The Afghan geniza

The road between the Afghani cities of Ghazni and Bamiyan is fraught with danger . The Kabul-Kandahar highway that makes up most of the journey was improved and reopened in 2003, but in the last several years travelers on this road have been targets for Taliban, insurgents, and bandits of all stripes. A recent article in Afghanistan Today reports that hundreds of people are kidnapped and attacked on this route every year.

The road was also dangerous, so it seems, in the Middle Ages. A cache of Jewish documents was recently discovered in Afghanistan, and among its contents is a trader’s letter written in Judeo-Persian; like Yiddish, this Jewish language sounds similar to the standard Persian spoken in Iran and Afghanistan today, but is written in the Hebrew script. In the still-unpublished letter, the author, a trader in Ghazni, complains to his brother that he is far from his wife and family in Bamiyan. Despite the relative closeness of the two cities, for the author a journey was out of the question. “I am not a man of traveling and absence from home,” he writes, expressing his grief at the absence of his loved one: “My heart is occupied with her, for I know she is in distress.”

Read the whole story from 2012 in American Public Media‘s On Being.