Searching for Jewish families from Peshawar and Afghanistan that lived here before 1948
The ancient and historic city of Peshawar was home to many different communities. Amongst them were the Jews who had mostly settled here from Central Asia and Afghanistan. The remains of a synagogue still exist near the clock-tower in Peshawar according to a local historian Muhammed Nawaz Khan.
A curious legend links the Pathans (or Pashtuns or Pakhtuns as they are often called) to the Jews. In 1855 a former Jewish missionary named Isidore Loewenthal arrived in Peshawar. He was well versed in Hebrew and here he learnt Pushto, the language of the Afghans. It did not take very long before he became convinced that the Afghans shared many traits and customs with his people, including similarities in the two languages. Moreover, a lot of content in Pushto folklore traces its roots to the stories from the
Torah/ Old Testament according to Amina Ahmed (Pashtun Tales of the Pak-Afghan Frontier)

Peshawar had a colourful social and cultural life in the past. There was mutual tolerance and respect for all religions and creeds. Many communities such as the Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and Parsees etc had lived in peaceful co-existance and goodwill for centuries.

The Jewish community immigrated enmass after creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

If you know of any Jewish family member or ancestor who once lived in Peshawar or Afghanistan please contact me. Your privacy shall be respected and you have all my gratitude

Ali Jan, Dr
<[email protected]>
Keywords: Tracing family history genealogical jewish ancestory yiddish hebrew Jew Jews
Jews in Afghanistan AFGHANISTAN

From The Encyclopedia Judaica

Medieval sources mention several Jewish centers in Afghanistan, of which Balkh was the most important. A Jewish community in Ghazni is recorded in Muslim sources, indicating that Jews were living there in the 10th and 11th centuries. A Jew named Isaac, an agent of Sultan Mahmud (ruled 998�1030), was assigned to administer the sultan's lead mines and to melt ore for him. According to Hebrew sources, vast numbers of Jews lived in Ghazni but while their figures are not reliable, Moses ibn Ezra mentions (1080) over 40,000 Jews paying tribute in Ghazni and Benjamin of Tudela (c. 1170) describes "Ghazni the great city on the River Gozan, where there are about 80,000 [8,000 in a variant manuscript] Jews..." In Hebrew literature the River Gozan was identified with Ghazni in Khorasan from the assertion of Judah ibn Bal'am that "the River of Gozan is that river flowing through the city of Ghazni which is today the capital of Khorasan."

A Jewish community in Firoz Koh, capital of the medieval rulers of Ghur or Ghuristan, situated halfway between Herat and Kabul, is mentioned in Tabaqat-i-Na\iri. A chronicle written in Persian (completed around 1260) by al-Juzjani. This is the first literary reference to Jews in the capital of the Ghurids. About 20 recently-discovered stone tablets, with Persian and Hebrew inscriptions dating from 1115 to 1215, confirm the existence of a Jewish community there. The Mongol invasion in 1222 annihilated Firoz Koh and its Jewish community.
Arab geographers of the tenth century (Ibn Hawqal, I\takhri) also refer to Kabul and Kandahar as Jewish settlements. An inscription on a tombstone from the vicinity of Kabul dated 1365, erected in memory of a Moses b. Ephraim Bezalel, apparently a high official, indicates the continuous existence of a Jewish settlement there.

The Mongol invasion, epidemics, and continuous warfare made inroads into Jewish communities in Afghanistan throughout the centuries, and little is known about them until the 19th century when they are mentioned in connection with the flight of the anusim of Meshed after the forced conversions in 1839. Many of the refugees fled to Afghanistan, Turkestan, and Bokhara, settling in Herat, Maimana, Kabul, and other places with Jewish communities, where they helped to enrich the stagnating cultural life. Nineteenth-century travelers (Wolff, VFmbery, Neumark, and others) state that the Jewish communities of Afghanistan were largely composed of these Meshed Jews. Mattathias Garji of Herat confirmed: "Our forefathers used to live in Meshed under Persian rule but in consequence of the persecutions to which they were subjected came to Herat to live under Afghan rule." The language spoken by Afghan Jews is not the Pushtu of their surroundings but a Judeo-Persian dialect in which they have produced fine liturgical and religious poetry. Their literary merit was recognized when Afghan Jews moved to Erez Israel toward the end of the 19th century. Scholars of Afghanistan families such as Garji and Shaul of Herat published Judeo-Persian commentaries on the Bible, Psalms, the Torah, piyyutim, and other works, at the Judeo-Persian printing press established in Jerusalem at the beginning of this century. The Jews of Afghanistan did not benefit from the activities of European Jewish organizations. Economically, their situation in the last century was not unfavorable; they traded in skins, carpets, and antiquities
Jesus in India by Mirza Ghulam Ahmed


