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Afghan Jews
افغان یهودان
יהדות אפגניסטן
Jewish cemetery in the city of Herat, 2009
Total population
Regions with significant populations
United States200
United Kingdom100
Hebrew, Dari, Pashto
Related ethnic groups
Other Mizrahi Jews

The history of the Jews in Afghanistan goes back at least 2,500 years. Ancient Iranian tradition suggests that Jews settled in Balkh, an erstwhile Zoroastrian and Buddhist stronghold, shortly after the collapse of the Kingdom of Judah in 587 BCE.[2] In more recent times, the community has been reduced to complete extinction due to emigration, primarily to Israel.[3][4] At the time of the large-scale 2021 Taliban offensive, only two Jews were still residing in the country: Zablon Simintov and his distant cousin Tova Moradi. When the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was re-established by the Taliban in August 2021, both Simintov and Moradi made aliyah on 7 September 2021 and 29 October 2021, respectively, leaving Afghanistan completely empty of Jews. Today, the overwhelming majority of the Afghan Jewish community resides in Israel, with a small group of a few hundred living in the United States and the United Kingdom.

In Afghanistan, the Jews had formed a community of leather and karakul merchants, landowners, and moneylenders.[citation needed] Jewish families mostly lived in the cities of Herat and Kabul, while their patriarchs traveled back and forth on trading trips across Afghanistan; they carved their prayers in Hebrew and Aramaic on mountain rocks as they moved between the routes of the Silk Road.[2]


Mashiach Gul and Daniel Gul, president of the Afghan Jewish community. (Jerusalem in 1917).

Antiquity and medieval era

Existing records of a Jewish presence in Afghanistan date back to the 7th century CE,[3] although ancient Iranian tradition holds that there was a Jewish presence in Afghanistan as early as the time of Israel and Judah. There are also origin theories among some Pashtuns that claim their descent from the Ten Lost Tribes of the Israelites. The town of Balkh was a major center of Jewish life in ancient Afghanistan; some Islamic traditions hold that Balkh was the burial place of Ezekiel and the home of Jeremiah, both Jewish and Muslim prophets.[2] Jews also settled in Herat, which was an important location on the Silk Road as well as on other trading routes. In modern times, ruins from Jewish settlements still exist in the city, including a Jewish cemetery. The 12th-century Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi wrote that the city of Kabul had a Jewish quarter.[5] In the 18th century, Jews who had served in the army of Nader Shah settled in Kabul as his treasury guards.[5] In 2011, the Afghan Geniza, an 11th-century collection of Jewish manuscript fragments that was compiled in Hebrew, Aramaic, Judaeo-Arabic, and Judaeo-Persian, was found in a cave network in Afghanistan. Some 29 pages from the collection were purchased by the Jerusalem-based National Library of Israel in 2013.[6]

Modern era

Soviet refugee crisis

Following the Kazakh famine of 1930–1933, a significant number of Bukharan Jews crossed the border into the Kingdom of Afghanistan as part of the wider famine-related refugee crisis; leaders of the communities petitioned Jewish communities in Europe and the United States for support.[7] In total, some 60,000 refugees had fled from the Soviet Union and reached Afghanistan.[3][8] In 1932, Mohammed Nadir Shah signed a border treaty with the Soviets in order to prevent asylum seekers from crossing into Afghanistan from Soviet Central Asia.[3][8] Later that year, Afghanistan began deporting Soviet-origin refugees either back to the Soviet Union or to specified territories in China. Soviet Jews who were already present in Afghanistan with the intent to flee further south were detained in Kabul, and all Soviet Jews who were apprehended at the border were immediately deported. All Soviet citizens, including these Bukharan Jews, were suspected by both the Afghan and British government officials of conducting espionage with the intention to disseminate Bolshevik propaganda.[9]

From September 1933, many of these ex-Soviet Jewish refugees in northern Afghanistan were forcibly relocated to major cities such as Kabul and Herat,[10][11][12] but continued to live in under restrictions on work and trade.[10] Whilst it has been claimed that the November 1933 assassination of Mohammad Nadir Shah made the situation worse, this is likely to have had only limited impact.[13] In 1935, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that "ghetto rules" had been imposed on Afghan Jews, requiring them to wear particular clothes, requiring Jewish women to stay outside markets, requiring all Jews to live within certain distances from mosques and banning Jews from riding horses.[14] In 1935, a delegate to the World Zionist Congress claimed that an estimated 40,000 Bukharan Jews had been killed or starved to death.[8] In mid-1935, riots erupted in Herat, the Afghan city with the largest Jewish population, over a dispute between two boys— one Jewish and one Muslim. The two boys got into a fight for unknown reasons, during which the Muslim boy fell down a flight of stairs. The Jewish boy, Aba ben Simon, was blamed, and others began spreading rumors that he was trying to convert the Muslim boy to Judaism.[8] From 1935 to 1941, under Prime Minister Mohammad Hashim Khan (the uncle of the king), Nazi Germany was the most influential country in Afghanistan.[15] The Nazis regarded most of the Afghans as Aryans.[16] In 1938, it was reported that Jews were only allowed to work as shoe-polishers.[17]

