Located between Russia and Turkey, at the intersection of Europe and Asia, Georgia was, until the mid-1800s, a place of relatively little anti-Semitism. According to tradition, Jews first arrived in Georgia in ancient times, either with the banishment of the Ten Tribes (722 BCE) or shortly after the destruction of the First Temple (586 BCE).

Situated on a narrow strip of land between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, Georgia’s history is rife with conquest. In the 6th century it was controlled by the Byzantines in the west and the Persians in the east. Then the Muslims came and ruled the area until the 12th century, when the Mongols invaded from the east. Most of Georgia’s Jews, along with many others, relocated west and south. There they formed small, impoverished communities along the Black Sea. This poverty led to the Jews becoming a class of serfs known as the Kamani. Under the complete control of their feudal landlords, they were often “sold” or “gifted” between territorial rulers. Their lowly status, however, had little to do with differences in faith, but rather with the social-economic structure of society.

The Russian annexation of Georgia in 1801, marked a new era for the country and for Georgian Jews. While the Russians eventually abolished serfdom, the Georgian population was deeply resentful of the annexation, and anti-Semitism became an outlet for their anger. Between 1852 and 1884, there were six prominent blood libels in Georgia. Additionally, Russian Ashkenazi Jews, who were mostly secular, were forced to resettle in Georgia, creating an antagonism with the more traditional Georgian Jews.

From 1918 until 1921, Georgia was briefly independent, until the Red Army invaded. There were several more blood libels. In 1927, the Soviet government attempted to establish a number of Jewish collective farms, but dismantled them after several years when they realized that the traditional Georgian Jews were using the farms as shelters in which to pursue Jewish studies unobserved.

Georgia gained its independence on April 9, 1991. By then, many of its Jews had already made Aliyah to Israel.

This Treat was originally posted April 9, 2018.

Copyright © 2021 NJOP. All rights reserved