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The ancient history of Jewish settlement in the Crimea (in Russian, “Krym”) dates back over 2,000 years to the time of the Bosporan Kingdom, a Roman client state (438 BC-370 AD). From the eighth to the tenth centuries, the Crimea fell within the legendary Khazar kingdom in which Judaism was an official religion, although no genealogical connection between the Khazari and the Crimean Jews has ever been established. A continuous Jewish presence in the Crimea during the modern ages is documented from the 14th century onward. Following Russian occupation of the Crimean peninsula in 1790, Crimean Jews became known as Jews-Krymchaks and thereafter, until today, they are simply described as Krymchaks.
[Due to the tremendous interest in the political crisis in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine, Avotaynu has adapted this article first published by Igor Kotler in the Spring 1989 edition of AVOTAYNU. The editors would be very interested in learning of any DNA or other recent projects shedding further light on the origins of the Krymchaks.]
During the 14th Century there were at least three different (Ashkenazi, Persian, and Romaniot) Jewish communities in the Crimea as well as a Karaite community. At the end of the 15th or the beginning of the 16th century, Makhzor Minhag Kaffa (Prayer Book of the Kafa Custom) was created by Rabbi Moshe ben Yaakov (Moshe HaGolah), incorporating the different traditions of the disparate Crimean Jewish communities, thereby consolidated all Jews of the peninsula. In more recent centuries, Crimean Jews have followed Sephardi religious tradition.
Until recent years, the spoken language of Krymchaks has been, and continues to be, their special dialect of the Crimean Tatar language, while Hebrew is used for religious and community purposes. During the 20th Century, as a result of Russian and Nazi persecution (70% of Krymchaks (5,600) perished in the Shoah), the Krymchak is known only among elderly, and the Russian language prevails.
Table 1. Estimate Krymchak Population
Krymchak Population Living Within the Crimea
In the late Middle Ages and in modern times, Krymchaks have lived in Evpatoria, Fcodosia, Knrasubazar (now Helogorsk), Mangup, and Solkhat (now Staryi Krym). In the 19th century, many of them moved to Simferopol and Odessa. Now approximately half of them live in the Crimea (500 in Simferopol, others in Sevastopol, Kerch. Feodosia), while the other half lives out of the Crimea, in Sukhumi, Novorossii.sk, Moscow, and Leningrad.
Origins of the Krymchaks
For more than a century, scholars have pondered the origins of Crimean Jewry, without reaching any firm conclusions. Karaite Jews have argued in the past that the Krymchaks were simply a group of Karaites converted to Talmudic Judaism. Others argue that the Krymchaks are descendants of the Khazari. After World War II, the Khazari theory surprisingly appeared among some Krymchaks themselves in an effort to avoid the persecution associated with Soviet passports marked “Jewish”. The Soviet authorities, as a rule, supported the revisionist theories as it was official policy to discourage Jewish identity generally.
My research suggests that the Krymchaks were likely of Ashkenazi, Romaniote, or Persian origin and that after the creation of the Minhag Kafa, a new Crimean-based Jewish identity appeared, which included a friendly attitude to subesequent waves of Jewish migration to the Crimea from throughout the Diaspora, as reflected in family names, family legends, compromise religious traditions.
Determining Origins on the Basis of the Landmark 1913 Jewish Community Census
Lacking ancient records, I have used onomastics and genealogy to try to illuminate the origins of the Krymchaks. The first Krymchak family names appeared in the 15thCentury, and new names continued to appear up until the 1880s. Literary, oral, scholarly, and archival sources made it possible to collect almost all Krymchak family names, a total of 114, many of which include alternative Russian transliteration. Perhaps the main sources of names was the fascinating Krymchak community census of 1913 which is preserved in the St Petersburg Museum of Ethnography. This census, organized by the community leaders, included materials on about 5,500 Krymchaks from 19 different settlements in the Crimea and South Russia. In the census, there were questions about legends on family origins, responses to which provided a treasure trove of information about Krymchak family names.
