By Norman J. Finkelshteyn
and Modern Eras
Beyond The Sambation -
The Jews of Ethiopia
(the Bata Yisrael or Falashas)
The Middle East -
Muslim Conquests through The Crusades
Spain before the Expulsion
The Khazar Kaganate
Persia and Central Asia
Refugees from Spain and Portugal
The Huns and Turks had very fluid notions of tribal identity and an open attitude toward religion. As the Khazar tribal confederacy developed, the Jews who had lived in Central Asia since the late centuries BCE, as well as those who came as a result of subsequent purges and forced conversion attempts from Persia, Byzantium, and elsewhere, were drawn in and became part of the Khazar entity.
Finally, in the 9th century, the leaders and the majority of the Khazar nobility came to be Jews.
One likely possibility for how this happened is a conversion of the nobility. This is the official version of the situation, as told by the Khazar ruler Joseph in his famous letter to Hasdai ibn Shaprut of Spain.
Another possibility, advanced as an option based on historical evidence by Artamonov, is that the Jewish "subtribe" at that point attained ascendancy over the other subtribes. This theory is consistent with the story provided by another Khazar letter found in the Cairo Geniza. This tells of Israelites of the tribe of Shimon who gained power among the Khazars. They had no access to Sacred Writings and therefore lost their Jewish practice. Upon discovering copies of such Writings hidden in a cave, they made the effort to "return" to that practice.
While the kingdom and ruling class were officially Jewish, the Khazars did not adopt forced conversion. The other religions were not only tolerated, but were an integral part of the Khazar structure.
Thus, the court of Itil (the capital) had seven judges. Two judged the Jews (ruling according to Jewish law), two judged the Christians (ruling according to Christian law), two judged the Mulims (according to the Koran), and one judge judged those who had retained the Turkic Shamanistic religion (according to their law).
Similarly, the military took advantage of the strength and accounted for the weakness of a multicultural army. When the Khazars undertook war against Muslim countries, Muslims did not fight, when they fought against Christian lands, Christians did not fight, and so forth -- to prevent the conflict of loyalties a soldier may feel in "fighting his own".
Above right is an illustration of a Khazar heavy cavalry warrior, a brief discussion follows of the influence of the style and custom on the region. The table at right offers a serious caution when researching the Khazars further (especially on the internet).
Articles and Illustrations by Norman J. Finkelshteyn.
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