Yezidism

History

Yezidi is Hebrew and means Yehudi, the Hebrew word for Jew and Jewish. There has been some change in pronunciation during 27 centuries of exile since the Assyrian deportations of the Israelite tribes of the northern Kingdom of Israel, then under Assyrian occupation. Yezidi Judaism is the result of six long periods of religious historical influence, namely Assyrian, Median, Zoroastrian, Hellenistic, Christian and Muslim eras. Yezidism thus did not emerge through syncretism (a common misconception among scholars) but has merely adapted to surrounding intrusive religious imperialism throughout its 27 centuries long history.

Endogamy and hereditary priests

Yezidis have both Levites (pîrs) and Kohanim (sheikhs). The majority however are Israelite commoners (murîds). There are three endogamous subcastes of the Kohanite priestly caste and no marriage is permitted between them or with Levites or with commoners. (C.f. Alevism also has three types of Kohanim which however are not endogamous between themselves or vis-à-vis Levites.) The Levites among Yezidis marry only among themselves as do the commoners only among themselves. Dual parental Yezidi ancestry is required in order to be counted as Yezidi, conversion is officially abolished although secret conversion may still exist. Among the Levites are there different groups including qewwals who memorize and perform Yezidism’s musical and textual traditions; feqirs are nazirites who are expected to lead ascetic lifestyles while serving menial tasks at Yezidi shrines and the kochaks are Yezidi dance performers during sema, Yezidi religious dance. Levites are divided into four groups and forty subgroups as apparently symbolizing the four gates of the Temple in Jerusalem and the forty steps one needed to thread in order to reach it. This symbolizes the future role reserved for Levites in the future rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. There is a Yezidi High Priest (Baba Sheikh), a Yezidi Prince (Mir) and a Yezidi Ceremonial Master (Pesh Imam), each from one of the three groups of Kohanim.

Jewish practices in Yezidism

Traditional Yezidi males have sidelocks (Hebrew: peyot) although Yezidis have at least four sidelocks as opposed to two sidelocks among Rabbinic Jews.

Saturday is the Yezidi day of rest although Wednesday and Friday are identified as sacred days of the Yezidis. Yezidi weddings are not performed on Wednesdays as comparable to the Rabbinically Jewish prohibition on weddings on the Sabbath.

Yezidis worship King David as a powerful angel and ruler of the world. King David is referred to as Melek Taus (Hebrew: Melekh Dawid, King David) and Tawûsê Melek (Hebrew: Dawid haMelekh, David the King). Melek Taus homonymously means “peacock angel” in Kurdish and King David is therefore worshiped in the form of representations of peacocks. King David is the demiurge who rules the world on behalf of the absent God. Yazidis refer to themselves as Miletê Tawûsê Melek (the nation of Melek Taus), i.e. the nation of King David. The notion of Melek Taus as a fallen angel refers to how King David fell for Bathsheba and became a sinner by sending her husband Uria to a certain death. (Yarsanis identify Melek Taus as being the same person as King David.)

The Yezidi holy city of Lalish in Iraqi Kurdistan is apparently the realization of the vision of the new Jerusalem and serves as a point of pilgrimage for all Yezidis around the world.

Traditional Yezidis and observant Rabbinic Jews pray three times a day. Times for Rabbinically Jewish daily prayers are determined by sunrise and sunset while Yezidis pray towards the sun. Rabbinic Jews take three steps forward before bowing and commencing the thrice-daily Amidah prayer while Yezidis bow three times in the direction of the sun. Yezidis pray in the direction of the sun at sunrise, noon, and sunset.

Yezidis practice male circumcision. The institution of the Sandek (in whose lap the boy lies during circumcision); i.e. Kariv (Hebrew: karov meaning relative or close) is well established in Yezidism. The kariv is either a non-Yezidi or a Yezidi belonging to a different caste due to the prohibition on marriage between the offspring of the boy and the offspring of his sandek for seven generations.

Yezidis have ceremonial eating of bread and ritual drinking of wine in shrines of theirs as have Jews on the sabbath and major holidays.