(Following items in the appendix discuss Jewish/ Afghan connection)

Francois Bernier Travels in the Moghul Empire. (Constable, London, 1891).

There are however many marks of Judaism to be found in this country. On entering the Kingdom after crossing the Peer-Punchal mountains, the inhabitants in the frontier villages struck me as resembling Jews. Their countenances and manners, and that indescribable peculiarity which enables a traveller to distinguish the inhabitants of different nations, all seemed to belong to that ancient people. You are not to ascribe what I say to mere fancy, the Jewish appearance of these villagers having been remarked by our Father, the Jesuit, and some other Europeans long before I visited Kashmir. (Page 930-932).

George Forster, Letters on a journey from Bengal to England. (Faulder, London, 1808).

On first seeing the Kashmirians in their own country I imagined from their garb, the cast of their countenance which was long and of a grave aspect, and the forms of their beard, that I had come among a nation of Jews. (Vol. II, page 20).

H. W. Bellews, C.S.I., Races of Afghanistan. (Thacker Spink & Co, 1884).

The traditions of the people (Afghans) refer them to Syria as the country of their residence at the time they were carried away into captivity by Bukhtanasar (Nebuchadnezzar) and planted as colonists in different parts of Persia and Media. From these positions they emigrated eastward at some subsequent period into the mountainous country of Ghor, where they were called by the neighbouring peoples 'Bani Afghan' or 'Bani Israel' i.e. children of Afghan and children of Israel. In corroboration of this we have the testimony of the prophet Edras to the effect that the ten tribes of Israel who were carried into captivity, subsequently escaped and found refuge in the country of Arsareth, which is supposed to be identical with the Hazara country of the present day and of which Ghor forms a part. It is also stated in the Tabcati Nasiri that in the time of the native Shan Sabi dynasty there was a people called Bani Israel in that country and that some of them were extensively engaged in trade with the countries around.

Balfour, Edward, Surgeon General, The Cyclopaedia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia, Third Edition. (Bernard Quaritch, 1885).

Under heading 'Afghanistan', page 31. Pakhtun is the national appellation of the Afghans proper; but Afghans and Pathans also designate themselves Bani-Israel. Pakhtun is the individual and Pukhtuna the collective name of the Afghans. This word is described as of Hebrew (Ibrani) origin, though some of them say it has a Syrian (Suriani) source and signifies delivered and set free. The term of Afghan is also said to have the same signification. One tradition is that the mother of Afghan or Afghana on his being born exclaimed 'Afghan', I am free and gave him this name; another tradition is that in the pangs of labour she exclaimed Afghan, Afghan, or Fighan, Fighan, words which in Persian mean, woe, grief, alas! Afghan is claimed as the designation only of the descendants of Kais.

The term of Pathan is said to be from Pihtan, a titular appellation alleged to have been bestowed by Mohammed on an Afghan called Kais.

Their origin is involved in obscurity, but several writers consider them to be descendants of one of the ten tribes of Israel and this is an opinion of some Afghans themselves. A few authors consider that this nation is not of Jewish origin, but that those who introduced the Mohamedan religion amongst them were converted Jews.

Then on p. 34 on the authority of Elphinstone's work 'Kingdom of Caubul' (pp. 182-185) it is written:

Among the Yusufzai, no man sees his wife till the marriage ceremonies are completed, and with all the Bardurani there is great reserve between the time when the parties are betrothed and the marriage. Some of them live with their future father-in-law and earn their bread by their services, as Jacob did when he wanted to marry Rachel, without ever seeing the object of their wishes.

