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Persian Jews
12 Famous Persian Jews .png
1st row: DanielHabakkukEstherRashid-al-Din Hamadani

2nd row: Solayman HaïmMorteza NeydavoudMoshe KatsavShaul Mofaz
3rd row: Yousef Hamadani CohenDavid B. SamadiRoya HakakianRita Kleinstein

Total population
~300,000-350,000 (est.)
Regions with significant populations
 Israel 200,000[1]-250,000 [2]
 United States 60,000-80,000[1]
 Iran ~25,000 [3]
 United Kingdom
 Australia ~740 [4]
Languages

Historically: Persian languages, Judeo-Persian languages, Judeo-Aramaic language, Judeo-Kurdish (The Jewish languages still exist but mostly among elderly)
Modern: English, Hebrew, Persian

Religion

Judaism

Related ethnic groups

Bukharan Jews, Kurdish Jews, Mountain Jews, Mizrahi Jews, Persians, Jews

A modern-day synagogue in Iran.

Persian Jews or Iranian Jews are Jews historically associated with Iran, traditionally known as Persia in Western sources.

Judaism is one of the oldest religions practiced in Iran and dates back to the late biblical times. The biblical books of Isaiah, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles, and Esther contain some references to the experiences of Jews in Persia. Some material has been validated by Biblical scholars.

Today, the largest group of Persian Jews is found in Israel. As of 2007, Israel is home to just over 47,000 Iranian-born Jews and roughly 87,000 Israeli-born Jews with fathers born in Iran.[5] While these numbers add up to about 135,000, when Israelis with more distant or solely maternal Iranian roots are included the total number of Persian Jews in Israel is estimated to be between 200,000[1]-250,000.[6]

The United States is home to 60,000-80,000 Iranian Jews, who have settled especially in the Los Angeles area and Great Neck, New York. Those in Los Angeles have settled mostly in the Westside upper-class cities of Beverly Hills and Santa Monica and the Los Angeles Westside neighborhoods of Brentwood, Westwood, and West L.A., as well as the San Fernando Valley communities of Tarzana and Encino. According to the former mayor of Beverly Hills, Iranians make up at least a fifth of the resident population of Beverly Hills (the large majority of them Jewish),[11] and a third of the student body at the local high school.[7][8] Following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, tens of thousands of Persian Jews migrated from Iran, forming one of the wealthiest waves of immigrants to ever come to the United States.[12]

The current Jewish population of Iran is estimated by most sources to be 25,000,[9][10][11][12] though estimates vary, as low as 11,000 [13] and as high as 40,000.[14] Notable population centers include Tehran, Isfahan (1,200)[13], and Shiraz. Historically, Jews maintained a presence in many more Iranian cities. Jews are protected in the Iranian constitution.[10] Iran hosts the largest Jewish population of any Muslim-majority country.[15] After Israel, it is home to the second-largest Jewish population in the Middle East.[9]

Iranian Jews also emigrated to form smaller communities in Western Europe (specifically in London), Australia, and Canada. A number of groups of Jews of Persia have split off since ancient times. They have been identified as separate communities, such as the Bukharan Jews and Mountain Jews. In addition, there are several thousand people in Iran who are, or who are the direct descendants of, Jews who converted to Islam and the Bahá'í Faith.[16]

Contents

Terminology

Today the term Iranian Jews is mostly used to refer to Jews from the country of Iran. In various scholarly and historical texts, the term is used to refer to Jews who speak various Iranian languages. Iranian immigrants in Israel (nearly all of whom are Jewish) are referred to as Parsim (Hebrew: פרסים‎ meaning "Persians"). In Iran, Jews and Jewish people in general are referred to by four common terms: Kalimi, which is considered the most proper term; Yahudi or Pejmani, which is less formal but correct; Israeli the term by which the Jews refer to themselves; and Jood or Johood, a term having negative connotations and considered by many Jews as offensive.

History

The beginnings of Jewish history in the area of present-day Iran date back to late biblical times. The biblical books of Isaiah, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles, and Esther contain references to the life and experiences of Jews in Persia. In the book of Ezra, the Persian kings are credited with permitting and enabling the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their Temple; its reconstruction was affected "according to the decree of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia" (Ezra 6:14). This great event in Jewish history took place in the late sixth century BCE, by which time there was a well-established and influential Jewish community in Persia.

Jews in ancient Persia mostly lived in their own communities. Persian Jewish lived in the ancient (and until the mid-20th century still extant) communities not only of Iran, but of present-day Azerbaijan, Kirgizstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northwestern India.

Some of the communities have been isolated from other Jewish communities, to the extent that their classification as "Persian Jews" is a matter of linguistic or geographical convenience rather than actual historical relationship with one another. Scholars believe that during the peak of the Persian Empire, Jews may have comprised as much as 20% of the population.[17]

According to Encyclopædia Britannica: "The Jews trace their heritage in Iran to the Babylonian Exile of the 6th century BC and, like the Armenians, have retained their ethnic, linguistic, and religious identity."[18] But the Library of Congress's country study on Iran states that "Over the centuries the Jews of Iran became physically, culturally, and linguistically indistinguishable from the non-Jewish population. The overwhelming majority of Jews speak Persian as their mother language, and a tiny minority, Kurdish."[19]

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Cyrus the Great and Jews

Cyrus the Great allowing Hebrew pilgrims to return to and rebuild Jerusalem

According to the Bible, three times during the 6th century BCE, Nebuchadnezzar exiled the Jews (Hebrews) of the ancient Kingdom of Judah to Babylon. These three separate occasions are mentioned in Jeremiah (52:28-30). The first exile was in the time of Jehoiachin in 597 BCE, when the Temple of Jerusalem was partially despoiled and a number of the leading citizens removed. After eleven years (during the reign of Zedekiah), a fresh rising of the Judaeans occurred. Jerusalem was razed to the ground, and deportation ensued. Finally, five years later, Jeremiah recorded a third captivity.