The origins of most Krymchak family names can be traced to many different languages: Hebrew, Arabic, Turkic, Romanic, Slavic, and Yiddish. A few are toponymical (related to place names).
Table 2. Language Distribution of Krymchak family names
Semitic (Hebrew, Arabic)
Family names of Hebrew origin may be separated into five categories:
Jewish community roles: Kogen, Levi, Gabai, Nccman, Khakham.
Ethnonymical (names of peoples and tribes): Ashkenazi, Mizrakhi.
The last name Ashkenazi has existed among Crimean Jews since the 15th century. The surname Mizrakhi is widespread among Jews of the Balkans, Minor and Central Asia, and the Near Fast since the 14th century.” At the beginning of the 20th century, Krymchaks still had legends that bearers of the name Mizrakhi were descendants of Jews who came from Persia and Turkey.”
Linguistic and historical analysis of Hebrew family names suggests that rather having a single origin (i.e., the Khazari), Krymchak surnames can be traced to widely separated segments of the Jewish Diaspora, including Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Caucasian, and Crimean origins. Some examples:
Ashkenazi. The families Sholom and Peisakh are probably of Ashkenazi origin, because for Sephardi Jews these forms have to be Shalom and Pcsakh.7 Neiman and Kogan arc also Ashkenazi.
Sephardi. Avraben and Tabon
Turkic. Ahrashov, Meieshevich, and Yusufov are Crimean, coming from Turkic forms of the Hebrew names Avraham, Matatia, and Yoscf.
Arabic. Masot is of Arabic origin, being a Sephardi form of the Arabic name Masud.
Caucusus. By family legends, Abacv and Nisimovich are from the Caucasus* and therefore might be connected with Tatar-spcaking mountain Jews.
The etymology of Krymchak surnames also reveals a direct connection to the various segments of Diaspora.
All Krymchaks who were traditionally of Ashkenazi origin were named Ashkinazi. Some family names originating in Hebrew and Crimean Tatar that were considered Ashkenazi include Borukhov, Bokhor, Zengin, Kaia, Kokush. Kolpakchi, Neiman, Khafuz, Khondu, Cholak, and Chibar. The origin of the family name l.ekhno, appearing not later then the 17th century, is probably Ashkcnazi.
Sephardim (Italian, French, Ladino)
Family names etymologized on the basis of the Romance languages are 20% of all surnames in the sample and more than 10% of the bearers. Family names Andzhel, Konort, and Lombroso came from Spanish and Ladino; Konfino, Piastro, and Trevgoda are from Italian; Peazhe is from French. Some of these family names appeared among Krymchaks not later than the beginning of the 18th century.” All their bearers have Sephardi origin. In 1913, six families pointed to Spain or Italy as the countries of their origin, and three families pointed to Turkey.”
Family names etymologized on the basis of Yiddish (6% of surnames and about 4% of the bearers in 1913), as well as Berman, Gutman, Mudel, Fisher, Flisfeder, and others came as a result of Ashkenazi migration from Eastern Europe to the Crimea. The surname Berman had already appeared among Krymchaks by the beginning of the 18thcentury, while other last names came much later.
Family names etymologized on the basis of the Slavic (Russian and Ukrainian) languages (2.5% of surnames and 0.2% of the bearers): Lobak, Solov’iov, Turkin, and Chernov reached Krymchaks through Ashkenazi Jews.
Among the family names based on the Crimean Tartar language, two of them, Gurdzhi and Lekhno, deserve mention. The family name Gurdzhi reflects the integration of Jewish migrants from the Caucasus (most likely Georgia) with Krymchaks. Its family bearers’ legends described in the 1913 census confirm this.
Last, toponymical family names (8% of surnames and 12% of the bearers) connect mainly with Ashkenazi and Sephardi subgroups. The surname Gota is spread among Sephards in Turkey.” The surnames Izmerli, Stamboli, and Tokatly came from cities Izmir, Istanbul, and Tokat which had sizable Sephardi communities in the late Middle Ages and in modern times.” The family names Bershadsky, Veinberg, Varshavsky, Lipshits, Lurie, and others appeared on the basis of various toponyms of Central and Eastern Europe coming to Krymchaks from Ashkenazi Jews. The family name Mangupli is the only one formed from the Crimean toponym Mangup, a town in which Krymchaks lived until the end of the 18th century.*’ The existence of the double family name Mangupli-Ashkenazi suggests that some of its bearers must have had Ashkenazi origin.
