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Book review: History of Iranian Jews



Levy, Habib (1896-1984), Comprehensive History of the Jews of Iran: The Outset of the Diaspora, abridged and edited from the 3-volume 1960 Persian version by Hooshang Ebrami, translated into English by George W. Maschke, Mazda Publishers, 264 pp., 2005. [ISBN 1-56859-086-5]


In this review/summary/analysis, I have tried to give the reader a sense of the book''s content and how it relates to other sources on the subject. The review is much longer than my usual ones, primarily because the subject matter is of immense interest to me.


I started reading thebook, which covers the history of Iranian Jews up to and including the Pahlavi era, with the aim of learning about where Iranian Jews came from and how/when they settled in Kurdistan, the land of my ancestors. I also wanted to discover the root causes of anti-Semitism in Iran. The recent history of Iranian Jews during the Qajars and Pahlavis, where historical documents are abundant and thus the events are less open to speculation, wasn’t of as much interest to me. Therefore, I read the second half of the book, covering the latter eras, much less carefully.


Other than the book under review, sources for exploring the history of Jews in Iran are quite limited. One such source, which also cites other sources, is Wikipedia’s “History of the Jews in Iran”:


Among useful pieces of information provided by this article are estimates of the number of Jews in Iran at various times. For example, a 2012 census indicated a population of less than 9000, down from more than 100,000 in the late 1940s and 80,000 in the late 1970s, just before the Islamic Revolution.


Anti-Semitism in Iran has had its ups and downs, with periods of ethnic cleansing at one extreme and tolerance (particularly over the last century) at the other, but deep down, anti-Semitic feelings persist in a vast majority of Iranian Muslims. For example, over my own lifetime, educated Muslims have been outwardly tolerant of, and even cordial toward, Jews. But in private, where Jews are absent or unrecognized, many behave quite differently. In Iran, the politically correct terms for a Jew are “Kalimi” and “Yahudi,” but “Johud” is used to denigrate Jews (the latter, which came to be used during Shah Abbas II’s reign, is to the former as “nigger” is to “negro” and “African-American” in the US). Many Iranians use the politically correct terms in public, but switch to the denigrating term in private, particularly when telling jokes about Jews.


As a believer in the power of graphical aids in all fields of human communication, I was very disappointed with the total absence of maps and timelines in this book. The 16 pages of images, inserted between pages 348 and 349, are inadequate for a book of this size and scope, especially since most of them are inconsequential photos of individuals and social groups.


Thus, to make things clearer for myself and for the readers of this review, I have put together the accompanying diagram that shows the geographic distribution of the Israelites, my ancient ancestors of some 3100 years ago, alongside a timeline that I have constructed from the book under review and some external sources. Please bear in mind that dates associated with ancient history are approximate, as various sources tend to disagree. I tried to reconcile the dates on the timeline with The Oxford Handbook of Iranian History, a book about which I posted a review in late March 2013, but there were a number of irreconcilable differences; I chose to use dates from the current book in such cases.


Let’s start at the very beginning, when Israelites settled in the Holy Land (today’s Israel). The Israelites, who entered Egypt some 3500 years ago and were delivered by Moses in 1280 BCE, were descendants of Abraham, who was born near Basra 3600 years ago and migrated to Canaan at age 75. Abraham had 8 sons and a daughter, Dinah. His first son, Ishmael, was from Hagar; his second son, Isaac, was from Sarah; the other 6 sons were from Keturah. Isaac had 2 sons with Rebekah: Esau and Jacob. The Israelites were in Egypt for 210 years (some accounts, that appear less reasonable, indicate 430 years by adding the lifespans of Jacob’s son Levi, his son Kohath, his son Amram, and Moses, but this does not account for overlap between generations).


The 12 sons of Jacob, nicknamed “Children of Israel,” are said to have been patriarchs of tribes which were distributed in today’s Israel/Palestine according to the map. In actuality, it seems, the 12 tribes were not led by the 12 sons of Jacob, but by 10 of his sons and two of his grandsons whom he adopted as his own. Ten of these tribes, residing in the northern region of the Holy Land, later became known as the “lost tribes,” when they disappeared from the face of the earth around 720 BCE. Two of the tribes residing in the southern Judea region were captured and taken to Babylon. Babylon, the former hub of Judaism, was a province of Persia for more than 1000 years.


