Cycle of commemorational rituals of central asian jews
История бухарских евреев | Новая история (1917 - наши дни)

Before the revolution, Jews lived exclusively in cities of Central Asia, and settled compactly in each city, sometimes by separate quarters, as for example in Bukhara, they have formed into three quarters. The Central Asian Jews were engaged in crafts and trades.Everywhere, even in cities, population passed on Turkish (Uzbek) language, as for an example Shahrisabs, cities of the Fergana Valley, the native language of the Central Asian Jews was and still is a Tajik language. The Central Asian Jews have apprehended not only a Tajik language, but other things in life, in material and spiritual cultures, customs, rituals, and national beliefs.

For an understanding of influence of the Tajiks on ethnic shape of Jews of Central Asia, such fact is indicative: In the end of XVIII century a certain rabbi Yosef Ben Moshe  Mamon Al Magribi from Tetuan (Morocco), having visited Bukhara, found out, that the native Jews are rather far from religion of the ancestors. He informed that they do not observe Saturday, carry none Jewish names. The Rabbi remained in Bukhara to return his generation to religion of their ancestors. Being Sephardim, Yosef enters among the Bukharian Jews Sephardim a breviary. Therefore, sometimes among the Bukharian Jews it is possible to hear that they are Sephards, which in any way does not correspond to the validity.Despite of all the diligence, not only rabbi managed to reform prays of the Bukharian Jews, but also their customs and rituals that were influenced by the Tajiks. A commemorational ritual is a part of that custom.

A burial process of the diseased should take place on the day of death. However, all rituals that take place after the funeral require a lot time and are necessary to carry out before the sunset. That's why the funeral postpones until the next day. In our days Central Asian Jews do not rush a burial process, even if the person has died in that early morning.Usually the deceased is left for one more night in the houses, that refers to as «yak shab mehmon kardan» (to stay for one night as a guest).

Burial ceremony cannot be performed on Saturdays. As a result, if a person died on Friday, he can only be buried on Sunday. Also, it's not allowed to bury on holidays such as; Yom Kippur, Passover, Sukkoth and etc. Holidays that last more than one day permit to bury on other days, but the first. Because of these interdictions it could happen, that the deceased remains at home for two days, if death occurs on one of those holidays before or after Saturday. Women are not authorized to participate in funerals. Frankly it's possible to see women present at the funerals, who are not bloodrelated to the deceased, but colleagues, friends, and neighbors.

The corpse is carried to the cemetery on a stretcher called «tobut»(Tajik), it's a box with an open top. The stretcher with the deceased is carried by three men on the shoulders– two in front and one behind.Accordingly the stretcher has two handles in the front, and carriers must walk quickly. The carriers are replaced by others frequently on the move. To participate in a funeral, especially to carry a stretcher is considered rather a mitzvah, «savob» (Tajik.), «mizvot» (Hebrew). At the same time spiritual caste of Jews — «Cohen» is not supposed to carry a stretcher.

The Jews of Central Asia always had and have separate cemetery. In Dushanbe the Jews have a separate location at the cemetery.

After the funeral, the family of the deceased walks together with the people close to the family and come back to house of the deceased. After that the parents (if there any), children, brothers, sisters, husband (wife) — follow a ritual «tearing of collar», in Tajik calls «girebondaron», «kareo» (Hebrew).Frequently people use scissors or knife to tear a part of clothing, depending on the relationship of the deceased; — children to their parents tear it on the left side on the chest, the rest do it on the right side including the parents, if they mourn their child. At tearing of the clothes everyone should say a prayer: Borukh dayen h?emet« (Hebrew) »G–d is a fair judge!« Jewish tradition states that Jacob was the first person who tore his dress, learning of the destruction of his favorite son Joseph. According to the Talmud, family of the deceased should tear their clothes off at the bed when death has approached.

After tearing a collar, close relatives of the deceased follow a ritual — eating of mourning eggs — »tukhmi oveli« (Tajik): everyone eats one hardboiled egg, having enclosed it wholly in the mouth. According to Talmud, the egg symbolizes revival from the dead, therefore it was recommended to be given to the close relatives that are in mourning. Family of the deceased observing the two illustrated rituals are considered in complete mourning during seven days. This type of mourning is called »ovel« and people that are mourning during this time are called »oveli« or »karionok«( Hebrew).