A relatively recent Turkic influence is illuminated by an analysis of double surnames
Turkic language surnames among the Krymchak may be grouped into the following
By professions and occupations: Atar, Bakshi, Biberdzhi, Saraf, Taukchi.
By physical or personal trails: Karagioz, Kokoz, Kossc, Khafuz, Chibar.
From proper names: Valit and Khondo.
Ethnonymical: Gurdzhi and Lckhno.
Though the first family names of Turkic origin, such as Kokoz and probably Bakshi, appeared in the 15th Century, the majority of Turkic family names were created in the 19th and early 20th centuries on the basis of the Crimean Tatar language. This conclusion comes from analysis of the Krymchak double family names found in the materials of 1913. Double-surnames began to be used in the middle of the 19th Century, apparently in connection with a need to officially differentiate among the many Krymchak families with prestigious older surnames such as Ashkenazi, Bakshi, or Levi, which predominated as shown in Table 3.
Table 3. Only ten surnames represented 50% of the Krymchak Population in 1913
Number of Persons
% of Krymchak Families
Total Top Ten
One half of these double family names typically represented an older surname used only for religious purposes. These names differed from official surnames and imply a desire to keep alive a memory of a family’s ancient origins.
Close analysis of double family names allows us to infer the origins of the bearers of these common surnames. For example, the Jewish surname Levi was one most commonly found among Krymchaks in 1913 and perhaps most in need of differentiation. The name is found paired with Ashkenazi family names (Veinberg-Levi), Sephardi (Levi-Gabeledzhi), Caucasian (Gurdzhi-Levi), and probably with the descendants of even earlier Crimean Jewish families. Interestingly, we can infer that the names Bakshi and Kokoz are descendants of those earlier Crimean Jews as they are never found connected with other prestigious ancient names in the 1913 census.
Table 4. Examples of Double surnames found in the 1913 Census (traditional names highlighted)
The general distribution of Krymchak family names by language group is listed in Table 1. Semantic and etymological analysis of Krymchak family names, analysis of their family legends, and statistical calculations from the 1913 materials indicate that at the beginning of the 20th century from 25-40% of all Krymchaks were descendants of Sephardi Jews; of Ashkenazi Jews, from 25-33%; of Caucasian and Persian Jews, from 5-6% each. From 12-25% of Krymchaks are connected most likely with an earlier Jewish group whose ethnic origin is too complicated to ascertain on the data of onomastics and genealogy (family names Bakshi, Kokoz, Kaia).
DICTIONARY OF JEWISH KRYMCHAK SURNAMES FROM THE CRIMEA
Abaev M: from the Hebrew names Abba or Abbaya
Abraben O: from Hebrew teacher’s father (honorific title) or from Sephardi family name Abrabanel (from Avraham).
Abrashev from Hebrew m.n. Avraham; 2. from Turkic, speckled, or dappled.
Abrashov (see Abrashev)
Abuev M: from Hebrew given name Abba; 2. From Hebrew m.n. Abbaya.
Achkinazi from Hebrew, meaning Jew from Germany or Eastern Europe
Afuz O: from [Krymchak] scholar.
Aga O: from Turkish, title for minor officials, also mister.
Akimov O: philosopher or judge in Turkish or doctor, physician.
Andzhel M: from the Sephardi given name Angclo.
Andzhelo (see Andzhel)
Andzhil (see Andzhel)
Anzhcl’ (see Andzhel)
Anzhela (see Andzhel)
Anzhelo (see Andzhel)
Anzhil’ (see Andzhel)
Ashenazi (see Achkinazi)
Asherov M: from the Hebrew given name Ashcr.
Ashkinazi (see Achkinazi)
Atar O: [Turkish] herbalist, dealer, druggist.