The 10 lost tribes were captured by the Assyrians and were taken, or were forced to go, to Samaria, Aleppo, Ninevah, Kurdistan, Azarbayjan, then to Gilan, Mazandaran, Gorgan, and Khorasan. The Judah and Benjamin tribes were captured by Babylonians and were taken from Jerusalem to Babylon, Elam, Shush, Stakhr, and Pasargadae, and later to Yazd, Kerman, Kashan, and Isfahan, and points further north and west. A traveler’s account around 1165 CE notes that Jews of Kurdistan and Azerbaijan speak the Syriac language, a dialect of Middle Aramaic. Benjamin of Tudela, the 12th-century traveler who visited Kurdistan in 1170, found more than 100 Jewish communities. Many Afghan Muslims are from the tribes of Israel who settled in the area during the reign of Cambyses and later converted to Islam.


The accounts in the preceding paragraphs provide some clues as to the origins of Kurdish Jews, but details are somewhat at odds with the information in Wikipedia’s “History of Jews in Kurdistan”:


The latter associates Kurdish Jews with the tribe of Benjamin. According to Wikipedia, genetic studies have shown that Kurdish Jews and Kurdish Muslims have common ancestors, which may indicate significant religious conversions in one or the other direction. Kurdish Jews, now mostly relocated to Israel, spoke a dialect of Aramaic that was at one time prevalent in today’s Middle East region and subsequently influenced Arabic.


The history of Iranian Jews during the Achaemenids is better documented than the periods before and immediately after, thanks in part to the account in the Old Testament and partly owing to extensive archeological discoveries from the period. Prophet Daniel’s role during the Mede’s rule (he is buried in Iran), Cyrus the Great’s liberation of Jews from Babylon, rebuilding of the Second Temple, and the story of Queen Esther (also buried in Iran, alongside her uncle Mordecai) are well-known.


According to Chapter 6, Iranian Jews lived in obscurity for 5.5 centuries, spanning the Greek rule and 470 years of Parthians. When Alexander destroyed Persepolis in 330 BC, the area’s Jewish inhabitants fled to nearby cities, possibly settling in Shiraz and Lar. Macedonians ruled both Judea and Iran; at that time, Jews adopted a new calendar, known as the Shetarot (covenant), whose starting point was 331 BCE, the year the Seleucus’ rule was firmly established. Under the Greek rule, Jews of Judea were divided into two factions: most of the well-to-do supported the Greek culture, which was violently opposed by the Hasidim.


With the fall of Judea, many Jews migrated toward Arabia, settling in an area that later became Medina. Iran’s western border during the Parthian period was the Euphrates River, making Iran and Judea not very far from each other. Many of the western provinces of Iran had large Jewish populations. In Mesopotamia and Babylon, there were regions were the entire population was Jewish. During this period, Iranian Jews constituted a council that was recognized by the Iranian state. The Jews had some level of autonomy in their affairs. A leader known as “resh galuta” (head of Jewish affairs) presided over the Jewish-Iranian community.


With the end of Arsacid dynasty, the Jews also abandoned their struggle for independence and freedom. During the reign of Anushirwan (531-579 CE), who was a fanatic Zoroastrian, some religious minorities, particularly the Mazdakites, were persecuted. During the Sasanid dynasty (400+ years), the Jews lost the broad freedoms they had enjoyed in the past. In 456, a decree was issued to ban the observance of Sabbath. A list of Jewish community leaders during the Sasanian period, from 210 to 520 CE (15-16 leaders, with average tenure of about 20 years) is provided on p. 131. The peak of the Sasanid persecution of the Jews occurred during the reign of Peroz (457-483). As Jews of Mesopotamia fled to Arabia, Jews of Eastern Iran fled to India and some went as far as China.


In 614 CE, Jerusalem was freed from the grip of the Byzantines by Iran. Later, Arabs ruled both Iran and Judea, so, in a sense Iran and Judea were part of the same empire. Early during the Islamic period, Zoroastrians mistreated Jews, because they considered followers of Muhammad and Moses of the same creed; so, when Muslims mistreated them, they retaliated against the weaker Jews. When Imam Ali conquered the city of Peroz Shapur, local Jews greeted him in drones. Ali accepted the Jewish community leader position and preserved it. During the Islamic caliphate, Jews pursued trades such as weaving, dye casting, goldsmithing, pharmacy, shopkeeping, and trading in spices and antiques. Continual reinstatements of dress codes for the Jews are indications that the codes were not uniformly enforced.


During the first six centuries of the Islamic Iran, the country’s Jews expanded eastward. There were significant populations of Jews in Nishapur, Balkh, Kabul, Sistan, Marv, Samarqand and Bokhara, stretching as far as China. The supremacy of Arabs over Iran lasted about two centuries. Afterwards, Iran was divided into 3 parts: One part was ruled by the caliphs of Baghdad, another by independence-seekers, and a third part by Iranian patriots. Khorasan and other eastern parts of the country remained beyond the Arab influence. From the advent of Islam in Iran, Jews were caught in the middle. They were required to pay jizya (an exorbitant annual poll tax) to Islamic rulers and whatever rebel group happened to be in their area also forced them to pay large sums of money for protection.


