Mendy Kaminker
Mendy Kaminker

11 Million Hidden Jews Living in… Afghanistan?

“Look at this picture! This guy has a Talis on his shoulder!”

As the horrible images flowed from Afghanistan, someone sent me a picture taken in Kabul. And when I looked at it, I had to admit that there are similarities between their garb and ours.

So is there any Jewish connection?

I conducted exhaustive research into this matter.

Okay, I’m kidding. But, I did spend some time on Google and found some interesting information. So here we go:

THE LOST TRIBES?

Most Taliban fighters belong to the Pashtun ethnic group. There are about 60 million Pashtuns worldwide, including 11 million in Afghanistan.

For some years there have been theories that the Pashtuns originated from the lost tribes of Israel.

If you have never heard of the lost tribes – or if you need a refresher – here is the short version. For 208 years, Israel has been divided into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom (or in its biblical name “The Kingdom of Israel”) fell into the hands of the Assyrian invaders.

“In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.” (2 Kings 17:3–6)

These tribes lost touch with the rest of the Jewish people who stayed in Israel and lived in the Southern Kingdom (or the Kingdom of Judah). The vast majority of the Jews living today are descendants of the Jews of the Southern Kingdom and the tribes that remained in Israel.

For centuries, the mystery of the lost tribes fascinated researchers and laypeople alike. What happened to them? Do they still keep the Jewish tradition? Will they ever come back?

BACK TO THE PASHTUNS

Here is a quote from an article in the Guardian (published in 2010):

“Some leading Israeli anthropologists believe that, of all the many groups in the world who claim a connection to the 10 lost tribes, the Pashtuns, or Pathans, have the most compelling case. “

Why? Shalva Weil, an Israeli anthropologist, explained:

“The Pashtuns have a proud oral history that talks of descending from the Israelites. Their tribal groupings have similar names, including Yusufzai, which means sons of Joseph; and Afridi, thought by some to come from Ephraim. Some customs and practices are said to be similar to Jewish traditions: lighting candles on the sabbath, refraining from eating certain foods, using a canopy during a wedding ceremony and some similarities in garments.”

Similarities in garments. Oh yeah. That might explains it.

Here is another quote from Yasmin Eliaz, of Bar Ilan University:

“Saturday in Pashtu is called Shanbay and Hebrew, Shabbat – the holy day of the week for Jews. During Shabbat, Jews are commanded to abstain from labor and reflect. Shabbat is the Jewish symbol of loyalty for G-d. In Pashtu, Sabat means loyalty, and on Shanbay work is also not allowed.”

CAN THE PASHTUNS BE CONSIDERED JEWISH?

Before you rush to book an air ticket to Afghanistan to meet your lost cousins (not a good idea anyway), many researchers disagree with this claim. From my “very thorough Google research,” it seems that there is no clear genetic evidence that the Pashtuns are of Jewish origin.

But even if such DNA evidence exists, it will at most identify them as people of Jewish origin, not actually Jews. That would be the case with many other tribes around the world who have similar claims, but most likely have been assimilated with the local population. Let’s remember that the exile of the lost tribes took place in 720 BCE, more than 2,500 years ago!

WILL WE EVER KNOW?

Will the lost tribes ever return? Turns out, that at least according to some Talmudic opinions, they will be back with the coming of Moshiach.

“Rabbi Akiva said: The ten tribes will not return… Rabbi Eliezer says, “Just like a day is followed by darkness, and the light later returns, so too, although it will become ‘dark’ for the ten tribes, G‑d will ultimately take them out of their darkness; Rabbi Shimon ben Yehudah, of the town of Acco, says in the name Rabbi Shimon: “If their deeds are as this day’s, they will not return; otherwise they shall”.

(You can read more about “will the 10 tribes return” here)

IN SUMMARY

So, if you also see Talis in pictures from Afghanistan, you are not the only one…

Most importantly, we now have another reason to wait and pray for the coming of Moshiach, when we might finally find out the answer to this unsolved mystery.

Let us pray for our troops; Let us pray for the people of Afghanistan; My G-d bring peace upon the world, and let us say Amen.

About the Author
Rabbi Mendy Kaminker is the Chabad Rabbi of Hackensack, and an editorial member of Chabad.org.
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