home / special
features / mystery of the ten
lost tribes /
the Ten Lost Tribes|
Afghanistan/Pakistan - The
by Rabbi Marvin
One subject of the Lost Tribes which has generally been ignored
which I found to be personally fascinating are the tribe of the
The Pathans are about 15 million people living
mainly in Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as in Persia and India.
They have a tradition of being of the Lost Tribes and have Israeli
The Pathans have custom of circumcision on the 8th day. This is a
known Jewish custom, and is the oldest Jewish tradition. I myself
witnessed and was present at a very joyous circumcision ceremony on
the 8th day after birth. Muslims have custom of circumcision but it
is not on the 8th day, and usually at the age of 12.
Pathans have a sort of small Tallit called Kafan. This is a 4
cornered garment which they tie strings similar to the fringes (Jews
call them Tzitzit) and is one of the oldest Jewish traditions going
back to the Torah and it is a sign of their Israeli origin. They
also have bigger Tallit which they call Joy-Namaz. It is a garment
2-3 meters sq., and it is made to cover the head and part of the
shoulders, and is used for prayer by spreading on the ground in the
Muslim fashion. It has no fringes.
The Pathans have custom of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is considered
a day of rest and they do not labor, cook or bake. The Pathans
prepare 12 Hallot (traditional Jewish bread, Leviticus 24:5) in
honor of the Sabbath as was done in the ancient temple. One of the
significant indicators proving the Israeli origins of the Pathans is
the lighting of the candle to honor the Sabbath. After lighting, the
candle is covered usually by a large basket. The candle is lit by a
woman past her menopause.
Pathans Live in Customs of
Pathans have custom of Kosher, dietary laws
same as Jews. Pathans do not eat horse or camel meat, which is most
common in their area but of course forbidden to Jews. There is some
evidence to their not eating meat and milk together which is also an
ancient Israeli tradition. And they have a tradition regarding
differentiating between pure and impure birds which means permitted
and not permitted birds similar to the Torah.
Some still wear
a small box which Jews call Tefillin (phylactery) containing a verse
of the Bible. This box resemble Japanese Tokin of Yamabushi's
forehead, too. This is an ancient custom of Israel. In the Jewish
box there is the verse of Shema Israel, that is, "Hear, O Israel:
The Lord our God, the Lord is one!" (Deuteronomy 6:4) This custom of
Tefillin came from a verse of the Scriptures, "You shall bind them
as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your
eyes" (Deuteronomy 6:8).
It is interesting to note that the
Pathans retain family names of the Lost Tribes such as Asher, Gad,
Naphtali, Reuben and Manasseh and Ephraim. Among them there are
people who are called by these names, which are of the Ten Lost
Tribes of Israel. There are also people who are called Israel,
Samuel, and so on, which are never found among the Muslims. There
are also many areas as locations, neighborhoods and villages with
names of places that are similar to names in the land of Israel.
The region has archeological finds testifying to a Hebrew
past, and they also resemble Jews of the area and their language
Pashtu surprisingly has many Hebrew words. The Pathans are also
called Afghans, or sons of the Pashtu which is their language, were
mostly called "Bani-Israel" meaning children of Israel even though
they live today as devout Muslims.
The external appearance
of the Pathans resemble the Jews of the area. Together with their
ancient customs and other data there is a definite connection that
can be made to the Tribes of Israel.
The Pathans number 6 to
7 million in Afghanistan and 7 to 8 million in Pakistan. They live
in the border area between these two countries and about 2 million
live as nomads. These Pathans desire for their independence, which
is supported by Afghanistan and is a cause of constant tension in
Pakistan which does not desire their independence.
Pathans' Law Resembles the Torah
Afghanistan is one of the least developed countries of
Asia and the majority of the population is illiterate. They work
primarily in farming and sheep-raising and other domesticated
Most people still live in villages and some even
live as nomads. It is a country that is ruled by Islamic religious
law and more than 90 % of the population are Sunni Muslims. But
whatever modernization has taken place, it has not reached the
mountainous border areas. Here the Pathans continue their centuries
old tribal life.
The legal system which is known as
Pashtunwali, the law of the Pashtu, is very similar to the Torah,
which is the holiest Jewish book and the book of ancient Jewish way
of life. There are pages and even complete books among the pathans
and they honor greatly what is called Tavrad El Sharif (the Torah of
Moses), and they rise at the mention of the name of Moses even
though it is not important in Islam.
The Pathans are very
healthy, tall, and have strong light-skinned appearance. They are
warriors and carry arms from a young age, they are hardworking,
wise, truthful and extremely loyal and they also have a worldwide
reputation for exemplary hospitality.