The Mongols were a brutal bunch, but I was surprised to find out that before attacking Iran, Genghis Khan sent a 100-person commercial and political delegation to Iran’s Sultan. The entire delegation was massacred before reaching the Sultan’s court, as was a group sent later to investigate the incident. These events enraged the Mongol Khan, and he unleashed his rage on Iran. Genghis died in 1227, leaving Iran in disarray for several decades. Genghis’ grandson Hulagu Khan attacked Iran in 1256, seizing land as far as Baghdad.


During the rule of the Seljuqs, religious tolerance came to an end in Iran and regulations, similar to those previously instituted by Umar, were put in place for non-Muslims. The restrictions and the extent of their enforcement evolved over time, but they included bans on praying aloud or living in houses that are higher than those of Muslims, and requirements for special clothing and footwear. Many members of religious minorities converted to Islam during this period to escape denigration and persecution. In 1026, wine taverns were closed, an action that would be repeated some two centuries later, causing Hafez to write: “They shut the doors of the tavern—God be not pleased / For they shall open the doors of the house of falsehood and hypocricy.”


درِ میخانه ببستند خدایا مپسند  /  که درِ خانه ی تزویر و ریا بگشایند


The vizier Nezam al-Mulk, in his book Siyasatnameh (“Book of Politics”), wrote that non-Muslims should not be appointed to state offices, although he maintained cordial relations with some Jewish financiers. Property confiscation from Jews was widely practiced during this period, causing Iran’s Jewish population to further decline due to migration and conversion. A prominent Jewish merchant, Banu Sahl al-Tustari, who migrated to Egypt during this period, attained high office there and became highly influential in the Egyptian government.


The Crusades took place from 1095 to 1270, devastating Iran and other lands in today’s Middle East. A false messiah appeared and became very influential in Kurdistan and Azerbaijan. Some of his followers remained loyal to him even after his death. A novel based on these real-life events was published by Benjamin Disraeli in the 1830s.


Traveler Benjamin of Tudela provides much information about Iranian Jews, including estimates of their numbers in Hamadan (30K), Shiraz (10K), Tabaristan (4K), Ghaznin (80K), Isfahan (15K), Amadiayah (25K), Susa (7K), and Samarqand (50K). For Azerbaijan and Rudbar, his estimates are in terms of communities (100 and 4, respectively), rather than numbers. Another Jewish traveler, Petahiah ben Joseph ha-Lavan, gave an estimate of 1.2M for the total number of Jews. Even if not quite accurate, these large numbers indicate that from that day until Iran of the Pahlavi era, many Jews must have fled Iran or converted to Islam to escape mistreatment. In addition, many Iranian Jews were killed in the east by the Crusaders and in the west by the Mongols.


At times during Iran’s history, such as during the Ilkhanid period, Jews rose to high offices. One well-known Jew of this period was the Judeo-Persian poet Shahin who put the Torah and Jewish tradition into verse in the style of classical Persian poets. The Safavid era (1501-1722) brought with it a revival of the arts and great achievements in architecture, but it also opened the country’s doors to European spies and intensified anti-Semitism, which climaxed amid religious wars among Sunnis and Shi’is, as well as among Muslims and non-Muslims.


Persecution occurred in some very weird combinations: Priests called Muslims and Jews infidels, while Mullahs in Spain declared Jews and Christians infidels. Ottomans killed Shi’is and Christians, but protected the Jews (the Ottoman Empire was one of the few remaining safe havens for European Jews); Iranians killed Sunnis and Jews, but not Christians. Anti-Semitic ideas were spread by European spies in Iran. The colonial powers of Europe also fueled the Shi’i-Sunni conflict, which occupied the Sunni Ottomans with the Shi’i Iran, preventing them from harboring expansionist thoughts toward Europe. The Ottoman, who initially protected Jews, eventually started to kill them.


Many Jews in Iran led dual religious lives, praying as Muslims in public and following Jewish traditions in private. Lack of leadership due to the Iranian Jews being cut off from their religious center in Baghdad contributed to the problems. The Safavid had a special bureau, Administration for Taxes on Non-Muslims, and other tools to coerce Jews into spying on their communities for the government. All these difficulties led to mass migration of Jews eastward and westward.


