web analytics
October 21, 2014 / 27 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Judeana Jones and the Fifth Question

The Taliban is all too willing to obliterate anything attesting to ancient Jewish life and culture.
Plaut-080213

The following is one of the most intriguing stories in recent Jewish history and it is based almost entirely on an article titled “Judeana Jones” in the July 19 issue of the Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon.

Nothing I am about to relate is my own original work or research. I am simply relating in English the gist of the story and I think readers will agree it just might top the drama of “The Amazing Saga of Two-Gun Cohen” (Jewish Press, front-page essay, Sept. 1, 2012).

The story is about two collectors and researchers of ancient Jewish books who stumbled on the existence of what may be one of the richest and oldest collections of ancient Jewish handwritten manuscripts, preserved in a cave in Afghanistan.

The documents were in a genizah, or storage/disposal area, that once served a Jewish community in Afghanistan. The better-known genizah of Cairo has long served as one of the richest sources of original materials on ancient Judaic practice and writing. Only a small amount of material has been obtained from the Afghan genizah but the little that has been appears to be priceless.

Moshe Rosenfeld is a collector of and dealer in ancient Jewish books living in Jerusalem. He’s the Judeana Jones of our story. He is an expert on, and has published a small encyclopedia about, all the books in print that use the Hebrew alphabet. I emphasize the alphabet because his archive is not limited to books written in the Hebrew language.

Rosenfeld’s partner in his enterprise is an elderly soft-spoken scholar named Isaiah Winograd. In the spring of 1998 Rosenfeld was giving a lecture in Petach Tikva on ancient Jewish manuscripts. A member of the audience approached him and showed him a yellowing photograph of a parchment document. He told Rosenfeld he was a Jewish diamond merchant based in Dallas, Texas. A week earlier someone from Afghanistan had shown him photographs of a number of old documents, some torn or damaged, and asked the diamond merchant if he was interested in buying them. The man now wanted Rosenfeld to indicate whether they looked genuine and had any commercial value. He said he was set to return to Texas after Passover and wanted to know if this was something worth pursuing.

The Texan further explained that the Afghan told him that a large collection of such documents and scraps had been discovered in an old burial cave in the northeastern province of Afghanistan. (Centuries ago Afghanistan was under the rule of Persian emperors and had a significant Jewish population.) It sounded like a genizah similar to the famous one discovered in Cairo.

In 1998 Afghanistan was in large part but not wholly under the rule of the Taliban. But it was before the 9-11 attacks and the Taliban was not yet the target for Western anti-terror fury. The northeastern section of Afghanistan was controlled by a non-Taliban tribe.

Upon viewing the photo of the fragment, Rosenfeld knew at once it was a genuine ancient Jewish manuscript, and the story surrounding it convinced him the collection of documents was of incredible value, not just from a Jewish historical point of view but also from a commercial one. He considered going to Afghanistan himself but was told that would be suicide.

The Texan returned home and the Afghan he had spoken with connected him with the chief of the Khakimi tribe, which controls the section of Afghanistan where the cave and its documents were reported to be. The Israelis began to negotiate a rendezvous some place in Europe for purposes of purchasing the documents. Plans were interrupted when a major earthquake hit Afghanistan a few days later. But as a result the Khakimis were even more desperate for cash and seemed more forthcoming. They offered a suitcase full of the documents in exchange for a plane loaded with grain and other foods.

Rosenfeld recruited a private-sector security agency run by two ex-Israeli intelligence officers. They uncovered more information and found a contact person from the Khakimi tribe who said he could get the documents to the Tajikistan border with an armed escort. But the tribe’s price had changed – it was now a plane full of weapons, and everyone understood that the Americans and much of the rest of the world would never tolerate such an idea.

Nevertheless, Rosenfeld and his team went to Tajikistan and attempted to maintain contacts from there with the tribe. But in 1999 the president of Tajikistan was assassinated and violence spread in the country. The Afghan who had approached the diamond merchant showed up again in Texas, and new plans were made to rendezvous with him, but the FBI suspected he might be a terrorist and warned the Rosenfeld people off.

By early 2001communications and negotiations were being conducted with the Khakimis for a new meeting, which finally took place that summer in a London hotel. The Afghans brought with them some sample documents. When the Israelis saw one in particular they could not contain their excitement. The Afghans sensed it and upped the ante. Besides that document the Afghans also showed them an ancient Jewish prayer book, which the Israelis photographed. It is one of the oldest ever discovered.

The haggling continued and they agreed to meet a few weeks later to complete the transaction. But before they could do so, bin Laden and his terrorists attacked the United States and the Taliban became the enemy of the civilized world. Contacts ended, with only a small number of the documents from the cave having been seen and photographed.

What became of the rest is not known. On the one hand, the Taliban is all too willing to obliterate anything attesting to ancient Jewish life and culture. On the other hand, it wasn’t difficult to figure out that the documents had commercial value. An Iranian Jewish merchant in the UK is said to have recently purchased one of the Afghan manuscripts for $400,000.

