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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Afghanistan

Land of the lost Ten Tribes - Mongol rule since 1222 and destruction - Arab sources about Jews in Afghanistan - language, culture, and trade - anti-Jewish law since 1933 and emigration wave since 1944 - folklore

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Jews in Afghanistan,
                vol. 2, col. 327, map of Afghanistan showing places of
                Jewish settlement in the middle ages and modern times
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Jews in Afghanistan, vol. 2, col. 327, map of Afghanistan showing places of Jewish settlement
in the middle ages and modern times: medieval settlements were Balkh, Firoz Kh, Kabul, Gjazni, and Kandahar.
Contemporary Jewish settlements are Balkh, Kabul, Maimana, and Herat.

from: Afghanistan; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 2

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)



AFGHANISTAN, Muslim state in central Asia (Khorasan or Khurasan in medieval Muslim and Hebrew sources).

[Afghanistan as a place of the lost Ten Tribes - exile place for unwanted Jews]

Early Karaite and Rabbanite biblical commentators regarded Khorasan as a location of the lost Ten *Tribes Afghanistan annals also trace the Hebrew origin of some of the Afghan tribes, in particular the Durrani, the Yussafzai, ans the Afridi, to King *Saul (Talut). This belief appears in the 17th-century Afghan chronicle Makhzan-i-Afghān and some British travelers in the 19th century spread the tradition. Because of its remoteness from the Jewish center in Babylonia, persons unwanted by the Jewish leadership, such as counter-candidates for the exilarchate (see *Exilarch), often went to live in or were exiled to Afghanistan.

[[There are many geographical names in Afghanistan which correspond with Torah places in Palestine and today's Jordan and Iraq]].

[Jews in Afghanistan during Medieval times - tax payers - reports of travelers - Jewish communities - Mongol invasion of 1222 and destruction of Jewish communities]

Medieval sources mention several Jewish centers in Afghanistan, of which *Balkh was the most important. A Jewish community in Ghazni is recorded in Muslim sources, indicating that Jews were living there in the 10th and 11th centuries. A Jews named Isaac, an agent of Sultan Mahmud (ruled 998-1030), was assigned to administer the sultan's lead mines and to melt ore for him.

According to Hebrew sources, vast numbers of Jews lived in Ghazni but while their figures are not reliable, Moses *ibn Ezra mentions (1080) over 40,000 Jews paying tribute in Ghazni and *Benjamin of Tudela (c. 1170) describes "Ghazni the great city on the River Gozan, where there are about 80,000 [8,000 in a variant manuscript] Jews..." In Hebrew literature the River Gozan was identified with Ghazni in Khorasan from the assertion of Judah *ibn Bal'am that "the River of Gozan is that river flowing through the city of Ghazni which is today the capital of Khorasan."

A Jewish community in Firoz Koh, capital of the (col. 326)

medieval rulers of Ghūr or Ghuristan, situated halfway between Herat and Kabul, is mentioned in Tabaqāt-i-Nāṣi-rī, a chronicle written in Persian (completed around 1260) by al-Jūzjānī. This is the first literary reference to Jews in the capital of the Ghūrids. About 20 recently-discovered stone tablets, with Persian and Hebrew inscriptions dating from 1115 to 1215, confirm the existence of a Jewish community there. The Mongol invasion in 1222 annihilated Firoz Koh and its Jewish community.

[Arab sources describing Jewish settlements in Afghanistan]

Arab geographers of the tenth century (Ibn Hawqal, Iṣṭakhrī) also refer to Kabul and Kandahar as Jewish settlements. An inscription on a tombstone from the vicinity of Kabul dated 1365, erected in memory of a Moses b. Ephraim Bezalel, apparently a high official, indicates the continuous existence of a Jewish settlement there.

[Mongol rule since 1222 - Meshed Jewish refugees from Meshed coming to Afghanistan]

The Mongol invasion, epidemics, and continuous warfare made inroads [[ugly attacks]] into Jewish communities in Afghanistan throughout the centuries, and little is known about them until the 19th century when they are mentioned in connection with the flight of the *amusim of Meshed after the forced conversions in 1839. Many of the refugees fled to Afghanistan, Turkestan, and Bokhara, settling in Herat, Maimana, Kabul, and other places with Jewish communities, where they helped to enrich the stagnating cultural life.

Nineteenth-century travelers (*Wolff,*Vámbery, *Neumark, and others) state that the Jewish communities of Afghanistan were largely composed of these Meshed Jews. Mattathias Garji of Herat confirmed:

"Our forefathers used to live in Meshed under Persian rule but in consequence of the persecutions to which they were subjected came to Herat to live under Afghan rule."