Among the Afghans, as among the Jews, it is thought incumbent on the brother of the deceased to marry his widow, and it is a mortal affront to the brother for any other person to marry his widow, and it is a mortal affront to the brother for any other person to marry her without his consent.

Narrative of a Mission to Bokhara in the years 1843-1845, in two volumes. Rev. Joseph Wolff, D.D. LL.D. (John W. Parker, London, 1845) Vol. I 2nd Edition.

Page 9. From various conversations with Afghans in Khorassaun and elsewhere I learnt that some of them are proud of an origin from the children of Israel, but I doubt the truth of that partial tradition.

Page 13. All the Jews of Turkistan assert that the Turkomanians are the descendants of Togarmah, one of the sons of Gomar, mentioned in Genesis 10:3.

Page 14. The Jews in Bokhara are 10,000 in number. The Chief Rabbi assured me that Bokhara is the Habor, and Balkh the Halah of the 2nd Kings 18:6 but that in the reign of Ghengis Khan they lost all their written accounts. At Balkh the Musselman Mullahs assured me that it was built by a son of Adam, that its first name had been Hanakh and afterwards Halah, though later writers called Balakh, or Balkh. The Jews, both of Balkh and Samarcand, assert that Turkistan is the Land of Nod, and Balkh where Nod once stood.

Page 15. The tradition is an old one at Bokhara, that some of the Ten Tribes are in China. I tried the Jews here on various points of scriptural interpretation, particularly that important one in Isaiah 7:14 - virgin. They translated it as we Christians do and they are in total ignorance of the important controversy between Jews and Christians on this point.

Page 16. I obtained a passport from the King after this most interesting sojourn and then crossed the Oxus and arrived after a few days at Balkh and from that city, where I also communed with the dispersed of Israel, I proceeded to Muzaur.

Some Afghans claim a descent from Israel. According to them, Afghana was the nephew of Asaph, the son of Berachia, who built the temple of Solomon. The descendants of this Afghan, being Jews, were carried into Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, from whence they were removed to the mountain of Ghoree in Afghanistan, but in the time of Muhammad turned Mohammedans. They exhibit a book Majmooa Alansab, or collection of genealogies, written in Persian.

Page 17. Hence I passed to Peshawar. Here I had also the singular book read to me of the origin of the Afghans, the Poshtoo Book of Khan Iehaun Loote. The account in this book agrees with that given in the MSS, Teemur Nameh and Ketaub Ansbee Muhakkek Toose. I thought the general physiognomy not Jewish, but I was wonderfully struck with the resemblance that the Youssufszeye and the Khalibaree, two of the tribes, bear to the Jews. The Kaffreseeah Poosh, if Afghans, vary widely from the rest of their nation. Many travellers have thought them the descendants from Alexander's army, but they do not say so.

Page 18. I always thought that the Kaffr Seeah Poosh were descendants of Israel and some of the learned Jews of Samarcand are of my opinion.

Pages 19-20. Captain Riley, I was surprised to find, looked on the Afghans as of Jewish descent.

Page 58. I spent six days with the children of Rachab (Bani Arbal). With them were children of Israel of the tribe of Dan, who reside near Terim in Hatramawl, who expect, in common with the children of Rachab, the speedy arrival of the Messiah in the clouds of heaven. Vol. II. 131.

It is very remarkable that the Prophet Ezekiel in the twenty-seventh chapter, fourteenth verse, gives an exact description of the trade carried on by the Turkomanians with the inhabitants of Bokhara, Khiva and Khokand. The Prophet says, They of the house of Togarmah (i.e. the Turkomanians) traded in their fairs with horses and horsemen and mules. The Turkomanians to this day, like the Jewish guards, are mercenaries and let themselves out for a few tengas a day. It is also remarkable that I frequently heard the Turkomanians call themselves Toghramah, and the Jews call them Togarmah.

