A Collection of Long-Lost Manuscripts Sheds Light on Medieval Afghan Jewry

Oct. 19 2017

A few years ago, the National Library of Israel acquired some 300 pages of documents written by Afghan Jews in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries. These include personal and business correspondence, religious and legal documents, journals, and ledgers. Most are in Judeo-Persian—Persian written in Hebrew characters—but some are in Hebrew, Aramaic, or standard Persian. Highlighting some of the most interesting finds in the collection, Yoel Finkleman and Ofir Haim write:

A few weeks before Rosh Hashanah sometime in the 11th century, a distraught, young Jewish Afghani named Yair sent a painful letter to his brother-in-law, Abu-al-Hasan Siman Tov. Life had dealt Yair a tough hand, or maybe it was just his own bad choices. Having failed in business in his hometown of Bamiyan, he was now rumored to have “broken promises . . . regarding property” and failed truly to “observe the Sabbath.” Putting these problems behind him, he had left his young wife to move some 150 miles to Ghazni and begin anew.

But even there he struggled to make a living. More importantly, he missed his family. “Anyone who marries a woman brings peace to his own mind, as it is for all people, not so that I will be sitting in Ghazni and she in Bamiyan.” But, with business doing so poorly, Yair could barely make ends meet on a day-to-day basis, let alone afford the costs of travel. . . .

Hebrew or Aramaic liturgical and religious texts, [however], are in many ways the most exciting documents to come upon. Thus, one finds two pages of a prayer book for the Sabbath that are easily legible to any reader of modern Hebrew, despite being nearly 1,000 years old. With minor changes, they are identical to the prayers recited by traditional Jews today. Another two pages from the Mishnah . . . suggest that Jewish communities in the eastern part of historical Iran might have been closer to the talmudic and rabbinic tradition than anyone previously imagined, since scholars had often assumed that these traditions had not quite made it this far east.

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More about: Afghanistan, History & Ideas, Middle Ages, Persian Jewry

Understanding the Background of the White House Ruling on Anti-Semitism and the Civil Rights Act

Dec. 13 2019

On Wednesday, the president signed an executive order allowing federal officials to extend the protections of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to Jews. (The order, promptly condemned for classifying Jews as a separate nationality, did nothing of the sort.) In 2010, Kenneth Marcus called for precisely such a ruling in the pages of Commentary, citing in particular the Department of Education’s lax response to a series of incidents at the University of California at Irvine, where, among much elase, Jewish property was vandalized and Jewish students were pelted with rocks, called “dirty Jew” and other epithets, and were told, “Jewish students are the plague of mankind.”

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Read more at Commentary

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, U.S. Politics