The ethnic origin of
these Pathans has puzzled people for some time because they are
different both externally and in the character traits from the other
groups around them such as the Turks, the Mongolians, the Persians,
or the Indo-Iranians. It is also difficult to trace their past
history in a region in which tens of nations and major tribes of
various origins have come and gone.
identification of the Pathan Tribes with their Israelite origin is
expressed in various ways. Besides the oral tradition related by the
elders of the tribe, there are also interesting testimonies of
keeping of scrolls of genealogy among the tribes, reaching back to
the Fathers of the Jewish nation.
These scrolls are well
preserved and some are written in gold on the skins of a doe. No
less interesting and significant are the names of the tribes which
bear close resemblance to the Tribes of Israel. The Rabbani Tribe is
really Reuben, the Shinware Tribe is Shimon, the Lewani Tribe is
Levi, The Daftani Tribe is Naphtali, and the Jaji Tribe is Gad, and
the Ashuri Tribe is Asher, The Yusefsai Tribe is sons of Joseph, and
the Afridi Tribe is really Ephraim. These are the names of the Ten
Lost Tribes of Israel.
The Pathans themselves point out the
differences between the original names of the tribes and their
present names are because of the different dialects of the languages
so that, for instance, Jaji was actually called Gaji for the tribe
There are some Jews of Afghanistan today who count
the Tribe of Israel among the Pathans. The physical similarity
between the Pathans and other Jews is exemplified by the British
ruled Afghanistan for a great length of time and called the Pathans
Jews. When not wearing their traditional clothing Pathans are
indistinguishable from other Jews of the area. Among the 21 nations
of Afghanistan only the Pathans and the Jews have Semitic features,
their faces are longer and lighter, and some even have blue eyes.
Like the Jews of the area, Pathans grow beards and sidelocks which
further serve to make them indistinguishable from Jews.
Israeli Features of the Pathans
Pathans have many other features as descendants of Israelites.
Their wedding is like Jewish. Wedding ceremony with the
Pathans includes a marriage canopy and rings similar to the Jewish
Women of the Pathans keep laws similar to the Jewish
laws regarding menstruation. During this time and for 7 days after,
no contact is allowed with the husband. After this period, the woman
immerses in a river or spring or in a bathhouse if a natural spring
is not available. This is exactly the same as the Israeli tradition
going back to the days of the Bible.
Pathans have custom of
levirate marriage, which is the custom when a husband dies without
children, his brother marries the widow to keep the name of the
house. This custom no longer exists today, but was an ancient
Israeli custom mentioned in the Bible (Deuteronomy 25:5-6).
The commandment to honor one's parent is kept in exemplary
manner in these tribes. The son must obey the parents in all
matters. When the father enters the room all stand and bow their
heads in his honor. This was a Israeli tradition as
Pathans have custom of Yom Kippur. We know of some of
the members of the Lewani Tribe who came to the Jewish synagogue on
Yom Kippur each year in Afghanistan. He would stay there until
sundown without uttering even one word. He spoke of the tradition of
the Temple on this day and of the high priest and his work there.
One year he erred in his calendar and did not come, he wept
bitterly for one week for missing the observance of this day.
The Pathans have custom of scapegoat. In ancient Israel
there was the custom to put sins of the nation onto a goat and send
the goat away to desert. This custom of scapegoat was done to atone
the sins of the nation (Leviticus chapter 16). Similar custom is
found even today among the Pathans.
The Pathans usually pray
in mosque. However some pray towards Jerusalem which is most
unusual. There are some very old synagogues in their area and
Pathans come to these synagogues on special days in times of great
stress or tragedies or for special prayers. The individual who seeks
help comes there to touch the lock and to pray. There are those who
say that these places once contained scrolls of the Torah. This is
interesting because today they are actually devout Muslims.
At the time of plague the Pathans slaughter a sheep and
sprinkle its blood on the doorpost of their homes. This is what the
Israelites did in ancient Egypt during the plagues that occurred
An interesting testimony relates to the placing of a
wrapped book of Psalms of the Bible under the pillow of the ill in
order to heal that person.
There are those who have said
that there are Amulets written in Hebrew. Some contain the phrase
"Shema Israel" and it is secretly written by the head of the tribe
and it is forbidden to open it.
And the symbol of Shield of
David (Star of David) is found in almost every Pathan house. The
wealthy make it out of expensive metals and the poor out of simple
wood. It can be seen in towers, in schools and also in tools,
bracelets, and jewelry. I saw it at least 20 times in a variety of
places. In Minerajan, the center of Afghanistan, there are even
schools that have the Shield of David on the door or in the stone
above the door.
- The Pathans Kashmir
from "Nihon-Yudaya, Huuin no Kodaishi" by Rabbi Marvin Tokayer,
translated from Japanese by Arimasa Kubo. Following
his ordination, Rabbi Tokayer served as a U.S. Air Force Chaplain in
Japan, and upon his discharge from the military, returned to Tokyo
to serve for many years as rabbi of the Jewish Community of Japan as
well as Vice President and Director of Culture, Religion and
Education for the Jewish communities of the Far East.