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Jews have lived in Afghanistanmarker for at least 2,000 years, but the community has been reduced greatly because of emigration. Afghan Jewish communities now exist mostly in Israelmarker and the United Statesmarker. Today, it is believed that there is only one Jew, Zablon Simintov, who resides in Afghanistan. He cares for a dilapidated synagogue in Afghanistan's capital, Kabulmarker, and receives aid from sympathetic Muslims and Jews around the world.


It may be possible that Jews have a history of 2,500 years in Afghanistan, tracing back to the Babylonian Exile and Persian conquest. Records of a Jewish population in Afghanistan go back to the 7th century, with the Tabqat-i-Nasiri mentioning a people called Bani Israel settling in Ghor . The Pashtun have a legend of being descended from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. They claim that the name Kabulmarker is derived from "Cain and Abel", and the name Afghanistan from Afghana, a grandson of King Saul. 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:

The village of Saul probably was located some where near Gardezmarker, which is just east of Ghaznimarker in Afghanistan. The book also tells about a village near modern Jalalabadmarker where the local king used to have many Hindu, Muslim and Afghan wives.

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

In the course of Genghis Khan's 1222 invasion, the Jewish communities were reduced to isolated pockets. Only in 1839, the population increased again, swelled by refugees from Persiamarker, reaching some 40,000 .

By 1948, about 5,000 Jews existed in Afghanistan, and after they were allowed to emigrate in 1951, most of them moved to Israel and the United States. By 1969, some 300 remained, and most of these left after the Soviet invasion of 1979, leaving 10 Afghan Jews in 1996, most of them in Kabul. More than 10,000 Jews of Afghan descent presently live in Israel. Over 200 families of Afghan Jews live in New York Citymarker in USA.


By the end of 2004, only two Jews were left in Afghanistan, Zablon Simintov and Isaac Levy (born ca. 1920). Levy relied on charity, while Simentov ran a store selling carpets and jewelry until 2001. They lived at separate ends of the dilapidated Kabulmarker synagogue. Both claimed to be in charge of the synagogue, and the rightful owner of its Torah, accusing the other of theft and imposture. They kept denouncing each other to the authorities, and both spent time in Taliban jails, and the Taliban also confiscated the Torah. Recently, one of Simentov's acquaintances stated that if you had brought (him) a bottle of whiskey, he (Simentov) would be in "heaven."

The contentious relationship between Simentov and Levy was dramatized in a play inspired by news reports of the two that appeared in international news media following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan overthrowing the Taliban regime. The play, entitled "The Last Two Jews of Kabul," was written by playwright Josh Greenfeld and was staged in New York City in 2002.

In January 2005, Levy died of natural cause. Simentov is now the last remaining Jew in Afghanistan, and with a total Afghan population of 30 million, this amounts to a fraction of 33 ppb, the lowest worldwide. Simentov is trying to recover the confiscated Torah. Simentov, who does not speak Hebrew claims that the man who stole his Torah is now in U.S. custody in Guantanamo Baymarker. Simentov has a wife and two daughters who live in Israelmarker, and he said he was considering joining them. However, when asked during a recent interview whether he would go to Israel, Simentov retorted, "Go to Israel? What business do I have there? Why should I leave?"

Ten Lost Tribes of Israel

It is widely believed by many Muslim scholars and some Jewish scholars that the largest ethnic group of Afghanistanmarker, the Pashtuns, are descended from the exiled Lost Tribes of Israel. The theory is mentioned in Nimat Allah al-Harawi's The History of the Afghans written in 1612. They cite oral history and the names of various clans, which resemble the names of the tribes that were exiled by the Assyrian Empire 2,700 years ago, as evidence for this claim. This evidence, however, was not substantiated by a recent genetic test that was focused on a small non-descript group of Pashtuns which found no substantial connection between Jewish populations and the Pashtuns. Nor is the Eastern Iranian language of the Pashtuns taken into account when examining the claims of Hebrew ancestry. It could be concluded that these claims appear to have emerged amongst the Pashtuns following the Islamic conquest of Afghanistan, it is conceivable that many tribes have created elaborate ancestral lineages to link themselves to prominent peoples mentioned in the Qur'an such as Jews, Greeks (see Alexander in the Qur'an), and Arabs all of whom have come to the region, but appear to have contributed to various minority genetic strains in the population rather than drastically altering the demographics of Afghanistan. Medieval accounts of the Israelite origin of the Pashtuns are contradicted by ancient sources, which from the Vedas and Herodotus (c. 450 BCE) onward refer to Paktia (the Pashtun), the "Aparitai" (Afridis) as well as other Pashtun sub-tribes and also by the Iranian language linguistic affiliations of the Pashto language.

Contemporary Afghan Jews

More than 10,000 Jews of Afghan descent now live in Israelmarker. The second largest population of Afghan Jews is in New York Citymarker, with 200 families living mostly in the neighborhoods of Flushing, Forest Hillsmarker and Jamaicamarker, in the borough of Queensmarker. Many speak neither Pashto nor Dari Persian while some even emphasize that they "weren't really Afghans by definition" but that they "just lived over there." Rabbi Jacob Nasirov leads the Orthodox congregation of Anshei Shalom, the only Afghan synagogue in the United States. Members have roots not only from Afghanistan, but also Yemenmarker, Syriamarker, Russiamarker, Iraqmarker, Moroccomarker and Lebanonmarker.

See also


  1. NEW YORK, June 19, 2007 (RFE/RL), U.S.: Afghan Jews Keep Traditions Alive Far From Home
  3. Willem Vogelsang, The Afghans, Edition: illustrated Published by Wiley-Blackwell, 2002, Page 18, ISBN 0631198415, 9780631198413 ( LINK)
  4. The last Jew in Afghanistan / ALONE ON FLOWER STREET: He survived Soviets, Taliban - and outlasted even his despised peer
  5. Niamatullah’s History of the Afghans = Makhzan-I Afghāni, by Nirodbhusan Roy, Lahore : Sang-e-meel, 2002
  6. U.S.: Afghan Jews Keep Traditions Alive Far From Home

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