Avraben (see Abraben)
Bakhshi (see Bakshi)
Bakshi M: from ancient Turkish meanig, tcacher or scribe; from Turkish, the given name Bakshi
BarukhoM: from the Hebrew given name Barukh
Beer M: from the Ashkcnazi given name Ber.
Bekhar O: from Hebrew abbreviation for son of the honorific tcachcr; T: from Bcjar in Spain; M: from the Sephardi given name Bckhar.
Bentovim Hebrew, pampered son of wealthy parents.
Berman (see Beer)
Bershadsky T: from Bcrshad in the Ukraine.
Biberdzhi O: from [Turkish] trader of pepper.
Bokhor in Hebrew, first born; M: from the Krymchak given name Bokhor.
Bokhorov (see Bokhor)
Borokhov . (see Borokhov)
Borukhov (see Borokhov)
Bukhorov (see Bokhor)
Chakehir from Turkic, a kind of men’s sharovary made from finespun fabrics.
Chapichcv O: from [Turkish] scavenger, sweeper, garbage collector, comber.
Chapichov (see Chapichev)
Chapkha (see Chapichev)
Chebar from [Krymchak] pitted, speckled.
Chernopol’sky from Chernopol(?).
Chernov from [Slavic] black
Chibar (see Chebar)
Cholak from [Turkish] having one arm missing or paralyzed, crippled in one hand; from [Krymchak] unskillful, awkward.
Cholakh (see Cholak)
Cholaki (see Cholak)
Chulakh (see Cholak)
Cliapicho (see Chapichev)
Daniel M: Hebrew from the given name Daniel.
Demerdzhi O: from [Turkish] ironworker, smith, ironmonger.
Deredzhi O: from [Turkish] courier.
Dondo from [Ladino] great rich man.
Fesakh M: from the Ashkenazi Hebrew given name Peisakh.
Fisher O: [Yiddish] fisher.
Flisfeder from [Yiddish] fin?
Flisfeider (see Flisfeder)
Gabai O: from ‘gabbai’ [Hebrew] head, manager, or treasurer of a synagogue.
Gabeledzhi O: from [Ladino] tax, customs, meaning tax collector.
Gabelezhi (see Gabeledzhi)
Gaigo from [Turkish] trouble, sorrow, gricf(V).
Galach O: from [Turkish] combcr of cotton or wool.
Gershgorn from ‘hershhorn’ [Yiddish] stag horn.
Gidalevich M: from the given name Gdaliya [Hebrew].
Gobai (see Gabai)
Gota T: from Gotha, Germany
Gotta (see Gota)
Gurdzhi T: from [Turkish] Georgian.
Gutman M: from the given name Gutman [Yiddish]; 2. In Yiddish, good man; O: from ‘_____’ [German] ladler of hats.
Iusufov (see Yusupov)
Izmerli, T: from Izmir in Turkey
Izmirli (see Izmerli)
Kag’ia O: from [Turkish], steward, major domo, warden of a trade, guild
Kaia (see Kag’ia)
Kalpakchi O: from [Turkish] maker or seller of fur caps.
Karagioz (see Karagoz)
Karagoz 1. in Turkic, black eyed; O: [Turkish] shadow theater, main figure in this theater.
Karakoz (see Karagoz)
Karbi (see Karibi)
Karibi in Turkic, old mister.
Karpi (see Karibi)
Khafuz (see Afuz)
Khakham from [Hebrew] sage.
Khakhamov (see Khalham)
Khalham, M: from Krymchak
Khekim (see Akimov)
Khondo, M: from the Turkish feminine name Khondo
Khondu (see Khondo)
Koen (see Kogen)
Kogan (see Kogen)
Kogen, O: from ‘kohen’ [Hebrew] priest.
Kokiush (see Kokosh)
Kokos from [Turkish] blue eyed
Kokosh T: from [Krymchak Turkey; from [Turkish] stinking, rotten, lazy.
