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Field School in Dagestan

(August 20-29, 2019)


On August 20-29, 2019, the Sefer Center held the second school-expedition to study the cultural and historical heritage of mountain Jews in Dagestan.

 The expedition was supported by Genesis Philanthropy Group and The Russian Jewish Congress (within the framework of the project "between the Caucasus and Jerusalem: mountain Jews in the dialogue of cultures»)

26 researchers from different cities of Russia, Israel, Latvia, Poland and Ukraine took part in the expedition.


The work of the school took place in two directions: epigraphic and ethnographic.

During 10 days of field work, the team of epigraphists under the leadership of Mikhail Vasiliev and Ekaterina Karaseva catalogued five mountain Jewish cemeteries of southern Dagestan: Nigdi, Rubas, Aglobe, Heli-Pendjik, and Jerakh. Also they explored  the state of the three cemeteries in Carchag, Rukel and Maraga. In addition, were specified the data collected during last year's expedition in the cemeteries in Arag, Hangal-Kale and Abasav. In total, the participants of the expedition visited 11 necropolises



The catalog describes more than 580 tombstones, which date from the end of 18th - early 20th centuries. The earliest monument discovered at the cemetery in Djerakh (1798). In total, according to the results of two field seasons 2018-2019, the number of documented monuments exceeded 1000.

Also this year, during the expedition, in addition to surveying, aerial photography of cemeteries with the use of a drone was carried out for the first time.

The study of the surviving Jewish cemeteries in this region gives a more complete picture of the geography and chronology of the settlement of the Jewish Diaspora in Dagestan.
Participants of the ethnographic section were engaged in collecting interviews with representatives of the mountain-Jewish community of Derbent, and also visited several surrounding villages (heads of the section: V. Dymshits and S. Amosova).


The school in Dagestan is organized by the center "Sefer" with the support of Genesis Philanthropy Group, the Russian Jewish Congress (as a specila project) and the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.   

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The school is part of a long-term project for study the history and culture of mountain Jews. Mountain Jews – Jewish ethno-linguistic group (community) on the territory of the Caucasus, living mainly in Azerbaijan and Dagestan (large Jewish communities existed in Baku, Quba, Derbent, Makhachkala, Buinaksk, in some of the foothill villages of southern Dagestan). Later mountain Jews began to settle in other regions of Russia (Grozny, Nalchik, Pyatigorsk). The term "mountain Jews" originated in the first half of the XIX century., the self-name of this group – juhur. According to linguistic and indirect historical data, it can be assumed that this community was formed as a result of the immigration of Jews from Northern Iran, as well as, possibly, the immigration of Jews from the nearby areas of the Byzantine Empire to Transcaucasian Azerbaijan.

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In 2018 the Centre "Sefer" has already made an expedition to Dagestan, during which it was documented more than 480 monuments preserved on the territory of the necropolis in Arag, Mamrach, Abasov and Handzal-kale.
The purpose of the upcoming expedition is to study the cultural and historical heritage of mountain Jews, description and cataloging of Jewish cemeteries, recording interviews with the oldest members of the community. 
The work of the school will be held in two directions: epigraphic and ethnographic.
Participants of the epigraphic flow will be engaged in cataloguing of Jewish cemeteries of southern Dagestan (scientific supervisors of the direction: N. Kashovskaya; heads of field work – A. Fishel and M. Vasiliev). The surviving ancient Jewish cemeteries of Dagestan give a broad idea of the geography of settlement of the Jewish Diaspora in the territory of Dagestan. 

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The participants of the ethnographic flow will collect interviews from representatives of the mountain Jewish community of Derbent (supervisors of the direction: B. Kapustina and S. Amosova). 

The main result of the expedition will be the fixation of material and cultural heritage and the completion of our new electronic archive of field research – a database for the collection, storage and systematization of materials of field schools and expeditions, which our Center has been conducting for more than 10 years.

We invite first of all students and young scientists with experience in field research, as well as those engaged in the study of the history, culture and material heritage of Jews in the region.

For members of the ethnographic group, the use of private equipment (voice recorders, laptops) is mandatory, video camera is preferable.
For epigraphic unit, preference is given to participants with knowledge of Hebrew and experience of field work in the field of epigraphy. To process the collected materials, epigraphists are requested to bring a laptop, and preferably the camera

In order to take part in the school, please complete the application form before May 15. The selection of participants will be made until May 25.

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