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05 July 2011

Jews of Afghanistan

This past week a gentleman submitted the records of his family to the Knowles Collection. What makes these records unique is that they are of a family whose roots are from Afghanistan, which would make it the first records from that country to be included in the database. Even though the family has not lived in Afghanistan since the early 1950's, when those that were still there immigrated to Israel it has made me learn so much more about the history of the Jewish community there.

The history of the Jewish people in Afghanistan dates back well over two thousand years. Various sources cite different dates for when the Jews arrived, however some believe it may date back to the time of the destruction of King Solomon's Temple. Regardless if it truly goes back that far, there seems to be no debate that the country has a rich and long history.
Places such as Khorasan and Ghazni have great historical importance to the Jewish people. What many historians seem to agree on is that in the 7th and 8th centuries the Persian Jews fled the Muslims after rejecting Islam and made there way to Afghanistan. In the late 11th century there were even some who claimed a community of over 40,000 Jews living in the city of Ghanzi.

Then in 1222 that community and many others were invaded by Genghis Kahn and his Mongol army. This invasion led to a large number of Jews in Afghanistan being lost as his army razed the cities. This event led to a time of isolation, where not much about the Jews is documented. This isolation would last hundreds of years, until the early 19th century.

In 1839, the Muslims began the forcible conversation of the Persian Jews, which in turn led to thousands of them making there way to Afghanistan and settling there. In the 1870's the Muslim leaders in Afghanistan enacted laws that were very anti-Jewish, causing thousands to flee to places such as Persia and Palestine. Later anti-Jewish campaigns led to the majority of those remained leaving, so that by the time the State of Israel was formed in 1948, probably less than 5,000 Jews remained. Between then and 1951, laws were in place that prevented those that remained from leaving, but when the restrictions were lifted, most that reamined left. By 1970, less than 300 Jews remained.

What the future holds for Afghanistan remains to be seen, however as changes occur maybe some of those families that left will be able to reestablish their family homes.

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