Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another


Tracing Jewish History in Afghanistan

A look at the Afghan Geniza sheds new light on Jewish history

Print Email

Today our friends at On Being have a story on the Afghan Geniza, which has shed an unlikely light on the Jewish history in the region dating back to the seventh and eighth century.

Beginning as a community of traders, like our letter writer, who traveled as far as China and India along the branches of the Silk Route, with time Jews settled permanently in cities like Kabul, Ghur, and Herat. As indicated by their knowledge of Persian, Afghani Jews seem to have spread east from Iran, where, by the time the new documents were written, Jews had lived for over one thousand years.

Given its significance, the find has attracted media attention. A number of reports, including special coverage on Israel’s Channel Two, have compared the Afghan discovery to the Cairo Geniza, the giant cache of manuscripts stored for centuries in a synagogue attic in Old Cairo that have helped to rewrite the history of Jews in the Middle East.

Earlier this year, Jonathan Lee wrote in Tablet about a trove of Jewish documents from Afghanistan that have recently been discovered:

Little is known about the contents of the new cache of Afghan Jewish documents; the London dealers who are offering them for sale are coy about sharing information. However, according to the Jerusalem Post two Israeli scholars have confirmed their authenticity. The specific provenance of the manuscripts, though, remains a mystery, but the most likely source is the well-documented medieval Jewish community at Jam in the province of Ghur in central Afghanistan. Recently a joint Australian-British archaeological mission to Jam reported that the area of urban occupation around this site had been robbed. Probably pillagers came across the cache of documents, which had been hidden or buried during a time of war.

The manuscripts in this latest cache are all said to date from the 11th century and indicate the presence of a sizable Karaite community in the country. The documents are written in Judaeo-Persian or Judaeo-Arabic and include an ancient copy of the Book of Jeremiah and a previously unknown work by Rabbi Sa’adia ben Yosef Gaon (892-942), founder of Judaeo-Arabic literature. If this is the case, these works alone are a major discovery. The manuscripts are also said to include lamentation poetry and financial records. The commercial documents could prove to be particularly important as they will hopefully give us more understanding of Jewish trade links and land ownership.

Related: War Papers
The Afghan Geniza [On Being]

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

herbcaen says:

It is a good thing these documents were looted. Otherwise, the jihadists would have destroyed them, like they do with anything historic like the Bamiyan Buddha. The other alternative is that some idiots insist that the documents be returned to Afghanistan as part of their “national heritage”. Then the jihadists would have a second opportunity to destroy the documents


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Tracing Jewish History in Afghanistan

A look at the Afghan Geniza sheds new light on Jewish history

More on Tablet:

A Tale of Three Twitter Feeds: Hamas Tweets in Arabic, English, and Hebrew

By Aaron Magid — Analysis of the social-media messaging of Hamas’ military wing reveals distinct voices for the West, the Arab Middle East, and Israel