But in the later Middle Ages things become more complicated by the rise and fall of Jewish settlements all over the territories of the former Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and the Balkans. Thus not only Vienna and Prague had a considerable Jewish population, but there are no less than five places called Judendorf, “Jew-village”, in the Carinthian Alps, and more Judenburgs and Judenstadts in the mountains of Styria. By the end of the fifteenth century, the Jews were expelled from both provinces, and went to Italy, Poland and Hungary; but where did they originally come from? Certainly not from the West. As Mieses put it in his survey of these scattered communities:
The missing link in this enumeration is, once again, Khazaria, which, as we have seen earlier on, served as a receptacle and transit-station for Jews emigrating from Byzantium and the Caliphate. Mieses has acquired great merit in refuting the legend of the Rhenish origin of Eastern Jewry, but he, too, knew little of Khazar history, and was unaware of its demographic importance. However, he may have been right in suggesting an Italian component among the immigrants to Austria.
Italy was not only quasi-saturated with Jews since Roman times, but, like Khazaria, also received its share of immigrants from Byzantium. So here we might have a trickle of “genuine” Jews of Semitic origin into Eastern Europe; yet it could not have been more than a trickle, for there is no trace in the records of any substantial immigration of Italian Jews into Austria, whereas there is plenty of evidence of a reverse migration of Jews into Italy after their expulsion from the Alpine provinces at the end of the fifteenth century.
Details like this tend to blur
the picture, and make one wish that the Jews had gone to Poland on
board the Mayflower, with all the records neatly kept. Yet the
broad outlines of the migratory process are nevertheless
discernible. The Alpine settlements were in all likelihood westerly
offshoots of the general Khazar migration toward Poland, which was
spread over several centuries and followed several different routes
— through the Ukraine, the Slavonic regions north of Hungary,
perhaps also through the Balkans. A Rumanian legend tells of an
invasion — the date unknown — of armed Jews into that country.
The list gives not only their alleged names, some of which have a distinctly Ural-Altaian ring, but also the length of their rule and the place where they are buried; thus: “Sennan, ruled 45 years, buried at the Stubentor in Vienna; Zippan, 43 years, buried in Tulln”; and so on, including names like Lapton, Ma‘alon, Raptan, Rabon, Effra, Sameck, etc. After these Jews came five pagan princes, followed by Christian rulers. The legend is repeated, with some variations, in the Latin histories of Austria by Henricus Gundelfingus, 1474, and by several others, the last one being Anselmus Schram’s Flores Chronicorum Austriae, 1702 (who still seems to have believed in its authenticity). How could this fantastic tale have originated?
Let us listen to Mieses again:
As already mentioned, Mieses is rather inclined to underestimate the Khazar contribution to Jewish history, but even so he hit on the only plausible hypothesis which could explain the origin of the persistent legend. One may even venture to be a little more specific. For more than half a century — up to AD 955 — Austria, as far west as the river Enns, was under Hungarian domination. The Magyars had arrived in their new country in 896, together with the Kabar-Khazar tribes who were influential in the nation.
The Hungarians at the time were not yet converted to
Christianity (that happened only a century later, AD 1000) and the
only monotheistic religion familiar to them was Khazar Judaism.
There may have been one or more tribal chieftains among them who
practised a Judaism of sorts — we remember the Byzantine chronicler,
John Cinnamus, mentioning Jewish troops fighting in the Hungarian
army. Thus there may have been some substance to the legend —
particularly if we remember that the Hungarians were still in their
savage raiding period, the scourge of Europe. To be under their
dominion was certainly a traumatic experience which the Austrians
were unlikely to forget. It all fits rather nicely.
Now that it is dying out, it has become a subject of much academic research in the United States and Israel, but until well into the twentieth century it was considered by Western linguists as merely an odd jargon, hardly worth serious study. As H. Smith remarked:
At first glance the prevalence of German loanwords in Yiddish seems to contradict our main thesis on the origins of Eastern Jewry; we shall see presently that the opposite is true, but the argument involves several steps. The first is to inquire what particular kind of regional German dialect went into the Yiddish vocabulary. Nobody before Mieses seems to have paid serious attention to this question; it is to his lasting merit to have done so, and to have come up with a conclusive answer. Based on the study of the vocabulary, phonetics and syntax of Yiddish as compared with the main German dialects in the Middle Ages, he concludes:
He then quotes, among other examples of historic fallacies, the case of the Gypsies, who were regarded as an offshoot from Egypt, “until linguistics showed that they come from India”. Having disposed of the alleged Western origin of the Germanic element in Yiddish, Mieses went on to show that the dominant influence in it are the so-called “East-Middle German” dialects which were spoken in the Alpine regions of Austria and Bavaria roughly up to the fifteenth century.
