SAMARKAND , capital of Samarkand district, Uzbekistan. Jews are mentioned there from hearsay for the first time by *Benjamin of Tudela (12th century) as a large community. It was apparently destroyed when the town was captured by Bab Mehmet Khan in 1598. The Jews later suffered from Muslim oppression. In 1843, at the request of the Jews, a special area was allocated to them for the construction of a Jewish quarter: they were led by a nasi, named Kulantur, approved by the emir of *Bukhara. The situation of the Jews improved after the Russian conquest (1868), and in 1887 there were 3,792 Jews in Samarkand, the overwhelming majority of them of the Bukharan community.
Settlement of Ashkenazi Jews from *Russia began with the construction of the railroad to Samarkand in 1888; they played an important role in the commercial development of the city. In 1897 there were 4,307 Jews (c. 8% of the total population). Their number subsequently increased with Jewish immigration from the emirate of Bukhara and from Russia. The Russian authorities were opposed to this immigration, and, in contrast to the local Jews, the "foreign" Jews (from Bukhara) and the Jews of European Russia were subjected to persecutions. In 1907 the Jewish population numbered 5,266.
With the outbreak of the Revolution of 1917, the Zionist movement in Samarkand gained in strength and served as a factor unifying the various communities there. A communal center and Hebrew secondary school were established. Under the Soviet regime a Jewish-Bukharan branch of the Communist Party was formed in Samarkand; for a number of years it carried on a struggle with the *Yevsektsiya over the right of the local Jews to maintain a Hebrew school. The Yevsektsiya took steps to oppose the national and religious traditions of the Jews. By 1933 15 of the synagogues in the Jewish quarter had been closed down. In 1935 "sovietization" of the Jewish Museum (founded in 1922) expurgated its national-religious character and the evidence of the close ties existing between the Jews of Samarkand and Ereẓ Israel. The Jews of the Bukharan community numbered 7,740 in 1926, and 9,832 in 1935 (8% of the total population); of those 8,898 lived in the Jewish quarter, whose name was changed in 1926 to "Eastern Quarter," while 95% of the inhabitants were Jews. According to the census of January 1939 there were 7,593 Jews – 5.57% of the total. The Jewish school, whose language of instruction was Tajiki (or Judeo-Tajiki; the language spoken by the Bukharan Jews), was attended by over 1,400 children. During World War ii many Jewish refugees from the western part of the Soviet Union arrived in Samarkand.
In the late 1960s the Jewish population was estimated at 15,000 (mainly Bukharan Jews), most of whom resided in the former Jewish quarter. There remained one synagogue in the old part of the city, where the Jewish quarter is located; it included a separate section for the Ashkenazi Jews. Samarkand retained a Jewish cemetery. In 1951 the rabbi Ḥkham Ezekiel was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for "religious activity," but was released in 1957, having served six years. In March 1964 the community was compelled by the authorities to protest against the sending of matzot from Israel and the baking of matzot was carried on at home. Since Uzbekistan attained independence in 1991 there has been a steady exodus of Jews to Israel and the West (mainly the United States), with around 2,000 remaining in Samarkand in 2005. One of the city's two synagogues is still in use, but often there is no minyan for Sabbath services.
Z.L. Amitin-Shapiro, Ocherk: Sotsialisticheskogo stroitelstva sred: sredne-aziaskikh Yevreyev (Tashkent, 1933); I. Ben-Zvi, in: He-Avar, 1 (1953), 67–73; A. Ben Ami, Between Hammer and Sickle (1967), 191ff., 198 and passim.