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The Jews of Khazaria

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The Jews of Khazaria, Second Edition. By Kevin Alan Brook. (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Lanham, Maryland: 2006. Pg. xi, 164.) ISBN 10: 0-7425-4981-X. ISBN 13: 978-0-7425-4981-4.

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - March 5, 2007

The Khazars were a people who dwelt in an area that covered parts of modern day Ukraine and Russia. In the 9th century, led by King Bulan, a large portion of the Khazarian royal family converted to Judaism, a move that was soon, voluntarily, followed by many in the elite and common classes. What followed was a long period in which the Khazars were ruled by a series of Jewish Kings, and in which the Khazars created and lived in a thriving Jewish civilization. In The Jews of Khazaria, Kevin Alan Brook, a renowned scholar who has extensively studied the Khazars, examines the history and culture of Khazaria.

Using all the latest archaeological and documentary evidence, Brook has crafted a detailed and academically rigorous overview of Khazar civilization. He details their religious, economic, military, political, and cultural life. He also provides a survey of their origins, how they came to convert to Judaism, and the impact that they had on the region and beyond. This second edition of The Jews of Khazaria has been updated to included some major developments in the field of Khazar studies that have occurred since the book was first published in 1999.

With exception of books that focus on the Khazars' conversion to Judaism, such as The Kuzari by Rabbi Yehudah ha-Levi, little has been written about the totality of Khazarian history, until recently. As our understanding of the Khazars' impact on a number of civilizations, including the Magyars, Rus, and Bulgars, and with new archaeological discoveries, the study of the Khazars has attracted a number of scholars from around the world. To the best of my knowledge, Brook's book is the first, readily available, comprehensive academic overview of the Khazaria to be published in English. It is also a remarkably accessible book that will prove invaluable to scholars and laymen alike.

The Jews of Khazaria includes extensive chapter notes, as well as a detailed and up-to-date bibliography that can easily be used as a starting point for further study on this intriguing subject. Brook has also included an invaluable timeline of key moments in Khazarian history that runs from the 6th century through the 16th century, as well as a glossary and list of Khazarian personal names. Brook also offers an overview of other renowned cases wherein various groups converted to Judaism.

The Jews of Khazaria is an edifying book that will be well received in university classes covering a range of topics from Jewish and Slavic studies to anthropology and cultural history courses. This book is also a 'must read' book for anyone interested in exploring this interesting and little known aspect of Jewish history. For those seeking to learn more about the Khazar, Brook maintains a website at: www.khazaria.com, which is the internet home of the American Center of Khazar Studies.

Related Reviews:

Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, by Israel Abrahams.
A sweeping social history of Jewish life in Europe during the Middle Ages.

Jewish Travellers in the Middle Ages, Edited by Elkan Nathan Adler.
19 firsthand accounts of Jewish travel during the Middle Ages that were written between 801 and 1755. The accounts touch upon Jewish life in Europe, Africa, and the Near East.

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