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THE JEWS OF IRAN (PERSIA)
From  Projet Aladin

The Jewish community in Iran is among the oldest in the world. The first Jewish settlements near Ekbatana (Hamadan, western Iran) and Susa (southwest Iran) date to 721 BC. Jews fleeing persecution under the rule of the Assyrian King Nabuchadadnezzar II settled in Isfahan around 680BC.

In 539 BC, Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenian Empire, conquered Babylon and allowed the exiled Jews to go home and reconstruct the temple of Jerusalem. Some chose to remain and a movement of migration deeper into Persia began.

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 north-western India. Scholars believe that during the peak of the Persian Empire, Jews may have comprised as much as 20% of the population.

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." 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."

The Achaemenian rulers of Persia treated their conquered subjects leniently and a significant number of Jews rose to prominence in the imperial Persian court. History has retained the names of Zerubbabel, Erza, Nehemiah, Daniel, "Mordecai the Jew" and his niece Esther.

Alexander's conquest and domination of the Persian Empire did not radically change the situation of the Jewish communities in Persia. The next rulers of Persia, the Parthians, ruled the country for five centuries and gave the Jews broad religious, cultural or even legal autonomy.  Jewish chronicles mention the Parthian period as one of the best in their history. Centres of Jewish life in the Parthian Empire were situated in Mesopotamia, in Nisibis and Nehardea. According to Jewish records, Jews enjoyed a long period of peace and maintained close and positive contacts with the ruling Parthians. Jews fought on the side of the Parthians against the Roman armies and took an active part in organizing the silk trade, an advantage they owed to the support of the Parthian kings.

The fall of Parthian dynasty and the rise of the Sassanids ushered in five centuries of repressive policies with regard to religious minorities. Most Sassanid kings promoted Zoroastrianism in the empire and persecuted other religious communities. As a result, Jews and other religious minorities suffered. But while much is known about the Christian, Manichean and Mazdaean persecutions, the persecution in the Jewish records appears only in the fifth century. It must also be noted that in the wars between Rome and the Sassanid kings, the Jews, unlike Christians, were decidedly loyal to the Persian king.

In the mid-seventh century, Persia became a province of the Arab-Muslim Empire. The Arab conquest substituted a state religion for another, but for Jews it was a step forward. As dhimmis, they enjoyed, as elsewhere under the rule of Islam, an inferior but protected status. Their economic role was not negligible. Jews in Persia were artisans, shopkeepers, merchants and manufacturers, and the growing urbanization of the Muslim East and the growth of international trade contributed to the emergence of a new class of wealthy Jewish merchants in urban centres like Baghdad, Ahvaz, Isfahan and Shiraz. During these early centuries of Muslim domination, social unrest and religious turmoil in Persia also affected the Jewish communities.

Muslim treatment of the religious minorities varied in accordance with the policies of the caliphs and attitudes of different governors. While the Umayyad governor of Iran, Hajjaj, was ruthless in persecution of non-Muslims, others were more lenient and did not follow all the discriminatory rules. There were many Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian philosophers, physicians, scientists, musicians and administrators in the first century of the Muslim Empire. The rise of the Abbasid caliphate improved the situation of the dhimmi for a while, especially during the reign of Al Mansur. He was a devoted follower of the sciences and supported the great translation movement of the eighth century. Thousands of books were translated into Arabic from Greek, Hebrew, Persian and other languages. Iranian Jews at the time were writing dari (new Persian) in Hebrew characters.

In the twelfth century, Iranian Jews were largely involved in trade. The Jewish traveller Benjamin of Tuleda reported large Jewish and Christian communities in many of the larger cities when he visited Iran in 1157 and mentioned Jewish communities in Hamadan, Isfahan, Nahavand, Shiraz, Nishapur and Baghdad. On the whole there appears to have been little discrimination against the dhimmis other than the usual restrictions. In one incident a prominent Jew, Abu Sad Samha, successfully made a claim against Abu Shuja, the minster responsible for dhimmis. He claimed Abu Shuja had failed to protect the Jews and managed to get the Minster sacked.

In 1258, the conquest of Baghdad by the Mongols of Hulagu Khan ended the Abbasid caliphate and dramatically changed the life of Jewish communities in the region. Those were good years for the Jews of Persia, more present than ever in the economy and political affairs of the empire, and quite at ease in their cultural environment to lay the foundations for a rich literature. For the first time a substantial Judeo-Persian literature emerged.