Talmud consists of four periods of mourning: deepest — first three days, almost the same — seven days, less deep — thirty days and even less — a year.According to Talmud during the first seven days is forbidden: to work, but in case of poverty it's possible to be limited to three days; to leave the house; to take bath; wear boots (i.e.leather footwear); read, except for Torah; enter the matrimonial relations; sleep on the bed; wash and to correct own clothes; cut hair and nails.

Mourning clothes should be worn.

Not all Central Asian Jews observe all these interdictions and instructions because some do not know about an interdiction of not sleeping on the bed, probably because in the past they did not have beds. Some do not know about a prohibition of wearing boots. Other than all of those Talmud interdictions, the Central Asian Jews were also forbidden to greet people in mourning by hand and also take or give something by their hands.

During mourning period, on mornings and evenings, close relatives are gathered in the house of the deceased to pray and hold commemoration called »yushuvo«(Hebrew). Regarding commemoration, it is necessary to note the following: with death of the person, all products in his house become ritually dirty — »harom«(Tajik) and are not subjected to be used. Water considers on being dirty as well and in seven adjacent houses, it should be poured out.According to these representations everyone who is in complete mourning during the seven days, pass the maintenance of their house to the relatives, neighbors, and friends.

The house where death occurred is considered unclean during seven days, as it's marked in Talmud. Also, dinner is brought by relatives to the mourning household, consisting of lentil and eggs, also bread and wine.

Presently, Central Asian Jews established a custom: people that are coming to commemoration should give money and this type of gathering is called »company«. One of the close confidants of family of the deceased collects the money, makes a list, where both the first and last names are written, and the sum of money that's brought. Usually each person brings $50. Close relatives and friends can bring more from $50 — $100.

One person, usually the same cashier, allocates that money. Having picked up himself few assistants, he makes appropriate purchases, both for common funeral repast and for the meal for the relatives of the deceased. All expenses are written down and should not exceed the money on hand. At the completion of the mourning, the list of expenses along with the charges and the rest of the money is reported to family of the deceased. This type of ritual (money managed by someone else), takes place, because members of the family of the deceased are not allowed to spend money in these seven days of mourning.

Also, during that period, kitchen in the house of the deceased is operated by woman »kayvonu« (Tajik). She prepares meals for the family members of the deceased, close relatives, and guests that come over to express their condolences.

The commemoration (except for the funeral repast), is accompanied by the whole series of prays and religious readings. Usually, commemoration is held in the evening, beginning approximately one hour prior to the sunset. The readings begin when ten or more men are gathered, so that they loudly respond »omen« to some phrases of prays. At absence of such quorum, the prayer is considered void.

On the commemoration, two out of three daily prays are said: day time »minho« and evening »aravit«. Beside these prayers, stories from the book of Zohar are read and »Kadish« and »hashkovo« are pronounced.»Kadish« is a prayer that praises the Lord.Originally »kadish« was read after a certain chapter of Torah called »Haggadah« in Aramaic language. »Hagaddah« literally is a story telling that refers to an extensive part of the literature from Talmud. It contains lectures and aphorisms, historical legends, and parables that have an influence on the soul and moral behaviors. The ceremony of reading the Hagaddah takes place during the commemoration in the house of grievers. And as after Hagaddah, the sermons need to be read »kadish", within time it becomes the main element of commemoration of the dead.

Central Asian Jews also read from the book of Zohar which is a basic monument of Kaballah, i.e. interpretation of rules of Torah, written in Aramaic language. The authorship of this book is attributed to Shimon Ben Yuhoy, living in II century B.C.

Currently, almost everyone in Central Asian Jewish society does not understand Zohar. The stories from this book are read with a singing accent, by the conclusions of Z.M.Tajikova–Dvorina, — they are read on motive of classical musical composition — Shashmaqom (Tajik). Only motive is clear and perceived by the listeners, especially when person reading has a good voice and some singing gift.

To be continued...

 Picture: Burial ceremony of Hai ben Yusuf Davydov.

Tashkent, 1962.

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