Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Yksi Kadonnut Israelin Sukukunta [Finnish]

Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi in the Old City of Jerusalem

YKSI KADONNUT ISRAELIN SUKUKUNTA löydetty, vakuuttaa intialainen historioitsija tri Navras Jaat Aafreedi. Hän tutkii Tel Avivin yliopistossa muutamien Intian muslimiheimojen mahdollista geneettistä yhteyttä juutalaisiin heimoihin. Hän kertoo tutkimuksistaan E-kirjassa, jossa hän sanoo tutkimiensa 650 Afridi Pathan klaanin jäsenen Malihabadissa Intiassa omaavan luultavasti samaa geneettistä materiaalia, joka havaitaan 40 % juutalaisissa maailmanlaajuisesti. Tässä Pahtan-heimossa on 1500 jäsentä. Toisen Intiassa asuvan Pathan-heimon 800 jäsentä ei ole tutkittu. Aafreedin mukaan geneettinen yhtäläisyys viittaa siihen, että he ovat Epfraim-heimon jälkeläisiä. Hän sanoo saaneensa henkilökohtaisen kiinnostuksensa asiaan sedältään, joka oli kertonut heimon sukulaisuudesta israelilaisiin. Aafreedi kertoo, että phataanit asuivat Intiassa vihamielisen muslimiväestön keskellä ja vähitellen menettivät omat traditionsa.

INtiassa on muitakin väestöryhmiä, joitten uskotaan olevan muinaisten kadonneitten Israelin heimojen jälkeläisiä. Historioitsijat uskovat, että muhamettilainen Shintung (Bnei Menashe) Intian koillisosassa ja ei-muhamettilainen Guntur-heimo kuuluvat myös tähän juutalaiseen geneettiseen perimään.

Afganistanissa asuvat Afgan-Afridit ovat tradition mukaan juutalaisen Menashe-heimon jälkeläisiä. Maailmassa lasketaan olevan 40-50 miljoonaa Pathan-heimon jäsentä, pääasiassa Afganistanissa ja Pakistanissa. (Jpost 15.11.06 Matt Zalen)

Friday, 13 April 2007

Is One of the Lost Tribes the Taliban?

Scouting for stories in Afghanistan’s hinterlands, a Jewish American reporter and her Muslim Pashtun interpreter, discover they may have ancestors in common…

Ilene R. Prusher, Moment, April 2007

It was Seder night in Kabul, and the bread most afflicting me was the pile of nan - Afghan flatbread - that our cook kept placing on the table just before the guests were due to arrive. I repeatedly removed the offending plate and explained to the cook - already baffled by my trying to give him the week off - that there would be no bread served with this meal. He’d nod to show he understood, but a few minutes later, I’d find the same pile of nan back in its usual place.

I had planned for this Seder even before leaving home on the second of what would be many reporting trips to Afghanistan, tucking a box of matzah in my suitcase and wrapping two Haggadot inside my flak jacket. But celebrating the Jewish people’s liberation from slavery in Egypt was proving more complicated than just setting a proper table. My attempt to banish the nan and the cook’s determination to return it was just one of many challenges.

This was 2002, after all, in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, which until the U.S invasion only months earlier had been controlled by the fiercely repressive Islamist Taliban. Although driven from Kabul, the Taliban were hardly gone from the country and memories of their rigid rule - and their Ministry of Virtue and Vice - were fresh. A colleague who was co-hosting the Seder and I dared not reveal to our Afghani staff and guests - interpreters, drivers and guards - that they were actually helping us observe a Jewish holiday. Instead, we related the Passover story in metaphorical terms: Just as you here in Afghanistan are celebrating your freedom from the oppression of the Taliban and the terror of civil war, we commemorate the day of our freedom from slavery. This is a feast to show our love of liberty, our thanks to God.

The Afghanis ate it up - and reached for seconds of my charoset.

The only guest in on the secret was my guide and interpreter, Mashal, a member of Afghanistan’s prominent Pashtun people. Gentlemanly son of a judge, author of two books of Pashto poetry and master of four other languages, Mashal had been running an Internet café in Pakistan soon after 9/11 when a colleague of mine coaxed him into journalism.

A few days before the Seder, I found myself in an unexpected conversation with Mashal. He and I were on one of our long car trips through the ragged slate-gray Afghan hinterlands, scouting stories about Al Qaeda’s evasion of U.S. forces and local warlords who were besting America’s plans for the region. Somewhere between Khost and Kabul, Mashal raised a subject I had considered best to avoid in these precincts.

