Afghanistan

Afghanistan

The Yu Aw synagogue in Afghanistan's Herat quarter

In addition to the historic Jewish roots of the Pathans (Pashtuns) described elsewhere on the Shavei Israel site, there is also speculation that the Afghan Royal Family has its roots in the tribe of of Benjamin. First published in 1635 in a book called Mahsan-I-Afghani, the tradition has it that King Saul had a son called Jeremiah who had a son called Afghana. Jeremiah died at about the time of King Saul’s death and Afghana was raised by King David and remained in the royal court during King Solomon’s reign.

Some 400 years later the Afghana family fled to a land called Gur, which is in central Afghanistan. They settled and traded with the people of the area and in the year 662, with the arrival of Islam, the sons of Israel in Gur converted to Islam with 7 representatives of the Afghan. The leader of the sons of Israel was Kish like the name of Saul’s father.

According to this tradition, writes Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, Muhammad rewarded them and Kish’s Hebrew name was changed to Arab-A-Rashid by Muhammad and was given the task of spreading Islam among his people.

Tokayer adds that he has met a tribe in the Khyber Pass region of Afghanistan with several names of the Bible’s Joseph: Yusufzai (Joseph), Yusufuzi (children of Joseph) and Yusufzad. “Their tradition is that they were carried away from their ancient homeland,” Tokayer writes

Wikipedia adds more details, including the claim that the name Kabul is derived from the Biblical story of Cain and Abel.

According to historians V. Minorsky, W.K. Frazier Tyler and M.C. Gillet, the name “Afghan” appears in a 982 CE book called Hudud-al-Alam, where a reference is made to:

Saul, a pleasant village on a mountain. In it lives Afghans.

The village of Saul probably was located some where near Gardez, which is just east of Ghazni in Afghanistan.

In 1080, Rabbi Moses ibn Ezra mentions 40,000 Jews paying tribute to Ghazni, and Benjamin of Tudela in the 12th century counts 80,000 Jews.

According to Alden Oreck, stone tablets with Hebrew inscriptions dating from 1115 to 1215 confirm the existence of a Jewish community in Firoz Koh, located between Herat and Kabul.

In the course of Genghis Khan’s 1222 invasion, the Jewish communities were reduced to isolated pockets.

More recently, in 1948, about 5,000 Jews lived in Afghanistan, most of whom emigrated to Israel and, to a much smaller extent, to New York in the early 1950s. Today, there is only one Jew left in Afghanistan – Zablon Simintov. There is much written about Simintov – see links here, here, here and here, along with video from The New York Times here and, surprisingly, from Al Jazeera.

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