Ancient Jewish Documents Found In Afganhistan Up For Auction in London

Posted by: Jan Meisels Allen

Tablet Magazine reports, a trove of ancient Jewish papers found in Afghanistan have been smuggled out and are up for auction in London. The documents help document a lost Jewish community.

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 commercial documents could prove to be particularly important as they will hopefully give more understanding of Jewish trade links and land ownership. Afghanistan's Jewish heritage is ancient. When Arab Muslim armies swept into the area in the mid-8th century CE, they encountered a well-established Jewish community known as Jahudan or al-Yahudan al-Kubra, or the Great Jewry, whose inhabitants claimed to be descendants of Jews displaced by the fall of Jerusalem in 597 BCE. The Arabs renamed the town Maimana. Maimana's Jews were mainly traders, engaged in the transcontinental commerce of the Silk Road, for their town straddled the main caravan route between Herat and Balkh. Maimana also had strong commercial links with Merv, Khiva, and Bukhara, all of which had fairly large Jewish populations. The Jews of Afghanistan were also money-lenders, brokers, and bankers. In Jam, in central Afghanistan, more than 70 Jewish gravestones have been recorded in the area, the headstones range from 1012 to 1220 CE. By the 1830s, life for Afghanistan's Jews was increasingly difficult. Dynastic wars, conscription, intolerance, extortion, and the collapse of the overland trade led to many Jews quitting Afghanistan for good.

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Jan Meisels Allen
IAJGS Vice President
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

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