After the overthrow of Babylonia by the Persian (Iranian) Achaemenid Empire, Cyrus the Great allowed the Jews to return to their native land (537 BCE). More than forty thousand were said to have done so, (See Jehoiakim; Ezra; Nehemiah and Jews). Unlike the previous Assyrian and Babylonian rulers, Cyrus also allowed the Jews to practice their religion freely (See Cyrus Cylinder).

Second Temple

Cyrus ordered rebuilding the Second Temple in the same place as the first; however, he died before it was completed. Darius the Great came to power in the Persian empire and ordered the completion of the temple. According to the Bible, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah urged this work. The temple was ready for consecration in the spring of 515 BCE, more than twenty years after the Jews' return to Jerusalem.

Haman and Jews

According to the Book of Esther, in the Tanakh, Haman was an Agagite noble and vizier of the empire under Persian King Ahasuerus. Biblical scholars identify this figure as possibly Xerxes the Great (son of Darius the Great) in 6th century BCE. Haman and his wife Zeresh instigated a plot to kill all the Jews of ancient Persia. The plot was foiled by Queen Esther, Queen of Persia. As a result, Esther ordered the hanging of Haman and his ten sons. The events of the Book of Esther are celebrated as the holiday of Purim.

Parthian period

Jewish sources contain no mention of the Parthian influence; "Parthia" does not appear in the texts. The Armenian prince Sanatroces, of the royal house of the Arsacides, is mentioned in the "Small Chronicle" as one of the successors (diadochoi) of Alexander. Among other Asiatic princes, the Roman rescript in favor of the Jews reached Arsaces as well (I Macc. xv. 22); it is not, however, specified which Arsaces. Not long after this, the Partho-Babylonian country was trodden by the army of a Jewish prince; the Syrian king, Antiochus Sidetes, marched, in company with Hyrcanus I., against the Parthians; and when the allied armies defeated the Parthians (129 BC) at the River Zab (Lycus), the king ordered a halt of two days on account of the Jewish Sabbath and Feast of Weeks. In 40 BC the Jewish puppet-king, Hyrcanus II., fell into the hands of the Parthians, who, according to their custom, cut off his ears in order to render him unfit for rulership. The Jews of Babylonia, it seems, had the intention of founding a high-priesthood for the exiled Hyrcanus, which they would have made quite independent of the Land of Israel. But the reverse was to come about: the Judeans received a Babylonian, Ananel by name, as their high priest which indicates the importance enjoyed by the Jews of Babylonia. Still in religious matters the Babylonians, as indeed the whole diaspora, were in many regards dependent upon the Land of Israel. They went on pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the festivals.

The Parthian Empire was based on a loosely configured system of vassal kings. The lack of rigidly centralized rule over the empire had drawbacks, for instance, allowing the rise of a Jewish robber-state in Nehardea (see Anilai and Asinai). Yet, the tolerance of the Arsacid dynasty was as legendary as that of the first Persian dynasty, the Achaemenids. One account suggests the conversion of a small number of Parthian vassal kings of Adiabene to Judaism. These instances and others show not only the tolerance of Parthian kings, but are also a testament to the extent at which the Parthians saw themselves as the heir to the preceding empire of Cyrus the Great. So protective were the Parthians of the minority over whom they ruled, that an old Jewish saying tells, "When you see a Parthian charger tied up to a tomb-stone in the Land of Israel, the hour of the Messiah will be near".

The Babylonian Jews wanted to fight in common cause with their Judean brethren against Vespasian; but it was not until the Romans waged war under Trajan against Parthia that they made their hatred felt; so, the revolt of the Babylonian Jews helped prevent Rome from becoming master there. Philo speaks of the numerous Jews resident in that country, a population that was likely increased by immigrants after the destruction of Jerusalem. In Jerusalem from early times, Jews had looked to the east for help. With the fall of Jerusalem, Babylonia became a kind of bulwark of Judaism. The collapse of the Bar Kochba revolt likely also added to Jewish refugees in Babylon.

In the struggles between the Parthians and the Romans, the Jews had reason to side with the Parthians, their protectors. Parthian kings elevated the princes of the Exile to a kind of nobility, called Resh Galuta. Until then they had used the Jews as collectors of revenue. The Parthians may have given them recognition for services, especially by the Davidic house. Establishment of the Resh Galuta provided a central authority over the numerous Jewish subjects, who proceeded to develop their own internal affairs.

Sassanid period (226–634CE)

Hebrew version of Nizami's "Khosrow va Shirin".

