Thursday, June 26, 2014

  • Thursday, June 26, 2014
  • Elder of Ziyon
From Haaretz:
The claim that today’s Ashkenazi Jews are descended from Khazars who converted in the Middle Ages is a myth, according to new research by a Hebrew University historian.

The Khazar thesis gained global prominence when Prof. Shlomo Sand of Tel Aviv University published “The Invention of the Jewish People” in 2008. In that book, which became a best seller and was translated into several languages, Sand argued that the “Jewish people” is an invention, forged out of myths and fictitious “history” to justify Jewish ownership of the Land of Israel.

Now, another Israeli historian has challenged one of the foundations of Sand’s argument: his claim that Ashkenazi Jews are descended from the people of the Khazar kingdom, who in the eighth century converted en masse on the instruction of their king. In an article published this month in the journal “Jewish Social Studies,” Prof. Shaul Stampfer concluded that there is no evidence to support this assertion.

“Such a conversion, even though it’s a wonderful story, never happened,” Stampfer said.

Stampfer, an expert in Jewish history, analyzed material from various fields, but found no reliable source for the claim that the Khazars – a multiethnic kingdom that included Iranians, Turks, Slavs and Circassians – converted to Judaism. “There never was a conversion by the Khazar king or the Khazar elite,” he said. “The conversion of the Khazars is a myth with no factual basis.”

As a historian, he said he was surprised to discover how hard it is “to prove that something didn’t happen. Until now, most of my research has been aimed at discovering or clarifying what did happen in the past ... It’s a much more difficult challenge to prove that something didn’t happen than to prove it did.”

That’s because the proof is based primarily on the absence of evidence rather than its presence – like the fact that an event as unprecedented as an entire kingdom’s conversion to Judaism merited no mention in contemporaneous sources. “The silence of so many sources about the Khazars’ Judaism is very suspicious,” Stampfer said. “The Byzantines, the geonim [Jewish religious leaders of the sixth to eleventh centuries], the sages of Egypt – none of them have a word about the Jewish Khazars.
In all probability Haaretz is not synopsizing Stampfer correctly (UPDATE: See comments, apparently Stampfer is saying that the entire story is a myth.) There are a couple of pieces of evidence of a debate/disputation in Khazar, and reports that at least some people converted. Wikipedia says:
At least some Khazar rabbinical students appear to have studied in Spain. Abraham ibn Daud of Toledo, in his Book of Tradition (1161), writes:

"You will find the communities of Israel spread abroad... as far as Dailam and the river Itil where live Khazar peoples who became proselytes. The Khazar king Joseph sent a letter to Hasdai ibn-Shaprut and informed him that he and all his people followed the rabbinical faith. We have seen descendants of the Khazars in Toledo, students of the wise, and they have told us that the remnant of them is of the rabbinical belief."
Other evidence is listed in the main Wikipedia Khazar article.

But evidence of conversion of the entire Khazar people, or even the bulk of them, is thin indeed. There is no archaeological evidence of synagogues or yeshivot in Khazaria despite the "Khazar correspondence" that claims many of them.

Whether or not some Khazars converted, that is a far different claim than saying that all Ashkenazic Jews are descended from Khazars, which is obviously absurd.  As I have mentioned previously, Jews must keep track of who descends from Aaron (Kohens) and more generally Levi (Levites.) Converts obviously aren't Kohanim or Leviim, yet there are plenty of Ashkenazic families who trace back their lineage to those families. A Khazari synagogue would have a tough time finding a Kohen to bless the people on Jewish holidays! To say that Ashkenazi Jews are descended from converts means that there was also a vast yet unknown conspiracy to "convert" tens of thousands of them to Kohens and Levites, which is insane.

Moreover, such a mass conversion would have involved numerous Jewish legal responsa as the supposed new Jews spread throughout Europe. That lack of evidence is stunning - Judaism would not automatically accept the conversion of people forced to convert and the literature would certainly discuss the legal issues involved.

Shlomo Sand is not a historian of the time period - his courses are on "French Intellectual History, Political History of the 20th Century, Cinema and History, Nation and Nationalism, History and Theory." His books prove that he is an ideologue more than a researcher.

Stampfer, on the other hand, specializes in East European Jewry, Jewish demography, migration and education.

Sand is a fraud.

(h/t Yenta)



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