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Jewish Texts from Afghanistan Now on Display in Israel

January 10, 2013 By:
JTA
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Professor Haggai Ben-Shammai displaying one of the Afghan Genizah documents.

JERUSALEM — Israel’s National Library has unveiled a trove of ancient Hebrew manuscripts that were rescued from Afghanistan and arrived in Israel last week.

The Associated Press reported that the recently purchased documents run the gamut of life experiences, including biblical commentaries, personal letters and financial records.
 
Researchers say the collection, which they dubbed “Afghan Genizah,” is the greatest such archive found since the Cairo Genizah was discovered in an Egyptian synagogue more than 100 years ago. That cache, a vast depository of medieval manuscripts, is considered to be among the most valuable collections of historical documents ever found.
 
The Afghan collection sheds light on the lives of Jews in ancient Persia in the 11th century. The paper manuscripts, preserved over the centuries by the dry, shady conditions of the caves, include writings in Hebrew, Aramaic, Judeo-Arabic and the unique Judeo-Persian language from that era, which was written in Hebrew letters.
 
The documents are believed to have come from caves in the northeast region of Afghanistan, a location once at the outer reaches of the Persian empire. In recent years, the same caves have served as hideouts for Taliban insurgents.
 
It remains unclear how the ancient manuscripts emerged. Haggai Ben-Shammai, the library’s academic director, said the library was contacted by various antiquities dealers who had acquired them.
Last month, the library purchased 29 out of hundreds of the documents believed to be floating around the world after long negotiations with antiquities dealers.
 
The library refused to say how much it paid for the collection, adding that it hoped to purchase more in the future and didn’t want to drive up prices.

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