It is interesting, and disheartening, that the clearest descriptions of religious rituals (as well as social traditions) in the Middle East come from travelers, rather than local writers. One such traveler wrote about the king participating in Ashura ceremonies to make a public showing of his piety, and then holding private drinking parties with beautiful female dancers. Music was totally banned during the last years of the Safavid era.


Shah Abbas delegated domestic policy to Shi’i clerics and foreign policy to European agents, especially the Sherley brothers. He wanted to eliminate all Jews but the Shi’i clerics opposed this idea, convincing him to instead sign a 70-year contract with the Jews, compelling them to convert to Islam if the messiah did not appear during this time. Jews, who saw this contract as their only hope for survival, accepted. Sure enough, at the end of the 70-year period, a false messiah appeared, claiming to be the son of Solomon, who ruled the lost tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Mannaseh in the wilderness of Khabur. Desperate Jews embraced the messiah. He amassed such a large following that the Ottomans felt threatened, arrested him, and forced him to convert to Islam. This turn of events left the Jews heartbroken and drove them toward mass conversion to Islam to save their lives.


Anti-Semitism climaxed in Iran during the reign of Shah Abbas II. The mullahs were always busy devising regulations and restrictions against Jews. A list of 45 such restrictions, on pp. 293-295, shows the depth of anti-Semitism. Some of the most demeaning (not necessarily the most serious) examples include: (#3) The oath of a Jew is not admissible in court; (#10) Jews may not wear matching shoes; (#15) If a Muslim curses a Jew, the Jew must remain silent and bow his head; (#25) Jews may not buy fresh fruits; (#45) Jews must bow their heads when addressing Muslims. Safavid era anti-Semitism was so strong that it persisted even after that dynasty’s end.


Baba’i ibn Lutf was a Jewish poet who wrote in Persian verse, transcribed in Hebrew alphabet. He wrote about lives of Iranian Jews during the Safavid era, including their sufferings, forced conversions, and dual existence—living outwardly as Muslims and privately as practicing Jews. A grandson of Baba’i Lutf also versified the plight of Iranian Jews.


There were quite a few vengeful mullahs who wanted to make Jews suffer above and beyond the official Safavid policies. Jews on occasion went to government officials or the king himself to complain about their treatment by local mullahs, but they were often ridiculed or given the run-around. On the positive side for Jews, a few provincial rulers refused to enforce some of the more absurd restrictions in appearance and clothing, but they still favored distinguishing Jews from Muslims in some way. Shah Abbas II traveled to Kashan in 1659, where he lusted for a Jewish boy whom he saw briefly before the boy disappeared. The king’s men set out to find the boy, but to no avail, as his family hid him from sight. As a result, the king intensified his persecution of the Jews in Kashan, putting 150 to death in a single day. The boy was eventually found, and Shah Abbas II left Kashan with him.


The end of Safavid dynasty is often taken to be 1736; 1722 was the end of the reign of Shah Sultan Husayn. The four centuries since then have been tainted by many of the same policies that remain in tacit existence, even though they are no longer on the books. Nader Shah’s reign eased anti-Semitism to some extent, so that some Jews who had fled into mountains dared to return to their hometowns.


The Qajar’s rule constitutes one the darkest periods of Iranian history. Agha Muhammad Khan blinded tens of thousands, allowed his soldiers to rape women, and even killed or blinded some members of his own family. Shameful treaties were signed that gave away land and treasures to foreigners, especially Russia. Iran effectively became a colony, operated by Russia from the north and the British from the south. The kings, meanwhile, indulged themselves, while letting foreigners run the country. Fath Ali Shah had 157 wives. Clerics had unchecked powers, remnants of which allowed them to seize power after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The appearance of a Shiraz youth toward the end of the reign of Muhammad Shah caused quite a stir. The youth later became known as the “Bab” (literally “the gateway” to the Rightful Commander) who later founded the Baha’i faith. The Bab was initially arrested and exiled, and was eventually executed, after which his brothers took his place.


Late during the Qajar rule, what started as a revolt against giving the British the rights to cultivate and market tobacco in Iran turned into a full-blown Constitutional Revolution, with the constitutionalism decree issued by Muzaffar al-Din Shah in 1906.