Viewing the hosts of camels coming with merchandise from Cashmeer, Cabul, Khokand, Keetay and Orenbough, the passage of Isaiah 9:6 the multitude and camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah, all they from Sheba shall come and they shall bring gold and incense. Mentioning gold, I must not forget that near Samarcand there are gold mines and turquoises.

Page 236. A few words on the children in the mountains of Kurdistaun. These children, as the late lamented Dr. Grant well observed, are of Jewish origin, though I cannot go so far as to affirm that they are of the Ten Tribes, since they do not know their own genealogy. They are now mostly Christian.

They resemble mostly the Protestants of Germany and England, for they have neither images nor monasteries and their priests are married. The episcopal dignity, however, is hereditary, as well as that of the Patriarch, and at the time the mother of the Patriarch becomes pregnant she abstains from drinking wine and eating meat; and in case that a son is born, he is the Patriarch, and if a daughter, she is obliged to observe eternal virginity.

The Lost Tribes by George Moore, M.D.

On page 143. We are attracted at once to a country of vast importance in the present aspect of the East, and the more interesting to us, as we find there a people who profess to be the Beni Israel or descendants of the Ten Tribes, namely Afghanistan and the adjacent countries.

On page 145. the prominent reasons for thinking that certain classes of the people of Bokhara and Afghanistan are of Israelitish origin are these: 1st. Their personal resemblance to the Hebrew family. Thus, Dr. Wolff, the Jewish missionary says 'I was wonderfully struck with the resemblance of the Youssoufszye (tribe of Joseph) and the Khybere, two of their tribes, to the Jews.' Moorcroft also says of Khyberis 'They are tall, and of singularly Jewish cast of features.' 2nd. They have been named by themselves Beni-Israel, children of Israel from time immemorial. 3rd. The names of their tribes are Israelitish, especially that of Joseph, which includes Ephraim and Manasseh. In the Book of Revelation the tribe of Joseph stands for Ephraim (Rev. 7:6-8). In Numbers 36:5 Moses speaks of Manasseh as the tribe of the sons of Joseph, so that it is clear that both Manasseh and Ephraim were known by the name of the tribe of Joseph. 4th. The Hebrew names of places and persons in Afghanistan are of far greater frequency than can be accounted for through Mohometan associations; and, indeed, these names existed before the Afghans became Mohometans. 5th. All accounts agree that they inhabited the mountains of Ghore from a very remote antiquity. It is certain that the Princes of Ghore belonged to the Afghan tribe of Sooree and that their dynasty was allowed to be of very great antiquity even in the eleventh century. They seem early to have possessed the mountains of Soliman or Soloman comprehending all in the Southern mountains of Afghanistan (Elphinstone). 6th. Afghan is the name given to their nation by others, the name they gave their nation is Pushtoon, and Drs. Garey and Marshman assert that the Pushtoon language has more Hebrew roots than any other.

Page 147. The antiquity of the name of the country Cabul, or Cabool is then established; and it is also shown that some peculiar people known as 'The Tribes', 'The Noble Tribes' dwelt there at a very remote period. There is, therefore, good evidence that the present inhabitants of Cabul may be justified in asserting that from the earliest period of history they and their ancestors have occupied Cabul, and that from time immemorial they have been known as The Tribes. That is to say, Israelitish Tribes, such as they now assume themselves to be ... According to Sir W. Jones the West-Persian authorities agree with them in their account of their origin; and resident and competent authorities, such as Sir John Malcolm and the missionary Mr. Chamberlain, after full investigation, assure us that many of the Afghans are undoubtedly of the seed of Abraham.

Josephus Flavius, Antiquities, Translated by Jewish W. M. Whitson (Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown: London).

What: Do you stretch your hopes beyond the river Euphrates? Do any one of you think that your fellow tribes will come to your aid out of Adiabene? Besides, if they would, the Parthians would not permit them. (XI, V. 2).

This is a quotation from a Jesih King (Agrippa) to the Jewish to submit to the Romans and not to look to the Jews from beyond the river Euphrates.

