Khazar Jews. Romanian History And Ethnography

excerpts Motto: "It is known that, when a people is about to disappear, first its high society disappears, and with it the literature." (Milorad Pavici, The Khazar DictionaryLazar Saineanu and his studies in folklore. An ethnographic controversyLazar Saineanu was a very important linguist, but his brilliant career was stopped suddenly and violently around 1900. Thus, in a booklet published in 1991 in France, and addressed to his own daughter, he tells how "a presentation made within the proceedings of the Romanian Academy and an article in Romania magazine in Paris, where the author (probably himself of Khazar origin) tried to follow the steps of the first Khazar settlements in Oltenia with the physical description of these new inhabitants, and the reconstitution of their language, started such a stern opposition on the part of the academicians, that the researcher was forced to emigrate."[1]In the above mentioned booklet, Saineanu says that "in 1887 I published in Literary Conversations a study entitled The Jews or the Tatars or the Giants, in which I aimed at elucidating this bizarre association of ethnic names by bringing up a historical hypothesis. After grouping all the available elements of a linguistic, archeological and topographic origin, which testify on behalf of the identification, in the traditions of our people, of the Jews with the Tatars and with the Giants, I asked myself the following question: Was there in the past a people about which one could claim with certainty that it was both Tatar and Jewish at the same time? My answer to this question is that such a people existed, and it is known in history under the name of Khazars, a Tatar people that occupied almost the whole of meridional Russia which, adopting Judaism in the 8th century, survived as a Judaic state for over three centuries (1016). After spreading its domination over Eastern Europe, these Jewish-Tatars suddenly disappeared from the stage of history. What became of them? These Khazars, once their power vanished, became one with the other Tatar peoples by the Black Sea, but the echo of their origin did not completely disappear from people's memory. A part of these Khazars will have looked early on for a shelter in Ardeal (i.e. Transylvania), from where they crossed to the Danube countries, especially in Muntenia (i.e. Wallachia), particularly in Muscel and Romanati districts, where the traditional memories regarding them seem to be concentrated. Could they have been the ones who built that building with a cyclopean-Jewish appearance whose name only tells about those old times? The settlements and their dwellings left important traces that took on colossal proportions in people's imagination. People of a supernatural size seemed to have lived – according to the voice of the century – in an ancient time, which the old can hardly remember, and our peasants call those giant people Jews or Tatars. It is very likely that those Tatars turned Jews maintained their religion in the middle of a peaceful population terrified by their imposing power, and that Khazar blood might be running in the veins of the primitive strata of Romanian Jews. This is the objective study that started the calumny, which I had written against my country."[2] In his arguments, Saineanu comes up with interesting information, searched for and gathered through field work and written in "the archeological questionnaire of Mr. Odobescu, today in possession of the Academy." Thus, "the Romanian peasant uses the word Jewish with different acceptations, which could be inferred from the basic meaning of Giant. In Dragoslavele commune from the former district of Muscel (today Arges) persisted the tradition according to which "there were some Jews in Ghimbavului Stone where there is a hole in which stone milk flows; and that the son of a Jew from Yellow Stone, being in love with the daughter of a Jew in Ghimbavului Stone, secretly left to see her. His father saw him on the top of Prislop mountain, threw a boulder at him to hit him, but it is said that he didn't. This boulder can be seen even today on the top of Prislop mountain and weighs about 6000 pounds."[3] Further on, Saineanu argues "the typical expression, ever since the Jews or the Tatars or the Giants, to point to an old age, that the peasants attribute to the crumbled walls whose building date they don't remember." The author also presents two examples. The first one refers to information gathered from Radomir commune, in Ocolu area in the former district of Romanati (today Olt). Here, on the occasion of the fitting out of the railway tracks, a "fathom deep hill" was sectioned, where "they found several walls made of small stones and very big bricks as well as shards of very big and thick pots. We can infer that the place was an ancient settlement from the times of the Giants and the Jews." The toponym of Jidova remains very interesting still (the place of the Jews/Giants) or the Giantess near Campulung. This place was in Poenari commune, Argesel area in the former district of Muscel (today Arges). Here were the ruins of Jidova fortress which "according to our elders is a very old wall". Then, in the commune of Schitu-Golesti, Nucsoara plain, in the former district of Muscel, there was Valea-Uncheasului hamlet which "is a fortress with extremely crumbled walls. This fortress called Jidova is said to have been built by the Tatars and the Jews."The toponym of Jidova can be encountered in the case of some forms of relief. Thus, in Ianca commune, Balta area in the former district of Romanati, "there is a knoll, that is said to have been pulled out from the Earth by the Jews, and which is called Jidova knoll because the place or the hole, where they pulled it from can be seen even today, and is east of it."Then, in Raureni commune, Riurile area in the district of Muscel, "you can still see a hillock with the height of 8 fathoms and a half and 30 fathoms around it; it is round with a pointed