MembersThe Subbotniks who helped Israel come into being

On a frozen February morning, 37-year-old Russian peasant Rodion Trapimovich Agayev went down to the river with his razor blade and a bottle of vodka.

By Tsvi Sadan |
KIBBUTZ YITAV Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash90

There, at the river bank, he took a long sip from the bottle, said a silent prayer, and… circumcised himself. Another swig from the bottle and a few hours of rest with a vodka-soaked cloth on his wound, and then Agayev headed back home. In the following days, he would circumcise his three sons and the other men from the group of Christian-born Judaizers that he led. In his diary Agayev wrote: “Today, February 22, 1921, I have fulfilled God’s second commandment [given to Abraham].”

Agayev and the 50 with him had decided to leave the Russian Orthodox Church and convert to Judaism. In 1923, he, his wife Rebeca and their three sons and daughter arrived in Tel Aviv in fulfillment of another commandment: “Go forth from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s home to the land that I will show you.” Joining Agayev were nine other families of selfconverted Jews who were mistakenly referred to in Israel as Subbotniks.

The Subbotniks, along with the Doukhobours, Molokans and Proselytes (gerim), came out of an 18th century Russian Christian Orthodox...

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