(JTA) — Zebulon Simantov, the last remaining Jew in Afghanistan, has finally left the country for fear of persecution by the Taliban, an Israeli television channel reported. Simantov, the 62-year-old former keeper of Kabul’s lone remaining synagogue, left the country for the U.S. in recent days with several other exiles, the Kan broadcaster in Israel reported Wednesday. The report was based on information given by Moti Kahana, an Israeli-American businessman who said he was involved in the extraction along with Moshe Margaretten, a Jewish philanthropist from New York. “Moshe Margaretten please take me to New York with God’s help,” Simantov said in a video. The trip is a five-day journey, according to the Kan report.
After the Taliban took over Afghanistan last month, several Jewish groups immediately reached out to Simantov, offering to help him out of the country, but he initially had declined the offers, citing his desire to stay in his homeland and preserve the synagogue, in which he had lived. Kahana had previously said Simantov demanded “personal funding” in exchange for leaving. After Simantov rebuffed Kahana and Margaretten’s first offers for help, they helped evacuate dozens of other Afghans.
According to multiple reports, Simantov has for many years refused to allow his wife, who lives in Israel with their two daughters, to divorce him. In Orthodox Judaism, spouses may not divorce unless they both consent to the dissolution of their marriage. Spouses who are refused a divorce act, or get, are called “chained.”
Israeli rabbinical courts cannot declare a marriage void, but they can legally punish recalcitrant spouses with fines or even imprisonment.
Main Photo: Zebulon Simantov reads a prayer book before celebrating Rosh Hashanah in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 18, 2009. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)