In other words, the German component which went into the hybrid Jewish language originated in the eastern regions of Germany, adjacent to the Slavonic belt of Eastern Europe. Thus the evidence from linguistics supports the historical record in refuting the misconception of the Franco-Rhenish origins of Eastern Jewry. But this negative evidence does not answer the question how an East-Middle German dialect combined with Hebrew and Slavonic elements became the common language of that Eastern Jewry, the majority of which we assume to have been of Khazar origin. In attempting to answer this question, several factors have to be taken into consideration.
First, the evolution of Yiddish was a long and complex process, which presumably started in the fifteenth century or even earlier; yet it remained for a long time a spoken language, a kind of lingua franca, and appears in print only in the nineteenth century. Before that, it had no established grammar, and,
Thus Yiddish grew, through the centuries, by a kind of untrammelled proliferation, avidly absorbing from its social environments such words, phrases, idiomatic expressions as best served its purpose as a lingua franca. But the culturally and socially dominant element in the environment of mediaeval Poland were the Germans. They alone, among the immigrant populations, were economically and intellectually more influential than the Jews.
We have seen that from the early days of the Piast dynasty, and particularly under Casimir the Great, everything was done to attract immigrants to colonize the land and build “modern” cities. Casimir was said to have “found a country of wood and left a country of stone”. But these new cities of stone, such as Krakau (Cracow) or Lemberg (Lwow) were built and ruled by German immigrants, living under the so-called Magdeburg law, i.e., enjoying a high degree of municipal self-government. Altogether not less than four million Germans are said to have immigrated into Poland, providing it with an urban middleclass that it had not possessed before.
As Poliak has put it, comparing the German to the Khazar immigration into Poland:
Not only the educated bourgeoisie, but the clergy too, was predominantly German — a natural consequence of Poland opting for Roman Catholicism and turning toward Western civilization, just as the Russian clergy after Vladimir’s conversion to Greek orthodoxy was predominantly Byzantine. Secular culture followed along the same lines, in the footsteps of the older Western neighbour. The first Polish university was founded in 1364 in Cracow, then a predominantly German city. As Kutschera, the Austrian, has put it, rather smugly:
Not exactly modest, but essentially true. One remembers the high esteem for German Kultur among nineteenth-century Russian intellectuals. It is easy to see why Khazar immigrants pouring into mediaeval Poland had to learn German if they wanted to get on. Those who had close dealings with the native populace no doubt also had to learn some pidgin Polish (or Lithuanian, or Ukrainian or Slovene); German, however, was a prime necessity in any contact with the towns.
But there was also the synagogue and the study of the Hebrew thorah. One can visualize a shtetl craftsman, a cobbler perhaps, or a timber merchant, speaking broken German to his clients, broken Polish to the serfs on the estate next door; and at home mixing the most expressive bits of both with Hebrew into a kind of intimate private language. How this hotchpotch became communalized and standardized to the extent to which it did, is any linguist’s guess; but at least one can discern some further factors which facilitated the process.
Among the later immigrants to Poland there were also, as we have seen, a certain number of “real” Jews from the Alpine countries, Bohemia and eastern Germany. Even if their number was relatively small, these German-speaking Jews were superior in culture and learning to the Khazars, just as the German Gentiles were culturally superior to the Poles. And just as the Catholic clergy was German, so the Jewish rabbis from the West were a powerful factor in the Germanization of the Khazars, whose Judaism was fervent but primitive. To quote Poliak again:
A rabbinical tract from seventeenth-century Poland contains the pious wish: “May God will that the country be filled with wisdom and that all Jews speak German.” Characteristically, the only sector among the Khazarian Jews in Poland which resisted both the spiritual and worldly temptations offered by the German language were the Karaites, who rejected both rabbinical learning and material enrichment. Thus they never took to Yiddish.
