has been estimated at 30,000.

They succeeded in maintaining their communal organization and way of life, the Soviet authorities showing relative tolerance to their customs and religious institutions in line with general Soviet policy toward this region. Apparently attempts to organize kolkhozes of Georgian Jews were unsuccessful, and some migrated to the town. A historico-ethnographic museum devoted to the study of the history of the Georgian Jews was founded in Tbilisi in 1933. The museum published three volumes of studies in Russian and Georgian between 1940 and 1945. After its director was imprisoned and sent to Siberia, the museum was closed down in 1949 and its large collection was transferred to the Georgian Museum in Tbilisi.

[1941-1945: Big Flight from Barbarossa arrives Georgia - stimulation of Jewish "nationalism" by the refugees - estimation of 80,000 Jews in 1960]

During World War II Jews from the Nazi-occupied territories temporarily settled in Georgia.

[[There is missing any number or estimation of numbers of Jews who arrived in Georgia 1941-1945]].

The encounter with the stream of Jewish refugees from eastern Europe (col. 426)

who arrived in Georgia did much to stimulate national awareness among Georgian Jewry. The support given by the Soviet Union in establishing the State of [[racist Zionist Free Mason CIA Herzl]] Israel also encouraged national feelings.

[[The government of Zionist Free Mason CIA Herzl Israel has the aim to establish a "Greater Israel" from the Nile to the Euphrates according to 1st Mose, chapter 15, phrase 18. Soviet Union hoped that Israel would become a Soviet satellite state which was not the case, so the Soviet government turned against racist Israel since 1948. The anti-Semitic campaigns in the Soviet territory since 1948 - also in Georgia - and the discrimination movement against the Jews since 1948 are not mentioned]].

According to the 1959 census the Jewish population of Georgia numbered 51,582 (1.3% of thee population) of whom 36,745 spoke Georgian and the remainder were Russian and Yiddish-speaking ("Ashkenazim").

One-third of the Jews of Georgia lived in Tbilisi. An estimate based on unofficial local sources puts the number of Jews in Georgia in the 1960s much higher, in one estimate even at 80,000.


Despite anti-religious indoctrination by the Soviet authorities and the complete lack of Jewish educational facilities, many Georgian Jews succeeded in maintaining Jewish traditions among their families, celebrating Jewish festivals and keeping Jewish customs with their children both in the synagogues and in their homes. Contacts between Habad Hasidim (Ḥabad Ḥasidim) who reached Georgia and Orthodox Georgian Jews were somehow established, and in the 1960s the urge to settle in Israel became even more explicit among Georgian Jews.

In November 1969 Israel's Prime Minister Golda Meir announced the contents of a letter which she had received from 18 heads of Georgian Jewish families. It expressed a deep-felt religious and historical attachment to the land of Israel and a protest, directed to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, against the Soviet authorities who withheld their exit permits for emigration to [[racist Zionist Free Mason CIA Herzl]] Israel. The letter inaugurated a spate of similar written statements and protests of Jews from various parts of the Soviet Union. See also *Mountain Jews.

[ED.] (col. 426)

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971), vol.7, col.
                        427-428: Letter received by the Israel Prime
                        Minister from 18 Georgian families in 1969,
                        enclosing their appeal to the heads of the three
                        Western Great Powers for help in emigrating from
                        the SovietUnion to Israel
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971), vol.7, col. 427-428: Letter received by the Israel Prime Minister from 18 Georgian families
in 1969, enclosing their appeal to the heads of the three Western Great Powers
for help in emigrating from the SovietUnion to Israel

The text:

<Dear Mrs. Meir, We, 18 religious families of Georgia, are still waiting and praying. We have applied with identical requests (there is a difference only in the concluding lines) to the Heads of the three Great Powers and we are sending you copies of all the three letters. We are doing everything we can; please, do also everything you can for our liberatin. We again give you the right, if necessary, to publish the full texts of the letters, giving in full our family names, given manes, patronyms and addresses. We again ask you to undertake any measures that you consider necessary. Do not think of our safety: the lot has been cast and there is no way back any more. We believe: God will help you and us. (col. 427-428)


