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XIX century Tiflis Post Card


From the chronicles of Georgia, the arrival of the first Jews in Georgia is linked to the destruction of the First Temple (586 BCE), when Georgia was ruled by the Byzantine EmpireUnder the feudal system, that existed in Georgia during Middle ages up until the middle of the 19th century, Georgian Jews belonged to the serf class – kamani – persons having a master.  This class included peasants, craftsmen, and petty traders and were not allowed to have their own property.  The Jews of Georgia spoke Georgian to which they added Hebrew words.

In 1801 Russian Empire annexed Georgia.  The 1804 decree included the Caucasus in the Pale of Jewish Settlement (Yiddishדער תּחום-המושבֿder tkhum-ha-moyshəv). 

In the first decade of the 19th century Russian government forcefully settled Russian Ashkenazi Jews in Georgia, but in the following years The Ministry of the Internal Affairs in St. Petersburg issued multiple expulsion decrees for Jews: in 1827, and later in 1835 and 1847.  As the result, by mid-century there were only several dozen Ashkenazi Jewish families in Tbilisi.   In 1852 the government once again allowed Russian Jews to settle in Georgia, although with many restrictions. Nonetheless, the number of Ashkenazy Jews in the country grew steadily.  Attracted by many economic opportunities and mild climate, Ashkenazi Jews usually arrived with the temporary residence permit, that have been issued to the specialists in demand, like professional artisan artists, and later to former soldiers of the Tsar Nicholas’s army, as they weren’t prohibited from the living outside the Pale.

In 1864-71, the Russian authorities abolished serfdom.  The economic growth in Georgia during the second half of the 19th century contributed to a class of medium and large merchants among the Jews.  At that time population of the Jews in Tbilisi grew significantly.

The Georgian Jews traditionally lived separately, not only from the surrounding Georgian people, but also from the Ashkenazi Jews in Tbilisiwho had different practices and language.  The Ashkenazi Jews viewed Georgian Jews as primitive and ignorant. The Georgians, in turn, kept aloof from the Ashkenazim, whom they viewed as godless and secular, the transgressors of Jewish law.

In 1897 the first Zionist organization in Georgia was founded in Tbilisi.   It became the first united cause for the Georgian Jews and Ashkenazi Jews.  It was mostly supported ty the Ashkenazi Jews, while the Georgian Jews continued with the more traditional way of life.  The first Congress of Caucasus Zionists was held in Tbilisi on Aug. 20, 1901 and became an important landmark.  In 1917 a school with a Hebrew and Zionist orientation was founded in Tbilisi.


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