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Iranian Jews: an ancient but diminishing community

TEHRAN, June 10 (AFP) - Iran's Jewish community dates back more than 2,500 years but has been in steady decline since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Since the shah was toppled and the Islamic clergy severed ties with Israel, around 35,000 Jews have fled, leaving a population of about 27,000 in a country whose population is 99 percent Moslem.

However, Judaism is recognised by the Iranian constitution as an official minority religion alongside Christianity and Zoroastrianism.

According to the World Jewish Council, Tehran has three synagogues but there has been no rabbi since 1994.

Around half of the Jewish population lives in the capital, while the rest are concentrated in the southern city of Shiraz, Hamedan and Kermanshah in western Iran and the central cities of Kashan and Esfahan.

"The Jewish community of Persia, modern day Iran, is one of the oldest in the diaspora and its historical roots reach back to the 6th century BC," according to Jewish Communities of the World, a document published by the WJC.

"Their history intertwined with that of the Jews of neighbouring Babylon," it said.

A shrine in Hamedan commemorates Esther, a young Jewish woman who married Achaemenid King Xerxes five centuries before Christ, and convinced him to allow Jews to settle freely in the Persian empire.

After the creation of Israel in 1948, a first wave of Iranian Jews left the country for the new Jewish state, which enjoyed excellent relations with the imperial regime.

"With the 1979 Islamic revolution, a second wave of Iranian Jews fled provoking fears over the existence of this minority," according to the Atlas of Iran, published by Documentation Francaise, a French state reference organisation.

Jews have one member of parliament for 27,000 people, compared with the average for the rest of the population of one deputy for 220,000 people, according to the Iranian authorities.

"In certain cases, religious minorities even enjoy more rights than the majority of Moslems," the conservative Tehran Times newspaper said Thursday.


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