By the early Third Century, Persian Empire influences were on the rise again. In the winter of 226 CE, Ardashir I overthrew the last Parthian king (Artabanus IV), destroyed the rule of the Arsacids, and founded the illustrious dynasty of the Sassanids. While Hellenistic influence had been felt amongst the religiously tolerant Parthians,[20][21][22] the Sassanids intensified the Persian side of life, favored the Pahlavi language, and restored the old monotheistic religion of Zoroastrianism which became the official state religion.[23] This resulted in the suppression of other religions.[24] A priestly Zoroastrian inscription from the time of King Bahram II (276–293 CE) contains a list of religions (including Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism etc.) that Sassanid rule claimed to have "smashed".[25]

Shapur I (Shvor Malka, which is the Aramaic form of the name) was friendly to the Jews. His friendship with Shmuel gained many advantages for the Jewish community. Shapur II's mother was Jewish, and this gave the Jewish community relative freedom of religion and many advantages. He was also friend of a Babylonian rabbi in the Talmud named Raba (Talmud), Raba's friendship with Shapur II enabled him to secure a relaxation of the oppressive laws enacted against the Jews in the Persian Empire. In addition, Raba sometimes referred to his top student Abaye with the term Shvur Malka meaning "Shapur [the] King" because of his bright and quick intellect.

Early Islamic period (634–1255)

With the Islamic conquest of Persia, the government assigned Jews, along with Christians and Zoroastrians, to the status of dhimmis, non-Muslim subjects of the Islamic empire. Dhimmis A) were allowed to practice their religion, but were required to pay jizya to cover the cost of financial welfare, security and other benefits that Muslims were entitled too. (jizya, a poll tax, and initially also kharaj, a land tax) in place of the zakat, which the Muslim population was required to pay. Like other Dhimmis, Jews were exempt from military draft. Viewed as "People of the Book", they had some status as fellow monotheists, though they were treated differently depending on the ruler at the time. On the one hand, Jews were granted significant economic and religious freedom when compared to their co-religionists in European nations during these centuries. Many served as doctors, scholars, and craftsman, and gained positions of influence in society. On the other hand, like other non-Muslims, did not work in Sharia Law since they did not have the obvious knowledge and qualifications for it.

Mongol rule (1256–1318)

Statue of Rashid-al-Din Hamadani,The Persian physician of Jewish origin, polymathic writer and historian, who wrote an enormous Islamic history, the Jami al-Tawarikh, in the Persian language during Mongol rule. He was also Grand Vizier of Ilkhanid court.

In 1255, Mongols led by Hulagu Khan invaded parts of Persia, and in 1258 they captured Baghdad putting an end to the Abbasid caliphate.[26] In Persia and surrounding areas, the Mongols established a division of the Mongol Empire known as Ilkhanate. Because in Ilkhanate all religions were considered equal, Mongol rulers abolished the inequality of dhimmis. One of the Ilkhanate rulers, Arghun Khan, even preferred Jews and Christians for the administrative positions and appointed Sa'd al-Daula, a Jew, as his vizier. The appointment, however, provoked resentment from the Muslim clergy, and after Arghun's death in 1291, al-Daula was murdered and Persian Jews suffered a period of violent persecutions from the Muslim populace instigated by the clergy. The Orthodox Christian historian Bar Hebraeus wrote that the violence committed against the Jews during that period "neither tongue can utter, nor the pen write down".[27]

Ghazan Khan's conversion to Islam in 1295 heralded for Persian Jews a pronounced turn for the worse, as they were once again relegated to the status of dhimmis. Öljeitü, Ghazan Khan's successor, destroyed many synagogues and decreed that Jews had to wear a distinctive mark on their heads; Christians endured similar persecutions. Under pressure, some Jews converted to Islam. The most famous such convert was Rashid-al-Din Hamadani, a physician, historian and statesman, who adopted Islam in order to advance his career at Öljeitü's court. However, in 1318 he was executed on fake charges of poisoning Öljeitü and for several days crowds had been carrying his head around his native city of Tabriz, chanting "This is the head of the Jew who abused the name of God; may God's curse be upon him!" About 100 years later, Miranshah destroyed Rashid al-Din's tomb, and his remains were reburied at the Jewish cemetery.

In 1383, Timur Lenk started the military conquest of Persia. He captured Herat, Khorasan and all eastern Persia to 1385 and massacred almost all inhabitants of Neishapur and other Iranian cities. When revolts broke out in Persia, he ruthlessly suppressed them, massacring the populations of whole cities. When Timur plundered Persia its artists and artisans were deported to embellish Timur's capital Samarkand. Skilled Persian Jews were imported to develop the empire's textile industry.[28]

Safavid and Qajar dynasties (1502–1925)

Synagogue in Tehran. A postcard from the Qajar (1794-1925) period.
Hamedan Jews in 1918

During the reign of the Safavids (1502–1794), they proclaimed Shi'a Islam the state religion. This led to a deterioration in their treatment of Persian Jews. Shi'ism assigns importance to the issues of ritual purity ― tahara. Non-Muslims, including Jews, are deemed to be ritually unclean ― najis. Any physical contact would require Shi'as to undertake ritual purification before doing regular prayers. Thus, Persian rulers, and the general populace, sought to limit physical contact between Muslims and Jews. Jews were excluded from public baths used by Muslims. They were forbidden to go outside during rain or snow, as an "impurity" could be washed from them upon a Muslim.[29]

