Fkilay, 'Il artu6ll 18, 1980
Tracing a Century of Persecutions ... Afghanistan
Jewry's Decline from a Flourishing History to the
Present 100 Persons, With 5,000 Emigres in Israel
Tragic History of Vanishing Jewish Community of Afghanistan
Afghanistan Jewry's population has dwindled so drastically in the last decade that
the figure listed in the 1979 American Jewish Year Book lists it as 200.
The Joint Distribution Committee issued a report this week stating that there are no
more than 100 Jews in Afghanistan today. Thus one of the world's smallest Jewish
communities represents the most serious problem of persecution.
On Aug. 7, 1946, the World Jewish Congress addressed a memorandum to the
Membership Committee of the United Nations Security Council, asking that "the Mem-
bership Committee of the Security 'Council recommend that the Afghanistan gov-
ernment be required to eradicate, both dejure and de facto, practices herein alluded to
before it officially recommends that the Assembly accept Afghanistan as a member . ."
The World Jewish Congress was then registering a series of complaints about
Afghanistan's treatment of its Jewish population and its bill of complaint followed:
1) The 5,000 Jews now residing in Afghanistan (many of them descen-
dants of families who have lived in that country for a thousand years) are
being subjected to a virtual reign of terror. They are subject to political,
social and economic discrimination no longer sufferable.
2) In all organs of the Afghanistan government (administrative, tech-
nical or policy-making) Jewish citizens are deliberately excluded from
employment. This discrimination applies also to the police and military
forces of that country. The conditions under which the Jews are in the few
special cases allowed to work in these public organs is so arbitrary and
discriminatory that it is tantamount to slavery.
3) A government decree (issued a few years ago under the direct influ-
ence of Nazi agents who had attained determining positions in Afghanistan
public affairs) ordering the concentration of Jews from the provinces of
Afghanistan into ghettos in Kabul and to two other of the comparatively
large cities, has to this day never been rescinded. This concentration was
accompanied with the forced confiscation from the Jewish population of
their personal possessions, all of their property and their commercial
licenses. This confiscation was not immediately nor subsequently compen-
sated. Therefore, the Jews so affected have been forcibly deprived of the
economic means of livelihood. Apart from this particularly devastating
instance it must be stated that in general the Jewish citizens of Afghanistan
do not have the same economic rights as other Afghanistan citizens. They
are prohibited from importing or exporting; they are prohibited from own-
ing or operating productive enterprises. They can be employed by other
Afghan citizens in only a few economic endeavors and are confined delib-
erately to petty trade and hawking. They cannot own or till the soil.
4) Anti-Jewish propaganda is not only endorsed and acquiesced in by
the government but is actually originated and contrived by the govern-
ment. This point is well known and is easily confirmed by the fact that there
is only one newspaper distributed in Afghanistan and this is the govern-
ment newspaper; it repeatedly contains anti-Jewish propaganda.
5) There have occurred in the past few years periodic arrests of Jews.
These arrests were accomplished without any specific charges and were
apparently directed solely against Jews. Despite the fact that, due to inter-
ventions of the World Jewish Congress, some of these prisoners have most
recently been released, there is no indication that these periodic arrests of
Jews have ceased; nor is it the case that all of these innocently imprisoned
Jews have been so released.
6) That a reign of terror and persecution exists against the Jews, there
can be no doubt. If additional confirmation need be made, let it be said that
•because of the threat of reprisal, it has only been quite recently that certain
Jewish organizations or individuals have dared to ask for assistance for the
Afghanistan Jewish community and, although it should be perfectly within
their political rights to protest, the Jews of Afghanistan are not allowed to
do so directly to their own government. In addition any letters of communi-
cations destined for any individual Jew of Afghanistan or Jewish organiza-
tion of Afghanistan is subject to discardment with the likely consequence of
punitive action being taken against the individual or organization
whom the communication was intended.. In brief, the Jewish citizens of
Afghanistan are deprived of the freedom of speech or assembly by their
In a report, "The World Jewish Communities," published in 1963, the World Jewish
Congress reported as follows on Afghanistan:
The number of Jews is estimated at a few hundred, the remnant of an
original population of 4,000 to 5,000. The largest Jewish communities are in
Herat, Balch, and Kabul. After the establishment of the state of Israel, 3,880
emigrated to Persia and from there the majority of them went to Israel, the
ban on emigration having been lifted in 1950.
There is no representative organization of Jews in Afghanistan (outside
of religious communities).
There has always been severe discrimination against Jews, who have
been regarded as infidels and therefore second-rate subjects of the Shah. In
1950, a systematic drive to deprive the Jews of their livelihoods was
launched and the Jews appealed to Israel for assistance. Since then, the
situation has been stabilized though not improved.
There are schools for boys at the synagogues.
There are eight synagogues in Herat, and a few in Balch.
A more detailed account of the status of the Jews of Afghanistan was provided, in
1959, by the late Dr. Simon Federbush, in his extensive "World Jewry" studies. A
valuable historical chapter was provided in Dr. Federbush's scholarly studies and his
account of Afghan Jewry's sufferings are summarized as follows:
A tradition is current among Afghans that they are descendants of the
lost 10 tribes of Israel, and the native chronicles refer to them as "Beni
Israel." However, this belief has not prevented the Afghans from oppressing
the Jews residing in the country.
It is difficult to find reliable information about the present population of
the Afghan Jewish community. Out estimation of 4,000 Jews is based on
recent reports, but there are other estimations which place the number a t
anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000.
