Bukharan Jews and the Dynamics of Global Judaism

Bukharan Jews and the Dynamics of Global Judaism

Alanna E. Cooper
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 12/07/2012
Format: Paperback 13 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-00650-9
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Part ethnography, part history, and part memoir, this volume chronicles the complex past and dynamic present of an ancient Mizrahi community. While intimately tied to the Central Asian landscape, the Jews of Bukhara have also maintained deep connections to the wider Jewish world. As the community began to disperse after the fall of the Soviet Union, Alanna E. Cooper traveled to Uzbekistan to document Jewish life before it disappeared. Drawing on ethnographic research there as well as among immigrants to the US and Israel, Cooper tells an intimate and personal story about what it means to be Bukharan Jewish. Together with her historical research about a series of dramatic encounters between Bukharan Jews and Jews in other parts of the world, this lively narrative illuminates the tensions inherent in maintaining Judaism as a single global religion over the course of its long and varied diaspora history.

Author Bio

Alanna E. Cooper is an anthropologist and cultural historian who has held research and teaching positions at Boston University, University of Massachusetts, University of Michigan, and Harvard University's Center for the Study of World Religions. Her publications have appeared in the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Review of Books, Anthropology of East Europe Review, Jewish Social Studies, and AJS Review.


“Drawing on ethnographic research in Uzbekistan, as well as among immigrants to the US and Israel, Alanna E. Cooper tells an intimate and personal story about what it means to be Bukharan Jewish.”

“Innovative and thought provoking, this well researched and well constructed book . . . provides a valuable contribution to the understanding of the dynamics of Jewish identities. . . . The Bukharan Jewish community can be taken as a case study of Jewish diasporic dynamics and forces. The book demonstrates and analyzes—both historically and ethnographically—the mechanisms that underlie the sense of oneness between the Bukharan Jews and Jewish communities in other cultural contexts. ”
 — Hagar Salamon, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

“With the eyes of an anthropologist attuned to history, Alanna Cooper provides a path into the past, culture, and evolving identities of Bukharan Jews as they became enmeshed in global forces from the 19th century onward. The book's journey of discovery leads to a grasp of Jewish social and religious life that is transnational in its scope. Cooper's interweaving of anthropology and history contributes to a robust and expanding paradigm of Jewish Studies.”
 — Harvey E. Goldberg, editor of Sephardi and Middle Eastern Jewries (IUP, 1996)

“Every serious student of Jewish history should read this book.”
 — Jewish Link

“Overall, Bukharan Jews and the Dynamics of Global Judaism contributes to the growing field of Jewish ethnography, especially in its concentration on an understudied Jewish group that reveals the significance of contestation to understanding diaspora communities. Methodologically, Cooper's focus on contestations and conversations and her incorporation of historiographic material in addition to ethnographic work are also valuable. This ethnography will be of particular interest to students and scholars of the anthropology of Jews, Jewish studies more broadly, and diaspora and migration studies.”
 — American Ethnologist

“Bukharan Jews and the Dynamics of Global Judaism is written in an engaging style, not laden with jargon or with so much detail as to lose the inattentive reader. Cooper situates her work within Jewish studies, but she provides enough explanation of her key interests and questions that a reader who knows little about Judaism will still find the work very accessible. Likewise, non-anthropologists will find her explanations of method and theory to be useful and easily understood.”
 — Nationalities Papers

“Based on a wealth of different kinds of source materials and together with the challenging questions she raises, Cooper produces a broad and interesting picture of a lesser-studied and understood group of Jews, which despite a common name are becoming distinguished units based on location, the length of time they have been living there and outside influences. ”
 — AJL Reviews

“[T]his is a readable, illuminating, and in many ways pathbreaking book. . . . Highly recommended. ”
 — Choice

“By considering a community at the 'periphery' of the Jewish world, Cooper aims to reflect on the wider faith and culture.8/9/13”
 — Times Literary Supplement

“Bukharan Jews and the Dynamics of Global Judaism is an important contribution to Jewish Studies, shining a light on a neglected area of the Jewish world that deserves more attention.”
 — Journal of Folklore Research

“Bukharan Jews and the dynamics of global Judaism makes an original and exciting contribution to the anthropology of Jewish communities and promises to become an important reference-point in social studies of Judaism. Alanna Cooper’s engaging study of the Bukharan Jews (or the Jews of Central Asia) takes the reader on a journey throughout the centuries and discusses a wide range of issues in the history and anthropology both of this specific community and of Judaism in general.”
 — Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“It is a rare edited volume that keeps readers moving from chapter to chapter like a single-author book, but that is precisely what 'Ethnographies of the State in Central Asia' accomplishes. Including authors from a range of academic fields, it is positioned as a contribution to the interdisciplinary body of literature on ethnographically analysing ‘the state’, and incorporates rich and engaging case studies from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Xinjiang.”
 — Central Asian Survey

“[This] book is an important work that offers readers a insightful perspective of a Jewish group as it is transformed and shaped. . . The book is well written, well argued, and very readable. It will definitely become a must read in curricula dealing not only with Jewish studies but nationalities, Diaspora, and minorities studies as well. ”
 — H-Judaic

“Much interest will be provoked by this book in the transformation of Bukharan Jewish self-identity and especially the varieties of their Jewishness. Within these wide categories, this beautifully presented and well-written monograph adds to our understanding of this community. ”
 — Slavic Review

“This study of the Jewish communities of Central Asia—primarily the cities of Tashkent, Bukhara, and Samarkand, and smaller surrounding settlements—is an impressive synthesis of ethnography and cultural history. It is the product of many years of patient interviews, participant observation, and archival research. ”
 — AJS Review

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Table of Contents

Preface: Reining in Diaspora's Margins
Part 1. Introduction
1. First Encounter: Bukharan Jewish Immigrants in an Ashkenazi School in New York
2. Writing Bukharan Jewish History: Memory, Authority, and Peoplehood
Part 2. Eighteenth-Century Conversations
3. An Emissary from the Holy Land in Central Asia
4. Revisiting the Story of the Emissary from the Holy Land
Part 3. Nineteenth-Century Conversations
5. Russian Colonialism and Central Asian Jewish Routes
6. A Matter of Meat: Local and Global Religious Leaders in Conversation
7. Building a Neighborhood and Constructing Bukharan Jewish Identity
Part 4. Twentieth-Century Conversations
8. Local Jewish Forms
9. International Jewish Organizations Encounter Local Jewish Community Life
10. Varieties of Bukharan Jewishness
11. Negotiating Authenticity and Identity: Bukharan Jews Encounter Each Other and the Self
12. Jewish History as a Conversation

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