This is not a journalistic report in the traditional sense and it involves equal measures of history and religion with a heavy dose of wishful thinking. But those of us who delve occasionally into speculative contemplation of the news couldn’t ignore the historic uniqueness of Afghanistan the Graveyard of Empires. This harsh, rocky land has defeated the British, the Russians, and now the Americans, with all those invaders limping away as fast as they could, leaving a trail of blood and sorrow.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that “the war in Afghanistan was a 20-year endeavor. We must learn its lessons, and allow those lessons to shape how we think about fundamental questions of national security and foreign policy. We owe that to future diplomats, policymakers, military leaders, service members. We owe that to the American people.”
Here’s a lesson no one in the State Department will learn: don’t mess with the tribe of Reuven.
The late Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail was one of the persistent voices claiming that the Afghani warrior tribes of Afridi, Lohani, Jaj, and Rabani, are the heirs of the tribes of Ephraim, Levy, Gad, and Reuven, four of the Ten Tribes of Israel the Assyrian empire exiled in 722 BCE.
According to Rabbi David Pisanti, director of a research institute that was sponsored by the late Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, 20 million or so Pashtuns (out of around 63 million – the last official census in Afghanistan was conducted in 1979 – DI) identify themselves as “Bnei Israel,” and are known as such by their Muslim neighbors.
Rabbi Avichail believed some of the Taliban came from the “Israelite” Pashtu and as such bore the spirit of the warlike tribe of Reuven.
Author Benzion Yehoshua, whose father came to Israel from Afghanistan, conducted historical, cultural, and social research on the Jewish communities in Iran and Afghanistan. He documented several traditions that are kept by the Pashtuns who claim they come from the exiled tribes of Israel:
1. The Pashtun constitution resembles the biblical constitution of a soul for a soul, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.
2. They grow earlocks in addition to their beards.
3. They circumcise their children on the eighth day.
4. Their attire is reminiscent of a four-winged talit with tzitzis, the joi namaz (place of prayer) they wear over their shoulders with which they cover the head and shoulders, and spread it out on the ground during prayer. The same cloth also serves as their shroud.
5. They keep the customs of Nida – prohibition of intimacy during menstruation and a dip in water afterward.
6. They keep the custom of Yibum – When a man dies childless, his brother takes his wife.
7. Honor of one’s parents which is practiced to the level of worship.
8. They observe the custom of forbidden foods – no horse or camel meat, and no mixing meat with milk because anyone who transgresses this would die within the year.
9. The Sabbath is their day of rest.
10. The old women of the tribe who have reached menopause light candles Friday night.
11. They smear blood on the doorframe during a plague.
12. They give their children Hebrew names that are not common among Muslims, such as Israel, Shmuel, and Akiva.
13. Some of their settlements bear the names of localities in the Land of Israel.
Israeli researcher Moshe Shuraki reported meeting a Norwegian soldier stationed in Afghanistan as part of the NATO forces fighting the Taliban, who told him (the report appeared in Hidabrut, השבטים האבודים: האם הם קיימים באפגניסטן ופקיסטן):
“Some of the Pashtuns joined the military-terrorist organization and were known to be fierce and dangerous. They cannot be subdued. They fight to the death, fierce and sophisticated. The best guerrilla fighters,” Shuraki recalled.
“Then he added a sentence that quite struck me,” Shuraki continued: “Most of them consider themselves descendants of the Jewish people. Although they are Muslims in their faith, the names of their tribes are reminiscent of the tribes of Israel: Zevulun, Reuven, and more. In fact, at first, they did not belong to the Taliban, but with the Soviet military occupation in the 1980s they got into severe distress and no one helped them. Only the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other Sunni Muslim countries, supported the Taliban and it bought them great influence.”
The soldier presented photographs showing the Pashtuns and evidence of their way of life. “Unlike the other tribes in Afghanistan, the Pashtuns have distinct Semitic features. They are lighter than their neighbors, their faces are long, they grow a beard and earlocks.”
“And their customs are very similar to ours,” Shuraki noted. “For example, they don’t eat camel meat. For Muslims, not eating camel meat is very rare. In the past, when they wanted to find out who was a Jew, they would ask: Do you eat camel meat? Those who responded in the negative gave a clear signal they were Jewish. They also set the Sabbath as a day of rest, unlike Muslims who rest only on Fridays. They circumcise their sons on the eighth day and do not wait until they are older (the Muslim tradition is to circumcise their sons at age 13 when Abraham circumcised Ishmael – DI).”
“They have a city of refuge for accidental killers,” he said. “Whoever kills accidentally escapes there to be saved from revenge. The Yibum is also alive and well. In other areas, their existence overlaps ours: a wedding with a canopy and a ring, for example. They get up every time the name of Moshe Rabbeinu is mentioned, and some do not pray in the direction of Mecca but face Jerusalem.”
For more than a thousand years, Jews have been waiting for the return of the Ten Tribes as part of the Messianic era. Are there hidden Israelites among the Taliban? Are we prepared to start a dialogue with the Taliban as a prelude to a new Abrahamic pact? After all, Israel and Afghanistan are the two most warlike nations in the region. Let’s talk.