top, and it is said to have been made by Jews. Even farther down the valley, in the same commune, there is, in the forest, a 50-meters long clearing, where the Tatars' camp is said to have been placed." Such a hillock with this toponym can be found in Cacalet commune, Ocolul area, in Romanati. Under this "big hillock of earth, 5 fathoms high, 27 fathoms around it and flat top, there are Jews' bones." Saineanu brings as argument also "the popular metaphor Jewish work to characterize a very hard work that goes beyond the powers of common man, a tireless and stubborn work." He brings examples from Romanian fairy tales from the southern region of the country; thus in Pipelcuta or Cinderella fairy tale we find that: "the girl accustomed from an early age with poverty, worked like Jews day and night and did all the hard tasks." The author concludes by asserting about the word "Jew in the sense of giant" that it is "a vague reflex of the first Tatar invasions in these countries. It concentrates in itself the memory of a Turanian people turned Jewish, which disappeared completely later on as a nation, which also crept into the Danube valley and one part of which will have persisted in these places, forming the ethnographic kern of Judaism in the Danube countries." Following the arguments above, which support the idea of the existence of Khazar communities in the Romanian ethnographic space, we will bring into discussion an element of Romanian mythology: the Red Man. What could be the connection between this evil fairy tale character and Khazar Jews? If the Jewish-Tatars or the Giants with supernatural powers could have full power over the life and death of people, the Red Man from the Romanian fairy tales concentrates in himself all the forces of evil. Khazar Jews described by their contemporaries had blue eyes and reddish hair; this generalized light coloring could be a heritage of the medieval Khazar infusion.[4] According to Koestler, "the colour of the complexion of Khazar Jews was white, their eyes were blue and their hair was mainly reddish, their bodies were big, powerful and their behaviour was cold, distant. Their general outlook was wild." That's where the association with the Giants in Romanian mythology comes from. The popular Jewish legends do not mention a Khazar kingdom but a kingdom of the red Jews, red being the color of their hair and maybe due to the mongoloid pigmentation of many Khazars. No doubt, the Red Man and the Red Emperor of Romanian fairy tales can be identified as the Khazar Jew. In Romanian mythology, the Devil himself "appears under the form of a red man and he lives on Red Hill." The Red Man is thought of by the people "as a bad omen, a great danger." It is said in Harap Alb (White Moor), the Moldavian fairy tale: "remember the piece of advice that I give you: in your journey you will need both bad and evil creatures, but beware of the red man, and especially of the bald one, as much as you can do not get involved with them."[5] The bald man can be compared to the Tatar that often shaves his head. We have, besides the Red Man, another evil character called the Red Emperor, the perpetual enemy of another character, the Green Emperor or the White Emperor. According to Saineanu, "the emperor that bears, in fairy-tales, this epithet is characterized as being the cruelest tyrant of his time, as opposed to White-Emperor, the epitome of kindness and justice for the people. During the reign of this emperor all sorts of bizarre things happen: the monsters steal the sun and the moon. Just like the demon, Red-Emperor likes enigmas and threatens to kill his rival should he not be capable of solving them. There are infernal monsters in his service, like Half-Man, who dies and comes to life again at the same time". Then, let's not forget the odd character "the girl with the red ear, who, being dead, raises at midnight from her coffin with a pig snout and threatens to swallow her guardian." These fairy tale creatures cover all the Romanian ethnographic areas. Fairy tales from Moldavia and Transylvania, from the South of the country and from Bucovina advise that the red man should be avoided. In Barnusca fairy tale, discovered by Simion Florea Marian: "The boy had heard it in advance that the marked people like (…) and the ones with the beard red like fire, and the hair black as a crow's feather, are very evil and dangerous." Here we should make note of Koestler's description which is related to the fairy tale: Khazars "have black hair and are of two kinds: some called Kara-Khazars (black Khazars) dark-complexioned, with almost olive skin as if they were Indians, and the others, white (Ak-Khazars), amazingly handsome." In the Saxon tale The Three Men with Red Beards, "a man dressed in a grey cloak advises the three sons of a poor old man to beware of men with red beards because it's not a good thing. And indeed, the three men with red beards were devils, and the man with the grey cloak was God himself." Then a Hungarian saying says "Red dog, red colt, red man, none is good." What is more, "in a version of a South-Slav fairy tale, there is the Red Wind", which is "a terrible being, which ate people and tortured them excruciatingly" and in the Hungarian fairy tales, "the betraying gipsy is nicknamed the Red Knight." In Romanian mythology, Tatars or Jews, associated with giants, cyclopean beings with supernatural powers, are "man eaters". According to Saineanu, "the principle that relies on such names is the predominantly pagan character of those peoples, to which we add the distance in time and space. Thus, Serbs associate the giants with Jews, Czechs with Avars, and Germans with Huns." Always, the conflict between Red Emperor and Green or White Emperor ends in favour of the latter, and is solved by decoding dreams. The dream "is a first-rank mythopoeic factor" in Romanian fairy tales. Thus, "in the Banat fairy-tale Red-Emperor and White-Emperor, the emperor discusses with the wise men about the depth of dreams, and