During the Qajar period, clerics were again given free reign over domestic affairs, leading among other things to a renewal of anti-Semitism. Some forcefully converted Jewish groups, who had gone back to Judaism during the Afsharid dynasty, were forced to undergo a second wave of conversions. Late in the reign of Nasser al-Din Shah, however, European Jewish organizations intervened on behalf of Iranian Jews, leading to cosmetic improvements in their lives. During the reign of Fath Ali Shah, the pressures on, and mistreatment of, Jews reached inhumane levels, with Jewish women routinely violated and Jewish residences pillaged. Fath Ali Shah, meanwhile, selected attractive Jewish maidens and boys for his seraglio. Nasekh al-Tavarikh supplied the names of no fewer than 8 Jewish wives. Despite closing their eyes to the persecution of Jews, the Qajars did use the skills of Iranian and European Jews, who served as court physicians and musicians.


Other than mandatory conversions to Islam, there was one incentive that caused voluntary conversions: Eligibility to inherit the wealth of close and distant relatives. To escape persecution, many Jews converted to the Bha’i faith, a branch of Islam that purportedly showed respect for minority rights. During periods of greater religious extremism, when Muslims wouldn’t dare play music for fear of repercussions from the mullahs, Iranian Jews played a big part in preserving the country’s classical music.


Ephraim Neumark provided estimates of Iranian Jewish populations around 1883. According to him, there were around 6000 Jews in Tehran, 5000 in Shiraz, 2400 in Mashhad, 250 in Kermanshah, and 80 in Borujerd. He named other Iranian cities with Jewish communities, without referring to their populations. Based on these figures, it is unlikely that there were more than 50,000 Jews in Iran, about the same number as in the latter years of the Pahlavi dynasty. It is indeed a sad indication of Iran’s backwardness that we have had to rely on observations by foreign travelers to learn about our own historical facts.


Tabrizi Jews were massacred in the late 1820s. At the start of the Qajar period, an estimated 7000 Jews lived in Tabriz. A number of Christians and Muslims conspired against Jews by killing the child of a Muslim religious scholar and hiding his corpse in the house of a successful Jewish merchant, with help from one of his Christian employees. As a rule, when a Jew committed an offense, all Jews were accused of wrongdoing and suffered punishment. As rumors of the Jew’s crime spread, mobs set out to kill all Jews, with the massacre later spreading to other cities in Azerbaijan. Similar events would later take place in Mashhad and Tehran, with the latter incited by fabric merchants connected to Qajar royalty who did not want competition from many Jews who had chosen to trade in fabrics.


Jews of Tehran, like other cities, lived in a ghetto in cramped and unsanitary conditions, with water delivered to them only once every 6 months. Jews endured these awful living conditions, and the insults hurled at them by Muslims surrounding their ghetto, by resorting to their faith and sense of community. Riots against, and massacres of, Jews continued in many cities throughout the Qajar period.


Jews in Iran were in decline as European Jews prospered following the French Revolution. Establishment of the Universal Israelite Alliance (known briefly as “Alliance,” and pronounced in French by Iranians) raised hopes for Iranian Jews and provided them with practical assistance in various domains. For example, Alliance schools were built in Iran (first one opening in Tehran in 1898) and Qajar kings, who were under the influence of their European advisors, were persuaded to protect Iranian Jews, but the kings had little sway over the anti-Semite mullahs.


Bigotry and anti-Semitism in Iran formed one of the major discussion foci of the Alliance in Europe. They brought up these matters with Nasir al-Din Shah during his visit to Paris and via a continuous stream of correspondence later on. The same topics were discussed with the king during his London visit. To ensure that the king would not renege on his promises to protect Jews, and to inform Iranian Jews of their rights, the Alliance published all its correspondence with Iranian authorities and distributed them (with Hebrew translation for those who did not read English or French) among Iranian Jews.


The Anglo-Persian agreement of 1919 placed all military and financial affairs of the country under the control of British advisors. In a 1921 coup, Reza Khan seized the command of the armed forces. In 1925, Ahmad Shah was deposed and was replaced by Reza Shah, who ruled Iran until 1941. He sidelined the clerics and allied with Germany during WW II. When Reza Shah refused a proposal to build a north-south railroad to help the allies, the British and Russians attacked Iran and deposed him in 1941, replacing him with his young son Mohammad Reza, who ruled until 1979.


Official persecution of Jews stopped during the Pahlavi dynasty, even during the final years of Reza Shah, when his German advisors exerted a great deal of influence in Iran. However, roots of anti-Semitism were too strong to die out. So, Jews continued to suffer in the hands of anti-constitutional clerics and their thugs/mobs.


When Jews were given the chance of having a representative in the parliament, they failed to elect leaders who would work to improve their condition, opting instead for conservative yes-men, who did not believe in rocking the boat. Enemies of constitutionalism portrayed the liberation movement and the secular justice system as a plot by Jews and Bha’is.