The advent of the Safavid kings (1501), who made Shiite Islam Iran's official religion, created a dramatic new turn. Massacres and forced conversions were now the lot of Persian Jews, whose population declined sharply to less than 100,000 people. The Safavids established a rigid religious hierarchy with unlimited power and influence in every sphere of life.  Jewish chronicles from this period are full of accounts of massacre, forced conversion into Islam and mistreatment. All relations between Iranian Jews and others outside the country were severed. Christians and Zoroastrians were subjected to the same harsh treatments and Sunnis suffered most. Segregation became a reality again for all minorities and Jewish ghettos were reinforced. Jews were forced to wear both a yellow badge and a headgear, and their oaths were not accepted in courts of justice. Any Jew who converted to Islam would be recognized as the sole inheritor of the family estate, to the exclusion of all Jewish relatives.

The Qajar dynasty (1794 - 1925) continued the repressive and intolerant policies of the Safavids and the Jewish community in Iran saw little change until the nineteenth century. In 1839, the Qajar king, Muhammad Shah, ordered the entire Jewish community in the city of Mashad to convert to Islam. Europeans powers intervened for the first time and the decree was reversed.

European pressure on the Iranian government also led to the opening of the first modern Jewish school in 1891 by a royal decree from Nasser-Eddin Shah. Teachers and students had to be escorted by the police to stop Shiite zealots from attacking them.

The end of the nineteenth century witnessed a fundamental change in Iran with the advent of the Constitutional Revolution. Jewish political activists, along with other minorities, actively participated in the movement. They were instrumental in forming the first multiethnic Secret Society of 1905, which began the debate on political change. Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians and reformist Muslims fought hard in the ranks of the constitutionalists to form a National Consultative Assembly instead of an Islamic Majlis, as demanded by the religious hierarchy. Along with other religious minorities they succeeded in their efforts to ratify laws that gave equality to Muslim and non-Muslim (male) citizens and defined a new concept of citizenship not based on religious and ethnic identity. The 1906 constitution recognized Jews as a religious minority and allocated a seat in the Iranian parliament to a representative elected by the country's Jewish community.

In 1925, the advent of the Pahlavis changed the course of Iranian history. Reza Khan (1878 - 1944), the founder of the dynasty, was an officer in the Iranian army. A talented, ambitious and politically astute man, he ascended to the throne in December 1925. His rise to power marked a new era not only for the Iranian people, but also for the Jews of Iran. Under Reza Shah, the economic situation of the Jews improved. All discriminatory laws and decrees were repealed. Jews and members of other religious minorities could join the army, enrol in government schools, and live wherever they wanted. The ghettos (mahalleh) were a thing of the past.

Jews wanted to integrate themselves into Iranian society at all costs and identify with the symbols of secular nationalism, but they also wanted to remain Jewish. They loved Persian poetry and literature, appreciated Persian music and celebrated national holidays with genuine joy. They abandoned their Jewish names for Iranian names and glorified Iran's pre-Islamic past. The secular nationalist tendency, at least from the standpoint of historical and cultural consciousness, seemed to have paved the way for a rapprochement between Jews and the Iranian people.

For political reasons related to Iran's relations with the Soviet Union and Britain, Reza Shah decided to foster a closer relationship with Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Commercial and cultural ties between the two countries grew rapidly and numerous German engineers and technicians arrived in Iran to work on industrial and construction projects.

Nazi propaganda carried on Radio Berlin's Persian service emphasized the Aryan origins of the two peoples and called Jews "the inferior race" and "blood suckers of humanity." Local fascist and extreme right-wing groups collaborated with the Nazis, and all this exacerbated tensions between Jews and Muslims.

When U.S., Soviet and British forces occupied Iran in autumn 1941, the eldest son of Reza Shah, Mohammad Reza, succeeded his father. The occupation of Iran (1941-1946) marked the beginning of one of the most dynamic periods in the country's modern history. Like other composites of Iranian society, Jews resumed their political activities: they founded clubs, organized training groups and published their own newspapers. Many Persian Jews helped the "Tehran Children" and other Russian and Polish Jewish refugees who were escaping Nazi persecution by going to the British mandate of Palestine through Iran.

Iranian Jews lived through a happy and prosperous period after the Second World War and until the advent of the Islamic revolution in 1979. The Islamic Republic, hostile to the State of Israel, looked on Iranian Jews with suspicion. By the end of 2000, Islamic revolutionary courts had executed almost twenty Jews. The constitution of 1979, however, recognized the Jews as a religious minority and granted them a seat in Parliament. Iranian Jews have their own organizations, including Anjoman Kalimiyane Tehran (The Jewish Society of Tehran), which publishes a periodical, Persian Bina.

