Manuscript Siddur in Cyrillic Characters, Uzbekistan, 1986
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In the 1980s, Jewish activists in the Soviet Union began to conduct underground Hebrew classes and even acquired a limited quantity of prayer books. But several generations had never been taught the Hebrew language, and when younger people felt a need to pray, they could not read the traditional liturgy. One solution was for a more knowledgeable community member to borrow one of the few prayer books, copy it by hand, and add Cyrillic transliteration (the alphabet used by many Slavic people) and vernacular translation. Such is the background of this 1986 manuscript prayer book from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, with a Bukharan translation—written just a few years before the Soviet Union was dissolved and Jewish communal organizations were allowed to reopen.
The deeply traditional Bukharan Jewish community, steeped in Jewish practice and the local dialect of Judeo-Persian, faced a deep crisis with the rise of Communism in the region in 1920. While these Jews held a profound commitment to tradition, observance, and Scripture, the Soviet regime persecuted religion in general and Judaism in particular. It was primarily older community members, who had grown up without Soviet control, who held on to knowledge of Hebrew and Judaism, and, under these circumstances, continued to preserve the ancient and medieval tradition of the Jewish manuscript late into the modern period.
Prayer book in Cyrillic, Volume 2, non-numbered title page, Ms. Heb. 28° 7357.
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Photography by Ardon Bar-Hama.
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