Josephus was in the reign of Vespasian, in the latter part of the first Christian century.

A personal narrative of a visit to Chuzin, Cabul, in Afghanistan G. T. Vigne F.R.G.S. (London: Whittaker, 1840).

Pages 166-67. Moolah Khuda Dad, a person learned in the history of his countrymen, read to me, from the Mujmaul-unsal (Collection of Genealogies), the following short account of their origin. They say that the eldest of Jacob's sons was Judha, whose eldest son was Osruk, who was the father of Okour, the father of Moslib, the father of Farlai, the father of Kys, the father of Talut, the father of Ermiah, the father of Afghans, whence the name of Afghans. He was contemporary with Nebuchadnezzar, called himself Beni-Israel and had forty sons, whose names there is no occasion to insert. His thirty-fourth descendant in a direct line, after a period of two thousand years, was Kys. From Kys, who lived in the time of the Prophet Mohammed, there have been sixty generations. Sulum, the eldest son of Afghans, who lived at Sam (Damascus) left that place and came to Ghura Mishkon a country near Herat, and his descendants gradually extended themselves over the country now called Afghanistan.

Cyclopaedia of Geography by James Bryce, M.A., LL.D., F.R.S.E. and Keith Johnson F.R.G.S., 2nd Edition (William Collins, Sons & Co, London & Glasgow, 1880).

Under heading 'Afghanistan', page 25. History and Relations ... The name Afghan is not used by the people themselves; they call themselves Pooshtoon, and in the plural Pooshtauneh, from which, perhaps, comes the name Puten, given to them in India. They trace their origin to Saul, King of Israel, calling themselves Ben-i-Israel. According to Sir A. Burnes, their tradition is that they were transplanted by the King of Babylon from the Holy Land to Ghore, lying to the N.W. of Cabul, and lived as Jews till A.D. 682, when they were converted to Mohometanism by an Arab Chief Khaled-ibn-Abdalla, who had married a daughter of an Afghan chief. No historical evidence has ever been adduced in support of this origin, and it is perhaps a mere invention, founded upon the facts mentioned in 2 Kings XVIII-II. However this may be, all travellers agree that the people differ strikingly from the neighbouring nations and have among themselves one common origin. They are said, by some, to resemble Jews very much in form and features, and they are divided into several tribes, inhabiting separate territories and remaining almost unmixed.

History of Afghanistan by Colonel G. Malleson, C.S.I. (W.H. Alien, & Co, London, at the India Office, 1878).

Page 39. I turn now to the people of Afghanistan, to the tribes who occupy the country, and who command the passes. The subject has been treated at great length by Mountstuart Elphinstone, by Ferrier - who quote largely from Abdullah Khan of Herat, by Bellews and many others.

Following Abdullah Khan and other Afghan writers, Ferrier is disposed to believe that the Afghans represent the lost ten tribes and to claim them descent from Saul, King of Israel. Among other writers concurring in this view may be mentioned the honoured name of Sir William Jones. On the other hand Professor Dorn, of Kharkov, who examined the subject at length, rejects this theory. Mountstuart Elphinstone classes it in the same category as the theory of the descent of the Romans from the Trojans. The objections to Abdullah Khans' view have been recently expressed, fittingly and forcibly by Professor Dowson, in a letter to the Times. If, writes that gentleman, it were worthy of consideration, it is still inconsistent with the notion that the Afghans are descendants of the lost ten tribes. Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin, and that tribe was not one of the lost ten. There remains the question of features. This no doubt has its weight, but cannot prevail against the more important question of language. Professor Dowson then proceeds to show that the Afghan language has no trace of Hebrew in it, and concluded by pronouncing the supposition that in the course of time the whole Afghan race could have changed their language as 'Too incredible'.

L. P. Ferrier, History of the Afghans Translated by W. M. Jesse. (John Murray, London, 1858).

Page 4. When Nadir Shah, marching to the conquest of India, arrived at Peshawar, the chief of the tribe of Yoozoof Zyes presented him with a Bible written in Hebrew and several other articles that had been used in their ancient worship and which they had preserved. These articles were at once recognized by the Jews who followed the camp.