The embattled Jews of Shiraz came very close to being completely wiped out, but intervention by Alliance officials saved them. In those days, anyone could accuse a Jewish man of having relations with a Muslim woman, thus getting him killed, his relatives abused, and his house looted, all without a need for any proof. This was a common way of blackmailing Jews. With the slightest excuse, the mullahs called for riots against Jews in Tabriz, Tehran, and other cities, killing many and plundering their houses and shops. According to the author, many of the riots against the Jews were incited by European agents to scare off American investors, by portraying Iran as highly uncivilized and unsafe.


In 1895, mass immigration of Iranian Jews to Jerusalem began. In the 20th century, Iranian Jews continued their immigration to the Holy Land in large numbers, particularly after the establishment of the state of Israel.


The history and troubles of Kurdish Jews were of particular interest to me, given that my ancestors lived in Kurdistan. An anti-Semitic attack in 1950 killed a dozen Jews in Kurdistan. The government was quick in quelling the disturbance and in helping Jews to move to Tehran or immigrate to Israel. The group included a number of farmers, who are considered the last Iranian Jews to be employed in agriculture.


Even though Jews of Iran faced many common problems, they were also disunited on the question of leadership and on whether Jews should try to influence national politics. Involvement in politics was against the tradition of cautious conservatism. Several Jewish representatives to the parliament kept being elected term after term, despite being highly ineffective in performing their function.


Chapter 30 about two opposing community leaders, Shemuel Haim and Loghman Nehurai, is too detailed, describing every disagreement and name-calling. There is no overall analysis of the underlying causes, although the reader gathers that this was a left-versus-right dispute. Perhaps one reason for the distracting details is the author’s personal involvement in this part of the history, which makes some of the assertions a tad suspicious.


Because Reza Shah sidelined the clerics who incited ignorant masses, the status of Iranian Jews generally improved during the Pahlavi era, although sporadic incidents persisted. Given their suffering prior to the Pahlavi dynasty, Jews remained loyal to Reza Shah and his son, which increased the suspicion and distrust of the religious masses in the period leading to the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Shortly after the rise of Hitler to power, the newspaper Kushesh published anti-Semitic articles that blamed Jews for all economic and social ills in the country. These articles, published on September 4 and 5, 1933, marked the beginning of a destructive propaganda against Jews.


When Hitler’s forces pushed into southern Russia, a number of Jewish children were rescued and brought to Tehran (the so-called “Chidren of Tehran”) for eventual resettlement in the Holy Land. This episode might be viewed as an omen of the future relationship between Iran and Israel, beginning in the 1960s.


Educational and other opportunities increased for Jews after the end of WW II, but their disunity persisted, causing many of their common problems to remain unsolved.


Iran began diplomatic relations with Israel in 1950, but in 1951, Mosaddegh, who was seeking Arab support for his nationalization of the oil industry, recalled Iran’s representative. The support did not materialize and later Egypt began an anti-Iranian campaign in the Persian Gulf. Finally, in 1960, Iran’s king recognized Israel and affirmed its right to existence, infuriating Egypt and other Arab countries. Economic cooperation as well as cultural and educational exchanges between the two countries ensued.


Jews began leaving Iran en mass in the years leading to the Islamic Revolution and for several years afterwards. Currently, it is estimated that fewer than 9000 Jews live in Iran, predominantly in Tehran, but also in Isfahan, Shiraz, and a few other cities. Iranian Jews have been scattered all around the world, with a great majority residing in Israel and United States.


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Many thanks for this thumbnail history of Iranian Jewry. I hope and pray the day will come when all of these threats and tensions cease and a new history of friendship and cooperation between the Iranian and Jewish peoples and states arises anew. There is no reason for this enmity and we should all work to put it behind us, so that we can cooperate in the fields of medicine, science and technology for a better future for us all.



In my final post on this article, I thank all those who commented. As I am writing this note, the review has garnered 3883 views, 58 comments, 33 Facebook shares, and 3 tweets. As usual for this site, we see a mix of comments by those who try to enlighten and add to the discourse, alongside hateful/irrelevant musings. The latter group, perhaps unknowingly, confirm some of the points made in the book and my review of it. Two useful sources mentioned in the new comments are Iran Nameh and Iran Shenasi, whose links I have included below. The latter has an article entitled “Judeo-Persian Communities of Iran” (see the third link).


farhangpooya In all situations, in or outside power, social problems require social solutions (در همه شرايط، در حاكميت و يا خارج از حاكميت، مشكلات اجتماعى راه حل هاى اجتماعى طلب مى كنند)

