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Jewish Communities in Exotic Places deals with seventeen Jewish communities that are referred to in Hebrew as edot ha-Mizrach (Eastern or Oriental Jewish communities). These are Jewish communities situated in remote places on the Asian and African Jewish geographical periphery, which over the centuries became isolated from the major centers of Jewish civilization. These Jewish communities embraced aspects of the dominant culture, i.e., the Daghestani (Northeastern Caucasian) practice of qan alma (vendetta); or preserved certain ancient Jewish customs that were at great variance with Ashkenazic and Sephardic tradition, such as the Ethiopian Beta Israel practice of sacrificing the pascal lamb at Passover.
Today, the overwhelming majority of the edot ha-Mizrach have relocated to Israel and are under the purview of the Sephardic Chief Rabbinate. Scattered remnants still survive in Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Horn of Africa, and the Southern Arabian Peninsula.
There is little historical documentation on the edot ha-Mizrach. Prior to "Jewish Communities in Exotic Places," no one has ever undertaken the task of writing an authoritative work on the subject in English. "Jewish Communities in Exotic Places" chronicles the history of these edot; Jewish peoples in some of the most far-flung places in the Third World. It traces their survival and explores aspects of Jewish culture, religion, and folklore, stressing both the continuity and diversity of Jewish life in different times and places.
The book features a glossary, bibliography, photos, and maps. Each chapter has endnotes. A special feature of this book is a Background Information section on each country, as an introduction at the beginning of every chapter. Because any discussion of these edot needs to be placed in the context of the larger culture, I outline the most pertinent and interesting aspects of the geography, history, and ethnology of the country.
Two outstanding scholars of Jewish exotica contributed to prefatorial notes. Emeritus historian Michael Pollak, author of "Mandarins, Missionaries and Jews: The Jewish Experience in the Chinese Empire" (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1980), and "The Torah Scrolls of the Chinese Jews" (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1975), has written the Foreword. Professor Steven Kaplan of The Hebrew University at Givat Ram in Jerusalem, a leading authority on the Jews of Ethiopia, has written the Introduction.