Only One Jewish Resident Left in Afghanistan, Says State Department

By Edwin Mora | October 11, 2011 | 3:04pm EDT

Muslims pray in Afghanistan. (AP Photo.)

( – There is only “one known Jewish resident” still living in Afghanistan, according to the U.S. State Department.

That is despite the fact that Jews have lived in Afghanistan for nearly three millenia, and had a local population that was 40,000 strong as of the mid-1800s, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, a division of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise.

By 1996, when the Islamist Taliban regime came to power, there were only 10 Jews still living in Afghanistan.

By 2005, four years after the U.S. invaded the country and overthrew the Taliban, there were only two Jews still living in Afghanistan, according to the Jewish Virtual Library.

Now, the latest State Department Report on International Religious Freedom says: “There is one known Jewish Afghan” left in the country,  “only one known Jewish resident.”

Afghanistan is 402,356 square miles in size and estmates of its population range from 24 to 33 million. “Reliable data on religious demography is not available because an official nationwide census has not been conducted in decades,” says the State Department report.  “Observers estimated that 80 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim, 19 percent Shi'a Muslim, and other religious groups comprise less than 1 percent of the population.”

“According to self-estimates by these communities, there are approximately 3,000 Sikhs, more than 400 Baha'is, and 100 Hindu believers,” reads the report. “There is a small Christian community; estimates on its size range from 500 to 8,000. In addition, there are small numbers of adherents of other religious groups.”

As reported earlier today, there are no public Christian churches left in Afghanistan, according to the State Department. The last Christian church was razed in 2010.

The last Jew in Afghanistan is known by name. Also, there is only one synagogue left in that country.

(AP Photo.)

But the State Department report says that synagogue is no longer “in use for a lack of Jewish community.”

According to media reports, by the end of 2004 there were only two known Afghan Jews left in Afghanistan. But one died in 2005, leaving just one survivor.

According to the State Department, “in the 20th century, small communities of Bahais, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, and Sikhs lived in the country, although most members of these communities emigrated during the years of civil war and Taliban rule.”

“By the end of Taliban rule, non-Muslim populations had been virtually eliminated except for a small population of native Hindus and Sikhs,” reads the report. “Since the fall of the Taliban, some members of religious minorities have returned, many settling in Kabul.”

Israel and the United States were the primary destinations for Jews emigrating from Afghanistan.

"More than 10,000 Jews of Afghan descent now live in Israel," says the Jewish Virtual Library. "The second largest population of Afghan Jews is New York, with 200 families.

The 2001 State Department report on International Religious Freedom, which covered the period of July 1, 2000 to June 30, 2001, indicated that most of the Jews and Christians still living in Afghanistan during that reporting period were foreigners.

A page from the Torah. (AP Photo.)

“Non-Muslims such as Hindus and Sikhs now number only in the hundreds, often working as traders,” states the 2001 report. “The few Christians and Jews who live in the country apparently are almost all foreigners who are assigned temporarily to relief work by foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGO's).”

The State Department’s 2000 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, which covers the year 2000, mentions that most Jews had left by that year.

Afghanistan’s constitution, created with assistance from the U.S. government, can be ambiguous went it comes to religious freedom.  It states that Islam is the “religion of the state” and that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam,” but it also proclaims that “followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of the law.”

According to the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, a Jewish presence in Afghanistan goes back around 2,700 years. While there were possibly 80,000 Jews in the region in the 12th century, the number was about 40,000 in 1839.

“The decline came in 1870 after Afghan Muslim authorities enacted anti-Jewish measures, triggering a mass exodus to Central Asia, Persia and Palestine,” states the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. “The 1933 assassination of King Nadit Shah triggered another anti-Jewish campaign. Jews were banished from most Afghan cities, limiting them to Kabul, Balkh or Herat. In addition, Jews were forbidden to leave town without a permit and forced to pay special taxes.

“By the time Israel was created in 1948, approximately 5,000 Jews remained in Afghanistan, but they could not legally immigrate. Once the restriction was lifted in 1951, most Afghan Jews made their way to Israel. By 1969, only 300 Jews lived in Afghanistan, most of whom left in 1979 after the Soviet invasion. In 1996, 10 Jews remained in Afghanistan, nearly all in Kabul. In 2005, there were two Jews in Afghanistan.”

And now there is only one.

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