From early 1978 until the year 2000, more than 60,000 Jews left Iran, mostly from Tehran. Most of them have settled in the United States. An estimated 30,000 Jews still live in Iran today, the largest Jewish community in the Muslim world.

WHEN "PERSIA" BECAME "IRAN"

This article is a part of "Persia or Iran" by Professor Ehsan Yarshater, published in Iranian Studies, Vol. XXII, No.1, 1989.

See also:    Persia or Iran, Persian or Farsi Ehsan Y, IRANIAN STUDIES, 1989

In 1935 the Iranian government requested those countries which it had diplomatic relations with, to call Persia "Iran," which is the name of the country in Persian.

The suggestion for the change is said to have come from the Iranian ambassador to Germany, who came under the influence of the Nazis. At the time Germany was in the grip of racial fever and cultivated good relations with nations of "Aryan" blood. It is said that some German friends of the ambassador persuaded him that, as with the advent of Reza Shah, Persia had turned a new leaf in its history and had freed itself from the pernicious influences of Britain and Russia, whose interventions in Persian affairs had practically crippled the country under the Qajars, it was only fitting that the country be called by its own name, "Iran." This would not only signal a new beginning and bring home to the world the new era in Iranian history, but would also signify the Aryan race of its population, as "Iran" is a cognate of "Aryan" and derived from it.

The Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent out a circular to all foreign embassies in Tehran, requesting that the country thenceforth be called "Iran." Diplomatic courtesy obliged, and by and by the name "Iran" began to appear in official correspondence and news items.

At first "Iran" sounded alien (for non-Iranians), and many failed to recognize its connection with Persia. Some (Westerners) thought that it was perhaps one of the new countries like Iraq and Jordan carved out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, or a country in Africa or Southeast Asia that had just been granted independence; and not a few confused it with Iraq, itself a recent entity.

As time passed and as a number of events, like the Allied invasion of Iran in 1941 and the nationalization of the oil industry under Prime Minster Dr Mohammad Mosaddeq, put the country in the headlines, the name "Iran" became generally accepted, and "Persia" fell into comparative disuse, though more slowly in Britain than in the United States.

JEWS OF IRAN: A MODERN HISTORY:   IRANIAN JEWRY UNDER THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN.
My Jewish Learning By Orly R. Rahimiyan

Jews began settling in Iran about 2,700 years ago. Throughout their history, the Iranian Jews have coped with significant challenges, especially during the Safavid era (1501-1736) and under the Qajar rulers (1796-1925).

The years of the Pahlavi dynasty, however–especially the reign of Muhammad Reza Shah (1941-1979)–are often considered a “Golden Age” for Iranian Jewry. The Iranian Jewish community thrived economically under the Shah’s reform plan, the “White Revolution” (1964-1979). The White Revolution’s rapid modernization provided exceptional opportunities for the Jewish community in Iran.

RECENT HISTORY OF IRANIAN JEWS

On the eve of the Islamic Revolution in 1978, the Jewish community in Iran numbered around 80,000 with 60,000 living in the capital, Tehran. Although the Jews constituted less than a quarter of a percent of the total Iranian population of 35 million, their economic, professional, and cultural impact on the country was great.

At this time, the vast majority of the Jewish population in Iran was middle class or upper middle class. There were Jewish schools, active social and cultural organizations, and about 30 synagogues in Tehran alone.

THE ISLAMIC REVOLUTION

With the outbreak of opposition to the Shah in the autumn of 1977, what had been considered the strength of the Jewish community quickly transformed into its principal weaknesses: their socio-economic status, identification with the Shah and his policies, and ties to Israel and the United States.

Expressions of anti-Jewish animosity soon intensified. In Tehran, pamphlets were circulated threatening to take revenge upon the Jews for plundering Iran’s treasures. Slogans scribbled on the walls of synagogues and Jewish institutions proclaimed “Death to the Jews.” Iranian Muslims began ostracizing their Jewish neighbors, whose newfound insecurity and desire to liquidate their property was met with hostile responses.

During the revolution itself, a wave of anti-Israel sentiment swept over Iran, impacting the Jewish community. Private wealth was confiscated on a large scale, which sent thousands of affluent Jews fleeing to the United States or Israel.

