by NATIONAL LIBRARY OF ISRAEL, JANUARY 2013:
We know very little about Afghan Jews in the Middle Ages. Those interested in learning about this topic can turn to Benzion D. Yehoshua-Raz’s book, “From the Lost Tribes in Afghanistan to the Mashhad Jewish Converts of Iran”, and discover there that Jews in the Razavi Khorasan Province, the land that today is situated between Iran and Afghanistan, are mentioned in the Arabic literature of the Middle Ages and in period interpretations of the Bible.
Khorasan is mentioned in Middle Age rabbinical and biblical writings as the home of the ten tribes and in Rabbi Sa’adia Gaon’s interpretations the name is mentioned in connection with the Assyrian exile. Benzion Yehoshua cites these details as well as archeological evidence to the connection between Khorasan Jews and Babylonian Jews. The evidence presented in Yehoshua’s book is taken mostly from Jewish headstones discovered in Khorasan. Partial findings, local folk traditions preserved by the non-Jewish local population, and legends, all these help to keep the Jewish existence in Middle Ages Khorasan shrouded in mystery.
This is all the more reason why any physical evidence found immediately gains special importance and textual evidence even more so, as these have the ability to shed light on the Jewish world in Afghanistan, a world which existed only to have vanished. Afghanistan, a land of turmoil and suffering, has come to our attention due to events in recent years, usually not in a favorable context.
About a year and a half ago, the National Library got word regarding the existence of a stash, a genizah, of Jewish manuscripts from Afghanistan. The news was backed by numerous photographs. The manuscripts left Afghanistan and reached antiquaries in different countries, bound together in bundles of varying sizes.
The material includes many dozens of fragments in Hebrew, in Judeo-Arabic, in Judeo-Persian and in Muslim Arabic. The documents written in Muslim Arabic are dated and their content is of a legal nature. Based on these items, we can date the Afghan genizah to approximately the first half of the 11th century.
The National Library has now purchased 29 of these fragments. This lot includes fragments of commentaries by Rav Sa’adia Gaon in Judeo Arabic, letters and other documents in Judeo-Persian and legal documents in Arabic. This is an extremely important finding, being a unique testimony, both in nature and in volume, of the cultural history of a Jewish community in an area which in the 11th century included highly important political, cultural and economical centers.
To this day we have not seen Jewish findings of such magnitude and importance from this area. Everything indicates that the findings are authentic, as attested by the experts consulted by the National Library. The National Library of Israel places the utmost importance in having all the findings of this unique genizah form part of its collection, since by law its mandate is to preserve the national memory of the Jewish People. The present purchase is a first step in this direction. Several of the items can now be viewed online in the gallery included here.
GALLERY OF MANUSCRIPT IMAGES IN JUDEO-PERSIAN, JUDEO ARABIC
top photo is a cropped photo of a Judeo-Persian legal document (February 1005 CE)
Iluminating Jewish Life in a Muslim Empire (by Isabel Kershner, New York Times, January 14, 2013)