The reign of Shah Abbas I (1588–1629) was initially benign; Jews prospered throughout Persia and were encouraged to settle in Isfahan, which was made a new capital. Toward the end of his rule, treatment of Jews became more harsh. Shi'a clergy (including a Jewish convert) persuaded the shah to require Jews to wear a distinctive badge on clothing and headgear. In 1656, the shah ordered the expulsion from Isfahan of all Jews because of the common belief of their "impurity". They were forced to convert to Islam. The treasury suffered from the loss of jizya collected from the Jews. People rumored that the converts continued to practice Judaism in secret. For whatever reason, the government in 1661 allowed Jews to take up their old religion, but still required them to wear a distinctive patch upon their clothing.[27]

Nadir Shah (1736–1747) allowed Jews to settle in the Shi'ite holy city of Mashhad and oversaw a period of relative tolerance. However, following his murder many Jews were massacred in Mashhad, and survivors were forcibly converted, in an event known as Allahdad incident. they become known as "Jadid al-Islams" (new converts) and appeared to superficially accept the new religion, but in fact lived their lives as Crypto-Jews. The community permanently left Iran in 1946 and still lives as a tightly-knit community in Israel today.[30].

The advent of a Shi'a Qajar dynasty in 1794 brought back the earlier persecutions.

A Jewish gathering celebrates the second anniversary of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution in Tehran.

Lord Curzon described 19th century regional differences in the situation of the Persian Jews: "In Isfahan, where they are said to be 3,700 and where they occupy a relatively better status than elsewhere in Persia, they are not permitted to wear kolah or Persian headdress, to have shops in the bazaar, to build the walls of their houses as high as a Moslem neighbour's, or to ride in the street. In Teheran and Kashan they are also to be found in large numbers and enjoying a fair position. In Shiraz they are very badly off. In Bushire they are prosperous and free from persecution."[31]

The 19th century included numerous forced conversions and massacres, usually generated by Shi'a clergy. In 1830, the Jews of Tabriz were massacred; the same year saw a forcible conversion of the Jews of Shiraz, In addition to the Allahdad incident mentioned above in 1839. European travellers reported that the Jews of Tabriz and Shiraz continued to practice Judaism in secret despite a fear of further persecutions. Famous Iranian-Jewish teachers such as Mullah Daoud Chadi continued to teach and preach Judaism, inspiring Jews throughout the nation. Jews of Barforush were forcibly converted in 1866. When the French and British ambassadors intervened to allow them to practice their traditional religion, a mob killed 18 Jews of Barforush.[32][33]

In the middle of the 19th century, J. J. Benjamin wrote about the life of Persian Jews, describing conditions and beliefs that went back to the 16th century:

"…they are obliged to live in a separate part of town…; for they are considered as unclean creatures… Under the pretext of their being unclean, they are treated with the greatest severity and should they enter a street, inhabited by Mussulmans, they are pelted by the boys and mobs with stones and dirt… For the same reason, they are prohibited to go out when it rains; for it is said the rain would wash dirt off them, which would sully the feet of the Mussulmans… If a Jew is recognized as such in the streets, he is subjected to the greatest insults. The passers-by spit in his face, and sometimes beat him… unmercifully… If a Jew enters a shop for anything, he is forbidden to inspect the goods… Should his hand incautiously touch the goods, he must take them at any price the seller chooses to ask for them... Sometimes the Persians intrude into the dwellings of the Jews and take possession of whatever please them. Should the owner make the least opposition in defense of his property, he incurs the danger of atoning for it with his life... If... a Jew shows himself in the street during the three days of the Katel (Muharram)…, he is sure to be murdered."[34]

In 1894 a representative of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, a Jewish humanitarian and educational organization, wrote from Tehran: "…every time that a priest wishes to emerge from obscurity and win a reputation for piety, he preaches war against the Jews".[35]

In 1910, Muslims rumored that the Jews of Shiraz had ritually murdered a Muslim girl. Muslims plundered the whole Jewish quarter. The first to start looting were soldiers sent by the local governor to defend the Jews against the enraged mob. Twelve Jews who tried to defend their property were killed, and many others were injured.[36] Representatives of the Alliance Israélite Universelle recorded numerous instances of persecution and debasement of Persian Jews.[37] In the late 19th – early 20th century, thousands of Persian Jews emigrated to the territory of present-day Israel within the Ottoman Empire to escape such persecution.[38]

Pahlavi dynasty (1925–1979)

The Pahlavi dynasty implemented modernizing reforms, which greatly improved the life of Jews. The influence of the Shi'a clergy was weakened, and the restrictions on Jews and other religious minorities were abolished.[39] According to Charles Recknagel and Azam Gorgin of Radio Free Europe, during the reign of Reza Shah "the political and social conditions of the Jews changed fundamentally. Reza Shah prohibited mass conversion of Jews and eliminated the islamic concept of uncleanness of non-Muslims. He allowed incorporation of modern Hebrew into the curriculum of Jewish schools and publication of Jewish newspapers. Jews were also allowed to hold government jobs. [40] Reza Shah's ascent brought temporary relief to Jews. In the 1920s, Jewish schools were closed again. In the 1930s, "Reza Shah's pro-Nazi sympathies seriously threatened Iranian Jewry. There were no persecutions of the Jews, but, as with other minorities, anti-Jewish articles were published in the media. Unlike religiously motivated prejudice, anti-Jewish sentiments acquired an ethnonational character, a direct import from Germany."[39]

The violence and disruption in Arab life associated with the founding of Israel in 1948 drove increased anti-Jewish sentiment in Iran. This continued until 1953, in part because of the weakening of the central government and strengthening of clergy in the political struggles between the shah and prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh. From 1948–1953, about one-third of Iranian Jews, most of them poor, emigrated to Israel.[41] David Littman puts the total figure of emigrants to Israel in 1948-1978 at 70,000.[38]

