Daily Israel Report

Ancient Afghan Papers Shed Light on Jewish Life

Cache of 1,000-year-old documents written by Afghan Jews provides great insight into medieval Jewish life in central Asia.
By Rachel Hirshfeld
First Publish: 1/4/2013, 4:43 AM

ancient documents (illustrative)
ancient documents (illustrative)
Flash 90

A cache of 1,000-year-old documents written by the Jewish community in Afghanistan and unveiled in Jerusalem on Thursday provides unprecedented insight into medieval Jewish community in central Asia.

"This is the first time we have a large collection of documents representing the culture of the Jews who lived there" at the beginning of the 11th century, said academic director of the National Library of Israel, Professor Haggai Ben-Shammai, according to AFP.

The collection was reportedly discovered by chance in a cave inhabited by foxes approximately two years ago in northern Afghanistan. The dry climate of the cave preserved the papers, keeping them in excellent condition.

The Afghan "Geniza," the Hebrew term for ritual Jewish disposal of documents with religious significance which cannot be thrown out but must be buried, contains hundreds of papers currently held by collectors and dealers around the world, AFP reported.

The national library displayed the 29 items it had acquired from the cache to the media on Thursday, after obtaining them from a dealer in Jerusalem.

Ben-Shammai said the collection is rich with documents, some in Arabic and some in Hebrew script in the Judaeo-Persian dialect, which was prevalent at the time, and also in Hebrew and Arabic.

In addition to being the first ever documentation of the religious, cultural and commercial life of the Jewish community in a central location on the trade route between China and the West, it also contains yet unseen commentary by 10th century commentator Saadia Gaon on the book of Isaiah.

"Until now, we had no documents testifying to the presence of Jews" in this part of the Persian cultural domain, Ben-Shammai said, according to AFP.

The library is preparing to make the documents available online in order to make them accessible worldwide.