Medieval Jewish Cemetery In Yeghegis
Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise (Isaiah 26:19)
It will seem surprising to you, but in the gorges of the Yeghegis Mountains there is a medieval Jewish cemetery. More than 800 years old, it is one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in the world. The cemetery belonged to the Jewish community that settled in Yeghegis in the 13th-14th centuries. There is no other evidence of the existence of this community, just as there is no information about other Jewish communities of that time in Armenia.
The oldest tombstone is dated 1266 and the latest – 1346. Thus, the cemetery was created for at least 80 years. However, the history of the emergence of the Jewish community of Yeghegis has remained a mystery, and the reason for its disappearance is also shrouded in darkness.
About 40 tombstones have been preserved in this cemetery, and 30 more were found nearby. 10 tombstones have inscriptions in Hebrew or Aramaic: Jewish names of the dead, funerary texts, lines from the Bible, filled with traditional religious content, and expressions from the Talmud. The tombstones, engraved with Hebrew, have been crafted in a very Armenian style, akin to the Christian and Muslim tombs from the same period.
Some of the names of the deceased correspond to the names of the Jews who inhabited Iran at that time – in connection with this, a question arises about the Iranian origin of the Jewish community of Yeghegis.
The dates carved on the tombstones are counted according to the old chronology from 331 BC, which was used by Jews from the East, but among the tombstones there are many without marking any dates.
One of the inscriptions reads: “Niftar Baba dar David bekhodesh Tamuz shnat alef-taf-resh – dokhtar tav lenichot nafshat” which says: “Baba, the son of David, died in the month of Tammuz 1600”. This inscription marks the year of the death of one of the members of the community according to the calendar of Jews from the East (which is still used by the Jews of Yemen), which is equivalent to 1289 of our calendar. The inscription in Aramaic also wishes the deceased “good memory and peace to his soul.”
On another epitaph over the deceased young son, the mother expresses faith in the eternity of his soul, by quoting from the prophecies of Isaiah about the resurrection of the dead. The third tombstone quotes in excellent Hebrew the blessing of Aaron, the servant of the temple.
One of the most beautiful inscriptions of 1266, dated the 18th of Tishrei, is dedicated to “the immaculate maiden betrothed to Esther, daughter of Michael. May her dowry be with our matriarch Sarah.” On the opposite side of the gravestone there is an inscription: “Charm and grace are deceptive, and beauty is vain” from the Book of Proverbs (31:10).
Some of these graveyard stones, along with Armenian khachkars, were once used in the foundation of a pedestrian bridge, as well as a floor for a water mill. The rest of the tombstones are quite well preserved in the area, once enclosed by a wall, and in a nearby grove.
Getting to the cemetery is not at all difficult, it is located 20 km from Yeghegnadzor, the center of Vayots Dzor, and you just need a guide who will indicate the right turn from the main road. Officially, every year on May 11, the Memorial Day is celebrated here.
We only want to hope that our guests will definitely make a stop in the Vayots Dzor Province to get acquainted with this small island of Jewish culture!
To include the Yeghegis Jewish cemetery in your itinerary, please contact Phoenix Tour in advance at firstname.lastname@example.org