By Larry Gordon
The one Jew who lived in Afghanistan over these tumultuous years has finally moved out. Zablon Simantov lived in an old shul building in Herat, and though he was reluctant to leave his native country, with the Taliban takeover he was finally persuaded to cooperate with private rescuers to evacuate because Taliban leaders would have loved nothing more than to murder Afghanistan’s only remaining Jew.
The question, though, is whether Mr. Simantov was really the last Jew in the country. Are there, in fact, millions of Jews in the country who stem from the ten Lost Tribes of Israel that were exiled from the Holy Land and dispersed mostly around the Middle East, with millions apparently settled in the Afghanistan area?
According to those who studied the matter and Rabbi Harry Rozenberg, an expert on the subject, the origins of a large segment of Afghans are steeped in Jewish customs and traditions.
Of course, it is not that simple when we consider that most have assimilated and adopted indigenous traditions that have many believing they are either Muslims or like the ancient Marranos, Jews who lived on the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th century and feigned conversion to Christianity but lived secretly as Jews.
The Afghanis you rarely hear about who are the overwhelming majority of the population in the country are Pashtun. They number more than 15 million people in different parts of the country, while the Taliban total number is approximately 100,000.
Let’s digress for a moment and try to understand why it is that suddenly everyone knows about Afghanistan and it has surpassed COVID as the media’s number-one focus today. Is there something hidden behind the details of what is being reported on a daily basis? There may be significantly more at play here than just the bumbling and deceptive foreign-policy positions of Joe Biden and his administration.
Recently, Taliban leaders said that they hope to establish diplomatic ties with many countries around the world, with the sole exception of Israel. There is something even more curious about that position that simply has the Taliban doing the bidding of their extremist Iranian partners and the Islamic radicals who are the dominant population on the Afghan–Pakistan border.
I asked Rabbi Harry why the Afghans are so hostile to Israel. He responded that while the Taliban does indeed hate Israel, the Pashtuns actually love Israel and hope to someday soon seize control of Afghanistan and follow the lead of Gulf countries and establish a relationship with Israel.
In the meantime, to support his contention, the rabbi sent me a list of traditional customs that are followed in Pashtun communities. That list includes: covering the blood of a slain animal, salting of the meat, no eating sea creatures, camels, or horses, no mixing of meat and dairy, blood on doorposts for protection, circumcision on the eighth day, hand washing in the morning and before and after meals, lighting candles on Friday night, use of a marriage canopy, and head coverings for both men and women.
And there are even more customs that the Pashtuns have handed down from generation to generation. Some of those additional customs include family purity, tearing clothing during mourning, adding an extra name to someone who is seriously ill, accompanying the dead until burial, placing stones on tombs, observing seven days of mourning, and more.
But it is important to understand that unlike the Marranos, these are not hidden Jews, as few of the rank-and-file Pashtun understand their customs, and simply accept that these were the ways of their ancestors.
Even more interesting is the little-known fact that there is a royal family in Afghanistan that traces its roots to the biblical tribe of Binyamin. To that end, Zahir Shah was recognized as the king of Afghanistan from 1933 until 1973, when he was overthrown by another family member.
Shah passed away in 2007, and his grandchildren and their families now reside in Pleasanton, California. Rabbi Harry and his associates are in constant communication with the Shah family and ran a Shabbaton together with them in California in 2018.
Today, while the Pashtuns are the significant majority in the country, it is the Taliban that controls the major cities, highways, and airports, including in Kabul, where all the desperate action was taking place over these last few weeks.
The Pashtuns have their own military but prefer a defensive role at this point, protecting the areas they populate. There is no denying that the Pashtuns are biding their time, waiting for world events to turn in a better direction so that they can ultimately free themselves from the terrorist grip.
Rabbi Harry points out that to further complicate a complex historical situation, most of the Pashtuns were converted to Islam about 800 years ago. So what we have now are millions of people who are the descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel but who are now Muslims with many Jewish customs.
The bottom line is that the focus on Afghanistan is not just some kind of geopolitical sideshow without any major or serious consequence.
Rabbi Harry says that in his meeting with Pashtun leadership—and they number hundreds of different tribes—they expressed the desire to associate themselves with Israel, in direct contravention to the Taliban who have said they want diplomatic relations with all countries except Israel.
So I asked Rabbi Harry Rozenberg, who lives in Israel, what their end game is—do the Pashtuns see themselves as someday, perhaps in the Messianic era, being transported to the land of Israel? Rabbi Harry says that, no, the Pashtun leaders believe that in those days to come, the borders of Israel will be stretched and expanded and will include the Pashtun lands in the new land of Israel.
That will be exceedingly fascinating. One thing about which we can be fairly certain is that the bumbling and blundering Biden foreign policy, as detached as it is from substantive reality, could very well be a cog in the ultimate Divine plan for the destiny of the Jewish people.
So while Zablon Simantov is purportedly the last Jew to have lived in Afghanistan, perhaps he really isn’t the last one after all.
Read more of Larry Gordon’s articles at 5TJT.com. Follow 5 Towns Jewish Times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.