After the deposition of Mossadegh in 1953, the reign of shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was the most prosperous era for the Jews of Iran. In the 1970s, only 1 percent of Iranian Jews were classified as lower class; 80 percent were middle class and 10 percent wealthy. Although Jews accounted for only a small percentage of Iran's population, in 1979 two of the 18 members of the Iranian Academy of Sciences, 80 of the 4,000 university lecturers, and 600 of the 10,000 physicians in Iran were Jews.[41]

Prior to the Islamic Revolution in 1979, there were 80,000 Jews in Iran, concentrated in Tehran (60,000), Shiraz (8,000), Kermanshah (4,000), Isfahan (3,000), the cities of Khuzistan, as well as Kashan, Tabriz, and Hamedan.

Islamic republic (after 1979)

At the time of the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, there were approximately 140,000–150,000 Jews living in Iran, the historical center of Persian Jewry. Over 85% have since migrated to either Israel or the United States. At the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, 80,000 still remained in Iran. From then on, Jewish emigration from Iran dramatically increased, as about 20,000 Jews left within several months after the Islamic Revolution.[38] In mid- and late 1980s, the Jewish population of Iran was estimated at 20,000–30,000. The reports put the figure at around 35,000 in mid-1990s[42] and at less than 40,000 today, with around 25,000 residing in Tehran. However, Iran's Jewish community still remains the largest among the Muslim countries.[43]

Ayatollah Khomeini met with the Jewish community upon his return from exile in Paris and issued a fatwa decreeing that the Jews were to be protected. In the Islamic republic, Jews have become more religious. Families who had been secular in the 1970s started keeping kosher and strictly observing rules against driving on Shabbat. They stopped going to restaurants, cafes and cinemas, and the synagogue became the focal point of their social lives.[15]

Haroun Yashyaei, a film producer and former chairman of the Central Jewish Community in Iran said:

"Khomeini didn't mix up our community with Israel and Zionism - he saw us as Iranians."

[44]

On March 16, 1979, the government arrested Habib Elghanian, the honorary leader of the Jewish community, on charges of "corruption", "contacts with Israel and Zionism", "friendship with the enemies of God", "warring with God and his emissaries", and "economic imperialism". He was tried by an Islamic revolutionary tribunal, sentenced to death, and executed on May 8.[38][45] In 2000, the government accused a group of 13 Orthodox Jews in the southern city of Shiraz of spying for Israel. The case prompted an international outcry that led to the release of the Jewish prisoners after years of quiet diplomacy.[46] In 2006, a false story in the National Post of Canada claimed that the Iranian parliament was considering requiring a yellow insignia for Jews in Iran. The story was confirmed by the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. AIPAC sent out an "e-mail blast" to reporters on the story, which became a major press event in the United States.[47] The false story turned out to originate with Iranian-born journalist Amir Taheri from the Benador Associates speakers bureau.

Although Ahmadinejad has harsh views against Israel and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), and although Israeli officials and some American Jewish communal leaders have urged Iranian Jews to leave, Iranian Jews have stayed. Although they are allowed to emigrate abroad, it raises suspicion about them and can make life harder for those remaining in Iran.[citation needed]. The Jews living there are not allowed to go freely to Israel, and if they do emigrate, they are interrogated before leaving. According to the statistics compiled by HIAS, 152 out of 25,000 Jews left Iran between October 2005 and September 2006 — down from 297 during the same period the previous year, and 183 the year before. Sources said that the majority of those who have left in recent years cited economic and family reasons as their main incentive for leaving, rather than political concerns. Even both Maurice Motamed, the Jewish member of the Iranian parliament, and Haroun Yeshayaei, former chairman of the Jewish Central Committee of Tehran, publicly condemned the president's views in an unusual letter to Ahmadinejad, sent in February 2006.[46]

In June 2007, there were reports that wealthy expatriate Jews established a fund to offer incentives to Iranian Jews to emigrate to Israel. Few took them up on the offer.[48]

The Iranian Jewish emigration to Israel is not a recent phenomenon. In fact, 41 percent of Iranians living in Israel in the early 1990s immigrated there before the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948; only 15 percent were admitted between 1975 and 1991. They immigrated chiefly because of religious persecution.[49]

Current status in Iran

Mullah Jacub's Synagogue in Esfahan

Iran's Jewish community is officially recognized as a religious minority group by the government, and, like the Zoroastrians, they are allocated one seat in the Iranian Parliament. Ciamak Moresadegh is the current Jewish member of the parliament, replacing Maurice Motamed in the 2008 election. In 2000, former Jewish MP Manuchehr Eliasi estimated that at that time there were still 30,000–35,000 Jews in Iran, other sources put the figure as low as 20,000–25,000.[50]

Today Tehran has 11 functioning synagogues, many of them with Hebrew schools. It has two kosher restaurants, an old-age home and a cemetery. There is a Jewish library with 20,000 titles.[15] Iranian Jews have their own newspaper (called "Ofogh-e-Bina") with Jewish scholars performing Judaic research at Tehran's "Central Library of Jewish Association".[51] The "Dr. Sapir Jewish Hospital" is Iran's largest charity hospital of any religious minority community in the country;[51] however, most of its patients and staff are Muslim.[52]

Chief Rabbi Yousef Hamadani Cohen is the present spiritual leader for the Jewish community of Iran.[53] In August 2000, Chief Rabbi Cohen met with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami for the first time.[54] In 2003, Chief Rabbi Cohen and Morris Motamed met with President Katami at Yusef Abad Synagogue which was the first time a President of Iran had visited a synagogue since the Islamic Revolution.[55] Haroun Yashayaei is the chairman of the Jewish Committee of Tehran and leader of Iran's Jewish Community.[55][56] On January 26, 2007, Yashayaei's letter to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad concerning his Holocaust denial comments brought about worldwide media attention.[57][58][59]

Conditions

Former president Khatami visits a Tehran Jewish center.

