The National Library of Israel has recently acquired an unrivaled collection of rare ancient Jewish-Afghan documents, providing a glimpse into the Silk Road’s vanished Jewish community.
The collection is the largest of its kind, consisting of about 250 documents from the 11th-13th centuries and representing virtually the only evidence of a once-thriving community.
The documents provide unprecedented access to the day-to-day life, society, and economy of Jews along the Silk Road, the ancient highway which once linked Europe and China. The texts also provide new information about the region’s ancient Islamic and Persian cultures prior to Mongol destruction of the region.
The collection, written in Persian, Arabic, Aramaic, and Judeo-Persian also includes legal documents, liturgy, poetry, texts of Jewish law, a historical chronicle and Biblical passages.
The exciting and historic discovery was made a few years ago in the area of present-day Afghanistan.
In 2013, the National Library procured 29 pages from the rare treasure. Now, after great efforts to preserve the “Afghan Genizah” collection for future generations, the library purchased close to 250 more manuscripts.
Discovery of Immense Historic Significance
“This discovery will keep the Library and researchers busy for years to come and enables a rare view of the Jewish-Afghan community and the rich Muslim cultures that lived in that region,” the library stated.
Prof. Haggai Ben Shammai, world-renowned expert on Jews of the Islamic world, explained that the collection is of exceptional importance due to the previous dearth of first-hand accounts and evidence of Jewish life under local dynastic rule. Literary source materials had also been severely lacking until this discovery.
Many items in the collection had been part of a local administrator’s archive, and contain administrative documents and fragments of religious and literary works, mainly in Persian. This material provides an unparalleled view onto the workings of local government administration, politics, and law in this far-flung region.
NLI will digitize the material and make it available to the international community of scholars and the general public. As the collection has never previously been made available to the public nor the academic community, the full richness and significance of its contents have yet to be revealed.
By: Aryeh Savir, World Israel News