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Garjī, Mullah Asher

(378 words)

Author(s): Ben Zion Yehoshua-Raz
Mullah Asher Garjī, born in Herat in 1882, was the son of Mullah Matityah Garjī, who provided him with a quality education meant only for rabbis’ sons. In 1896, at the age of fourteen, he and his father made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land on foot. Mullah Asher married at seventeen. He helped his father publish Ha-Azharot, Siman Tov Melammed’s Hebrew and Judeo-Persian poetical composition on the 613 commandments. After his father's emigration to Palestine in 1908, Mullah Asher, then twenty-six years old, was appointed to lead the community, and he did so for the next forty years unt…

Garjī, Mullāh Mattityah

(586 words)

Author(s): Ben Zion Yehoshua-Raz
Mullāh Mattityah Garjī, the son of Mullāh Mordecai Garjī and grandson of Mullāh Abraham Garjī, was born in Herat, Afghanistan, in 1845 and died in Jerusalem in 1917. He was descended from a family of rabbis and teachers that was among the forced converts ( anusim) to Islam ( Jadīd-i Islām ) who fled from Mashhad, Iran, to Herat, in 1840, where they were able to openly return to Judaism. His family name, Garjī, indicates that his ancestors were transferred to Mashhad from Georgia by Nādir Shāh (r. 1732–1747), together with Kurds, Sunnīs, Armenians, and other minorities from Qaz…

Amram, Mullah Joshua

(274 words)

Author(s): Ben Zion Yehoshua-Raz
Mullah Joshua Amram was a teacher in the city of Herat in northwestern Afghanistan in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In comparison with teachers from the Garjī family, he was a progressive educator. Aided by his teaching assistant, the blind musician Mullah Joseph Bakhchī, who played the harmonium, Mullah Amram had his classes memorize the favorite liturgical poems (Heb. piyyuṭim) of Afghan Jewry and used pictures (which he drew himself) to help them understand matters he was teaching. His classes, conducted in three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Judeo…


(2,497 words)

Author(s): Ben Zion Yehoshua-Raz
The province of Khurasan (Pers. land of the sun/east) has always been one of the most important regions of the eastern Islamic world. It is often mentioned in medieval Arabic and Hebrew sources. Occupying a strategic location between the Middle East and the rest of Asia, its boundaries were never fixed and changed considerably over time. Today Khurasan is the northeastern province of Iran, but in medieval Islamic geography it extended through the eastern part of the Islamic Empire and included the great desert, Dasht-i Kabīr, as well as parts of what are now Central Asia and Afghanistan. The…


(811 words)

Author(s): Ben Zion Yehoshua-Raz
1. Historical overview The ancient city of Balkh was one of the most important centers of the eastern Islamic world. Situated in a region noted for orchards, horse-breeding, and minerals, and located on the main international trade routes to China and India, it was a crossroads for Persians, Indians, Arabs, and Chinese, and throughout its history attracted conquerors and migrants, Jews among them. According to the Arab chronicler al-Maqrizī (d. 1442), Jews first settled in Balkh during the reign of the Assyrian king Sennacherib (705–681 B.C.E.) under his policy of transferri…


(2,467 words)

Author(s): Ben Zion Yehoshua-Raz
1. Historical Overview Afghanistan is a Sunni Islamic state whose indigenous population mixed with Iranian, Arab, and Mongol conquerors. Western Afghanistan is part of the province of Khurasan. In Hebrew gaonic sources, it described as a penal colony to which convicts were exiled. The large Jewish settlement in Khurasan exasperated Caliph ʿUmar II (r. 717–720), who wanted to limit the construction of synagogues. This proves that the Jewish settlement preceded the Arab conquest. The earliest evidence of Jewish life in Afghanistan is a rock inscription from the year 752 inscribed in J…

Garjī, Mullah Joseph

(488 words)

Author(s): Ben Zion Yehoshua-Raz
Born in Herat in 1869, Mullah Joseph Garjī Melamed was the son of Mullah Mattityah Garjī. He was the rabbi of the  Jewish community of Herat and later of the Afghan community in Jerusalem. In 1903, he set out for Palestine. When he reached Merv (Marv, Mary) in present-day Turkmenistan, the local Bukharan, Afghan, and Mashhadī Jews pleaded with him to remain, and he agreed to remain as their leader, rabbi, teacher, mohel (circumciser), and ritual slaughterer for seven years. In 1911 he finally arrived in Jerusalem, where he served as spiritual guide to the Bukharan a…

Herat, Harat

(1,380 words)

Author(s): Ben Zion Yehoshua-Raz
1. Historical overview Herat (Harat) is a city and province in western Afghanistan and a part of Greater Khurasan, situated in the fruitful valley of the Hari-Rūd River. In antiquity the name of Herat is mentioned in several forms: The Greeks called the city Areia, and in the inscriptions of Darius the Great (522–486 B.C.E.) it is called Haraiva. Alexander the Great, who built the city in the fourth century B.C.E, called it Alexandria de Arya. The Sasanians turned Herat into a military center that …

Garjī, Mullah Benjamin

(178 words)

Author(s): Ben Zion Yehoshua-Raz
Mullah Benjamin Garjī, born in Herat in 1902, was the son of Mullah Joseph Garjī and the grandson of Mullah Matityah Garjī. He emigrated to Palestine in 1911 and eventually replaced his father as leader of the Afghan Jewish community in Jerusalem. A darshan (preacher) who charmed his audiences, he taught in Talmud Torah schools in the Bukharan quarter of Jerusalem for fifty years and raised up generations of pupils and admirers thanks to his liberality and humanism. Mullah Benjamin headed the ’Ahavat Ḥesed (Love of Charity) aid organization, which extended discrete help to th…

Mullah Benjamin Gul-Shauloff

(331 words)

Author(s): Ben Zion Yehoshua-Raz
Mullah Benjamin Gul-Shauloff was born in Herat, Afghanistan, in 1859 and died in Jerusalem in 1929. He was the son of Shaul Gul, a forced convert to Islam from Mashhad, Iran, who had found asylum and returned to Judaism in the tolerant Sunni city of Herat in 1840. Mullah Binyamin emigrated to Ottoman Palestine in 1894 and was one of the first Afghan Jews to settle in Jerusalem. With the aid of his brothers Israel and Nethanel, he encouraged Jews from Central Asia to come to Palestine and established an infrastructure for the absorption of immig…


(701 words)

Author(s): Ben Zion Yehoshua-Raz
Kabul in eastern Afghanistan has been an important crossroads on the route to India and the Khyber Pass since antiquity and has been the capital of Afghanistan since 1773. End of 2009, its population of approximately 2.5 million included only one Jew. There were apparently Jews living in Kabul in their own quarter as far back as the twelfth century. The Arab geographer al-Idrīsī (d. 1166) wrote in his Nuzhat al-Mushtāq fi ʾ khtirāq al-Āfāq that the Muslim population of the city was so large that there was a special quarter for the Jewish “infidels.” Many Jews served i…

Siman-Tov, Mullah Jacob

(176 words)

Author(s): Ben Zion Yehoshua-Raz
Mullah Jacob Siman-Ṭov, a member of one of the more distinguished Jewish families of Mashhad in Afghanistan, was born in Herat in 1850 and in his maturity became its chief rabbi. As the community’s spiritual leader and teacher, he advocated love of Zion and abandoning the bitter life of exile in favor of returning to the Land of Israel. In 1922, at the age of seventy-two, he left Herat by donkey for Palestine and settled in Jerusalem. He died there six years later, aged seventy-eight, and was buried on the Mount of Olives. His example persuaded many other Afghan Jews to follow, and the Jer…