Attempted migrations to India

Some Afghan Jews attempted to emigrate to British India, but when they arrived on the border, the colonial authorities categorised them according to their passports; those with Soviet passports were accused of having "Bolshevist ties" and denied entry. Many Afghan Jews were deported back to Soviet-controlled territories under the guise of allegedly violating the "behavioural conduct" codes of British India, although historians have made note of the fact that the colonial government's fear that the emigrants would spread socialist ideas among the Indian public and offer encouragement to the independence movement played a much larger part in its decision to deport them.[8]

The living conditions of Jews continued to worsen in both Kabul and Herat.[citation needed] Many Afghan Jews illegally emigrated to British India during the 1940s during the Second World War. Thousands of Afghan Jews also emigrated to Mandatory Palestine during the war, but most of them emigrated to the State of Israel after it was founded in 1948. Some Afghan Jews also emigrated to the United States, most of whom settled in the New York City borough of Queens.[3]


In 1948, there were over 5,000 Jews in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was the only Muslim country which allowed Jewish emigrants to keep their citizenship. Most Afghan Jews moved to Israel or the United States.[18] Afghan Jews left the country en masse in the 1960s. Their resettlement in New York and Tel Aviv was motivated by their search for a better life.[citation needed] By 1969, approximately 300 Jews remained in Afghanistan, but most of them left Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in 1979, leaving only 10 Jews in Afghanistan in 1996, most of whom lived in Kabul. Currently, more than 10,000 Jews of Afghan descent live in Israel. Over 200 Afghan Jewish families live in New York.[4][18] Over 100 Jews of Afghan descent live in London.[3]

End of Afghanistan's Jewish community

By the end of 2004, only two known Jews were left in Afghanistan, Zablon Simintov and Isaac Levy (born c. 1920). Levy relied on charity to survive, while Simintov ran a store selling carpets and jewelry until 2001. They lived on opposite sides of the dilapidated Kabul synagogue. They kept denouncing each other to the authorities, and both of them spent time in Taliban jails. The Taliban also confiscated the synagogue's Torah scroll. The contentious relationship between Simintov and Levy was dramatized in a play which was inspired by news reports about the lives of the two men, which were released by the international news media following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and the overthrow of the Taliban regime. The play, titled The Last Two Jews of Kabul, was written by playwright Josh Greenfeld and was staged in New York in 2002.

In January 2005, Levy died of natural causes, leaving Simintov as the sole known Jew in Afghanistan.[19] He cared for the only synagogue in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul.[20] He was still trying to recover the confiscated Torah. Simintov, who does not speak Hebrew,[21] claimed that the man who stole the Torah is now in US custody in Guantanamo Bay. Simintov has a wife and two daughters, all of whom emigrated to Israel in 1998, and he said he was considering joining them. However, when he was asked if he would go to Israel during an interview, Simintov retorted, "Go to Israel? What business do I have there? Why should I leave?"[21] In April 2021, Simintov announced that he would emigrate to Israel after the High Holy Days of 2021, due to the fear that the planned withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan would result in the Taliban's return to power.[22] Throughout August 2021, Simintov remained in Kabul, despite having had a chance to escape.[23][22][24]

Despite initially stating that he would put up with the Taliban for the second time, it has been reported that Simantov emigrated to a presently undisclosed country before the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah on 6 September 2021 after he received death threats from the Taliban or ISIS-KP, taking 30 other refugees with him, including 28 women and children.[25] Ami Magazine, an Orthodox Jewish publication which is based in New York City, reported that Simintov was en route to the United States. It was then discovered that an unbeknownst distant cousin of Simintov, Tova Moradi, fled the country sometime in October following Simintov's departure.[26] Contrary to official reports which stated that "no Jewish" person was living in the country, it is believed that Moradi was the last Jew who lived in Afghanistan.[1][27]

Due to decades of warfare, antisemitism, and extreme religious persecution, there are officially no Jews remaining in Afghanistan today.[28][29]

Remaining synagogues and sites

The Kabul synagogue that Zablon Simintov was a caretaker of until his last day in Afghanistan is located in District 4 of Kabul, in "kuche-ye Gol Forushiha" (Persian: کوچه گل فروشیها, The Florists' Alleyway).[30] Simintov's neighbors promised him that they would maintain the synagogue of Kabul in his absence.[25]