Kokoz (see Kokos)
Kokush (see Kokosh)
Kolpakchi (see Kalpakchi)
Konfin’io (see Konfino)
Konfin’o (see Konfino)
Konfinia (see Konfino)
Konfino from [Italian] exile.
Konfinu (see Konfino)
Konori (see Konfino)
Konorio M: from Sephardi Konort.
Kose from [Turkish] beardless
Kosse (see Kose)
Kuiumdzhi O: from [Turkish] jeweler, goldsmith.
Kuiundzhi (see Kuiumdzhi)
Kurkchi) O: from [Turkish] furrier.
Kuru: from [Turkish] dry, emaciated, thin, bare, mere.
l.ombezov (see Lombroso)
Labak (see Lobak)
Lambrozo (see Lombroso)
Lembroza (see Lombroso)
Levi from ‘Levi’ [Hebrew] Levite
Lipshits T: from Licbschitz in Germany,or from Lcobschuctz in Germany.
Livi (see Levi)
Lobak from [Ukrainian] little forehcad.
Lobok (see Lobak)
Lombozu (see Lombroso)
Lombroso M: from the Sephardi given name Lombroso.
Lombroz (see Lombroso)
Lombrozo (see Lombroso)
Lombrozu (see Lombroso)
losifov (see Yusupov)
Lur’e T: from Lauria in Italy
Mamgupli T: from the town of Mangup in the Crimea.
Mamto T: from the city of Mantua in Italy
Mando (see Mamto)
Masot M: from the Sephardi form of the Arabic given name Masud.
Matashevich (see Meteslievich)
Matoshevich (see Meteslievich)
Matushvich (see Meteslievich)
Mereshinsky T: from Macrish-Wcisskirchen or Machrisch-Ostrau in Germany.
Meshlam (see Meshulam)
Meshulam M: from Hebrew given name Mcshulam.
Meteshevich, from Hebrew given name Matatiya
Miroshavsky T: from Miroslavka in the Ukraine.
Mitashevich (see Meteslievich)
Mizrakhi, from [Hebrew] eastern, oriental
Moskil from ‘maskil’ [Hebrew] educated, cultured, enlightened.
Muzrakhi (see Mizrakhi)
Neeman O: from [Hebrew] honest, faithful, true, trusty, treasurer in a Jewish community.
Neiman (see Neeman)
Nisimovich M: from the Hebrew given name Nissim.
Novak from Hebrew m.n Noakh.
Novakhov (see Novak)
Nudel’ O: from [Yiddish] needle.
Ofus (see Afuz)
Ossok T: unknown, possibly from Osoka in Poland.
Pakshi (see Bakshi)
Patik (see Patyk)
Patyk -1. in Turkic, piastre or Polish copper coin; 2. in Russian, five kopecks coin; 3. in Turkic, child’s shoe.
Pcrech (see Perich)
Peazhi– O: from [French] toll collector.
Peisakh (see Fesakh)
Penerdzhi (see Penirdzhi)
Penirdzhi O: from Turkic, maker or seller of cheese.
Perich M: from Hebrew given name Peretz.
Piastro (see Pyastro)
Piastrov (see Pyastro)
Piiastro (see Pyastro)
Pilastrov (see Pyastro)
Prus T: from Prussia.
Purim derived from the Jewish holiday of Purim.
Pyastro ??: from an ltalian or Turkic coin.
Rabinno O: from ‘rabbeinu’ [Hebrew] our teacher (honorific title).
Rabinu (see Rabinno)
Rafailov (see Refailov)
Rebi O: from ‘rebbi’ [Yiddish], teacher.
Refailov from the Hebrew given name Rafael.
Rekomi M: from the Hebrew given name Rekhumi.
Rukhomi (see Rekomi)
Samoilovich M: patronymic from the Russian form of the Hebrew given name Shmucl.
Sarach O: from [Turkish] saddler, leather worker.
Shalom M: from the Hebrew given name Shalom.
Shamash (see Shamesh)
Shamesh O: from [Hebrew] attendant, caretaker, beadle (in a synagogue).
Sholom (see Shalom)
Sokol’sky T: from Sokal in the Ukraine or Sokol in Poland.