But at the same time, Jews were optimistic about the regime change. When Ayatallah Khomeini–a senior Shi’a Muslim cleric and the future Supreme Leader of the country, returned to Iran on the February 1, 1979, 5,000 Jews, led by Iranian Chief Rabbi Yedidia Shofet, were among those welcoming him. Some of them held pictures of Khomeini and signs proclaiming: “Jews and Muslims are brothers.”

On May 14, 1979, five days after the execution of Jewish community head Habib Elghanian, who was accused of Zionist espionage and activities, a delegation of Jewish leaders set out for Qom to meet with Khomeini, who allayed their fears with the following words:

“We make a distinction between the Jewish community and the Zionists–and we know that these are two different things. We are against [the Zionists] because they are not Jews, but politicians…but as for the Jewish community and the rest of the [minority] communities in Iran–they are members of this nation. Islam will treat them in the same manner as it does with all other layers of society.” (Radio Tehran, May 15, 1979)

Indeed, since the establishment of the Islamic Republic and its declaration of Islam as the all-encompassing state religion in 1979, the regime has officially distinguished between the Jews of Iran, considered loyal citizens, and other Jews–Israelis, Zionists, and world Jewry, toward whom the regime did not conceal its hostility. Zionist activity was made a crime, punishable by severe penalties.

This brought about changes in internal Jewish communal affairs. At the end of March 1978, a new generation of progressive Jewish Iranian intellectuals supplanted the old Jewish council, Anjumān-i Kalīmīan (Jewish Committee), with the founding of the anti-Zionist radical Jāme-yi Rowshanfikrān-i Yahūd-i Irān (The Organization of Iranian Jewish Intellectuals), whose platform included full support of the Islamic Revolution of 1979, religious and cultural revival, and community protection. Since its founding this organization has struggled to preserve the community from disintegration.

LEAVING IRAN

Indeed, the revolution aroused fears among Iranian Jews and around two thirds of the community left the country. The emigrants included the majority of the community’s leaders, philanthropists, and professionals. According to estimates, 30,000-40,000 Iranian Jews emigrated to the United States, 20,000 to Israel, and 10,000 to Europe, notably the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. Of those Iranian Jews who made their way to the United States, around 25,000 live in California (20,000 in Los Angeles alone) and 8,000 live in the New York area. Today, the number of Jews still residing in Iran is estimated at between 25,000 and 30,000.

Jews who wished to emigrate during the first decade and a half of the Islamic republic encountered many problems as the special government office responsible for granting passports to Jews refused numerous applicants. Many Jews ended up fleeing through Pakistan or Turkey. These emigrants often left most of their property behind, under the assumption that their relatives would liquidate the assets. But even when this did happen, it was very difficult to send the money abroad.

JEWISH LIFE IN IRAN

In many ways, the revolution was also a revolution in the lives of Persian Jews. The new leaders of Iran sought to create a country modelled after their particular perception of the ideal Islamic society; it was inevitable that this model would affect the lives of religious minorities.

While Islam’s attitude towards other monotheistic faiths is, in principle, a fairly tolerant one, the writings and speeches of Ayatollah Khomeini and those close to him are full of vitriolic denunciations of Jews. Unlike the Pahlavi regime, which placed nationalism as its highest priority and saw Jews as equals, Khomeini’s Islamic doctrine forced Jews into a position of inferiority vis-à-vis the Muslim majority.

Despite his supposed distinction between Jews and Zionists, Ayatollah Khomeini’s doctrine contained anti-Jewish elements, including an emphasis on Shi’ite doctrine pertaining to the impurity (najasat) of non-Muslims. According to traditional Islamic law, religious minorities are impure elements that pollute the Shiite believers with whom they come into contact. Historically, najasat was highly influential in governing daily relations between Jews and Shi’ites. In his writings, Khomeini also attacked the Jews and accused them of distorting Islam, mistranslating the Koran, and taking over Iran’s economy.

Still, official recognition of minorities was rooted in the Iranian constitution: Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian Iranians are the only recognized religious minorities who, within the limits of the law, are free to perform the religious rites and ceremonies and to act according to their own cannon in matters of personal affairs and religious education. Within this framework, the Jewish minority was guaranteed permanent representation in the Iranian parliament. The constitution also dictates that the Islamic Republican government and Iranian Muslims must treat non-Muslims according to Muslim principles of ethics and justice.

In practice, Jewish freedom of worship has not been limited in a meaningful way, and to this day Jewish holidays receive coverage in the media. Each year, local television stations broadcast programs on Jewish holidays–especially Passover, when the state media carries the blessings of the Jewish community head and Majles representative. The community has continued administering its own schools, synagogues, and other institutions, including Jewish hospitals, nursing homes, cemeteries, and libraries.