The Jews are subject to all forms of discrimination. Until recently, they
were forced to pay the heavy taxes imposed on "infidels." They must report
for military service but are not permitted to carry arms and are employed in
the lowest menial work of the army.
They were not persecuted a hundred years ago, although they lived in
separate quarters. They were said then to have numbered 40,000 in 60 com-
munities. However, in 1878-1880, thousands of Jews from Herat fled to Persia
after they were ordered to pay a heavy war tax. As late as 1927, the number of
Jewish communities was still 60.
Following the assassination of Nadir Shah in 1933, anti-Jewish measures
were intensified. Jews were expelled from various parts of the country and
concentrated mainly in Herat and in the capital, Kabul. They were forbidden
to travel about the country and not allowed to trade in any commodity other
than piece goods. The country's only newspaper, which is government-
owned, is full of anti-Jewish diatribes. In 1946, when Afghanistan applied for
membership in the United Nations, the American ambassader in Kabul wa,
assured that there was no persecution of Jews.
The community is organized on a patriarchal system. The heads of
families select the community head (Kalantur) who represents the Jews
before the authorities. He also is responsible for the collection of the head-
tax, which every male over 15 years of age must pay.
The internal affairs of the community are administered by a council
called "Hevra" (society), composed of the heads of the important families.
The Hevra takes care of the poor, adjudicates civil disputes, and imposes
penalties for Sabbath violations or other religious laws, and even inflicts
corporal punishment and fines for criminal offenses under threat of excom-
munication. A religious court, "Beth-Din," composed of learned men (mulla ;
deals with religious cases such as divorces.
Boys start their education at schools maintained in synagogues at the
age of three and continue until 15. They attend the synagogal religious school
called "Midrash" where they are taught to read and translate the Bible and
prayers. Later on they learn Mishna. They also receive instruction in writing
and arithmetic. Girls are excluded from school.
The Jews of Afghanistan who live in the north among a Persian-speaki ng
population speak a dialect of Persian; the majority of Afghans, however,
speak "Pushtu." The Afghan Jews have a number of peculiar religious
customs. For example, shoes are removed at the door of the synagogue and
the worshipers sit on the floor. Also, at Rosh Hashana, every family
slaughters a sheep in memory of the sacrifice of Isaac.
The overwhelming majority of Jews live in a state of utter poverty and
destitution. During the great famine of 1944, about 1,000 emigrated to India
and from there to Palestine.
The news of the emergence of the state of Israel roused Messianic hopes
among them and strengthened their determination to emigrate to Israel.
Jewish organizations have made repeated representations to the Afghanis-
tan government to permit emigration to Israel. It can be assumed that if
permission were granted, the majority of Jews would leave for Israel without
In 1950, the Afghan Jews appealed to the government of Israel for assis-
tance since they were being systematically deprived of every possibility of
earning a living and forced to sell their possessions. Moreover, they were
being jailed. Due to the intervention of the World Jewish Congress, some of
them were released.
Emigration to Israel has been going on for years. By 1941, about 2.000
Afghan Jews had settled in Palestine. From 1942 to 1949, about 1,000 more
arrived in Israel. The ban against emigration to Israel was lifted in 1951. At
this time (1959) over 5,000 Afghan Jews are citizens of the state of Israel.
A most interesting comment on the Jews of Afghanistan was provided by James
Michner in his extensive travelogue volume "Caravan" (Random House). In his histori-
cal anthropological note appended to this volume (see review in Purely Commentary,
Aug. 9, 1963, Jewish News), Michener wrote:
As we made our way toward the center of Kabul I was reminded of the
first contraditction that marked Afghanistan. The men I saw on the streets
looked much more Jewish than I (Jewish character in "Caravans"). They
were tall, dark of skin, lithe, with flashing black eyes and prominent Semitic
noses. They took great pride in their claim to be descendants of the lost tribes
of Israel, who were supposed to have reached these mountain plateaus
during the Diaspora.
But at the same time the Afghans remembered that the ancient name of
their country was Aryana, and in the volatile 1930s they were adopted by
Adolph Hitler as the world's first Aryans and his special wards. The proud
Afghans were able to accept both accolades without discrimination and
consequently boasted that while it was true that they were born of the Jewish
tribe, Ben-i-Israel, once they reached Afghanistan they had founded the
Aryan race. It made as much sense as what some of their friends were
Such is the history of the Jewish community in a land now significantly in the
limelight. Afghanistan Jewry is not only a diminishing community: it is apparently a
Giving Credibility to Nazim: U.S. Error Must Be Corrected
Were the faces of responsible officials in the Justice Department
and its related immigration services turning red during the presenta-
tion of the revealing account of credibility having been given Nazi
criminals by Americn industrialists, with the blessings of American
authorities? The large TV audiencesurely felt a sense of shame Sunday
night that Nazi mass murderers should have been given hon)al• , here.
Fortunately, the campaign exposing such irresponsible acts is
being conducted fairly successfully by Simon Wiesenthal on the inter-
national front and by Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman in the U.S. Congress.
There must be pressure from all Americans to assure punishment
for the Nazi criminals now residing in this country. A major demand
must be made for the cancellation of the citizenship of Valerian Trifa.
This is where Michigan residents can act with a demand that the Nazi
now in their midst should be properly punished for inciting mass
murders of Jews in Romania. The role played by Dr. Charles Kremer of
New York in exposing Trifa must be fully credited.