According to the first all-Russian census in 1897, there were 12894 Karaite Jews living in the Tsarist Empire (which, of course, included Poland). Of these 9666 gave Turkish as their mother tongue (i.e., presumably their original Khazar dialect), 2632 spoke Russian, and only 383 spoke Yiddish. The Karaite sect, however, represents the exception rather than the rule. In general, immigrant populations settling in a new country tend to shed their original language within two or three generations and adopt the language of their new country.
The American grandchildren of immigrants from Eastern Europe never learn to speak Polish or Ukrainian, and find the jabber-wocky of their grandparents rather comic. It is difficult to see how historians could ignore the evidence for the Khazar migration into Poland on the grounds that more than half a millennium later they speak a different language. Incidentally, the descendants of the biblical Tribes are the classic example of linguistic adaptability.
they spoke Hebrew; in the Babylonian exile, Chaldean; at the time of
Jesus, Aramaic; in Alexandria, Greek; in Spain, Arabic, but later
Ladino — a Spanish-Hebrew mixture, written in Hebrew characters, the
Sephardi equivalent of Yiddish; and so it goes on. They preserved
their religious identity, but changed languages at their
convenience. The Khazars were not descended from the Tribes, but, as
we have seen, they shared a certain cosmopolitanism and other social
characteristics with their co-religionists.
Poliak quotes as indirect evidence a certain Joseph Barbaro of Venice, who lived in Tana (an Italian merchant colony on the Don estuary) from 1436 to 1452, and who wrote that his German servant could converse with a Goth from the Crimea just as a Florentine could understand the language of an Italian from Genoa. As a matter of fact, the Gothic language survived in the Crimea (and apparently nowhere else) at least to the middle of the sixteenth century. At that time the Habsburg ambassador in Constantinople, Ghiselin de Busbeck, met people from the Crimea, and made a list of words from the Gothic that they spoke. (This Busbeck must have been a remarkable man, for it was he who first introduced the lilac and tulip from the Levant to Europe.)
Poliak considers this vocabulary to be close to the
Middle High German elements found in Yiddish. He thinks the Crimean
Goths kept contact with other Germanic tribes and that their
language was influenced by them. Whatever one may think of it, it is
a hypothesis worth the linguist’s attention.
Now, however, these “ideal” ordinances were ruthlessly enforced: residential segregation, sexual apartheid, exclusion from all respected positions and occupations; wearing of distinctive clothes: yellow badge and conical headgear. In 1555 Pope Paul IV in his bull cum nimis absurdum insisted on the strict and consistent enforcement of earlier edicts, confining Jews to closed ghettoes. A year later the Jews of Rome were forcibly transferred. All Catholic countries, where Jews still enjoyed relative freedom of movement, had to follow the example.
In Poland, the honeymoon period inaugurated by Casimir the Great had lasted longer than elsewhere, but by the end of the sixteenth century it had run its course. The Jewish communities, now confined to shtetl and ghetto, became overcrowded, and the refugees from the Cossack massacres in the Ukrainian villages under Chmelnicky (see above, V, 5) led to a rapid deterioration of the housing situation and economic conditions. The result was a new wave of massive emigration into Hungary, Bohemia, Rumania and Germany, where the Jews who had all but vanished with the Black Death were still thinly spread.
Thus the great trek to the West was resumed.
It was to continue through nearly three centuries until the Second
World War, and became the principal source of the existing Jewish
communities in Europe, the United States and Israel. When its rate
of flow slackened, the pogroms of the nineteenth century provided a
new impetus. “The second Western movement,” writes Roth (dating the
first from the destruction of Jerusalem), “which continued into the
twentieth century, may be said to begin with the deadly Chmelnicky
massacres of 1648-49 in Poland.”
When that unprecedented mass-settlement in Poland came into beng, there were simply not enough Jews around in the west to account for it; while in the east a whole nation was on the move to new frontiers. It would of course be foolish to deny that Jews of different origin also contributed to the existing Jewish world-community. The numerical ratio of the Khazar to the Semitic and other contributions is impossible to establish.
But the cumulative evidence makes one inclined to agree with the concensus of Polish historians that “in earlier times the main bulk originated from the Khazar country”; and that, accordingly, the Khazar contribution to the genetic make-up of the Jews must be substantial, and in all likelihood dominant.