Jewish Language Research Website

Judeo-Tajik (Bukhori, Bukharian)


Description by Chana Tolmas


Judeo-Tajik is a Persian language spoken and written by Bukharan Jews in the 18th to 20th centuries. Bukharan Jews have lived in Central Asia, in areas currently in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, since antiquity, most recently in cities such as Bukhara, Samarkand, Tashkent, and Dushanbe. Due to immigration and language shift, Judeo-Tajik is currently endangered, spoken by small communities in Central Asia, Israel, and the United States.


During the second half of the eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century, political and territorial changes in Central Asia led to the gradual transformation of Judeo-Persian into Judeo-Tajik. Initially, this language was used by Bukharan Jews for communication within the family and community. In the late nineteenth century, however, Judeo-Tajik developed into a literary language thanks to the enterprise undertaken by Rabbi Shimon Hakham (1843–1910), the founder of a literary school in Jerusalem. The active members of this school published the first translation of the Bible into Judeo-Tajik. They also translated numerous other religious and secular works from Hebrew into Judeo-Tajik.

In the early twentieth century, this Jerusalem-based enterprise published important literary works written in Judeo-Tajik, dictionaries in various languages, and more. Most of these books were sent to Central Asia, where many Bukharan Jews still lived at the time. During this period, no books in Judeo-Tajik were published in Russia. A single newspaper Rahamim) (1910–1916) was published in the city of Skobelev in the district of Fergana) רחמים and later in Kokand.

Following the rise of the Soviet regime, hundreds of schoolbooks were printed in Central Asia for a network of Jewish schools where classes were taught in Judeo-Tajik. Between 1920 and 1930, this language gave rise to works of poetry and prose, plays, the newspaper "Roshnaji" (Light) (1925-1930), whose name was later changed to "Bajroqi Mihnat" (1930-1938) (Workers' Flag), and socio-political reviews including "Hajoti Mihnat" (Life of the Workers), named later "Adabijoti Soveti" (Soviet Literature) (1930-1938). This was the golden age of Judeo-Tajik literature.

Up until 1928, these publications made use of the Hebrew alphabet (Rashi letters were used in writing, while square letters were used in print) and some Jews used the Arabic alphabet, which was used by local non-Jews at that time. These alphabets were briefly replaced by the Latin one, and, in 1938, the republics of Central Asia began transitioning to the Cyrillic alphabet. This change was not imposed on Judeo-Tajik, since the demise of Jewish culture (theaters, newspapers, literary reviews, museums, and so forth) during this period amounted to a death sentence to the literary use of Judeo-Tajik. In 1940, it became forbidden to publish in this language, and Jewish schools switched to teaching in Tajik, Uzbek, and Russian. For the following fifty years, Judeo-Tajik served solely for communication within the family and community. Only a small number of Judeo-Tajik publications appeared in Israel between 1950 and 1980.

With the immigration of Jews from the former USSR to Israel in the 1970s, and even more so in the 1990s, the use of Judeo-Tajik resurfaced in various contexts. This period saw the publication of new Judeo-Tajik dictionaries and anthologies of poetry and prose, the broadcasting of radio programs, and the performance of plays. Judeo-Tajik newspapers printed in Cyrillic letters also appeared.

Some Characteristics of Judeo-Tajik

(In preparation)

Selected Bibliography

Online Resources