On page 1, in footnotes, he writes: The author of a manuscript history of the Afghans observes that some derive the name Afghan from its Persian meaning 'Lamentation' because these tribes bewailed their banishment from Judaea. Others say that Afghan was the grandson of Saul and was employed by Solomon in building the temple. This author refers to two histories of this nation: The Tarikh-Afghanah, and the Tarikh Ghour, i.e. the History of the Afghans and the History of Ghour. It appears, he says, from these works, that the Afghans consider themselves as partly descended from the Copts of Egypt and partly from the Israelites; but nothing is adduced to support this assertion.

We are told by one of these writers that Nebuchadnezzar, after putting to death many of the prisoners, banished the remnant in to the mountains of Ghour, where they multiplied greatly with the Jews from Arabia; and when those changed their religion for that of Mohammed, a letter was received from a converted Jew called Khalud, informing them of the appearance of a New Prophet and invoking them to join his holy standard. Several Afghan nobles went to Arabia; the principal was Keis, who, we are informed by Afghan authors, traced his descent through forty-seven generations to Saul and through fifty-five to Abraham (History of the Afghans, Persian MSS).

Almost all Mohamedan writers claim this descent for the Afghans and I possessed for some time a genealogical table in which an attempt was made to prove all the principal families of Afghanistan direct descendants of the Kings of Israel.
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Disclaimer: This is a non-political webpage for family history research & historical purposes only
The characteristic Star of David, is a recurring feature in local architecture of the old walled city and is a fascinating reminder of Peshawar's diverse historical past.
The characteristic Star of David, is a recurring feature in local architecture of the old walled city and is a fascinating reminder of Peshawar's diverse historical past.
Quick Info:
Jewish languages
Hebrew � Yiddish � Judeo-Persian. Ladino � Dzhidi
Judeo-Aramaic � Judeo-Arabic
Juhuri � Krymchak � Karaim � Knaanic
� Yevanic � Zarphatic

Prof. Adil Najam of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, has researched the history of Jews in Pakistan.
Read an account of a Jewish family from Peshawar here
Rachel Khafi writes: My grandfather, Benjamin Khafi, had lived in Afghanistan all his life with his family. He had a very big family consisting of three kids and a wife and he needed money to support them. During that time his carpet business wasn't doing very well and he wasn't making enough money. His only solution was to move to Pakistan and open his business there. With his goodbyes, he left his family with only G-d's faith in his heart.

He arrived in Pakistan and settled in a town called Peshawar. He opened his business there and made very good money. All the customers loved him and his carpets. The ruler of Peshawar also liked my grandfather because his business was very good for the economy. He lived in Pakistan for many years and he would send a lot of money back home to his family. Because of my grandfather's wealth, the men of Peshawar were very jealous. One night they planned to kill my grandfather and all of the Jews living there. When the ruler heard of this plan, he immediately told my grandfather to take all the Jews and leave the country. The ruler couldn't stop the people from rebelling because he was afraid that the people of Peshawar would kill him too for taking the Jews' side. That afternoon, my grandfather went form door to door, from Jew to Jew, to tell them that they had to leave the town because there was going to be an attack. Luckily, they all listened to him and left on the train. A lot of the people of the town didn't have enough money to afford the train so my grandfather gave people money for the tickets and made sure every single Jew was on the train before he himself got on the train too. He went back to Afghanistan and saw his family again after ten years of not seeing them. After that, he decided to move to India with his family, where my Dad and two aunts were born. They lived in India for twelve years and decided to move to America.

My grandfather had travelled around the world before he came to America. He saw Israel, Italy and other places. India was the last place he lived in before moving to America. After living in America for a year he decided that his heart truly lay in Israel, and he moved there to stay until he died in 1974.

By Rachel Khafi
WW1 memorial plaque on the clock-tower in Peshawar City
View a rare Torah (or Old Testament) in Pashto or the language of Afghans, translated from Hebrew  by my great grandfather Qazi Abdur Rahman Khan Muhammadzai
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