Jewish Sufi Dervishes 1922

jewish dervishes
Jewish dervishes Agha-Jaan Darvish and his brother, patriarchs of the Darvish family. Tehran, Iran, c.1922.

“Because of its specific association with Sufism and its ensuing identification with Islam, dervishhood is an order comprised almost exclusively of Muslim practitioners.
The two Jewish dervishes pictured here in this rare photograph are among the very few who had successfully been integrated into the order without converting to Islam.
Like the Jewish practitioners of a traditional Iranian sport in the houses of strength (zurkhaneh) — a sport that is profoundly intertwined with Islamic ritual — these dervishes represent a uniquely Iranian hybrid of Judaism and Islam.

Each of the Jewish dervishes seen here is displaying emblematic accouterments of dervishhood:
1) The cloak, an outward sign of his state.
2) A kashkul (begging bowl) often made of such materials as mother-of-pearl.
3) A gourd, a coconut shell, or carved wood suspended from the wrist by a chain.
4) A tabarzin (short axe or hatchet) carried in the right hand and intended to fend off wild animals or highway robbers.
5) A chanta (patched bag) slung over the shoulder to carry essential items.
6) Takht-e pust (skin bed), a small mat made of animal skin that served as his bed while traveling.
7) A long rosary.”

Photograph and caption from Esther’s Children: A Portrait of Iranian Jews, edited by Houman Sarshar.

For more on the Iranian Sufi orders, see here and here
For more pictures from Sufis from the era – here.

h/t touba.tumblr

رویش های ایرانی یهودی، تهران ۱۹۲۲
به دلیل رابطه تصوف با درویشگری و عجین بودن آن با اسلام، درویش بودن به نوعی مختص مسلمانان بود. در این عکس نادر، دو یهودی که با حفظ مذهب خود به خرقه ی دراویش درآمده اند به نمایش گذاشته شده

15 responses to “Jewish Sufi Dervishes 1922

  1. Amazing find. Thank you for sharing this.

    David Adatto

  2. Didn’t the Rambam’s son practice a sort of hybridized Jewish Sufism? Is there anything resembling a line of transmission from him to these people? (And what shall we call them – SuJu’s?)

    Are there any Sufis today who have a family lore of having once been Jews, or who have customs that derive from Judaism (as did the secret Jews of Spain)?

  3. Fascinating. Further to Jeff Eyges’ comment/question, in Yossi Klein Halevi’s At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden he mentions in passing (p. 54) that: “Scholars had recently discovered a Jewish Sufi movement in medieval Egypt, led by rabbinic descendants of Maimonides. Convinced that the Sufis has preserved the secret techniques of Israel’s biblical prophets, they had adapted Sufi chant and dance in their own Jewish worship.”

    • Jeff, and IH,
      We now have seven generations of the Maimonidian Family and their Sufi, biblical and halakhic writings.
      If you never read the Sufi work by Maimonides’ son Avraham- you should. Paul Fenton ascribes Treatise of the Pool to Ovadiah, son of Avraham son of Maimonides- definitely go read that. Fenton translated several other works into French.
      We have several other Jewish Sufi tracts from the era.
      Jumping ahead, we Jewish -Sufi poetry from Iran and even in mid-twentieth century we have Mekuballim visiting the Sufis.
      Go see the chapter on the topic in my book, Judaism and World Religions.
      There is lots more in manuscript.

  4. You can also look up the work of Diana Lobel. She wrote on the influence of Sufi thought upon R’Yehudah HaLevi’s Kuzari and R’Bachaya Ibn Pakuda’s Duties of the Heart.

  5. We now have seven generations of the Maimonidian Family and their Sufi, biblical and halakhic writings.

    What are the dates? You don’t mean we know of contemporary Sufi descendants of Maimonides?

  6. Jeff,
    We now have Maimonides descendents until the end of the 1500’s.

    Abraham (Nagid)
    David (Nagid), Obadia (The Treatise of the Pool – Al-Mawala Al Hawdiyya)
    Moshe (Nagid),Joshua (Nagid)
    David (Nagid) 14th-15th century)

    ABRAHAM BEN DAVID MAIMUNI (c. 1246–c. 1316), nagid of Egyptian Jewry.
    Abraham was the eldest son of R. David, the grandson of Maimonides. During
    his father’s old age he shared the position of nagid with him for 10
    years. After his father’s death he remained nagid and was successful in
    1313 in convincing a large group of Karaites, among whom were some wealthy
    men and intellectuals, to return to Rabbanite Judaism.

    JOSHUA BEN ABRAHAM MAIMUNI (1310–1355), nagid of Egyptian Jewry who lived
    in Cairo. Joshua was the third son of Abraham b. David Maimuni. His
    brother Moses was probably nagid of Egyptian Jewry before him. He was a
    respected scholar and his responsa on religious and halakhic questions are
    quoted by such prominent halakhic authorities of the 16th century as David
    b. Solomon ibn Abi Zimra and Joseph Caro. The majority of his extant
    responsa were answers to questions asked by the Jews of Yemen. Most of
    them deal with the subjects of prayer and ritual. Joshua’s answers are
    generally based on the Mishneh Torah of his ancestor Maimonides.

    DAVID BEN JOSHUA MAIMUNI (14th–15th century), nagid of Egyptian Jewry.
    David was the last of Maimonides’ descendants to occupy the position of
    nagid. He was a bibliophile who acquired a large library, and he
    encouraged the literary activity of others. It was under R. David’s
    inspiration that R. Joseph Bonfils wrote his supercommentary Zafenat
    Pa’ne’ah (“Revealer of Secrets”) to the commentary of R. Abraham ibn Ezra
    on the Torah. R. David wrote an essay in Arabic on the weights and
    measures of the Bible. For reasons so far unknown R. David was compelled
    to leave for Syria in the 1370s, writing a farewell letter to the Egyptian
    communities which is still extant. He lived in Aleppo, Syria, in 1375 and
    1379, and also probably for some time in Damascus. During his absence from
    Egypt, the position of nagid was occupied by R. Amram, who is mentioned in
    1377 and 1380. At the beginning of the 15th century, R. David returned to
    Egypt and resumed office as nagid, as is learnt from a document of 1409.

  7. I see that they are dervishes. But how do you know that they are also Jews?

    • The original book Esther’s Children was a collection of picture of Iranian Jews. What website or Facebook page brought you here on November 13? I posted it months ago but an getting many hits from Facebook today on this post.

  8. Just a friend of mine.
    Do you know, if the book Esther’s Children has any more information about this picture?

    • The book is a picture book but it has a 560 page no pictures hardcover history book that goes with it to explain everything. The pictures have archival references also.

  9. Fascinating. Do you know of any interactions between Jews and Sufis in Bukhara, or in other cities in Uzbekistan. I’m going to visit there, and want to learn as much as possible about the history of the community. Thanks!

  10. The Bukharan Jewish band “Shashmaqam” who emigrated to the US (and were/are on Long Island) recorded songs they had assumed were from Jewish texts that were identified as verses from Rumi. Poetry and music throughout Central Asia were quite the smorgasbord of traditions.

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