Synagogues in Herat

In the city of Herat, the historic centre of Afghan Jews, there are 4 synagogues, 1 public bath, as well as a Jewish cemetery and several abandoned houses. The Yu Aw Synagogue (Persian: کنیسه یوآو), the largest of the Synagogues, still exists in Herat, in western Afghanistan.[31] It is a disused synagogue, which still has most of its original characteristics. This synagogue is composed of 3 floors, a main congregation room, several side rooms and corridors, as well as 7 domes of different sizes.[32] The Yu Aw synagogue underwent renovation in recent years and it was also added to Herat's list of protected cultural sites.[31]

The second synagogue, the 'Gulkiya Synagogue (Persian: کنیسه گلکیا) was converted into a mosque and today, it continues to be used as the Balal Mosque. Despite the takeover of the Synagogue, its structure and design have not changed, and the building has undergone renovation in recent years. The synagogue's mikveh has fallen into disrepair and as a result, it is no longer accessible to the public.[31] The third synagogue, Shemayel Synagogue (Persian: کنیسه شمائیل) has been converted to an elementary school, and has also been renovated in recent years.[31] The fourth synagogue, the Mulla Ashur Synagogue (Persian: کنیسه ملا عاشور), located within Herat's historic Bazar, has been left abandoned, and as a result, it is in a state of disrepair.[31] The Jewish public bath also remains abandoned, and the building is also in need of urgent renovation in order to prevent its complete destruction. The bath was operational in Herat's Bazaar until 2018.[31]