Thank you for the detailed article.
What amazes is that extreme measures and suppression of Jewish community in. Europe, Russia, Iran and other parts of the world has produced extreme and diverse reactions. On the one hand you see the community produces individuals like Karl Marx, Chaplin, Chomsky and on the other hand notorious and brutal righ wing groups who want to annihilate the whole world just like Hitler did. The successive governments in Israel including the monster who recently died and the current prime minister are good examples of brutal extreme right wingers in the Jewish community.
I admire the likes of Chomsky and hope more of these individual will emerge from the Jewish community.


mahmood delkhasteh

You argued:"I also wanted to discover the root causes of anti-Semitism in Iran." Your premise is wrong. anti-Semitism is western phenomena wide spread in Europe which led to the countless pogroms and massacres of Jews. The final solution of Hitler was only the last in the long line of attempt to annihilate Jews in Europe. You can't find anything even remotely close to it in Iran.

You can use words like 'bias' or even 'distaste' among some sections of Iranian society, but you can't use such strong and super loaded word which only make sense in the wet.


Zendanian An injury to one is an injury to all.

Mahmood khan have you ever heard of or been to the Jewish neighborhood (ghetto) of Shiraz.
The Jewish houses in that area had a certain "attraction" for devoted young (and old) Muslim men to piss on them.
The maltreatment of our Jewish compatriots in Shiraz is notorious, well documented, and extensive. Alas this maltreatment of Jewish population in Iran is not confined to only Shiraz.
But of course it's not anti- Jewishness, just bad bladder!


P_J. An Iranian!

If true, it is shameful! Since Iranian Jewry is one of the oldest populations living in Iran, and by that, they are more Iranian that most of us. I, also, thought as Mahmood did, that anti Zionism had its primary roots in the West!


Zendanian An injury to one is an injury to all.

P_J jan, sorry to inform you that there's no question of "if," but extensively documented pattern of behavior towards the Jewish minority. Compared to our abuse & prejudice against Baha'is it might look pale, but there's no ifs and buts about it.
It's high noon for all of us to confront racism, prejudice & bias against any & all minorities in Iran. Cheers


P_J. An Iranian!

Dear Z,

I believe you and I am stunned by it! It should have never happened. Hopefully we build a better future for all parties involved!


Zendanian An injury to one is an injury to all.

در کتاب "تاریخ زبان فارسی" نبشته پرویز ناتل خانلری اشاره، عکس و مدرکی است از زبان پارسی‌ به خط عبری در دوران ماقبل هخاهمنشی.
آیا نویسنده ی‌ این مقاله یا برخی‌ از دوستان در این مورد اطلاعی دارند ؟



Quick check through Khanlari's vol. 1 @
I didn't notice any references to Persian w/ Hebrew alphabet in Ch. 2, which is on pre-Islamic Iranian languages. I only noticed mention of Hebrew documents in Ch. 4, sect. 2, which is on "Persian in non-Arabic writings," going back about 1300 years ago. Can you point to the page where mention of a pre-Achaemenid Hebrew document is made?


Zendanian An injury to one is an injury to all.

Thanks for the link. I've put most of the books I don't use that much in boxes, in the basement & attic, and now I can't find anything!
What I cited before was from memory of the last time I glanced through that book, before boxing it. I distinctly recall a photo of an old document of Persian in pre-Islamic writing. Now I must find the book, if I can! Thanks again for the link. Cheers



The online version of Khanlari's book that I linked to has clear text but many of the pictures are unclear, so I can't make out some of the pics. But I didn't see any of the captions for the pics refer to Hebrew in the pre-Achaemenid period (nor did I see it in the text). This website also doesn't mention documents from that early on:
However, I very vaguely remember an article by Matin-Daftari (don't recall 1st name) in the journal Iran Nameh from the early 1980s on Judeo-Persian, which I thought referred to Persian in Hebrew alphabet from a couple of thousand years ago. I can't find the article now and I could be misremembering.


Zendanian An injury to one is an injury to all.

Maghshosh jan thanks for your continued research & also reminding me of those Iranian studies journals. Iran Nameh was a very valuable resource for historical research on Iran. So was Iran Shenasi (another journal of scholarly research on Iranian history & culture). Haven't seen those two journals for a long while. Thanx again for the reminder.



bparhami has linked to Iran Nameh's website, but they haven't archived the article I was mentioning. However, I found it & its from the year 1, number 3, spring 1362 issue, titled
"(Judeo-Persian) اهمیت آثار ادبی فارسی یهودیان"
by Jalal Matini. As far as the earliest Persian documents in Hebrew alphabet, its information is consistent w/ what was mentioned above: Persian documents in Hebrew alphabet predate such documents in Arabic alphabet, and earliest-found Hebrew-alphabet document is from 8th century CE. The rest of the article, which I haven't reread yet, talks about Judeo-Persian literary works, such as Ardeshirnameh, which is Shahnameh-style adaptation of Jewish mythologies, and works of Omrani & others.