Today, Jews participate in Iranian civic and political life. Many Jews join the Iranian masses in protesting the State of Israel on the annual “Qods Day” (Jerusalem Day), and during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), Iranian Jews supported the war effort by donating ambulances and surplus goods as well as making hospital visits. Some Jewish youth even took part in the fighting and were wounded in combat.

Anti-Semitism, however, remains. In 1999, 13 Jews from Shiraz and Isfahan were arrested on charges of spying for Israel, and they were convicted in 2000. By February 2003 all of them had been released, but the arrests planted fear in the heart of the Jewish community, bringing its loyalty under question.

Despite all these difficulties, most of the remaining Jews of Iran feel an unbreakable bond to their homeland and continue to live there. In a gathering of Iranian Jews in Shiraz at the end of 2002, several months after the release of some of the detainees, one of the leaders of the Jewish community made the following speech:

“We are not the same subdued people as before. We are alive, joyful, active and Iran-lovers. We’ve been inhabitants of Iran for the past 2,700 years … and Iran is our native country. We are essentially Iranians first and then Jews. We are proud to be Iranians. Long live Iran. Long live Iranians Jews.” (From the movie “Jews of Iran,” directed by Ramin Farahani)

ANCIENT HATRED: UNDERSTANDING IRAN'S WAR ON JEWS
Erick Stakelbeck, CBN NewsPublished Mar. 22, 2012.

WASHINGTON -- Iran's supreme leader recently said his country would help any Muslim nation or group that attacks Israel. He's called the Jewish state a cancerous tumor that will be cut out of the Middle East. With Iran's nuclear weapons program advancing daily, that goal may be in sight.

This view of Jews as sub-human sounds a lot like Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, but it goes back much further.  In author Andrew Bostom's book, The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, he describes Islam's early conquests of Jewish tribes in Arabia.  "Mohammed's frustrations in spreading his message were frequently recompensed by murderous attacks on the Jews," he told CBN News.  Bostom explained that Mohammed demonized Jews because they rejected him as a prophet.

"Mohammed himself invokes some of these themes," he said. "For example, one of the punishments of the Jews is their transformation into apes, or apes and pigs, the verses that are commonly heard now."  This "apes and pigs" imagery is found in Islam's core texts, like the Koran and hadiths. The most notorious is the following hadith, often quoted by al Qaeda, Hamas, and other Islamic terror groups.  "Judgment Day will come only when the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them, until the Jew hides behind the tree and the stone, and the tree and the stone say, 'Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.'"  In some verses of the Koran, Jews are referred to as "perverse," "evil," "greedy," and the "heirs of hell."

The Iranian regime takes these verses seriously, starting with the man who founded the Islamic Republic, the Ayatollah Khomeini.  "His image of wiping out the Jews was that all of the Muslims of the world should get together with a cup of water and simply wash it away. But again, annihilationism," Bostom said.

Today, Jews play a central role in the end times ideology of Iran's mullahs. They believe the Mahdi, or Islamic messiah, will return to earth, conquer Jerusalem, and massacre the Jewish inhabitants of Israel.

Former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani said that while Israel is a one-bomb country, Iran and the Islamic world could survive a nuclear exchange with the Jewish state.  According to this view, the heavy losses would be worth it for the greater good of wiping Israel off the map.

HOW IRAN’S JEWS SURVIVE IN MULLAHS’ WORLD
A Jewish Journalist’s Exclusive Look Inside Iran
Forward  Larry Cohler-Esses, , August 18, 2015

 The first thing I noticed about Shahab Shahamifar as we strolled to synagogue on a Saturday morning in July was his yarmulke. It was a medium-size, black knitted one, and he was wearing it as we walked the busy streets of Tehran.

Then I noticed that no one looked up.

Later, when the rabbi went on a bit too long with a sermon on the week’s haftara portion, I left services early, and Shahamifar rushed out to accompany me the first block or so before returning to pray. This time, in addition to his yarmulke he wore a long tallit, a prayer shawl, also with no sense of self-consciousness.

Saturday is a workday in Iran’s capital, and women in chadors and men in business suits hurried by us without so much as a glance. Moreover, the night before, when several hundred worshippers gathered for Friday night services at the Yousef Abad Synagogue in North Tehran, I noticed, too, that the sanctuary’s large entrance remained open to the street as people spilled out for breaks to shmooze in crowds on the sidewalk outside. No security of any kind was in sight.

