Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban is back in the headlines after engaging in a deadly border shootout with Iranian troops over the weekend. The flare-up has caused the group’s popularity to soar among fellow Sunni Muslims on social media.
With Israel also cozying up to the Sunni world in defiance of Iran’s hegemonic agenda, the spotlight is again on potential future relations, and possible historical ties, between the Jewish state and the Taliban.
In late 2021, the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan following the shocking and abrupt withdrawal of American forces. Even more surprising, at least to Israelis, was that one of the new Taliban government’s first big projects was to restore an ancient synagogue.
The move was particularly odd considering this is the same jihadist group that demolished an ancient statue of Buddha for violating Sharia law. While synagogues for dhimmi (read: second-class) Jews are not prohibited by Islam, few could have imagined the Taliban would use Afghanistan’s limited financial resources to preserve one.
But according to The Art Newspaper, the Taliban poured $500,000 into a 16-month restoration of the Yu Aw synagogue in the Jewish quarter of the city of Herat to save both the building and its mikva (ritual bath) from collapse.
מ-#השעה_הבינלאומית עם @Yoav__Zehavi : בחסות ארגון טליבאן, בית הכנסת העתיק בעיר הראט במערב אפגניסטן יעבור שימור ושיקום בשל מצבו. השיקום אמור להתחיל בחודש הבא ולהימשך כמעט שנה וחצי. מי שמממנת את הפרויקט היא קרן שוויצרית. שוחחנו עם העיתונאית הבריטית @SarvyGeranpayeh שהייתה שם pic.twitter.com/qNiqgjrJYQ
— roi kais • روعي كايس • רועי קייס (@kaisos1987) October 30, 2022
This was being done purely for cultural purposes. There are no more Jews living in Afghanistan.
Israeli media at the time speculated that the synagogue restoration was a gesture aimed at facilitating future diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, even if those relations remain on the down-low.
In remarks to Israel’s i24News late last year, an unnamed Afghan official with ties to the Taliban revealed that after returning to power the group realized the value of “establishing confidential relations [with Israel] with the intent of seeing these negotiations bear fruit in years or even a decade.”
The reason: “They [the Taliban] want to empower and sustain their regime. Therefore, they need to form strong relations with superpowers in the region, and they see Israel as a strong influencer.”
Then there’s the rampant speculation that the Taliban has Jewish roots.
The dominant group making up the Taliban are the Pashtun, a tribe of tens of millions of Muslims living in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
In working with the Bnei Menashe, a tribe on the Indian subcontinent that is now widely believed to be part of the Lost 10 Tribes of Israel, Israeli researchers became aware that the Pashtun, too, perform a variety of very Jewish rituals.
See our previous article on this topic: Analysis of the Jewish Roots of the Taliban
It is known from various historical documents that prior to the introduction of Islam in Afghanistan, the local Pashtun referred to themselves as “Bani Yisrael” – “Sons of Israel.”
Yitzchak Ben-Zvi, the former president of Israel, also studied the tribes in Afghanistan and interviewed dozens of Afghan Jews in Israel.
In his study, Ben-Zvi wrote that some of the the Afghan tribes that coexisted with the Jews for centuries are Muslims “who to this day retain the tradition of their descent from the ten lost Israelite tribes.”
An interesting development, to be sure. Though Israel is unlikely to be too enthusiastic about forging relations with a movement soaked in so much blood.
Israel Today Membership
Save 18% Per Month.
Six Months Membership
Save 9% Per Month.