1. Elashvili Shabata Mikhailovich - Kutaisi, Dzhaparidze 53
2. Elashvili Mikhail Shabatovich - Kutaisi, Dzhaparidze 33
3. Elashvili Izrail Mikhailovich - Kutaisi, Kirova 31
4. Eluashvili Yakov Aronovich - Kutaisi, Mayakovskogo 5
5. Khikhinashvili Mordekh Isakovich - Kutaisi, Makharadze 19
6. Chikvashvili Mikhail Samuilovich - Kutaisi, Khakhanashvili 38
7. Chikvashvili Moshe Samuilovich - Kutaisi, Tsereteli 82
8. Beberashvili Mikhail Rubenovich - Kutaisi, Klara Tsetkin 9
9. Elashvili Yakov Izrailovich - Kutaisi, Tsereteli 54 (col. 427)
10. Mikhelashvili Khaim Aronovich - Poti, Tskhakaya 57
11. Mikhailashvili Albert Khaimovich - Poti, Tskhakaya 57
12. Mikhelashvili Aron Khaimovich - Poti, Tskhakaya 57
13. Tetruashvili Khaim Davidovich - Kutaisi, Dzhaparidze 42
14. Tsitsuashvili Isro Zakharovich - Kutaisi, Shaumyana, 1st alley, 5
15. Tsitsuashvili Efrem Isrovich - Kutaisi, Shaumyana, 1st alley 6
16. Yakobishvili Bension Shalomovich - Tbilisi 4, poste restante (formerly at Baranova 91)
17. Batoniashvili Mikhail Rafaelovich - Kutaisi, Dzhaparidze 53
18. Tetruashvili Mikhail Shalomovich - Kulashi, Stalina 114> (col. 428)

Georgian Jewish Writers and Intellectuals.

-- Babalikashvilli, Nissan: orientalist, son of a Tbilisi rabbi; he specialized in Jewish subjects and investigated the history of Jewish settlement in Georgia. He discovered manuscripts relating to Jewish history there in the 9th and 10th centuries.
-- Danieloshvili, Moshe: stage producer; he translated S. *An-Ski's play "The Dybbuk" into Georgian and produced it at the state theater at Tbilisi.

-- Davidashvili, Rosa: ethnologist and author of children's literature of the generation preceding the Revolution.

-- Davidashvili, Yizhak (Yiẓḥak): philologist; he graduated in Semitic languages at Tbilisi in the late 1960s, and acquired knowledge of Hebrew, Yiddish, and Arabic, as well as of the Bible and modern Hebrew literature. He specialized in medieval Spanish poetry, and translated works by Judah Halevi, Moses ibn Ezra, Abraham ibn Ezra, and other Jewish authors into Georgian from versions in Yiddish, German, or Spanish as the original works in Hebrew were not available. Some of these were published in the Georgian literary quarterly Homli in 1969.

-- Gaponov, Boris: translator of the national Georgian epic by Shota Rust'haveli, Vep'khis-taosani ("The Man in the Panther's Skin", 12th century), into a perfect and rich Hebrew. It was published only in Israel (1969) and its author was awarded the Tchernichowsky Prize for translations into Hebrew.

-- Kokashvili, Gyorgi: poet, playwright, and literary critic; his play "The Children of the Sea" was performed at the state theater at Tbilisi.

-- Kotsishvili, Joseph: author of an historical novel on the (col. 427)

beginning of Jewish settlement in Georgia; he translated Shalom Aleichem into Georgian, as well as works by Lion *Feuchtwanger.

-- Mamistabolob, Abraham: poet, born in the village of Staliniri, formerly Tskhinvali; a collection of his poems published in 1957 includes two poems based on Jewish themes, "Wedding in the Jewish Quarter" and "The Family".

-- Mikhaelashvili, Shalom: historian; he investigated the history of his native community at Kulashi.

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-- E. Salgaller, in: JSOS, 26 (1964), 195-202
-- A. Harkavy: Ha-Yehudim u-Sefat ha-Slavim (1867), 106-20
-- J.J. Chorny: Sefer ha-Massa'ot be-Erez Kavkaz u-va-Medinot asher me-Ever la-Kavkaz (1884)
-- A.L. Eliav (Ben-Ammi): Between Hammer and Sickle (1969), passim
-- M. Neistadt: Yehudei Gruzyah (1970)
-- Histoire de Géorgie depuis l'antiquité jusqu'au XIXè siècle [[History of Georgia from antique times to the 19th century]] (attrib. uncertain, trans. M.F. Brosset (Rus. name M.I. Brosse), 7 vols., 1849-58)
-- J. Baye: Les Juifs des montagnes et les Juifs géorgiens [[The Mountain Jews and the Georgian Jews]] (1902)
-- A. Katz: Die Juden im Kaukasus [[The Jews in Caucasus]] (1894)
-- D.M. Maggid, in: Istoriya yevreyskogo naroda, 12 (1921; = Istoriya yevreyev v Rossii, 2 bk. 1) 85-95
-- M.S. Plisetski: Religiya i byt gruzinskikh yevreyev (1931)
-- Yevreyskaya Biblioteka, 7 no. 12 (1880), 1-188 (on the Kutaisi blood libel)
-- Al Yehudei Berit ha-Mo'azot; published by the Israel Ministry of Education and Culture (1970).> (col. 428)

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971), vol.7, col.
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971), vol.7, col. 423-424
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971), vol.7, col.
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971), vol.7, col. 425-426
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971), vol.7, col.
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971), vol.7, col. 427-428

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