“I, I, I want to find out more about the Jews,” he said from the front seat, craning his neck to talk to me as we bounced over the rocky road like hot popcorn kernels. I didn’t respond; instead, I continued to stare out the window at the packed-mud buildings dotting the remote landscape, careful as ever to avoid direct eye contact with the men we passed. “Because I believe that they are related to us,” Mashal continued, “and that maybe we, we were once Jews.”

“What?” I asked, as if I hadn’t quite heard him, buying more time to think. I knew there were peoples, from remote pockets of Africa to the far corners of East Asia, who believe they are descended from the Israelites. I had not, though, heard this mentioned in regard to the Pashtuns, who claim a proud martial history in Central Asia that long predates Islam. Also called Pakhtuns or Pathans, they are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, whose populace also includes other Muslim groups like the Hazaras, Tajiks and Uzbeks. More notoriously, Pashtuns make up the ranks of the Taliban.

Was I to believe that the likes of Mullah Omar - the Taliban luminary who ordered public executions and floggings, made burka-wearing law, and gave succor to Osama bin Laden - possessed even a molecule of Jewish ancestry?

“Once Jews?” I finally replied, turning to him and pulling up my ever-slipping head scarf. “What do you mean?”

“We have all kinds of traditions that no other Muslims have,” he said, “like Saturday was the rest day. And many of the words in our language are not related to any other language in the region. And I, I think maybe that’s because they are from Hebrew!” Mashal punctuated that last word with a pleasing emphasis. His love of poetry had a way of seeping into the sweet rhythms of his speech.

“Well, if there’s something you want to know, I might be able to help,” I said, half-shocked to hear myself utter these words to an Afghan. “I’m Jewish.”

“Really?” He was exuberant. “You?” Our driver turned to ask what had caused this sudden burst of enthusiasm, but Mashal dismissed him with a shake of the head and a vague smile. Lowering his tone a notch, he said, “Wow. That’s great. I want to ask you a lot of questions.”

Mashal’s discretion confirmed my instinct that I could trust him. Still, such confidence was not to be given lightly. This was hardly two months after the murder of Daniel Pearl in neighboring Pakistan, an event that shook many intrepid reporters to the core. Suddenly, to not hide one’s religious identity seemed reckless. Like the thousands of landmines still embedded in Afghanistan’s parched landscape, Jewishness could be hazardous to your survival.

Later that day, I gingerly walked over one such landmine-strewn plain of cracked earth, dry and gritty as nan. At regular intervals, we had driven past gaggles of bright fabric flapping flirtatiously in the wind. Tied to thin wooden poles in the ground, they looked from afar like sails attached to the masts of sunken schooners trying to catch the breeze and move on. Mashal said they marked graves, but I couldn’t see how that could be.

I asked our driver to stop so I could take a photograph. He shrugged and obliged, telling me to watch my step. As I neared the poles, my feet crunching the dirt beneath me, I could see that Mashal had been right. The flapping fabrics were head scarves from women who had buried loved ones here, colorful signs of remembrance for those they mourned.

Up close, I found something even more surprising: stones scattered on nearly every grave. A memory from early childhood rushed through my head—one hand in my mother’s, the other reaching down to place a pebble on my grandfather’s tombstone. I returned to the car in wonderment, retracing my footsteps as I’d learned to do in a land as rich in mines as more fortunate countries are in coffee beans.

I asked Mashal what the story was: Why the stones on the graves? This was a peculiar Pashtun way of marking a visit to the deceased, he said.

“But that’s what Jews do,” I told him quietly. In all my travels, I had never come across another people who preferred pebbles over flowers on a loved one’s grave.

“Really?” Mashal said, surprised, “I thought only we, we Pashtuns did that.”
Less than an hour later, we passed through a typically poor village on the road back toward Kabul. Paint markings on some of the buildings caught my eye. They resembled five-branch menorahs. I asked Mashal what they were.

“Oh, we call it nars,” he replied. “People in the countryside put this up to mark a celebration, such as a birth or wedding.”

“Do all the peoples in Afghanistan do that, or just the Pashtuns?” Iasked.
“This is only for the Pashtuns,” he said.

