At a groundbreaking conference on Thursday, experts will gather in Jerusalem to discuss the status of Pashtun, a tribal nation of tens of millions of Afghani and Pakistani Muslims who believe they are descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. The experts will discuss how reconnecting Israel to the Pashtun will have enormous consequences, most notably as their prophesied return.
“From their side, every Pashtun knows their roots are in Israel,” Nadav Sofy, spokesman for The Association of the Bani Israel of Afghanistan told Breaking Israel News. “At this point, we are just trying to raise this awareness among the Jews and to build bridges.”
Sofy’s organization, which is coordinating the conference, is a newly formed group working to connect Israel and the Pashtun. Sofy will be speaking about the identification of the Pashtun as the Ten Tribes.
The Pashtun, an Iranic ethnic group of 50 million Muslims living, refer to themselves as the “Bani Israel,” very similar phonetically to the Hebrew term for the “children of Israel,” Bnei Yisrael.
“The Pashtun have an intricate and strong tribal system and are meticulous about family genealogy (Shijra), but within this tribal framework is a strong oral tradition that they are descended from the lost Ten Tribes of Israel,” Sofy explained to Breaking Israel News.
“Many Pashtun have family traditions identifying with specific tribes. Those from the tribe of Yusufzai, for example, believe they are descended from Joseph, Lewani from Levi, Rebbani from Reuven, Afridi from Ephraim, Gaghai from Gad, and Benyamin from Benjamin.”
Sofy described a surprisingly long list of customs among the Pashtun, which are also observed by Jews. Pashtun men wear four-cornered fringed garments that are similar, though not completely identical to, Jewish prayer shawls.
The Pashtun are Muslims and therefore, observe the Sabbath on Friday. Nevertheless, many of the Pashtun light Sabbath candles in their homes on Friday evening like Jewish world at large, which celebrates the Sabbath from Friday evening until Saturday evening.
Many of the Pashtun wed under a cloth canopy as is customary for Jews. However, while the groom traditionally smashes a glass cup in a Jewish wedding in memory of Temple’s destruction, at a Pashtun wedding, the bride breaks the glass.
The Pashtun also circumcise male infants on the eighth day after birth as Jews do.
Jews and Muslims share many dietary laws including ritual slaughter but some Pashtun have a tradition of covering the blood from the slaughter with sand, as the Jews do. Islam proscribes pork products, but the Pashtun refrain from eating the meat or milk from camels, popular among Muslims of that region. They also refrain from eating crustaceans, a restriction that is unknown among Muslims. More significantly, many Pashtun do not eat milk and meat together.
The question of whether Pashtun have intermarried with non-Jews, which would undermine any claim of theirs to having a genetic connection with the rest of the Jewish people, is less problematic than with other nations claiming such a connection. Sofy explained that the Pashtun do not intermarry with other Muslims and that marrying outside of their tribe is strongly discouraged.
Rabbi Harry Rozenberg, a long-time active advocate for connecting with the Pashtun, will speak at the conference about the practical implications of this connection.
“When you think of the Middle East, Israel seems alone,” Rabbi Rozenberg explained. “Connecting with the Pashtun will change that. It will connect Israel to tens of millions of Pashtun creating a bridge across the entire region and creating a barrier against Iran. It will help connect Israel with other nations who may now resist this connection.”
Rabbi Rozenberg provided religious reasons to advocate in favor of connecting the Pashtun with Israel by citing a section of the blessing traditionally recited before the Shema (Jewish prayer declaring God’s Oneness).
“Israel shall be crowned in the covenant of Israel, and your nation shall be like Judah, and Israel shall be exalted, and God shall bring us holy armies.”
“The Jews are from the tribe of Judah,” the rabbi said. “In order for us to rise up as the prophets said we would before the geula (redemption), we need to connect to Israel.”
Dr. Shalva Weil, an anthropologist and senior researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has been researching the Pashtun for many years. She will be speaking at the conference as well and will provide an anthropological perspective on the issue. Dr. Weil believes the connection between the Pashtun and Israel will not be a simple one.
“Of all the groups, there is more convincing evidence about the Pashtun and Pathans than anybody else, but they are the ones who would reject Israel most ferociously,” Dr. Weil said in an interview with The Guardian in 2010. “That is the irony.”
Nadav Sofy suggested that current events indicate that the timing for the conference is indeed auspicious, citing a verse in Isaiah.
“And in that day, a great ram’s horn shall be sounded; and the strayed who are in the land of Assyria and the expelled who are in the land of Egypt shall come and worship Hashem on the holy mount, in Yerushalayim. Isaiah 27:13
“The verse specifies that the exiles will be worshipping at the mountain; not at the Temple,” Sofy said. “The exiles will arrive first and then the Temple will be built. The Jewish connection to the Temple Mount is growing stronger every day so the time has arrived to bring back the exiles.”
Details about the conference can be found here.