There is also a small Jewish cemetery in Herat. Some of the tombstones have information about the deceased persons which is written on them in Hebrew. In recent years, some of the tombstones and the wall which surrounds the cemetery have been repaired thanks to donations which were sent by the Afghan Jewish Community which lives in the State of Israel.[31] Before the fall of the government of the Afghan Islamic Republic to the Taliban, Herat's cultural officials stated that at the time of the forced departure of the Herati Jews, on a stone inscription, the community stated that it had transferred the responsibility of caring for the Synagogues, the public bath, and the cemetery to the government which ruled Afghanistan when the inscription was written.[31] The state of these historic buildings and the Taliban's plans for them have remained unknown since Afghanistan fell to the Islamist group which has terrorized religious minorities in the past.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Woman now thought to be Afghanistan's last Jew flees country". independent. 29 October 2021. Retrieved 2021-11-12.
  2. ^ a b c "Balkh". Retrieved 2018-11-12.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Aharon, Sara Y. (2011). From Kabul to Queens : the Jews of Afghanistan and their move to the United States. American Sephardi Federation. ISBN 9780692010709. OCLC 760003208.
  4. ^ a b Arbabzadah, Nushin (28 February 2012). "The story of the Afghan Jews is one of remarkable tolerance". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 April 2017.
  5. ^ a b Ben Zion Yehoshua-Raz, “Kabul”, in: Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World, Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. First published online: 2010
  6. ^ "Ancient manuscripts indicate Jewish community once thrived in Afghanistan". CBS. 3 January 2013. Retrieved 12 April 2017.
  7. ^ Koplik, S. (2015). A Political and Economic History of the Jews of Afghanistan. Brill's Series in Jewish Studies. Brill. p. 85-87. ISBN 978-90-04-29238-3. Retrieved 2024-03-03.
  8. ^ a b c d e Koplik, Sara (2003). "The demise of Afghanistan's Jewish community and the soviet refugee crisis (1932–1936)". Iranian Studies. 36 (3): 353–379. doi:10.1080/021086032000139131. ISSN 0021-0862. S2CID 161841657.
  9. ^ Koplik, S. (2015). A Political and Economic History of the Jews of Afghanistan. Brill's Series in Jewish Studies. Brill. pp. 87, 111. ISBN 978-90-04-29238-3. Retrieved 2024-03-03. The British Chargé d'Affaires explained that the Afghan govern- ment viewed every Soviet refugee as "a potential spy." Almost every consequent governmental action towards Soviet, and especially non-Muslim, refugees was based on this perception… Just as the Afghans viewed "every Russian as a potential spy," the British were also concerned with espionage and endeavored to stop Jews from enter- ing India if they were "likely to be Soviet agents."
  10. ^ a b Joan G. Roland (1989). The Jewish Communities of India: Identity in a Colonial Era. Transaction Publishers. p. 349. ISBN 978-1-4128-3748-4.
  11. ^ On wings of eagles: the plight, exodus, and homecoming of oriental Jewry by Joseph Schechtman pp 258-259
  12. ^ "The Jewish Transcript January 19, 1934 Page 7". 19 January 1934. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 2 May 2016.
  13. ^ Koplik, S. (2015). A Political and Economic History of the Jews of Afghanistan. Brill's Series in Jewish Studies. Brill. pp. 97–99. ISBN 978-90-04-29238-3. Retrieved 2024-03-03. A telegram sent from Peshawar on September 24, 1933, to Central Asian Jewish merchants in London explained that the Afghan gov- ernment ordered Jews living in the Andkhoi and Mazar-i-Sharif provinces to return to the towns of their birth within a month... The northern governors issued the first orders for expulsion two months before Muhammad Nadir Shah was murdered on November 8, 1933. Despite a change of leadership, government policies did not shift radically. Rather, planned actions were implemented. At the end of November 1933, the Jews in Mazar-i-Sharif, Andkhoi and Maimana were all expelled... The Prime Minister and new Regent, Muhammad Hashim Khan, simply allowed earlier policies to continue. Although it is possible that his brother's assassination further aggravated the situation of Jews in Afghanistan, it is more likely that the fate of the community probably only changed by a matter of degree. The reason that the Jews may have been ordered back to the places of their birth was to demonstrate that this community was not indigenous to the area and that they had only recently acquired citizenship through bribes.
  14. ^ "Ghetto Code Enacted by Afghanistan | Jewish Telegraphic Agency". 15 May 1935. Retrieved 2 May 2016.
  15. ^ Tom Lansford: "A Bitter Harvest: US Foreign Policy and Afghanistan" Ashgate 2003 page 62
  16. ^ "The Hunt for the Holy Wheat Grail: A not so 'botanical' expedition in 1935 | Afghanistan Analysts Network". 20 July 2015. Retrieved 2 May 2016.
  17. ^ "All Trades but Shoe-blacking Closed to Afghanistan Jews | Jewish Telegraphic Agency". 25 August 1938. Retrieved 2 May 2016.
  18. ^ a b Krastev, Nikola (19 June 2007). "U.S.: Afghan Jews Keep Traditions Alive Far From Home". RFE/RL. New York. Retrieved 12 April 2017.
  19. ^ Fletcher, Martin (14 June 2008). "The last Jew in Afghanistan". NBC News. Archived from the original on 13 April 2017. Retrieved 12 April 2017.
  20. ^ Shaheed, Anisa (30 May 2018). "Afghanistan's Only Jew 'Worried' About The Country's Future". Tolo News. Retrieved 15 February 2019.
  21. ^ a b Motlagh, Jason (1 September 2007). "The last Jew in Afghanistan—Alone on Flower Street: He survived Soviets, Taliban – and outlasted even his despised peer". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 12 April 2017.
  22. ^ a b Friedman, Gabe (4 April 2021). "Afghanistan's last known Jew is leaving for Israel". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  23. ^ Afghanistan's last Jew Zebulon Simentov decides to stay on amid humanitarian crisis. WION. 2021-08-17. Archived from the original on 2021-12-13. Retrieved 2021-08-17.
  24. ^ Steinberg, Rachel (6 April 2021). "Afghanistan's last Jew plans to leave the country". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  25. ^ a b Timm-Garcia, Jaide (9 September 2021). "Last known member of Afghanistan's Jewish community leaves country, taking dozens of women and children with him". CNN. Retrieved 9 September 2021.
  26. ^ "'Last Jew in Afghanistan' loses title to hidden Jewish family". The Jerusalem Post. 3 November 2021. Retrieved 1 December 2021.
  27. ^ "Woman now thought to be Afghanistan's last Jew flees country". AP NEWS. 2021-10-29. Retrieved 2021-11-12.
  28. ^ "Last Jew in Afghanistan en route to US: report". The New Arab. 7 September 2021. Retrieved 17 September 2021.
  29. ^ Mehrdad, Ezzatullah (16 July 2019). "Kabul, with Jewish population of 1, still suffers from widespread anti-Semitism". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 9 September 2021.
  30. ^ Nouri, Zakariyya (2 November 2019). "Zablon Simantov: The last Jew in Afghanistan and Fear of Taliban return (زابلون سیمنتوف؛ آخرین یهودی افغانستان و نگرانی از بازگشت طالبان)". Khabarnama. Retrieved 17 September 2021.
  31. ^ a b c d e f g h "After half a Century, several Jews are wishful to visit their hometown of Herat (برخی از یهودیان پس از نیم قرن در آرزوی دیدار از زادگاه‌شان هرات اند)". Radio Azadi. 29 April 2021. Retrieved 17 September 2021.
  32. ^ "Yu Aw Synagoge in Herat's Musa'iha Neighborhood+Pictures (کنیسه یوآو در محله موسائی‌های هرات+تصاویر)". Shafaqna. 4 July 2016. Retrieved 17 September 2021.