It seemed uncanny. Menorah…nars. They sounded as if they shared the same root. And unlike the Star of David, which did not originate with the Jews, the menorah symbol had never belonged to another people.

Mashal and I raised our eyebrows and looked at each other. In the weeks that followed, we were to come across further peculiarities of Pashtun customs that would ring familiar. There is the tradition among many rural women, for instance, of lighting candles on a Friday. They then hide them in a basket - perhaps to conceal their glow from censorious mullahs. There are wedding customs: Some Afghans marry under a cloth that is similar to the chuppa. Another Afghan cloth, the uniquely Pashtun shoulder drape for men that doubles as a ritual prayer mat, is called a tolia; Both its name and function, I told Mashal, reminded me of tallit.

From then on, Mashal and I made a point of paying visits to Afghanistan’s Jewish sites: Gardez, where it’s rumored that a Jewish warrior named Gabur built an ancient fortress; Ghazni Province, where Pashtuns make pilgrimages to the tomb of a “Jewish saint” called Zikria; and Balkh Province, an ancestral area and possible cradle of Pashtun culture that once boasted a large Jewish population that disappeared long before the country’s other Jewish communities in Herat and Kabul dwindled after 1948 and died out in the 1970s. Mashal thought the Pashtuns might have acquired their name from Balkh pronounced pakh-tu by most Afghans.

There are several stories about how the Pashtun people—spread throughout Afghanistan, Pakistan and India—came by their Jewish roots. Many Pashtun, Mashal pointed out, believe themselves to be descended from a legendary figure named Qais Abdu Rashid, who might have been from one of the Israelite tribes. Another theory is that Pashtuns are descended from Pithon, a tribal descendant mentioned in First Chronicles, 8:35.

Curiosity piqued, I spoke to experts and consulted every book I could find on Afghanistan and the lost tribes. It seems Mashal and I were far from the first to wonder. One can find Muslim and Jewish references from the 13th to the 18th centuries attesting to the presence of lost tribes of Israel in the Pashtun territories in Afghanistan and Pakistan. These include the 1612 classic called Makhzan-i-Afghani, which was translated into English in the early 19th century as History of the Afghans.

Hardly a contemporary academic or journalistic work - from Sir Olef Caroe’s The Pathans of 50 years ago to the most recent histories of Afghanistan - fails to mention it. British colonial official Mountstuart Elphinstone, writing in the early 19th century, compared Pashtu to Hebrew in his book, The Kingdom of Caubul. Israel’s second president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, believed in the Jewish lineage of the Pashtuns, as did Zahir Shah, the last king of Afghanistan. Once, when asked about his ancestors, Shah claimed that the royal family descended from the Tribe of Benjamin.

Jews I spoke with who had grown up in Afghanistan also immediately identified with Pashtun-Jewish links. Their parents or grandparents, they would tell me, had always said, that of all Afghan peoples, they could expect Pashtuns to treat them well on account of their shared heritage. In Jerusalem, I met with Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail, founder of Amishav (“My People Returns”), a group that brings supposed descendants of the lost tribes - such as the B’nei Menashe in India and the Shin-lung in Burma - to Israel. He flipped to the map on the back cover of his book, The Tribes of Israel, and with his finger traced for me the tribes’ putative path from Palestine into Iran, eastward across Afghanistan, and eventually into India and China.

Avichail’s claims brought to mind other intriguing details that Mashal had mentioned like some of the provisions of the complex Pashtun code of ethics, pashtunwali, which have no apparent connection to Islam and are not shared by other peoples of the region. These include exacting standards for hospitality and the requirement that a man marry his brother’s widow - a stipulation also found in the Torah.

Recently, I had a long phone conversation about Pashtun origins with Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi, an Indian historian on a research fellowship this year at Tel Aviv University. He’s been studying Muslim groups in India that have traditions of Israelite descent. In one - a Pashtun tribe called the Bani Yisrael - everyone shares the last name of Yisraeli. According to Aafreedi, they believe that they are the descendants of a Jewish sahabi (“friend” in Arabic) of the Prophet Mohammed.

“Why do they claim Israelite origins, if there is nothing to support it?”
he asked me.
“Why do they take it seriously, and why are there others
who take them seriously?”

