Afghanistan’s last Jew leaves country after Taliban takeover

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Afghanistan’s last Jew leaves country after Taliban takeover

Zebulan Simantov, 62, lived a Jewish life for several decades in his rundown synagogue in Kabul, keeping kosher and praying in Hebrew

Michael Daventry is Jewish News’s foreign and broadcast editor

Zebulan Simantov (Photo: Kan)
Zebulan Simantov (Photo: Kan)

Afghanistan has no known Jewish residents for the first time in centuries after the community’s last member left for a neighbouring country.

Zebulan Simantov, 62, lived a Jewish life for several decades in his rundown synagogue in Kabul, keeping kosher and praying in Hebrew.

He lived alone after his estranged wife moved with their children to Israel. For years he has refused to grant her a get, or divorce under Jewish law.

Simantov’s departure, alongside 29 of his non-Jewish neighbours, was organised this week by an Israeli-American businessman who runs a private security group. Tens of thousands of Afghans have fled since last month’s takeover by the Taliban.

Simantov remained in Kabul the last time the Taliban took power in 1996 and had wanted to stay this time too, but accepted that he now risked becoming a target of the even more radical Islamic State group.

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It is understood Simantov was also persuaded to grant his wife a get by Moti Kahana, who runs the security company that helped to get him out. 

“That was two weeks of being a shrink, a psychiatrist, talking to him like 10 times a day, and his neighbour at the same time to translate,” Kahana told the Associated Press.

Simantov previously shared his synagogue with the country’s only other Jew, Isaak Levi, but the two men disliked each other and quarrelled often during the Taliban’s previous period in power. Their synagogue’s Torah scroll was confiscated by the Taliban in 2002 and never recovered.

When Levi died in 2005 at the age of 80, Simantov said he was happy to be rid of him.

Hebrew documents uncovered in Afghanistan in 2013 suggest Jews may have lived in the country a thousand years ago. By the 19th century there were 40,000 living in the country, many of them Persian Jews who fled forced conversion in nearby Iran.

Most of Afghanistan’s Jews began to leave after Israel’s establishment in 1948, with the last families leaving after the Soviet Union invaded in 1979.

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