Solov’iov from [Russian] nightingale.
Stamboli T: from Istanbul in Turkey.
Surdzhiun from [Turkish] exile.
Szhudi (see Zhud)
Tabon M: from the Hebrew given name Tibon.
Takatly T: from Tokat in Turkey.
Taukchi (see Taukhet)
Taukhet O: from [Turkish] raiser or seller of chickens.
Tavukchi (see Taukhet)
Tokatly (see Takatly)
Tomalak from [Turkish] round, stout, fat.
Tomolak (see Tomalak)
Trevgod (see Trigoda)
Trevgoda (see Trigoda)
Trevgodo (see Trigoda)
Trigoda M: from the Italian male given name Torquato.
Tunder‘ from [Yiddish] dark, dim, sinister.
Tuner O: from [Yiddish] maker of barrels.
Turkin from [Slavic] Turk.
Uralevich (see Urilevich)
Urelevich (see Urilevich)
Urilevich M: from the Hebrew male given name Uriel.
Vaimberg (see Veinberg)
Vainberg (see Veinberg)
Valid from [Turkish] father or M: from the Turkic-Arabic given name Valid.
Valit (see Valid)
Varshavsky T: from Warsaw in Poland.
Veinberg T: from Weinberg in Germany; T: from Weinberg, suburb of Gdansk in Poland; O: from [German] vineyard.
Vinbirik (see Veinberg)
Volshtein from [Yiddish] a stone of wool.
Yusefov (see Yusupov)
Yusupov M: from the Turkic form of the Hebrew given name Yoscf.
Zel’tser O: from [Yiddish] salt worker, trader of salt.
Materials of the community census of Krymchaks of 1913. Manuscript Department of the Leningrad Museum of Ethnography, fond 1, opis’ 2, delo 796 and 828.
Moskona, Isaac M. “Za proizkhoda na familnite imena na belgarskite evrei.” (On the origin of the family names of the Bulgarian Jews.) (Bulgarian) Sofia. Obshtestvena kulturno prosvetna organizatsiya na evreite v narodna republika Bulgariya. Godishnik, 1, (Educational and Cultural Organization of the Jews in the Popular Republic of Bulgaria), annual no.1, 1967, p.132
Peisakh, Z.I. Krimchakcs.Soveiisli Heimland 7, 9 (July, September 1974).
Perelman, F.S. Po povodu odnoi krymchatskoi rukopisi. Voskhod 12 (1902);
Rosanes (Rozanis), Shlomo. Divre yemei yisrael betogarma al pi mekorot rishonim. 4 v. (History of the Jews in the Ottoman Empire according to primary sources) (Hebrew) Tel Aviv, Dvir, 1930.
1. Appearence of Krymchak surnames with Russian suffixes -ov (-ev) and -ovich (-cvich) was a result of work of Russian officials after the occupation of the Crimea by Russia in the end of the 18th century.
2. Krymchak pronunciation of Hebrew is very close to Sephardi. In I. Moskona’s opinion, Peisakh is a proper family name which was brought by Ashkenazi migrants
3. Information by P.E.Piastro (1984). By this data, even in the beginning of the 20th century, the bearers of the name Mizrakhi kept the pronunciation of Hebrew different from the Krymchak one.
Igor A. Kotler taught Jewish, Russian, Soviet, American and World history at UCLA, the University of Judaism, FIDM, Golden Gate University and Moorpark College in California and religion at the University of Phoenix. He served as Historian at Survivors of the Shoa Visual History Foundation in Los Angeles and as Senior Historian at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. Currently he is President and Executive Director of the Museum of Human Rights, Freedom and Tolerance, Adjunct Professor of the University of Phoenix and President of the American Council on the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance. Igor A. Kotler published over 30 articles and book chapters in several languages. At CGHR Igor A. Kotler is conducting research for the exhibitions and programs of the Museum of Human Rights, Freedom and Tolerance, studying the development of nationalism and human rights in the former Soviet Union, and participating in seminars and other educational activities of the Center.