There is an ornamental mezuzah carved and painted on the entrance to many Yezidi shrines. The ornamental mezuzah does not contain textual parchment but takes the form of a large black serpent standing on its tail. The serpent is the symbol of the Israelite tribe of Dan. Visitors kiss the mezuzah. It is common to kiss the doorpost if there is no serpent to kiss. Touching the mezuzah and kissing the fingers that touched it is a rabbinically Jewish practice. (Yarsanis and Alevis also kiss doorposts.)

There is an annual Yezidi sacrifice of a lamb to remember Abraham’s non-sacrifice of his son. Animal sacrifice remains important in Yezidism as it was in Biblical Judaism. Yezidis do not eat pork.

Historical memory of prejudice, persecution and massacre is central for ethnic identity for Yezidis as it is for Rabbinic Jews.

Within shrines Yezidis use candles made from specially grown consecrated olives and lamps with such olive oil are used during religious celebrations. This is because consecrated olive oil was used to fuel the gigantic golden Menorah candelabrum in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Yezidis light sacred fires and Rabbinic Jews light candles and maintain the eternal flame (Hebrew: ner tamid) oil lamp in synagogues. Oil lamps comparable to the Ner Tamid are lit during Yezidi festivals.

The parading of the seven “sanjaks” is an important Yezidi practice. The seven “sanjaks” apparently represent the seven lamps of the Menorah in the historical Temple in Jerusalem. The “sanjaks” are brought to Yezidi villages amid much celebration. The peacock statue at the top of the “sanjak” apparently represents the eternal flame of King David.

The hair of Yezidi boys is not cut until the boy has reached the age of six months. This is similar to the practice among many strictly Orthodox Jews where the hair of boys is not cut until the boy has reached the age of three years.

Yezidism as Rabbinic Judaism is a religion of Orthopraxy, meaning that actual practice is more important than beliefs.

Yezidis have wish trees upon which cloth with written requests are affixed. This is similar to the Rabbinically Jewish practice of putting paper notes with prayer requests in the cracks of the Western Wall of the historical Temples in Jerusalem.

There is both ritual immersion in living water and symbolic distribution (sprinkling) of living water in Yezidism. Living (i.e. sacred) water is used for immersion of sacred objects. This is comparable to the Rabbinically Jewish mikveh.

Ritual purity is important both in Yezidism and in Orthodox Rabbinic Judaism.

Yezidis believe in the arrival of the Mashiach (messiah) whom they refer to as Sharfaddin. 

All Yezidis are obliged to have a personal Sheikh and a personal Pîr as personal advísors. Yezidis may have a mirabbi who may belong to any caste. All Orthodox Rabbinic Jews are expected to have a personal rabbi and adhere by the rabbi’s advice.

Every Yezidi must have at least two siblings of the hereafter, Men must choose from among Levites and Kohanim while women may select from among commoners (Israelites). A woman’s brother in law or sister in law automatically becomes a sibling of the hereafter. This is comparable to the musahip spiritual siblingship in Alevism and the chavruta spiritual siblingship in Rabbinic Judaism.

As in Rabbinic Judaism, burial takes place as soon as possible subsequent to demise.

Yezidis wear  a special sacred undershirt, kiras, with a round opening for the head, the gerîvan; the equivalent of the Rabbinically Jewish tallit katan. Kiras does not have ritual fringes unlike the Alevi equivalent.

Yezidis as Rabbinic Jews cover sacred objects in cloth. Yezidis tie sacred knots of cloth at shrines; the Yezidi equivalent of the Rabbinically Jewish tzitzit.

During the Yezidi wedding, the bride and the groom jointly break a stick. This is comparable to the Jewish practice of breaking glass at weddings.

There are four pilgrimage festivals in Yezidism, including the New Year. This is similar to Biblical Judaism which had three pilgrimage festivals as well as the New Year festival.

Yezidi secrecy

Yezidism has been well-documented by Western scholars ever since the 19th century. Although certain ceremonies are closed to non-Yezidis, scholars have not been able to explain what exactly it is that is secret about Yezidism. At the same time, scholars have not been able  to explain the origin of Yezidism. Yezidism as other denominations of Median Judaism in the Middle East has been particularly successful at hiding its Israelite origins. Official Yezidi cosmology is mainly from the Median period of historical religious influence and is thus exoteric in character.