The Constitution of Iran says that Jews are equal to Muslims. Imam Khomeini visited with members of the Jewish community and issued a decree ordering the adherents of Judaism and other revealed religions to be protected. Jews are entitled to self-administration and one member of the 290-seat Majlis is elected by only Jews. Jewish burial rites and divorce laws are accepted by Islamic courts. Tehran has over 20 synagogues. Iran has one of only four Jewish charity hospitals in the world. The hospital has received donations from top Iranian officials, including President Ahmadinejad. Kosher butcher shops are available in Iran. There are Hebrew schools and coeducation is allowed.[60]

Jews are conscripted into the Army like all Iranian citizens. Many Iranian Jews fought during the Iran-Iraq war (1980–1988) as drafted soldiers. About 15 were killed.[61] It has been reported that Jews in Iran are proud of their heritage. Thus, they have not settled in Israel despite being encouraged by some groups.[60]

The U.S. State Department has made claims of discrimination against Iranian Jews. According to its study, Jews may not occupy senior positions in government and are prevented from serving in the judiciary and security services and from becoming public school heads.[62] The study says that Jewish citizens are permitted to obtain passports and to travel outside the country, but they often are denied the multiple-exit permits normally issued to other citizens.[62] Allegations made by the U.S. State Department have been condemned by Iranian Jews. The Association of Tehrani Jews said in a statement, "We Iranian Jews condemn claims of the US State Department on Iranian religious minorities, announced that we are fully free to perform our religious duties and we feel no restriction on performing our religious rituals." [63] The U.S. Government was accused of trying to create tension in Iran.

In spite of the many allegations about discrimination by the US state department, the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad reported that mass emigration to the USA is due to economic reasons and not to religious persecution.[64]

Contacts with Jews outside Iran

A Persian Jew prays in a synagogue in Shiraz, Iran.

Rabbis from the Haredi sect Neturei Karta, which has in the past provided a Jewish presence for anti-Zionist regimes which have funded it, [14] have visited Iran on several occasions.[15] [16][17] [18] [19] The Jewish Defense Organization, demonstrated against Neturei Karta after they attended an Iranian conference titled "International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust". The meeting featured guests such as David Duke who was a former member of the KKK.

Maurice Motamed in recent years, the Iranian government allows the Jewish Iranians to visit their family members in Israel and that the government has also allowed those Iranians living in Israel to return to Iran for a visit. [20]

Limited cultural contacts are also allowed, such as the March 2006 Jewish folk dance festival in Russia, in which a female team from Iran participated. [21][22]

Thirteen Jews have been executed in Iran since the Islamic revolution, most of them for alleged connections to Israel. For example, in May 1998, Jewish businessman Ruhollah Kadkhodah-Zadeh was hanged in prison without a public charge or legal proceeding, apparently for assisting Jews to emigrate.[65] In July 2007 Iran's Jewish community rejected financial emigration incentives to leave Iran. Offers ranging from 5,000-30,000 British pounds, financed by a wealthy expatriate Jew with the support of the Israeli government, were turned down by Iran's Jewish leaders [23] [24]. However, in late 2007 at least forty Iranian Jews accepted financial incentives offered by a Zionist charities for immigrating to Israel [25].

Jewish centers of Iran

Most Jews live in Tehran, the capital. Traditionally however, Shiraz, Hamedan, Isfahan, Nahawand, Babol and some other cities of Iran were home to large populations of Jews. At present there are 25 synagogues in Iran.[66]

Jewish education in Iran

In 1996, there were still three schools in Teheran in which Jews were in a majority, but Jewish principals had been replaced. The school curriculum is Islamic and the Tanakh is taught in Persian, rather than Hebrew. The Ozar Hatorah organization conducts Hebrew lessons on Fridays.

In principle, but with some exceptions, there is little restriction of or interference with the Jewish religious practice; however, education of Jewish children has become more difficult in recent years. The Government reportedly allows Hebrew instruction, recognizing that it is necessary for Jewish religious practice. However, it strongly discourages the distribution of Hebrew texts, in practice making it difficult to teach the language.[citation needed] Moreover, the Government has required that several Jewish schools remain open on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath, in conformity with the schedule of other schools in the school system. Since certain kinds of work (such as writing or using electrical appliances) on the Sabbath violates Jewish law, this requirement to operate the schools has made it difficult for observant Jews both to attend school and adhere to a fundamental tenet of their religion.[citation needed]

Jewish attractions of Iran

Almost every city of Iran has a Jewish attraction, shrine, or historical site. Prominent among these are the Esther and Mordechai and Habakkuk shrines of Hamedan, the tomb of Daniel in Susa, and the "Peighambariyeh" mausoleum in Qazvin. Usually Muslims go to Daniel shrine for pilgrimage.

There are also tombs of several outstanding Jewish scholars in Iran such as Harav Ohr Shraga in Yazd and Hakham Mullah Moshe Halevi (Moshe-Ha-Lavi) in Kashan, which are also visited by Muslim pilgrims.

Persian-speaking Jews outside Iran

Persian-speaking Jewish communities outside Iran have suffered even greater declines than within Iran. In Afghanistan, most Persian-speaking Jews fled the country after the Soviet invasion in 1979. Only one Jew, Zablon Simintov, remains in the capital of Kabul. There are estimated to be approximately four dozen Persian Jewish families living in Kazakhstan which call themselves Lakhloukh and speak Aramaic. They still hold identity papers from Iran, the country their ancestors fled en masse almost 80 years ago.[67] The community in Pakistan, where the state religion is Islam, has dwindled to less than 200. Persian Jewish communities in what is now India, on the other hand, have avoided such persecutions, and are regarded as part of the community of Baghdadi Jews. Jews have resided for centuries in the Rann of Kutch region as well as Bombay, but most have chosen to emigrate to Israel since 1948: see Indian Jews.

There are many Persian Jews in the United States, specifically in California and New York State. Many Persian Jews live in Beverly Hills, in Los Angeles, and especially in Great Neck. Kings Point, a part of Great Neck has the greatest percentage of Iranian Jews per capita in the entire United States. Estimates place the Persian community population as high as 25% in Beverly Hills, while others place it even higher (close to half or more). A 2007 article stated that: "...about 8,000 of Beverly Hill's approximately 35,000 residents are of Iranian descent" [26].

In a June 2009 Los Angeles Times blog article about Iranian-Israeli Jews showing solidarity with the Iranian protestors, said that "The Israeli community of Iranian Jews numbers about 170,000 -- including the first generation of Israeli-born -- and is deeply proud of its roots."[27]

Politics

The Associated Press reported in 2006:

Make no mistake — by and large, Iranian American Jews are fervent supporters of Israel. The community, an estimated 60,000 to 80,000 strong, has raised millions for the country it considers a spiritual homeland. They have no sympathy for Hezbollah. As for Iran, that is a more complex subject. Iranian Jews may disdain Iran's hardline rulers, but there is much respect and affection for Iran the country and the culture, especially among the elder generation.

On March 21, 2007, Jimmy Delshad, a Persian Jew who immigrated to the United States in 1958, became the mayor of Beverly Hills, elected with bilingual English-Persian ballots [68], making him one of the highest ranking elected Iranian-American officials in the United States.

In Israel, Persian Jews are classified as Mizrahim. Both former President Moshe Katsav and former Ramatkal and current Minister of Transportation Shaul Mofaz are of Persian Jewish origin, Katsav having been born in Yazd and Mofaz in Tehran. Persian Jews in Israel number about 140,000, or 2% of the national population.

During the 2008 presidential election, many Persian Jews in California backed John McCain, though younger generation applauded Barack Obama's election.[28][29]

Languages

Most Persian Jews speak standard Persian, but various Jewish languages have been associated with the community over time. They include:

In addition, Persian Jews in Israel generally speak Hebrew, and Persian Jews elsewhere will tend to speak the local language (e.g. English in the United States).

Notable Persian Jews

Rita Kleinstein, an Israeli pop-star, of Persian descent

Before modern era

Politics

Science and academia

Business and finance

Art and entertainment

Religion

Miscellaneous

See also

Notes

  1. ^ a b c http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,207337,00.html
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ [2]
  4. ^ Iranian Australian shows that 3% of them are jewish]
  5. ^ http://www.cbs.gov.il/reader/shnaton/templ_shnaton.html?num_tab=st02_24x&CYear=2008
  6. ^ http://www.jpost.com/IranianThreat/News/Article.aspx?id=168515
  7. ^ [3]
  8. ^ [4]
  9. ^ a b http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5367892.stm
  10. ^ a b "Iran Jewish leader calls recent mass aliyah 'misinformation' bid". http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/938673.html. 
  11. ^ "Iran Jewish MP criticizes 'anti-human' Israel acts". Ynet. 5.7.2008. http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3540651,00.html. 
  12. ^ "Iran's proud but discreet Jews". BBC. 2006-09-22. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5367892.stm. 
  13. ^ http://www.worldjewishcongress.org/communities/mideast/comm_iran.html
  14. ^ http://www.csmonitor.com/durable/1998/02/03/intl/intl.3.html
  15. ^ a b c IRAN: Life of Jews Living in Iran
  16. ^ The Conversion of Religious Minorities to the Bahá'í Faith in Iran
  17. ^ The Jews of Iraq
  18. ^ Iran on the Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  19. ^ Iran - Jews
  20. ^ [5] (see esp para's 3 and 5
  21. ^ [6] (see esp para. 2)
  22. ^ [7] (see esp para. 20)
  23. ^ Art & Culture
  24. ^ [8] (see esp para. 5)
  25. ^ [9] (see esp para. 23)
  26. ^ Battuta's Travels
  27. ^ a b Littman (1979), p. 3
  28. ^ Bukharan Jews
  29. ^ Lewis (1984), pp. 33–34
  30. ^ http://www.fis-iran.org/en/irannameh/volxix/mashhad-jewish-community
  31. ^ Lewis (1984), p. 167
  32. ^ Littman (1979), p. 4.
  33. ^ Lewis (1984), p. 168.
  34. ^ Lewis (1984), pp. 181–183
  35. ^ Littman (1979), p. 10
  36. ^ Littman (1979), pp. 12–14
  37. ^ Lewis (1984), p. 183.
  38. ^ a b c d Littman (1979), p. 5.
  39. ^ a b Sanasarian (2000), p. 46
  40. ^ The History Of Jews In Persia/Iran, ParsTimes
  41. ^ a b Sanasarian (2000), p. 47
  42. ^ Sanasarian (2000), p. 48
  43. ^ Jews in Iran Describe a Life of Freedom Despite Anti-Israel Actions by Tehran | csmonitor.com
  44. ^ "Jews in Iran Describe a Life of Freedom Despite Anti-Israel Actions by Tehran"
  45. ^ Sanasarian (2000), p. 112
  46. ^ a b "Iranian Jews Reject Outside Calls To Leave"
  47. ^ "Anatomy of a Hoax", Jewish Week.
  48. ^ [10]
  49. ^ http://www.migrationinformation.org/Profiles/display.cfm?ID=424
  50. ^ Report, Reuters, February 16, 2000, cited from Bahá'í Library Online. The Encyclopaedia Judaica estimated the number of Jews in Iran at 25,000 in 1996.
  51. ^ a b Persian Rabbi
  52. ^ Harrison, Francis (September 22, 2006). Iran's proud but discreet Jews. BBC. URL accessed on October 28, 2006.
  53. ^ IRAN: KOSHER INFO AND SYNAGOGUES Kosher Delight
  54. ^ Khatami Meets Jewish leaders BBC
  55. ^ a b Report of Iranian President’s visit from Yousef-Abad Synagogue, Tehran Iran Jewish
  56. ^ The Jewish Community of Tehran, Iran Kashrut Authorities in Iran and Around the World
  57. ^ Iran: Jewish Leader Criticizes President For Holocaust Denial Radio Free Europe
  58. ^ Iran’s Jews uneasy over Holocaust-denier Ahmadinejad Daily Times
  59. ^ On the Jewish Presence in Iranian History Monthly Review
  60. ^ a b http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=70781.
  61. ^ http://www.thenational.ae/article/20081007/FOREIGN/528067287/1011/SPORT
  62. ^ a b U.S. Department of State. "International Religious Freedom Report 2004: Iran". http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2004/35497.htm. Retrieved 2006-05-14. 
  63. ^ http://www2.irna.ir/en/news/view/menu-234/0809219145184336.htm
  64. ^ Thomas Erdbrink (2008-03-29). "Voor 3.000 dollar weg uit Iran naar de VS:Iran houdt langzamerhand geen christenen, joden, zoroastriërs of baha’i meer over" (in Dutch). NRC Handelsblad. http://www.nrc.nl/buitenland/article1029550.ece/Voor_3.000_dollar_weg_uit_Iran_naar_de_VS. Retrieved 2008-03-29. ""Religieuze vervolging is niet de beweegreden voor het massale vertrek van niet-islamitische Iraniërs. De slechte economie en de lokroep van geëmigreerde familieleden en permanente Amerikaanse verblijfsvergunning zijn de drijvende krachten."English translation: "Religious persecution is not the reason for the massive emigration of non-Muslim Iranians. The bad economy and the luring call of emigrated family members and the permanent American residence permit are the driving forces."" 
  65. ^ Tait, Robert. "Iran's Jews reject cash offer to move to Israel". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/jul/12/israel.iran. Retrieved 2009-03-31. 
  66. ^ یافته های طرح آمارگیری جامع فرهنگی کشور، فضاهای فرهنگی ایران، آمارنامه اماکن مذهبی، 2003، وزارت فرهنگ و ارشاد اسلامی، ص 344
  67. ^ In Kazakhstan, Jewish Families Carry On a Tradition Born in Persia
  68. ^ Iranian Jew poised to become mayor of Beverly Hills | Jerusalem Post
  69. ^ daVinciProstatectomy.com – An Information Portal on Prostate Cancer

References

  • This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, a publication now in the public domain.
  • "Iran. 1997" (1997). Encyclopaedia Judaica (CD-ROM Edition Version 1.0). Ed. Cecil Roth. Keter Publishing House. ISBN 965-07-0665-8
  • Lewis, Bernard (1984). The Jews of Islam. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-00807-8. 
  • Littman, David (1979). "Jews Under Muslim Rule: The Case Of Persia". The Wiener Library Bulletin XXXII (New series 49/50). 
  • Sanasarian, Eliz (2000). Religious Minorities in Iran. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-77073-4. 
  • Shalom, Sabar. "Esther's Children: A Portrait of Iranian Jews (review)". The Jewish Quarterly Review 95 (2, Spring 2005). 
  • Wasserstein, Bernard (2003). "Evolving Jewish Ethnicities or Jewish Ethnicity: End of the Road?". Conference on Contextualizing Ethnicity: Discussions across Disciplines, Center for the International Study of Ethnicity. North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina. 
  • Willis, Charles James (2002). Persia as It Is: Being Sketches of Modern Persian Life and Character. Cambridge: Adamant Media Corporation. ISBN 1-4021-9297-5. 
  • Karmel Melamed, Persian Jews politicking on Rodeo Drive JTA International Wire News Service, February 20, 2007

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