A First Glimpse into the Treasures of the “Afghan Genizah”

A first glimpse into a few fascinating documents that reveal the life of the Afghan-Jewish communities during the 11th-13th centuries

In the last few years an exciting and historic discovery was made. A rare collection of hundreds of documents from the 11th to the 13th century was discovered in an area of present day Afghanistan. In 2013, the National Library procured a portion of this rare treasure. Now, after great efforts to preserve the “Afghan Genizah” collection for future generations, the library purchased close to 250 more manuscripts.

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. Meanwhile, here is a first glimpse to several special documents from the “Afghan Genizah”.

 

Mishnah Seder Nezikin

Mishnah Seder Nezikin (Order of Damages) from the “Afghan Genizah”

It is clear that the scribe of this Mishnah was deft in his craft: In dense hand writing, while being entirely coherent, the scribe copied the Seder Nezikin regarding idol worship from the Mishnah. The scribe differentiated sentences with a colon, for two possible reasons: first, it is commonly used in scripture; and second, in order to use as much of the page he had at hand.

 

Haftarot (Leviticus-Numbers)

Jeremiah 17 from the “Afghan Genizah”

Zechariah 2 from the “Afghan Genizah”

Among the documents within the “Afghan Genizah” procured by the National Library are two Haftarot taken from Jeremiah 17 (the first pair of pages) and from Zechariah 2 (the second pair of pages). It is interesting to note that every verse is translated into Aramaic. What does this inform us regarding the prevalence of Hebrew among the members of the Jewish-Afghan community in the 11th-13th centuries?

 

Proverbs 22-23

Proverbs 22-23 from the “Afghan Genizah”

Not a lot survived from this nearly 1000 year old page, and yet, we can identify that it is a part of a copy of the Book of Proverbs (chapters 22-23).

 

Siddur for Shabbat Prayers

Siddur for Shabbat Prayers from the”Afghan Genizha”

This is an interesting siddur for Shabbat, on the first page presented here, the Kiddush for Shabbat ends with a special wording taken from the book of Nehemiah, chapter 9, verse 14: “And madest known unto them Thy holy Sabbath, and didst command them commandments, and statutes, and a law, by the hand of Moses Thy servant” (Trans. 1917 JPS).

This is an uncommon ending to the prayer and is an example of the small, yet significant differences within the Afghan Siddurim of the 11th-13th centuries.

 

Commentaries on the Torah in Jewish Persian (Leviticus 11)

Leviticus 11 from the “Afghan Genizah”

The parchment presented here in Jewish Persian (Persian written in Hebrew letters) and it contains commentaries for verses 21-22 from Leviticus 11. The verses that survived the passage of time are part of a Halakhic discussion regarding the kosher slaughtering of animals. Most of the writing has faded and damaged, and we can only decipher a few words here and there.

 

A Trader’s Notebook

A Trader’s Notebook from the “Afghan Genizah”

This is a fully preserved page from a trader’s notebook. This notebook belonged to a Jewish merchant known as Abu Nasser from the 11th century; it sheds light on the economic and business life of the Jews that lived by the Silk Road. The notebook recounts a number of business transactions that occurred between Jews and Muslims in the region.

 

The National Library of Israel is grateful to the William Davidson Foundation and the Haim and Hanna Salomon Fund for their generous support of this acquisition.

The National Library of Israel

The National Library of Israel (NLI) is home to the intellectual and cultural treasures of the Jewish people, the State of Israel and its region throughout the ages.

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