[Afghan Jews language, cultural activities and trade]

The language spoken by Afghan Jews is not the Pushtu of their surroundings but a *Judeo-Persian dialect in which they have produced fine liturgical and religious poetry. Their literary merit was recognized when Afghan Jews moved to Ereẓ Israel toward the end of the 19th century. Scholars of Afghanistan families such as Garji and Shaul of Herat published Judeo-Persian commentaries on the Bible, Psalms, the Torah, piyyutim [[poetry for worship service]], and other works, at the Judeo-Persian printing press established in Jerusalem at the beginning of this century.

The Jews of Afghanistan did not benefit from the activities of European Jewish organizations. Economically, their situation in the last century was not unfavorable; they traded in skins, carpets, and antiquities.

[W.J.F.] (col. 327)

Recent Years. [anti-Jewish laws since 1933 and emigration since 1944]

[...] Jews were banished from other towns after the assassination of King Nādir Shāh in 1933. Though not forced to live in separate quarters, Jews did so and in Balkh they even closed the ghetto gates at night. A campaign against Jews began in 1933. They were forbidden to leave a town without a permit. [...]

Approximately 5,000 Jews were living in Afghanistan in 1948. [...] They were concentrated in Kabul, Balkh, and mainly Herat.

They had to pay a yearly poll tax and from 1952, when the Military Service Law ceased to apply to Jews, they had to pay ransoms for exemptions from the service (called ḥarbiyya). Government service and government schools were closed to Jews, and certain livelihoods forbidden to them. Consequently, most Jews only received a ḥeder education [[religious school to the age of 13]].

There were only a few wealthy families, the rest being poverty-stricken and mostly employed as tailors and shoemakers. Until 1950 Afghan Jews were forbidden to leave the country. However, between June 1948 and June 1950, 459 Afghan Jews went to [[racist Zionist Free Mason Herzl CIA]] Israel. Most of them had fled the country in 1944, and lived in Iran or India until the establishment of the State of Israel. Jews were only allowed to emigrate from Afghanistan from the end of 1951.

By 1967, 4,000 had gone to [[racist Zionist Free Mason Herzl CIA]] Israel. No [[racist Herzl]] Zionist activity was permitted, and no emissaries from Israel could reach Afghanistan. There was a ḥevrah ("community council") in each of the three towns in which Jews lived. The ḥevrah was composed of the heads of families; it cared for the needy, and dealt with burials. The ḥevrah sometimes meted out punishments, including excommunication. The head of the community (called kalantur) represented the community in dealings with the authorities, and was responsible for the payment of taxes. [...]

About 300 [[Jews]] remained in 1969.



A survey of local Jewish-Afghan folk tales and customs reveals the influence of both Meshed (Jewish-Persian) and local non-Jewish traditions. This is especially true of customs relating to the year cycle and life cycle. The existence of several unique customs, such as the presence of "Elijah's rod" at childbirth, and several folk cures and charms are to be similarly explained. Jewish-Afghan folk tales have been collected from local narrators in Israel, and are preserved in the Israel Folk Tale Archives. A sample selection of 12 tales from the repertoire of an outstanding narrator, Raphael Yehoshua, has been published (1969) accompanied by extensive notes and a rich bibliography.



-- Nimat Allah: History of the Afghans (London, 1829), tr. by B. Dorn
-- Holdich, in: Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, 45 (1917), 191-205
-- H.W. Bellew: Races of Afghanistan (1880)
-- I. Ben-Zvi: The Exiled and the Redeemed (1961), index
-- Fischel, in: HJ, 7 (1945), 29-50
-- idem, in: JAOS, 85, no. 2 (1965), 148-53
-- idem, in: JC, Supplement (March 26, 1937)
-- idem, in: L. Finkelstein (ed.): Jews, their History, Culture and Religion, 2 (1960), 1149-90
-- G. Gnoli: Le iscrizioni guideo - Persiane del Gur (Afghanistan) (1964), includes bibliography
-- E.L. Rapp: Die Juedisch-Persisch Hebraeischen Inschriften aus Afghanistan (1965)
-- Brauer, in: JSOS, 4 (1942), 121-38
-- R. Klass: Land of the High Flags (1965)
-- N. Robinson, in: J. Freid (ed.): Jews in Modern World, 1 (1962), 50-90> (col. 328)

[[See the parallels of geographical names in Faber-Kaiser's book with several chapters about the lost Tribes in Afghanistan ]].

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Jews in
                          Afghanistan, vol. 2, col. 326
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Jews in Afghanistan, vol. 2, col. 326
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Jews in
                          Afghanistan, vol. 2, col. 327-328
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Jews in Afghanistan, vol. 2, col. 327-328

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