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“Azerbaijan does not just tolerate its Jews; they show us a lot of respect,” says Rabbi Segal

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Rabbi Schneur Segal is a member of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States (ARIS), which helps maintain and grow Jewish communities in the region. (Photo: Supplied)

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Azerbaijan is a country in the Caucasus that is known for its thriving Jewish community. The mountain nation is Shia Muslim majority. Rabbi Schneur Segal, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi says that the Jewish community here is able to thrive because it is unlike other Muslim nations.

When asked by thej.ca if Azerbaijan is “tolerant” to its Jewish community, Rabbi Segal smiled:

“Tolerance can mean many things – it can also mean that you don’t like a group but still tolerate them regardless. However, this is not the case in Azerbaijan towards Jews. Azerbaijan does not just ‘tolerate’ its Jews; they show us a lot of respect.”

He affirmed “we can walk around openly without fear in this predominantly Muslim country.”

As of 2022, Rabbi Segal will mark his 12th year in the nation. He is a member of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States (ARIS), an organization that helps facilitate Jewish life in predominantly Muslim nations. Like many rabbis in ARIS, he belongs to Chabad-Lubavitch. Azerbaijan is a Shia-Muslim majority nation, just like nearby Iraq and Iran, which are both in contrast, very antisemitic. 

Rabbi Segal states that the Ashkenazi shul was rebuilt in 2003. Before that, the community used a military storage site since 1946 for prayers; eventually this was taken down after being replaced by the synagogue that is in current usage.

There are an estimated 30,000 Jews in the Caucasus nation and is probably the largest in the Muslim world, out of a population of almost 10 million. Most live in the capital city of Baku. 

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 “This year our Purim was celebrated ‘in style’,” Rabbi Segal explained. A celebratory event took place at the Hilton Hotel, where local Jewish singer Chaim Nisanov performed. Their Youth Club also gave away food parcels as Maot Chittim, charity to locals in the neighborhood, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. 

In addition, Azerbaijan has the world’s only Jewish majority town outside of Israel or the US – Gyrmyzy Gasaba, with a population of around 3000, better known by its popular nickname, the Red Town. 

Purim in Azerbaijan was a joyous celebration with professional musicians at the local Hilton. (Photo: Rabbi  Schneur Segal)

The community in this former Soviet country is very diverse and comprises Mountain Jews, Krymchaks, Ashkenazim and Georgian Jews. There are also seven synagogues, mostly for the different Jewish ethnic divisions.

Rabbi Segal said that they speak in Azerbaijani, Russian and other languages. He also mentioned that there is an active shechita tradition and obtaining kosher meat is not an issue. 

In the 31 years since gaining its independence, the nation has also enjoyed very good ties with Israel.

“Azerbaijan is a lovely country and has not only allowed us to practice our religion with no issue but helps us to thrive and for that, we are truly thankful,” Rabbi Segal said. 

Avi Kumar is a historian of Sri Lankan descent who lives in New York.

He has a unique spin on current affairs.

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Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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