Lev Nussimbaum

I am reading an interesting biographical book, “The Orientalist,” about Lev Nussimbaum, a Jewish author from the Caucasus, who fled from the Bolsheviks to Germany where he eventually converted to Islam.  Apparently it was fashionable, in intellectual and artistic circles, to convert to Islam during this time period (early 1900s)– much like it is trendy for artists and intellectuals to embrace Buddhism or Hinduism (in the form of yoga and meditation) today.

Nussimbaum may or may not have been the author of the beautiful book, “Ali and Nino: A Love Story,” about a young Muslim man from the Causasus who falls in love with a Christian girl.  The novel paints a stunning and rich historical portrait of life in the pre-Soviet region, where, apparently, Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived together in fairly secular harmony, in a world where the arts and academia were esteemed.  This, of course, is the region of the Kuzari, whose nobility converted to Judaism en masse in the 9th century.  They are considered “wild jews” as they did not convert under Talmudic or rabbinical auspices, though they did later adopt Talmudic study.  In fact, I have read that anyone with a “levite” or “kohen” type surname can credit the Khazar conversion, as it was only their ignorance of halacha that allowed then to adopt these family names.

After the Nazis invaded Austria, Nussimbaum (who used a variety of pseudonyms and aliases, including Mohammad Essad Bey) fled to Italy, where he died of a blood clotting disorder at the tender age of 36.