“Compared to Europe,” boasted Dr. Siamak Moreh Sedgh, the Jewish community’s elected representative in Iran’s parliament, “synagogues here are one of the safest places.” He also said proudly, “We have a high rate of people following Halacha,” or traditional Jewish law, “and a low rate of assimilation. The rate of intermarriage among Iranian Jews is less than 1%.”

Of course, there are a lot fewer Jews now than before Iran’s 1979 Revolution.

Homayoun Sameyah Najafabadi, the current chair of the Tehran Jewish Committee, Iranian Jewry’s central body, told me there were just 9,000 Jews, citing Iranian government census data on which people must list their religion. Other Jewish leaders insisted there were something like 18,000 to 20,000. They based their estimates on their knowledge of communal affiliations in Iran’s various cities. Either way, that’s a big drop from the 80,000 to 100,000 Jews that lived in Iran prior to 1979.

Many of these Jews left in the months immediately after the fall of the shah. A largely business-oriented community, its members often maintained ties to Israel under the shah. Many were shocked into flight when Habib Elghanian , one of the country’s leading businessmen and philanthropists — and the titular head of their community — was executed by a firing squad on charges that included “contacts with Israel and Zionism.”

In 1998, another Jew, Ruhollah Kadkhodah-Zadeh, was executed, reportedly for helping Jews to emigrate illegally.  Shortly after this, restrictions on emigration were lifted. So those who live in Iran today are choosing to do so. Even cash bonus offers from Israel ranging from $10,000 for individuals to $61,000 for families have failed to move those now living there to leave.

According to Moreh Sedgh, those who have stayed are primarily members of the middle class — shop owners, small businessmen and professionals. “The rich had the money to move to America and re-establish themselves there,” he said. “The poor, who had nothing to lose, moved to Israel.” But Najafabadi assured me that a strong contingent of the poor remained among Iran’s Jews.  “We have people who receive charity from the community, including meat, rice and fruit,” he said.

Those making the choice to stay, even as their leaders bristle with hostility toward Zionism and the State of Israel, live under an umbrella of government protection.

And Jewish life in Iran can be rich. In Tehran alone there are 13 active synagogues, five Jewish schools, two kindergartens and a 100-bed Jewish hospital, where Moreh Sedgh serves as director. There are active communities in several other cities, including Shiraz, Isfahan and Kermanshah, with institutions of their own.

But living as protected second-class citizens under a Shiite Islamist regime is complicated.  As Najafabadi put it: “There is no oppression. But there are limitations.”

Working in the Jews’ favor is the deeply embedded nature of their presence in Iranian society, where they have never been ghettoized, and in which they are seen — and see themselves — as pre-eminently Iranian, woven into 2,700 years of Iranian history. This facilitates the rigid compartmentalization the government maintains between Zionists, who are seen as a malign outside force, and the unquestioned indigenous character of their own Jewish citizens.

But implicitly, this also means Iranian Jews must take care not to be seen as interested or involved in Israel, though it is an open secret that many have family there, and that many have even visited Israel themselves via third countries.

The Jews’ security is aided by a fatwa that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Islamic Republic’s founder, issued shortly after he came to power. Even as he shifted Iran into an anti-Israel mode, his fatwa declared Iran’s Jews to be a fully protected minority community and forbade any attacks on them.

But Jews’ place in Iranian society is perhaps vouchsafed most by the Jewish community’s own willingness to fight for its right to that place. Its leaders do so while avoiding any challenge to the fundamental legitimacy of Iran’s regime. But it is not a quiet or quiescent Jewish leadership.

When then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad questioned the historical reality of the Holocaust during his tenure, Jews and others worldwide denounced his statements. But so did Haroun Yashayaei, who was then head of the Tehran Jewish Committee.  “How is it possible to ignore all the undeniable evidence existing for the killing and exile of the Jews in Europe during World War II?” he asked Ahmadinejad in an official letter he wrote the president as head of the committee. Yashayaei condemned Ahmadinejad’s reference to the Holocaust as “a myth,” describing it as “an infected wound for Western civilization.”

Maurice Motamed, who at the time represented the Jewish community in Iran’s parliament, told a reporter for the Persian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Denial of such a great historical tragedy that is connected to the Jewish community can only be considered an insult to all the world’s Jewish communities.”

In 2012, when Ahmadinejad’s first vice president, Mohammad Reza Rahimi, claimed at a United Nations drug conference that the Talmud teaches “how to destroy non-Jews so as to protect an embryo in the womb of a Jewish mother” and charged that Zionists controlled the world’s illicit drug trade, the community also condemned his remarks.

