History of the Jews in South Ossetia

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The location of South Ossetia (dark green) in Eurasia. (Georgia, and Abkhazia in light grey)
Part of a series on
Ancient Kartvelian people
History of Georgia
A building in former Jewish quarter of Tskhinvali

The history of the Jews in South Ossetia is connected to the history of the Jews in Georgia. Much of the early Jewish history in South Ossetia is similar to that of other Jewish communities in the Georgian region. At the same time, the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali was known for its sizable Georgian Jewish population, where the community had its own quarter.

Connection with Georgian Jews[edit]

The history of the Jews in Georgia is over 2,500 years old. Georgian Jews (Georgian: ქართველი ებრაელები, translit.: kartveli ebraelebi) are one of the oldest communities in Georgia, tracing their migration into the country during the Babylonian captivity in 6th century BC.[1] Prior to Georgia's annexation by Russia, the 2,600-year history of the Georgian Jews was marked by an almost total absence of antisemitism and a visible assimilation in the Georgian language and culture.[2] The Georgian Jews were considered ethnically and culturally distinct from neighboring Mountain Jews.[3] They were also traditionally a highly separate group from the Ashkenazi Jews in Georgia, who arrived following the Russian annexation of Georgia.

Modern history[edit]

In 1891, an Ashkenazi rabbi Avraham Khvolis moved to Tskhinvali from Lithuania. In Tskhinvali, Khvolis founded a school and synagogue, and he taught European rabbinical thought to Georgian Jews. Today, the synagogue Khvolis founded sits abandoned on a desolate street with what appears to be a hole from an artillery shell in its facade. On Sundays, Baptist services are held there.

According to the Soviet censuses of 1926 and 1939 there were about 2000 Jews in South Ossetia, all but a few in Tskhinvali. As late as 1926 almost a third of the town's inhabitants were Jews. Their number declined later as they moved to bigger cities of Soviet Union or emigrated to Israel or other countries. [4]

Most of the Jewish population fled South Ossetia for Israel and Georgia proper during the First Ossetian War in 1991. The remainder fled in advance of the 2008 war. Today, only one Jew remains in South Ossetia, a single elderly woman living in Tskhinvali.

Sources and references[edit]

  • "Georgia's Jewish heritage imperiled with talk of war" Matt Siegel. Jewish Telegraphic Agency Feb. 27, 2008
  • "Last Jew in S. Ossetia" Russia Today Sept. 15, 2008 [1]
  • "Jews will come back to S. Ossetia" Russia Today Sept. 26, 2008 [2]


  1. ^ The Wellspring of Georgian Historiography: The Early Medieval Historical Chronicle The Conversion of Katli and The Life of St. Nino, Constantine B. Lerner, England: Bennett and Bloom, London, 2004, p. 60
  2. ^ Forget Atlanta - this is the Georgia on my mind By Jewish Discoveries and Harry D. Wall Feb. 7, 2015, Haaretz
  3. ^ Mountain Jews: customs and daily life in the Caucasus, Leʼah Miḳdash-Shemaʻʼilov, Liya Mikdash-Shamailov, Muzeʼon Yiśraʼel (Jerusalem), UPNE, 2002, page 9
  4. ^ Census results for South Ossetia

See also[edit]

External links[edit]