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Special to the JTA the Jews of Afghanistan

It is said that there may have once been as many as 40,000 Jews living in Afghanistan. However, according to a report prepared by the American Joint Distribution Committee, there are today but a few families–no more than 100 people–and their whereabouts in the current situation are unknown. Most of the people lived in Kabul, some in Herat and there are reports of one remaining family in Balkh.

Some date the origins of the Jews of Afghanistan to the days of the First Temple and though that may be difficult to document there is ample evidence of later migrations into Afghanistan from southern Russia and from Persia. In the late 1870s thousands of Jews went from Herat to Persia to avoid a punitive war tax — but as late as 1927 it was still possible to count 60 distinct Jewish communities. In 1933, following the assassination of Nodir Shah, the Jews were driven from the countryside and concentrated in the municipal centers for safety. Another significant exodus from Afghanistan took place in 1944, a time of famine, and thousands more went into India–eventually going on to Palestine.

The establishment of the State of Israel brought a messianic fervor to the Jews of Afghanistan and an intense desire for aliya, though the government refused to allow them to leave. As late as 1950, when the Jewish population was estimated as being between 3000 to 8000s Jews paid an infidel tax and had to report for military service though they were not allowed to bear arms. Despite the prohibition on immigration the Jews did find their way out–family by family. Most come to Israel, some to the United States.

A JDC report received in 1971 described the situation at that time as follows: “The Jewish community is rapidly shrinking though there is no overt threat. In Kabul there are 25 to 27 families and about 25 in Herat…One major area of difficulty is education. When the Jewish youngster reaches about eighth grade he frequently receives pressure from students and teachers to bring about conversion, therefore few finish high school and there are none in Kabul University.”

The most recent JDC reports tell of 10 Jewish families in Kabul and a total of no more than 100 people throughout the country.

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