his daughter saves the kingdom from danger two times with her dreams, which must be coming from God. The dream is, in the stories, a forerunner of future reality." With Khazars, there is the sect of dream hunters, a Christian sect of Khazar priests who "knew how to read the dreams of the others, to live in them like in their own house." Even those "are long gone", still, "their predictions were preserved". In Romanian mythology there is a series of strange characters called solomonari (seers), with "shamanic attributes, capable of riding dragons, making ascensions to the sky above the clouds". It is worth noticing that "their name (solomonar or sholomonar) and their magical powers can be explained by the fact that they are the successors of the wisdom and wizardly skills of King Solomon. They are recruited from the people, resemble savage giants (Saineanu's version), have red hair, bulging eyes, hairy body with a tail; they dress in white long and large peasant clothes, or go dressed modestly in clothes made only of patches (an image of the carts full of oriental Jews that emigrated to the Romanian countries as described by their contemporaries), carry bags with magic tools, among which an iron axe, reins of birch tree, a book of wisdom (the predictions – solomoniile – that Pavici talks about) As to the origin of the belief in solomonari, it is also mentioned "the influence of the figure of the Jewish rabbi (the cabbalist, the Hasid), mythicized in folklore, because it is said in Bucovina that "the solomonari raise only from among the Jews". The presence in Romanian mythology of characters like the Jewish-giants or the solomonari with "red hair", in the main ethnographic regions of the Romanian space, can demonstrate the fact that this territory was under the direct control of the Khazar Empire that probably owned it either partly or totally for a limited period of time. Moreover, still in Oltenia, "Avraam is the name of a dough-twist made for funerals."[6] I want to draw your attention here to another ethnographic element, concerning the Szeklers this time. Szeklers have a type of funerary monument represented by a wooden pillar made of hardwood (in order to last as long as possible), in which were sculpted, using various symbols, the most important events (successes or failures) from the life of the deceased; these types of messages can be decoded only inside the community, and a most of their meaning was lost. In the Szekler cemetery of Sfantu Gheorghe we saw such impressive monuments, many of a recent date. It seems to be a Turanian tradition, because Khazars also "carved on their sticks the crucial events of their lives, and those notes had the form of animals that symbolized states of mind, not events. The animal that most often appeared on the stick gave then the form of the tomb of the owner of that stick." All these mythological or cultural symbols are of course the remains of a possible direct Khazar influence in the Romanian territory, either through a period of temporary domination, or through a lengthy cohabitation which followed the period of domination. Although it is not the object of this paper, we should remember that many recent opinions regarding the ethnogenesis of eastern Jewry maintain the important role of the Khazar element. In fact, it was a syncretism, and a lengthy process of acculturation, that took place over a vast area of Central Europe. According to David Keys, in the 9th-to-13th centuries, on the background of the dismembering of the Khazar state and of the invasions of the Cuman and Mongolian hordes that followed, a great number of Khazar refugees and influential Khazar groups that professed Judaism migrated to the east of Europe, where they mingled with other Semitic Jewish groups from the East, from Germany, and from northern Italy. A similar standpoint is presented by Kevin Alan Brook and by the historian Victor Neumann. In the end, we have the unsolved problem of the ethnographic identification of the Romanian legend mentioned by Baron and Koestler. Fairy tales and Romanian mythology, as well as a series of toponyms, remind us of the presence of Khazar Jews in the main Romanian ethnographic regions. The invasion of Khazar Jews probably happened either through a periodic penetration of the Eastern Carpathians, or the other way around, through Mures river valley, from Hungary. There is still of course the variant of the penetration through the Southern Carpathians, in the direction of Oltenia, where the image of the giant Jews that lived in the mountains from ancient times persists. Another passage where Khazar armies started military campaigns to control it is the line of the lower Danube and of the middle Danube, up to Hungary – an old commercial route. So, it seems that the entire Romanian space was somehow affected by the Khazar presence, and the legend of the invasion probably refers to this reality. These short historical and ethnographic considerations can be made complete with field research in all the Romanian ethnographic regions, because, except for the brief research of Lazar Saineanu, no extensive work on this topic has been done yet.
[1] Mioara Cremene, Initiatory Dictionary of Knights' Orders, Universal Dalsi Publishing House, Bucharest, 1998, p. 449[2] Lazar Saineanu, A Philological Career (1885-1900). The History of an Uprooting. An Autobiographic Memoir, Bucharest, 1901, pp. 17-18[3] Lazar Saineanu, A Page of Medieval History. A Historical-Linguistic Incursion. The Jews or the Tatars or the Giants, Literary Conversations, XXI, 1887, Bucharest, p. 523[4] Raphael Patai and Jennifer Patai, The Myth of the Jewish Race, Detroit, MI., Wayne State University Press, 1989, p. 26[5] Lazar Saineanu, The Anthropological Importance of Fairy-tales, in Romanian Fairy-tales, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1978, pp. 24-25[6] Ion Ghinoiu, Celebrations and Customs, vol. I, Oltenia, Enciclopedica Publishing House, Bucharest, 2001, p. 371

by Adrian Majuru (b. 1968)