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.

Welcome to Mosaic

Register now to get two more stories free

Register Now

Already a subscriber? Sign in now

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

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

Only a Clear Message to Iran Can Restore Israel’s Deterrence

Aug. 19 2019

Currently the greatest threat facing the Jewish state is an attack on three fronts, in which Hizballah and other Iranian forces launch tens of thousands of missiles simultaneously from both Lebanon and Syria, while Hamas—now also taking orders from Tehran—does the same from Gaza. Such a barrage would likely overwhelm Israel’s storied missile-defense systems, severely disrupt civilian life and possible result in high casualties, and gravely interfere with the IDF’s ability to counterattack. Noting that the Islamic Republic could unleash this mayhem at the time of its choosing, Benny Morris suggests a straightforward preventative measure. (Free registration required.)

Sign up to read more

You've read all your free articles for this month


Sign up now for unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Haaretz

More about: Hamas, Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Syria