Last Jew to leave Afghanistan divorces wife after refusing for over 20 years

Zebulon Simantov, 62, grants a 'get' in a Zoom conversation with Sydney- and Istanbul-based rabbis, businessman who organized his rescue

Zebulon Simantov (right), Afghanistan's last Jew, seen with one of his rescuers, after fleeing to a neighboring country. (Screenshot/Kan)

Zebulon Simantov, Afghanistan’s last Jew, who fled the Taliban’s rule earlier this month, finally granted his wife a divorce this week, after refusing for more than 20 years.

Simantov, 62, had refused to leave the country and travel to Israel in the past, reportedly in order to avoid dealing with his divorce and with rabbinic authorities, who sanction those who do not grant a divorce.

Reports about Simantov in the past have noted that his wife moved to Israel with the couple’s daughters in 1998, and he has refused to divorce her since.

Under Jewish law, a “get,” or rabbinic bill of divorce, is required for women to be able to remarry. Women whose husbands refuse to give a get are known as “agunot,” or chained women, and their plight is seen as a major point of gender inequality in Orthodox Judaism.

The get was granted remotely by the Sydney Beth Din, headed by Rabbi Yehoram Ulman, the Makor Rishon weekly reported on Sunday.

A screenshot from a Zoom conversation showed Istanbul-based Rabbi Mendy Chitrik and businessman Moti Kahana, the latter of whom assisted in getting Simantov out of Afghanistan.

It was not clear when the divorce proceedings took place, but last Wednesday, Kahana tweeted that he had gotten Simantov to sign the relevant documents, without a rabbi being present.

Kahana jokingly said, “I’m sure there will be arguments over this — after all, we are Jews. But we live in the twenty-first century, and Zoom exists.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Orthodox rabbis have given their okay for divorce proceedings to held over Zoom in cases where a get is refused.

Several similar procedures were held in Israel, meaning Simantov’s divorce will likely be recognized by religious authorities as valid.

Kahana had been pushing for Simantov to give the divorce since his perilous escape from Afghanistan earlier this month.

After the United States’ complete withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of August, Simantov crossed the border to a neighboring country in September.

The operation was funded by Moshe Margaretten, an American ultra-Orthodox fixer whose passion is bringing Jews out of danger.

Kahana, who helped extract people from war-torn Syria, attempted to get Simantov out amid the US withdrawal, on behalf of Margaretten. But Simantov refused to leave at the time, reportedly because of the divorce situation.

According to Kahana, after finally agreeing to leave, Simantov headed to be with his family in the US.

read more: