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Friday, April 1, 2011

The Jewish of Afghanistan


The Jews of Afghanistan have a history of 2,500 years in this country. They arrived in this area after the Babylonian Exile and the Persian conquest. The first traces concerning the Jewish population of Afghanistan are dated from the seventh century. They concern the Jews living the town of Ghor. The discovery of a Jewish cemetery in this city in 1946 testifies to the existence of a large and flourishing Jewish community. The earliest tombstones date from 752-753 and the latest date from 1012-1249. The inscriptions on the tombstones are in Hebrew, Aramaic and Judeo-Persian, a language with elements of medieval Persian and containing Hebrew-Aramaic components, written in Hebrew script, and spoken by the members of the local Jewish community.

In 1222, after the invasion of Genghis Khan, the Jewish communities were reduced to isolated pockets. The most important groups were located in Kabul, Herat, Ghazni and Balkh.

The arrival of Jews coming from Iran at the 19th century, then of Central Asia at the 20th century (to initially flee Russian repression, and a few decades after communist threat) allowed the increase of the Jewish population in Afghanistan (about 40,000 persons). By 1948, about 5,000 Jews were left, and after they were allowed to emigrate in Palestine, most of them moved there or in India, for economic reasons. In the seventies, some 300 remained, and most of them left after the Soviet invasion of 1979.


The traditional Jewish clothing was similar to that of the Islamic population. The Jews of Afghanistan used Hebrew for liturgy and religious studies, while Judeo-Persian was the main language for day to day usage.

Another fact is that the Pashtuns have a legend of being descended from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel and they claim that the name Afghanistan is derived from Afghana; a grandson of King Saul.

Comments of an American young woman having Afghan origins:

"I want my children to remember that their ancestors came from Kabul, Afghanistan. My mom and her family left Afghanistan to come to America in 1964. They left Afghanistan along with many other Jews. They had good living conditions but simple ones. The life they were living there wasn't anything fancy. They lived in middle class homes. My grandfather and great grandfather were in the textile business.

King Zaher Shah who took over in 1935 (in fact 1933) liked the Jews and protected them. The Jews had a certain degree of religious freedom. They attended shuls and were observant Jews. My mom's family and most afghan Jews left because they wanted to have a better life and education for their children."[*]