Jews of Afghanistan

There is an extensive history of Jewish settlement in the area of modern Afghanistan. Ancient sources say that Jews lived in the region dating to the 6th century BCE. Afghani Jews bear many similarities to Persian Jews, speaking a similar language and sharing common cultural practices. From the 7th-8th century CE, there are accounts of even more Persian Jews fleeing to Afghanistan because of the Muslim invasion of Persia at the time.

In the Middle Ages, the Afghani Jewish population continued to grow, reaching between 40,000-80,000 strong by the 11th-12th century CE. Major Jewish centers emerged in Afghanistan during the Middle Ages, located in such cities as Merv, Balkh, Kabul, Nishapur, Ghazni and Herat. In particular, Herat and Kabul were noted for having the largest Jewish communities in Afghanistan. Herat was the largest by far; the Jews of this city were connected very closely to the Jews of Persia, and worked in a variety of prestigious positions.

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For years, Zebulon Simentov branded himself as the “last Jew of Afghanistan,” the sole remnant of a centuries-old community. He charged reporters for interviews and held court in Kabul’s only remaining synagogue. He left the country last month for Istanbul after the Taliban seized power. Now […]