The story of the Afghan genizah was revealed to only a small number of people. In December 2011, Ehud Yaari, an Israeli television commentator on Middle Eastern affairs, broadcast a story about the genizah’s existence but got many of the details wrong. Only in the past few weeks have Rosenfeld and his people decided to go public and reveal their attempts to get the documents.

I left readers hanging several paragraphs back. What was that incredible document seen by the Israelis in the London hotel and about which they were unable to contain their excitement?

It was apparently the oldest Passover Haggadah ever discovered. And what gave it away was the Fifth Question.

Passover Seders begin with the asking of the Four Questions. The basis for this tradition goes back to the Mishnah, which was redacted in the early second century. What most people do not know is that in the Mishnah there are actually five questions. The fifth, as related in the Pesachim tractate of the Talmud, is this: “On all other nights we eat meat roasted, stewed or boiled, but on this night, roast only.” This refers to the Passover sacrifice as it was conducted in the Temple services.

At the time of the Talmud and for a while afterward, this fifth question was still included in the Seder. But during the era of the Gaon scholars in Babylonia, which began in 589, it was ruled inappropriate to ask this fifth question since we are prohibited from conducting the Passover sacrifice outside the Temple and of course the Temple had been destroyed. So the question was dropped.

But the Passover Haggadah photographed from the Afghan genizah includes this Fifth Question. Which means this Haggadah is so old that it was written before word of the ruling against inclusion of the question had reached the Jewish community in remote Afghanistan.

One can only hope that it – along with other treasures from the Afghan genizah – will be preserved until the day it finds its way into responsible Jewish hands.

About the Author: Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. He can be contacted at steveneplaut@yahoo.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

2 Responses to “Judeana Jones and the Fifth Question”

  1. truly exciting news. I hope that we can rescue these treasures.

  2. The price of our identity comes from much work and at a great price, we Jews are men of wisdom and willing to pay any price for the return of our established identity; a man of wisdom knows to pay all prices and the paper dollars necessary to retrieve our ancient treasures are nothing compared to what we reclaim in return.

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Facebook post from man believed to be Canadian convert to Islam who rammed soldiers with his car in possible terrorist attack, Oct. 20, 2014.
‘Radicalized’ Convert to Islam Attempted to Murder Canadian Soldiers [video]
Latest Indepth Stories
256px-Israel-Palestine_flags.svg

Polls indicate that the Palestinians are much more against a two state solution than the Israelis.

Map of Syria-Turkish border area, pinpointing Kurdish border town of Kobani, just taken by ISIS terror forces Oct 7, 2014.

Turkey and Iran the 2 regional powers surrounding the ISIS conflict gain from a partial ISIS victory

The Rosenstrasse area of Berlin, where Jewish husbands of non-Jewish German wives were held.

Emigration from Israel is at an all-time low, far lower than immigration to Israel from Europe.

NY rally against Met Opera's 'Death of Klinghoffer' opera. Sept. 22, 2014.

Leon Klinghoffer’s daughters: “‘Klinghoffer’ is justified as ‘a work of art’…This is an outrage.”

Do you seriously think that as you kidnap our children we should medically treat and help yours?

Sometimes collective action against the heinous acts of the majority is not enough. The world should not only support the blockade of Gaza; it must enforce the dismantling of Hamas.

The Arab Spring has challenged Jordan with the task of gradual reform with regard to its monarchy.

Israel offered Syria the entire Golan Heights, only to find that the Syrians were demanding MORE!

Israeli hasbara too can be described at best as pathetic, at worst non existent.

A ‘good news’ story from the Nepal avalanche disaster to warm your heart. Take out your Kleenex.

Journalists see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as morality play: Israel=evil; Palestine=innocent

Warsaw Ghetto: At its height, the Nazis walled in some 500,000 Jews within the1.3 square mile area.

While police officers face dangers every day on the job, Jews also face danger in their daily lives.

Carter developed a fondness for Arafat believing “they were both ordained to be peacemakers by God”

If Hamas is ISIS, the world asks, why didn’t Israel destroy it given justification and opportunity?

That key is the disarming of Hamas and the demilitarization of Gaza – as the U.S., EU, and others agreed to in principle at the end of Operation Protective Edge.

More Articles from Steven Plaut
The Rosenstrasse area of Berlin, where Jewish husbands of non-Jewish German wives were held.

Emigration from Israel is at an all-time low, far lower than immigration to Israel from Europe.

The Kinneret/Sea of Galilee

Israel offered Syria the entire Golan Heights, only to find that the Syrians were demanding MORE!

Why is “Palestine” worthier of “statehood recognition” than ISIS, another terrorist gang seeking it?

The Palestinian terrorists could undergo career reorientation and take to cod fishing.

Israel’s imperious court is comprised of judges who do not live in African-filled neighborhoods.

“Jewish Voices for Peace,” a Hamas lobby created by Jewish anti-Semites.

The real enemy of Israel is not Arab fascism but Jewish leftism.

Neo-Nazis claim that Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is in fact a Mossad agent named Elliot Shimon

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/judeana-jones-and-the-fifth-question/2013/08/08/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: