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Persian Jews, Iranian Jews, or the 'Jews of Persia' are Jews historically affiliated with the Persian Empire or the modern country of Iran.

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 references to the life and experiences of Jews in Persia.

Today, the largest groups of Persian Jews are found in Israel (75,000 in 1993, including second-generation Israelis)<ref>Yegar, M (1993), "Jews of Iran", The Scribe, no. 58, pp. 2. In recent years, Persian Jews have been well-assimilated into the Israeli population, so that more accurate data is hard to obtain.</ref> and the United States (45,000; especially in the Los Angeles area and Great Neck, New York). By various estimates, between 11,000 and 40,000 (most sources say 25,000) Jews remain in Iran, mostly in Tehran, Isfahan (3,000), and Shiraz. BBC reported Yazd is home to ten Jewish families, six of them related by marriage, however some estimate the number is much higher. Historically, Jews maintained a presence in many more Iranian cities.

There are also smaller communities in Western Europe, Australia, and Canada. A number of groups of Persian Jews have split off since ancient times, to the extent that they are now recognized as separate communities, such as the Bukharan Jews and Mountain Jews. In addition, there are several thousand in Iran who are, or who are the direct descendants of, Jews who have converted to Islam; some voluntarily, some by force, some due to social pressure, and some in hopes of improving prospects for themselves and their families. Such Jews, or Jewish Muslims, have existed in the region for centuries. Many marry only those like themselves, many have assimilated, many are secular, and many are practicing Muslims who keep (sometimes unknowingly) certain Jewish traditions. Few have fully returned to their Jewish roots, and such 'hidden' Jews in the Iranian diaspora have largely assimilated.

Contents

[edit] History

The beginnings of Jewish history in 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 to return to Jerusalem and rebuilt 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 B.C.E., by which time there was a well-established and influential Jewish community in Persia.

Jews who migrated to ancient Persia mostly lived in their own communities. The Persian Jewish communities include the ancient (and until the mid-20th century still extant) communities not only of Iran, but of parts of what is now Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, northwestern India, Kirgizstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

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. During the peak of the Persian Empire, Jews are thought to have comprised as much as 20% of the population. [1]

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."[2] But 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."[3]

[edit] Cyrus the Great and Jews

Image:Cyrus II le Grand et les Hébreux.jpg
Cyrus the Great allowing Hebrew pilgrims to return to and rebuild Jerusalem

Three times during the 6th century BCE, the Jews (Hebrews) of the ancient Kingdom of Judah were exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. 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 (in the reign of Zedekiah) a fresh rising of the Judaeans occurred; the city was razed to the ground, and a further deportation ensued. Finally, five years later, Jeremiah records a third captivity. After the overthrow of Babylonia by the Achaemenid Empire, Cyrus the Great gave the Jews permission to return to their native land (537 BCE), and more than forty thousand are said to have availed themselves of the privilege, (See Jehoiakim; Ezra; Nehemiah and Jews). Cyrus also allowed them to practice their religion freely (See Cyrus Cylinder) unlike the previous Assyrian and Babylonian rulers.

[edit] Second temple

Main article: Second Temple

Cyrus had ordered rebuilding the Second Temple in the same place as of the first, however he died before it was completed. Darius the Great, after a short lived rule of Cambyses came in to power of the Persian empire and ordered the completion of the temple. This was done under the stimulus of the earnest counsels and admonitions of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. It was ready for consecration in the spring of 515 BCE, more than twenty years after the return from captivity.

[edit] 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, generally identified by Biblical scholars as possibly being Xerxes I 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; and as a result, Haman and his ten sons were hanged. The events of the Book of Esther are celebrated as the holiday of Purim.

[edit] Parthian period

Jewish sources contain no mention of the Parthian influence; the very name "Parthia" does not occur. 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 an enduring empire that was based on a loosely configured system of vassal kings. Certainly this lack of a rigidly centralized rule over the empire had its draw backs, such as the rise of a Jewish robber-state in Nehardea (see Anilai and Asinai). Yet, the tolerance of the Arsacid dynasty was as legendry as the first Persian dynasty, the Achaemenids. There is even an account that indicates 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 is 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 indicates, “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”[4]. 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, that it was in a great measure owing to the revolt of the Babylonian Jews that the Romans did not become masters of Babylonia too. Philo speaks of the large number of Jews resident in that country, a population which was no doubt considerably swelled by new immigrants after the destruction of Jerusalem. Accustomed in Jerusalem from early times to look to the east for help, and aware, as the Roman procurator Petronius was, that the Jews of Babylon could render effectual assistance, Babylonia became with the fall of Jerusalem the very bulwark of Judaism. The collapse of the Bar Kochba revolt no doubt added to the number of Jewish refugees in Babylon.

In the continuous struggles between the Parthians and the Romans, the Jews had every reason to hate the Romans, the destroyers of their sanctuary, and to side with the Parthians: their protectors. Possibly it was recognition of services thus rendered by the Jews of Babylonia, and by the Davidic house especially, that induced the Parthian kings to elevate the princes of the Exile, who till then had been little more than mere collectors of revenue, to the dignity of real princes, called Resh Galuta. Thus, then, the numerous Jewish subjects were provided with a central authority which assured an undisturbed development of their own internal affairs.

[edit] Sassanid period (226?–634?CE)

By the early Third Century, Persian 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,<ref>[5] (see esp para's 3 and 5</ref><ref>[6] (see esp para. 2)</ref><ref>[7] (see esp para. 20)</ref> 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.<ref>[8]</ref> This resulted in the suppression of other religions.<ref>[9] (see esp para. 5)</ref> 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".<ref>[10] (see esp para. 23)</ref>

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 "Shaput [the] King" because of his bright and quick intellect.

[edit] Early Islamic period (634–1255)

After the Islamic conquest of Persia, Jews, along with Christians and Zoroastrians, were assigned the status of dhimmis, inferior subjects of the Islamic empire. Dhimmis were allowed to practice their religion, but were forced to pay taxes (jizya, a poll tax, and initially also kharaj, a land tax) in favor of the Arab Muslim conquerors. Dhimmis were also required to submit to a number of social and legal disabilities; they were prohibited from bearing arms, riding horses, testifying in courts in cases involving a Muslim, and frequently required to wear clothings, clearly distinguishing them from Muslims. Although some of these restrictions were sometimes relaxed, the overall condition of inequality remained in force until the Mongol invasion.<ref name="littman1">Littman (1979), pp. 2–3</ref>

[edit] Mongol rule (1256–1318)

Image:Nizami hebrew.JPG
Hebrew version of Nizami's "Khosrow va Shirin".

In 1255, Mongols led by Hulagu Khan began a charge on Persia, and in 1257 they captured Baghdad putting an end to the Abbasid caliphate. 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 appointed, 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 contemporary Christian historian Bar Hebraeus wrote that the violence committed against the Jews during that period "neither tongue can utter, nor the pen write down".<ref name="littman2">Littman (1979), p. 3</ref>

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, 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. Rashid al-Din's case illustrates a pattern that differentiated the treatment of Jewish converts in Persia from their treatment in other Muslim lands, except North Africa. In most Muslim countries, converts were welcomed and easily assimilated into the Muslim population. In Persia, however, Jewish converts were usually stigmatized on the account of their Jewish ancestry for many generations.<ref name="littman2" /><ref>Lewis (1984), pp. 100–101</ref>

[edit] Safavid and Qajar dynasties (1502–1925)

Further deterioration in the treatment of Persian Jews occurred during the reign of the Safavids who proclaimed Shi'a Islam the state religion. Shi'ism assigns great importance to the issues of ritual purity ― tahara, and non-Muslims, including Jews, are deemed to be ritually unclean ― najis ― so that physical contact with them would require Shi'as to undertake ritual purification before doing regular prayers. Thus, Persian rulers, and to an even larger extent, the populace, sought to limit physical contact between Muslims and Jews. Jews were not allowed to attend public baths with Muslims or even to go outside in rain or snow, ostensibly because some impurity could be washed from them upon a Muslim.<ref>Lewis (1984), pp. 33–34</ref>

The reign of Shah Abbas I (1588–1629) was initially benign; Jews prospered throughout Persia and were even encouraged to settle in Isfahan, which was made a new capital. However, toward the end of his rule, the treatment of Jews became harsher; upon advice from a Jewish convert and Shi'a clergy, the shah forced Jews to wear a distinctive badge on clothing and headgear. In 1656, all Jews were expelled from Isfahan because of the common belief of their impurity and forced to convert to Islam. However, as it became known that the converts continued to practice Judaism in secret and because the treasury suffered from the loss of jizya collected from the Jews, in 1661 they were allowed to revert to Judaism, but were still required to wear a distinctive patch upon their clothings.<ref name="littman2" />

Under Sunni Muslim Nadir Shah (1736–1747), who abolished Shi'a Islam as state religion, Jews experienced a period of relative tolerance when they were allowed to settle in the Shi'ite holy city of Mashhad. Yet, the advent of a Shi'a Qajar dynasty in 1794 brought back the earlier persecutions. In the middle of the 19th century, J. J. Benjamin wrote about the life of Persian Jews: "…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."<ref>Lewis (1984), pp. 181–183</ref>

Image:Kalimi mashrutiat.JPG
Iranian Jews actively took part in the Persian Constitutional Revolution. Seen here is a Jewish gathering celebrating the second anniversary of the Constitutional Revolution in Tehran.

Lord Curzon described the regional differences in the situation of the Persian Jews in 19th century: "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."<ref>Lewis (1984), p. 167</ref>

Another European traveller reported a degrading ritual to which Jews were subjected for public amusement:

At every public festival — even at the royal salaam [salute], before the King’s face — the Jews are collected, and a number of them are flung into the hauz or tank, that King and mob may be amused by seeing them crawl out half-drowned and covered with mud. The same kindly ceremony is witnessed whenever a provincial governor holds high festival: there are fireworks and Jews.<ref>Willis (2002), p. 230</ref>

In the 19th century there were many instances of forced conversions and massacres, usually inspired by the Shi'a clergy. A representative of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, a Jewish humanitarian and educational organization, wrote from Tehran in 1894: "…every time that a priest wishes to emerge from obscurity and win a reputation for piety, he preaches war against the Jews".<ref>Littman (1979), p. 10</ref> In 1830, the Jews of Tabriz were massacred; the same year saw a forcible conversion of the Jews of Shiraz. In 1839, many Jews were massacred in Mashhad and survivors were forcibly converted. However, European travellers later reported that the Jews of Tabriz and Shiraz continued to practice Judaism in secret despite a fear of further persecutions. Jews of Barforush were forcibly converted in 1866; when they were allowed to revert to Judaism thanks to an intervention by the French and British ambassadors, a mob killed 18 Jews of Barforush, burning two of them alive.<ref>Littman (1979), p. 4.</ref><ref>Lewis (1984), p. 168.</ref> In 1910, the Jews of Shiraz were accused of ritually murdering a Muslim girl. Muslim dwellers of the city plundered the whole Jewish quarter, the first to start looting were the 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.<ref>Littman (1979), pp. 12–14</ref> Representatives of the Alliance Israélite Universelle recorded other numerous instances of persecution and debasement of Persian Jews.<ref>Lewis (1984), p. 183.</ref>

Driven by persecutions, thousands of Persian Jews emigrated to Palestine in the late 19th – early 20th century.<ref name="littman3">Littman (1979), p. 5.</ref>

[edit] 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.<ref name="sanasarian2">Sanasarian (2000), p. 46</ref> Reza Shah prohibited mass conversion of Jews and eliminated the Shi'ite concept of uncleanness of non-Muslims. Modern Hebrew was incorporated into the curriculum of Jewish schools and Jewish newspapers were published. Jews were also allowed to hold government jobs.[11] However, Jewish schools were closed in 1920s. In addition, Reza Shah sympathized with Nazi Germany, making the Jewish community fearful of possible persecutions, and the public sentiment at the time was definitely anti-Jewish,<ref name="sanasarian2"/>[12].

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 Shiite concept of uncleanness of non-Muslims. Modern Hebrew was incorporated into the curriculum of Jewish schools and Jewish newspapers were published. Jews were also allowed to hold government jobs.

A spike in anti-Jewish sentiment occurred after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and continued until 1953 due to the weakening of the central government and strengthening of the clergy in the course of political struggles between the shah and prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh. Eliz Sanasarian estimates that in 1948–1953, about one-third of Iranian Jews, most of them poor, emigrated to Israel.<ref name="sanasarian1">Sanasarian (2000), p. 47</ref> David Littman puts the total figure of emigrants to Israel in 1948-1978 at 70,000.<ref name="littman3" />

The reign of shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi after the deposition of Mossadegh in 1953, was the most prosperous era for the Jews of Iran. In 1970s, only 10 percent of Iranian Jews were classified as impoverished; 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.<ref name="sanasarian1" />

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

[edit] 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.<ref name="littman3" /> On March 16, 1979, Habib Elghanian, the honorary leader of the Jewish community, was arrested 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.<ref name="littman3" /><ref>Sanasarian (2000), p. 112</ref> 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<ref>Sanasarian (2000), p. 48</ref> and at less than 40,000 nowadays, with around 25,000 residing in Tehran. However, Iran's Jewish community still remains the largest in the Middle East outside of Israel. [13]

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.<ref>"Anatomy of a Hoax", Jewish Week.</ref> The false story turned out to originate with Iranian journalist Amir Taheri from the Benador Associates speakers bureau.

[edit] Current status in Iran

Iran's Jewish community is officially recognized as a religious minority group by the government, and as with Zoroastrians, they are allocated one seat in the Iranian Parliament. Maurice Motamed has been the Jewish MP since 2000, and was re-elected again in 2004. In 2000, former Jewish MP Manuchehr Eliasi estimate there were still 30–35,000 Jews in Iran, other sources put the figure as low as 20–25,000.<ref>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.</ref>

Iranian Jews have their own newspaper (called "Ofogh-e-Bina") with Jewish scholars performing Judaic research at Tehran's "Central Library of Jewish Association".<ref name = "PersianRabbi">Persian Rabbi</ref> The "Dr. Sapir Jewish Hospital" is Iran's largest charity hospital of any religious minority community in the country;<ref name = "PersianRabbi" /> however, most of its patients and staff are Muslim.<ref name="Harrison">Harrison, Francis (September 22, 2006). Iran's proud but discreet Jews. BBC. URL accessed on October 28, 2006.</ref>

[edit] Discrimination

Like other religious minorities in Iran, Jews suffer from officially sanctioned discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment, education, and housing. They may not occupy senior positions in the government or the military and are prevented from serving in the judiciary and security services and from becoming public school heads.<ref name="dosreport2004">Template:Cite web</ref>

The anti‑Israel policies of the Iranian government, along with a perception among radical Muslims that all Jewish citizens support Zionism and the State of Israel, create a hostile atmosphere for the Jewish community. In 2004, many Iranian newspapers celebrated the one-hundredth anniversary of the publishing of the anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.<ref name="dosreport2004"/> Jews often are the target of degrading caricatures in the Iranian press.<ref name="Murphy">Murphy, Brian. "Iran's Jews caught again in no man's land", Associated Press, 2006-07-31. Retrieved on 2006-07-31.</ref> Jewish leaders reportedly are reluctant to draw attention to official mistreatment of their community due to fear of government reprisal.<ref name="dosreport2004"/>

However in a rather unprecedented move, the sole Jewish member in the Iranian parliament, Maurice Motamed, strongly condemned exhibition of cartoons about the Holocaust which recently took palace in Tehran and he has also written a letter to Iran’s president questioning his denial of Holocaust calling it "a very big insult to Jews all around the world".[14]

The legal system also discriminates against religious minorities who receive lower awards than Muslims in injury and death lawsuits and incur heavier punishments. In 2002, the law was passed that made the amount of "blood money" (diyeh) paid by a perpetrator for killing or wounding a Christian, Jew, or Zoroastrian man the same as it would be for killing or wounding a Muslim.<ref name="dosreport2004"/>

Image:Khatami Jewish.jpg
Former president Khatami visits a Tehran Jewish center.

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 Iranian 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. Moreover, the Iranian 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 working or attending school on the Sabbath violates Jewish law, this requirement has made it impossible for observant Jews both to attend school and adhere to a fundamental tenet of their religion.<ref name="dosreport2004"/>

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. With the exception of certain business travelers, the authorities require Jewish persons to obtain clearance and pay additional fees before each trip abroad. The Iranian government is concerned about the emigration of Jewish citizens and permission generally is not granted for all members of a Jewish family to travel outside the country at the same time.<ref name="dosreport2004"/>

In 2000, 10 of 13 Jews arrested in 1999 were convicted on charges of illegal contact with Israel, conspiracy to form an illegal organization, and recruiting agents. Along with 2 Muslim defendants, the 10 Jews received prison sentences ranging from 4 to 13 years. An appeals court subsequently overturned the convictions for forming an illegal organization and recruiting agents, but it upheld the convictions for illegal contacts with Israel with reduced sentences. One of the 10 was released in February 2001 and another in January 2002, both upon completion of their prison terms. Three additional prisoners were released before the end of their sentences in October 2002. In April 2003, it was announced that the last five were to be released. It is not clear if the eight who were released before the completion of their sentences were fully pardoned or were released provisionally.<ref name="dosreport2004"/> Even though anti-Semitic acts are rare in Iran, the trial led to the rising of tensions against the Jewish community.<ref name="Murphy"/> During and shortly after the trial, Jewish businesses in Tehran and Shiraz were targets of vandalism and boycotts, and Jewish persons reportedly have suffered personal harassment and intimidation.<ref name="dosreport2004"/>

[edit] Contacts with Jews outside Iran

Jews in Iran are not allowed to communicate with Jewish groups outside of Iran unless the group is opposed to the existence of Israel, such as Neturei Karta.[citation needed] Rabbis from Neturei Karta frequently visit Iran.[15] [16][17] [18] [19]

Traveling to Israel is forbidden for all the citizens of Iran, mentioned very clearly on the last page of the passport, however according to Maurice Motamed in recent years, Iranian government has allowed 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 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]

At least 13 Jews have been executed in Iran since the Islamic revolution, most of them for either religious reasons or their connection 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.

[edit] Jewish centers of Iran

Most Jews are nowadays living in Tehran, the capital. In 1996, there were three synagogues in Tehran, but there had been no rabbi in Iran since 1996.<ref name="Iran1996">"Iran.1996". Encyclopaedia Judaica</ref> Traditionally however, Shiraz, Hamedan, Isfahan, Nahawand, Babol and some other cities of Iran have been home to large populations of Jews. The Jewish cemetery south of Tehran was demolished for a housing project.<ref name="Iran1996"/>

[edit] 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. Saturday is no longer officially recognized as the Jewish sabbath and Jewish pupils are compelled to attend school on that day.<ref name="Iran1996"/>

[edit] 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.

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

[edit] Persian Jews outside Iran

Persian Jewish communities outside Iran have suffered even greater declines than within Iran. In Afghanistan, most Persian Jews fled the country after the Soviet invasion in 1979. Only one known individual from the original community remains. [23] 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.

In Israel, Persian Jews are classified as Mizrahim. Both the President and the former defense minister of Israel (now Minister of Transportation) are of Persian Jewish origin.

[edit] Languages

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

[edit] Terminology

Today the term Iranian Jews is mostly used to refer to Jews from the country of Iran, but in various scholarly and historical texts, the term is used to refer to Jews who speak various Iranian languages. Persians in Israel (virtually all of whom are Jewish) are referred to as Parsim (Hebrew: פרסים meaning "Persians"). Jews in Iran (and Jewish people in general) are referred to by four common terms: Kalimi, which is considered the most proper term, Yahudi, which is less formal but correct, Israel, which is even less formal, and Jood or Johood, an informal slang that may be offensive when used by non-Jews.

[edit] Famous Persian Jews

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

<references />

[edit] References

  • This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, a publication now in the public domain.
  • "Iran. 1997" (1997). Encyclopedia 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.
  • Template:Cite journal
  • Sanasarian, Eliz (2000). Religious Minorities in Iran. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-77073-4.
  • Template:Cite journal
  • 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.
  • 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.

[edit] External links


fa:یهودیان ایران

fr:Juifs d'Iran he:יהדות איראן pt:Judeus da Pérsia

Persian Jews

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