Beginning in 2013, the National Library of Israel succeeded in acquiring a trove of documents relating to the Jewish community of medieval Afghanistan, known informally as the Afghan Genizah. Some items are now being put on display for the first time. Yitzhak Tesler reports:
“What distinguishes the documents that have arrived from Afghanistan is the exposure to a Jewish community that we simply knew nothing about, except for the fact that it existed,” says Yoel Finkelman, curator of the Judaica collection at the National Library in Jerusalem.
In the year 586 BCE, the First Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, and his army commander Nebuzaradan, who conquered Jerusalem and exiled the Jews to the east. During that time, Jewish exiles migrated from the Land of Israel to the area that is now Afghanistan, an important trading hub along the Silk Road, with some Jewish merchants amassing great wealth.
The Golden Age of the Jews in the region came to an end in the 13th century CE when Genghis Khan and the Mongols conquered the area and systematically [destroyed] everything in their wake, including communities, property, and even historical documentation. However, two archives were preserved for nearly a thousand years near the city of Mian in Afghanistan, one of which belonged to a successful Jewish merchant named Abu Nasr ben Daniel.
“He was probably some kind of family patriarch,” says Finkelman. “He documented who owed him money, and the rent he needed to receive for his properties, and also preserved Jewish texts. The collection includes many documents . . . written in ancient Persian and Arabic letters, but there are also documents in Hebrew and even in Judeo-Arabic.”