Tudor Parfitt, a British professor of Jewish studies and author of The Lost Tribes of Israel, subjects the lost tribe theory to an unforgiving academic light apparent in his recent book’s subtitle: The History of a Myth. Parfitt argues that the last traces of the 10 northern tribes, who were exiled into Assyria and forced to assimilate, are Hebrew names recorded in Assyrian army documents from the 7th century. He has concluded that this is where the history of the lost tribes ends, and the myth of the lost tribes begins.

A perfectly reasonable explanation for the cultural overlap, according to naysayers, is that large numbers of Jews lived and traveled in the lands that are now Afghanistan well before the arrival of Islam. As far back as the 7th century, Chinese travel writer Hsuan Tsang noted a large number of Jewish communities there. Eventually, most converted to Islam.

Whatever the arguments for and against, many Pashtuns - my friend and colleague Mashal among them - remain convinced they are related to the Jews, or at least deeply curious to learn whether they truly are. Their belief has some interesting ramifications: In the ever-shifting power struggles among ethnic groups in this part of the world, the Israelite card is used both for and against the Pashtuns. Pakistanis in particular disparage the Pashtuns as Jews, while some Pashtuns use the possibility of Israelite heritage as evidence of having legitimate, ancient roots in the region. For the religious-minded, a connection to Judaism is proof of having been monotheistic even before the arrival of Islam. And unlike other groups that may or may not be descended from lost tribes, the issue isn’t about to get swept up into Israeli migration politics: the Pashtuns have no interest in emigrating to Israel.

At my nan-less Seder this year, I will recall how Jews, as the descendents of the Israelites, have probably wandered more than any other people. Deuteronomy 10:22 tells us that, before slavery, “Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy people, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.” Where those stars shine today is anyone’s guess.

Ilene R. Prusher is a staff writer for The Christian Science Monitor, and is the Boston-based newspaper’s Jerusalem bureau chief. She has spent the last decade reporting from countries throughout the Middle East, East Asia and Africa. Her articles have also appeared in publications such as the The Washington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New Republic and The Jerusalem Report.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Pashtun Tribe in India may be one of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel

Dr. Aafreedi receiving his certificate of post-doctorate from Prof. E. R. Toledano, Director, Graduate School of Historical Studies, Tel Aviv University on 18th June 2007

Dr. Zakir Husain, third President of India (1967-1969), an Afridi Pathan and recipient of India's highest civilian award the Bharat Ratna

'I love Israel - My forefathers were Probably

by Alexander Maistrovoy

Arutz Sheva: Israel National News. com, April 12, 2007

IsraPundit, April 10, 2007

The United Jerusalem Foundation,

JewishIndy, April 16, 2007,

40 years ago, as Israel celebrated its 1967 triumph, an extraordinary event occurred in the Jewish community of India. The President of India, Dr. Zakir Hussain, made a highly surprising visit to the Ohel David Synagogue of Pune, Maharashtra, which was celebrating its centenary. The significance of the event and the title of the guest were unprecedented. Why did he visit?

Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi has his own explanation: Dr. Hussain, one of the most famous sons of India, honored with India's highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, was a member of a Pashtun (Pakhtun/Pathan) tribe known as Afridi. And the Afridi tribe is identified with Ephraim, one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.

Dr. Aafreedi is an Indian citizen, a representative of the Afridi tribe too, and an historian. He isn't 30 yet, but he has a Ph.D. in Medieval and Modern Indian History, and his research thesis was entitled: "Indian Jewry and the Self-Professed 'Lost Tribes of Israel' in India." His book of the same title is the third serious major work ever by a Gentile on this subject. Now he is doing his Post-Doctoral Research at Tel Aviv University.

"Small minorities and marginal groups in all parts of the world have always interested me", he told this reporter. "But I was always more interested in Jews than any other group because of their impressive accomplishments and achievements, in spite of their numerical insignificance, and also because Muslims in my home town Lucknow tended to blame Jews for everything evil in the world. My interest in the Jews further deepened when my late uncle once said to me that our roots were Israelite. I was then 12 years old. Right then I decided that I would explore my probable Israelite roots when I get to the doctoral level.

"There were no Jews in my home town Lucknow. I only met Jews for the first time when I started researching for my Ph.D. But the more I read about Jews, the more my admiration grew for them. The Jewish saga is a tale of unprecedented heroism and self-sacrifice; Jews were humiliated and mistreated like no other people in history. That despite this, the Jews rose and returned to their ancient homeland (Israel) after two thousand years speaks volumes about the character of these tenacious people. I admire Jews as much for their resilience and courage as for their wisdom and scholarship."

