For the past 1,500 years, Jews have maintained their presence in Afghanistan. But with the endless conflicts unfolding in these arid Central Asian regions, Jews started an unhurried exodus. With the Afghan government ensuring that their citizenship will not be revoked, Afghan Jews began immigrating to other countries. By 1996, there were roughly 5000 Jews left in Afghanistan.
Now, amidst the chaos of the Taliban’s reclamation of Kabul after a 20-year war, a single Jewish individual is holed up in the last remaining synagogue in Afghanistan. Located in the Flower Street of Kabul City, the last Jewish temple was occupied by two Jews until one of them, Ishaq Levin, died. Now only one remains. Zabulon Simantov.
There are a lot of oddities in Simantov’s life in Kabul. At 61, he is considered the last Jew in Afghanistan. Simantov’s presence and efforts are the only things that keep the synagogue operational. From the taxing compliance of the Jewish diet to the scarce sources of financial income, his life has become a novelty coverage for some news media in the area.
Simantov needed Kosher food to nourish himself while adhering to Jewish traditions. The only available option is to slaughter the animals himself after getting permission from the closest Rabbi, almost 1,500 kilometers away. Simantov also runs a kebab shop staffed by Muslims and gets by with his day-to-day finances with the help of Jews outside Afghanistan and Muslim neighbors.
But the most striking oddity that has become synonymous with Kabul’s last remaining Jew is his persistent refusal to grant his wife a Jewish divorce. In Judaism, the Halaka allows for a final divorce. It’s frowned upon, but there are instances where divorce is encouraged.
In Simantov’s case, his wife and children immigrated to Israel in 1998 and have lived there since. Simantov accompanied his family during the immigration but returned to Afghanistan shortly. Simantov lived in Kabul in a bitter rivalry for ownership of the Synagogue with Ishaq Levin until the latter’s passing in 2005. “I will not leave my home. If I had left, there would have been no one to maintain the synagogue,” Simantov explained.
Numerous attempts were made in the past to facilitate the divorce, with Simantov constantly changing his mind. He has been rumored to leave Afghanistan earlier this year but has also changed his mind on that matter.
A chief Rabbi based in Moscow, Pinchas Goldschmidt, announced on his social media that he is willing to travel to Afghanistan to help facilitate the divorce, but Simantov refused. The Israeli-American philanthropist, Moti Kahana, offered to fly Simantov to Israel to work on the divorce with rabbinical assistance. Simantov agreed, with Kahana sending his bodyguards to escort him. Simantov later changed his mind and decided to stay. “Go to Israel? What business do I have there,” he said regarding the proposed travel.
Until today, Simantov’s wife remains a chained woman, an “agunot.” She remains locked in a fruitless and senseless religious contract.