During Ahmadinejad’s tenure, “there were huge insults toward our religion,” Najafabadi recalled. “He insulted Talmud. And we answered him.”  Just last April, Alef, a prominent Iranian website run by Ahmad Tavakkoli, a conservative Member of Parliament, cited Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and argued: “Blood shedding by Jews is not a new theme…. By examining Jewish history in past centuries, it becomes evident that they insist on blood shedding and even bloodthirstiness based on their altered religion and teachings.”

Nevertheless, the community is vocal about the multiple forms of discrimination under which its members live — but without questioning the legitimacy of the regime or the system of Sharia, or Islamic law, by which it governs.

Their approach could be seen in what community leaders consider one of their biggest recent victories: gaining equality in “blood money” compensation. That’s the amount a person must pay to a family when he is responsible for an accident that caused a family member’s death. “We succeeded in getting blood money compensation equalized for minorities,”  Motamed said. “Before, there was a big difference between the money for minorities and the main population…. It was a very big achievement.”

But the community’s approach did not involve any criticism of Sharia, which rules on such matters. Instead, Motamed, recalled, “We consulted a lot of ayatollahs and took testimony from high-ranking clerics to show there must be equality” under Sharia.

Pleased as he was, Motamed noted that blood money compensation for non-Muslims remains unequal in cases of murder — and that they are continuing to push on this.  “Under Sharia… if a Muslim kills a Jew, there will be blood money payment. But if a Jew kills a Muslim, the penalty is execution,” he said. Here, too, “we’ve consulted with a lot of ayatollahs and gotten letters. But it’s still not solved.”

Other unresolved issues the leaders cited involved access to high-ranking posts in government ministries and the requirement that a Muslim serve as principal at Jewish schools.  “We have five schools,” Najafabadi said, “and the principals in all of them are Muslim. There’s no enmity. They’re very cooperative. But it’s kind of insulting.”  Then there is inheritance law: Under Sharia in Iran, if one sibling in a non-Muslim family converts to Islam, he inherits the entirety of his parents’ assets. This, too, community leaders are pushing to change.

On Israel, the community’s leadership must be more circumspect. But it is no secret that many in the community have family there, or that a significant number of Jews in Iran have visited Israel themselves. One teenager in Shiraz told me how excited he had been to visit three years ago.  “There are people traveling to Israel,” Najafabadi volunteered. But since the Gaza War of last summer, the government had clamped down, he said. Some who go are imprisoned, fined and interrogated. Two community members had been sentenced to 91 days, though this was later reduced to 20 days. Travel to Israel “is declining now because of these problems,” he said.

Moreh Sedgh even voiced concern for Israel, in his way — his way being to criticize Israel’s policies as harmful for Israel’s own interests.

Speaking about Israel’s policy of opposing Syria’s regime under Bashar al-Assad, which Iran supports, Moreh Sedgh said, “The main enemy of Israel today is Daesh” — a reference to the extremist Islamic State fighting to oust Assad. “Of course, the Assad family are not the ideal leaders for Syria,” he said. But he noted that if Assad is ousted, they “must be ready for ISIS. What benefit for Israel would that be?”

Despite all these issues, those Iranian Jews who choose to stay can live a very active Jewish religious and communal life. My second-to-last night in Iran, I was invited to meet with the local leaders of the Shiraz community in the large open-air compound that serves as their community center. About the size of a football field, the compound is surrounded by high walls that ensure the privacy of those who come. Tables were spread out with ample food, and by 11 p.m., Jewish families totaling some 50 or 60 individuals, including children, were dining and moving around from table to table to catch up on the local gossip.

Told I was a vegetarian, the community elders treated me to cheese pizza from the kosher pizzeria on the premises. For meat eaters there was a kosher butcher. And just about everyone used matzo from the matzo factory on the grounds during Passover, I was told. The compound also contained a home for the elderly with nine or 10 residents.  “We are a country of paradox,” Moreh Sedgh said. Noting other recent communal victories, such as permission to close Jewish schools on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, rather than Friday, the Muslim day of rest, he said: “Sometimes we do something and have some success…. We think all these problems can be solved as domestic problems. If it comes from the outside. that will make it harder.”