After getting his Ph.D. from Lucknow University in 2005, Navras won scholarships from the Center for Judaic Studies at Shandong University, China and from the Israeli government. The terms of the Chinese scholarship were more lucrative, but Navras chose Tel-Aviv. "It's only for my love for Israel," he explains.

Navras began his research of the connection between Afridi Pashtuns from Malihabad in Lucknow district (of the state of Uttar Pradesh) and the Ephraim tribe. Pashtuns settled there in the mid-18th century and they are about 1,200 today. It is a drop in the ocean compared to about 45 million Pashtuns around the world. Pashtun tribes mainly live in the highlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and they are divided into 60 tribes and 400 clans.

The Afridi tribe is one of the largest (about three million) and very martial. They controlled the famous Khyber and the Kohat passes, collected tribute from caravans and became famous for their fearlessness and selflessness in battles with everyone who tried to conquer Afghanistan - from Mughal troops in the 16th and 17th centuries to the British in the 19th and Russians in the 20th century.

For hundreds of years, Afridis have called themselves Bani Israel (Pushto for the Hebrew B'nei Yisrael, meaning "Children of Israel") and believe that they originated from the Ephraim tribe. Lately, the hatred of Jews in the Islamic world made the young generation of Pashtuns give up their beliefs, but Navras quotes a number of Jewish immigrants from Afghanistan who testify to the prevalence of many Jewish rituals and customs among the Afridi Pashtun, such as the lighting of candles on Shabbat, growing long side-locks, wearing shawls resembling the tallit (ritual prayer shawl), circumcision on the eighth day after birth, and Levirate marriage.

Dr. Aafreedi refers to great Jewish rabbis, such as Saadia Ga'on and Moses Ibn Ezra, who mention Afghanistan and the Pathan territories in Pakistan as the home of Jews descended from the lost tribes. He also notes that a number of medieval Arabic and Farsi texts refer to the same phenomenon. In the 19th century some British travelers and officers, like Sir Alexander Brunes and J.P. Ferrier, wrote about the Israelite origin of Afghan tribes.

Many Pashtuns don't conceal their descent. For example, Emir Abdul Rahman, the grandfather of the former Afghan Shah Amanullah, stated expressly in his History of the Afghans that the Afghan tribes were of Israelite origin.

Lately, other and more impressive arguments have been produced by Joshua Benjamin in his book Mystery of the Lost Tribes, the second president of Israel, Yitzchak Ben-Zvi (The Exiled and the Redeemed [1957]), Social Anthropologist from Hebrew University Dr. Shalva Weil (Beyond the Sambatyon: The Myth of the Ten Lost Tribes), Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail (The Tribes of Israel), ex-Director of Archeology Fida Hasnain from Kashmir and others. According to some Jewish and European explorers from the Middle Ages until the present day, the Afridi tribe originates from Ephraim, the Yusufzai tribe from Joseph, the Rabbani from Reuben, the Levani from Levi, the Ashuri from Asher, etc.

Together with Prof. Tudor Parfitt (SOAS, London University) and Dr. Yulia Egorova (Cardiff University), Navras collected DNA samples of 50 paternally unrelated Afridi males of Malihabad and they are now being analyzed at University College, London.

Navras sees deep meaning in the fact that the world's only Muslim who teaches Jewish theology at a Western university happens to be an Afridi Pathan. She is Prof. Mehnaz Mona Afridi of the Department of Theological Studies in Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. And the only Muslim in the world who has initiated a Jewish-Muslim dialogue with Daniel Pearl's father Judea Pearl, happens to be a Pathan, as well, Prof. Akbar S. Ahmad. And isn't it amazing that he, Navras Jaat Aafreedi himself, was from his very childhood so strongly drawn to Jews, absolutely unfamiliar and alien to him? "It can be a peculiar proof too," my interviewee smiles.

Would the time for repatriation of the bellicose and unruly Afridi tribe to Israel ever come? "Not today, and not tomorrow, but it is possible. During his recent trip to London, Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail met two Afridi Pathan families who had fled their country during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. They spoke about their desire to embrace Judaism, the faith of their supposed ancestors,” Dr. Aafreedi says.

Alexander Maistrovoy is a journalist with the Russian language newspaper Novosty Nedely.