BALKH, town in northern Afghanistan (within medieval Khurasan). Balkh was formerly the stronghold of Jewish settlements in Afghanistan. According to Persian and Muslim traditions, it was founded after the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (586 B.C.E.), who is said to have settled the exiled Jews there. It was to Balkh, according to Muslim tradition, that the prophet Jeremiah fled, and where the prophet Ezekiel was buried. According to the Muslim historian al-Ṭabarī, another Jewish prophet with the unidentifiable name of SMY conducted religious disputations with Zoroaster in Balkh. Reference by Arab geographers to a Bāb al-Yahūd (Gate of Jews) in Balkh, and to "al-Yahūdiyya" ("Jewish territory" or "Jewish town") provide additional evidence that a large Jewish settlement existed there. The name al-Yahūdiyya or al-Yahūdān-al Kubrā (the Great Jewry) was, however, later euphemistically changed to al-Maymana (the 'auspicious' town) since the term "al-Yahūdiyya" was rejected by the Muslims. It was at Balkh that the sectarian *Hiwi al-Balkhī was born in the ninth century. The Jews of Balkh were forced to maintain a public garden. Maḥhmūd of Ghazna (1034) imposed special taxes on the Jews of the town, stipulating, however, that not more than 500 dirham should be accepted from them. The Jewish community continued well into the 13th century, when a Jewish merchant from Balkh named Khawāja Rashīd al-Dīn al-Ḥakīm went from Khurasan to India. However, the community was evidently destroyed during the Mongol invasions.
Frye, in: EIS2, 1 (1960), 1000–02 (includes bibliography).
[Walter Joseph Fischel]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.