LINKS

History of the Jews in Iran    Wikipedia

Why can't Iran and Israel be friends? - Small gestures could make a big difference, with adversaries having many shared interests in the region - analysis  Navid Hassibi for the Tehran Bureau, The Guardian 220 February, 2014


JEWISH HISTORY and IRAN (previously PERSIA)
SUMMARY
_____________________________________






The Jewish community in Iran is among the oldest in the world. The first Jewish settlements near Ekbatana (Hamadan, western Iran) and Susa (southwest Iran) date to 721 BC. Jews fleeing persecution under the rule of the Assyrian King Nabuchadadnezzar II settled in Isfahan around 680BC.

In 539 BC, Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenian Empire, conquered Babylon and allowed the exiled Jews to go home and reconstruct the temple of Jerusalem. Some chose to remain and a movement of migration deeper into Persia began.

The biblical books of Isaiah, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, refer 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 carried out "according to the decree of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia" (Ezra 6:14). This was in the late 6th century BCE when 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 also the Armenian, Georgian, Iraqi, Bukharan, and Mountain Jewish communities.

Some of the communities were 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.

Jews trace their heritage in Iran to the Babylonian Exile of the 6th century BC and have retained their ethnic, linguistic, and religious identity. However, a Library of Congress 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.In 2012, Iran's official census reported 8,756 Jewish citizens, a decline from 25,000 in 2009

In 1935 the Iranian government requested those countries with whom it had diplomatic relations to call Persia "Iran," which is the name of the country in Persian.  This is said to have come from the Iranian ambassador to Germany, who came under the influence of the Nazis.

On the eve of the Islamic Revolution in 1978, the Jewish community in Iran numbered around 80,000 with 60,000 living in the capital, Tehran. Although less than a quarter of a percent of the Iranian population of 35 million, their economic, professional, and cultural impact on the country was great.

Opposition to the Shah in 1977, saw this strength transformed into its principal weaknesses: through identification with the Shah and ties to Israel and the United States.

During the revolution anti-Israel sentiment swept over Iran impacting the Jewish community. Private wealth was confiscated on a large scale sending thousands of affluent Jews fleeing to the United States or Israel.

1979 saw the official distinction between the Jews of Iran, considered loyal citizens, and other Jews–Israelis, Zionists, and world Jewry, toward whom the regime did not conceal its hostility. Zionist activity was made a crime, punishable by severe penalties.

30,000-40,000 Iranian Jews emigrated to the United States, 20,000 to Israel, and 10,000 to Europe,  Many emigrants often left most of their property behind assuming  relatives would liquidate their assets.

The constitution dictates that the Islamic Republican government and Iranian Muslims must treat non-Muslims according to Muslim principles of ethics and justice. The community has continued administering its own schools, synagogues, and other institutions, including Jewish hospitals, nursing homes, cemeteries, and libraries.

Despite difficulties, most of the remaining Jews of Iran feel an unbreakable bond and continue to live there.

Today, Jews play a central role in the end times ideology of Iran's mullahs. They believe the Mahdi, or Islamic messiah, will return to earth, conquer Jerusalem, and massacre the Jewish inhabitants of Israel.

Former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani said that while Israel is a one-bomb country, Iran and the Islamic world could survive a nuclear exchange with the Jewish state.  According to this view, the heavy losses would be worth it for the greater good of wiping Israel off the map.


 

TIMELINE MAP OF
ANCIENT PERSIA TO IRAN
Light of Persia, 2009 (1.10)

IRANIAN JEWS TO ISRAEL:
OUR NATIONAL INDEMNITY
IS NOT FOR SALE
ARDESHIRAN, 2007 (9.27)  

BEING JEWISH
IN THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN
TheWindsorStar, 2013 (9.52)

HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN
ANCIENT IRAN
Resistance, 2011, (8.39)

WHY DO ISRAEL & IRAN
HATE EACH OTHER?
TestTube News, 2015 (4.53)

CLICK BUTTON TO GO TO SECTION

When "Persia" Became "Iran"

Jews of Iran: A Modern History:   Iranian Jewry under the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Ancient Hatred: Understanding Iran's War on Jews

How Iran’s Jews Survive in Mullahs’ World

Links

THE

INCREDIBLE

STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE


HOW IRAN'S ELECTION
COULD MAKE HISTORY
VOX 2016 (2.59)

2017

Timeline Map of
Ancient Persia to Iran
Light of Persia, 2009 (1.10)

WHY DO SAUDI ARABIA AND IRAN HATE EACH OTHER?
Now This World 2015 (3.02)

IRAN'S NUCLEAR HISTORY EXPLAINED
The Daily Conversation

2015 (14.07)