Zendanian An injury to one is an injury to all.

Yes I saw it, and thanks for the info from Matini's article. Still haven't located Khanlary's book in the mess of boxes here, but the few lines you quoted from that article confirms my vague recollection of the picture in the first volume of those books; Persian texts in Hebrew alphabet predates Persian texts in Arabic alphabet.

P.S. Are Iran Shenasi & Iran Nameh still in business? There was also another journal in English "Iranian Studies." Haven't seen any of the three in a long while.


dohelzen منم آن مست دهلزن که شدم مست به میدان دهل خویش چو پرچم به سر نیزه ببستم

Jewish cannibalism


iraj khan Peace Is The Way

I started to read the above article but soon I was presented by mythology as historical facts, the article states:

"Let’s start at the very beginning, when Israelites settled in the Holy Land (today’s Israel). The Israelites, who entered Egypt some 3500 years ago and were delivered by Moses in 1280 BCE, were descendants of Abraham, who was born near Basra 3600 years ago and migrated to Canaan at age 75. Abraham had 8 sons..etc."

I lost interest right then, but I did glance over the article and did read some of the atrocities committed against Jews. But it also made me think:

"Jews of Israel are committing the same crimes against the Native Palestinians. They killed the natives, destroyed their houses, pushed them out of their land and into concentration camps."
Why don't they stop making illegal settlements on native Palestinians land by pushing them out?
Why are Israelis keeping tens of thousands Palestinians in their notorious prisons for political reason, many under the age of 18 and as young as 12 years old?
Why are they starving the Palestinian refugees in Gaza whose towns and villages were occupied by the Israelis and they were driven away from their homes?

Jews of Israel and their supporters are not doing any better than those who they are complaining about.


choghok Your enemie's enemy is necessarily not a friend.

I have been interested in Iran history so I have read some articles about Jewish history in Iran.
I read some stories like the stories written above, but the bad thing is that the stories are almost all written by foreigners who might have had their own agenda. What I would like is to gather stories written by Iranians, no matter if Muslim or Jew. Also one thing that is always intriguing in the stories is how come that chingiz khan kills millions of Iranians and then is seen as tolerant in the stories I have read. Or how come that although shah abbas build Isfahan and brought Jews there to help him with finance could be intolerant? Or how come Jews under such heavy inhumane discrimination can accumulate wealth so that many of wealthy families in Iran used to be Jewish?

There are many things that does not add up. No doubt there were discriminated but some stories are not correct. Also, when writing an article please give reference to its sources



-- The rulers of the Mongol Empire were generally tolerant of the religions of societies they conquered:
-- Shah Abbas changed his attitude towards the Jews later on partly due to pressure from the clergy:
-- When was it "that many of wealthy families in Iran used to be Jewish?" The most prosperous time for Jews of Iran in recent centuries, I believe, has been the Pahlavi era, when they were allowed to largely integrate into the general society. But I don't know of any statistics about their wealth.



You must read history of Islam. Prophet Mohammad has been stoned by jews as he was running in an ally surrounded by jews 1400 years ago. Prophet referred to that day as "the worst day of his life". The hate from jews by muslims started from that day and continued throughout centuries. That is "Multi generational transitional hate". That historical hate has nothing to do with ongoing Palestinian issue.
Christianity is also carry hate against jews since Jesus was betrayed by jews for crucification. The degree of hate among muslims is much higher than Christians because Christianity believe in "forgiveness" whereas Islam believe in "retaliation". Eye for eye and tooth for tooth had been promoted both in Islam and Judaism
The story of prophet Mohammad was portrait in the movie by the name of "The messenger". The Arabs made that movie, NOT Persians.



Thanks to all readers who commented on this first day of my post (as of 10:00 PM). Here are brief points in response to some of the comments.

Choghok: The book under review is history written by an Iranian scholar, using both Iranian and foreign sources. My article is not a contribution to history, but a book review. Other than the book itself, I used two Wikipedia articles that I have cited.

M. Delkhasteh: The prefix “anti” means “against,” so its use does not require extreme hostility (e.g., antilock brakes).

Zendanian: Thanks for pointing out that many Iranian Jews dwell in ghettos and even there, aren’t allowed to live in peace. I don’t know about the document from Natel Khanlari’s book that you mention. If I find out, I will post a comment here.


Zendanian An injury to one is an injury to all.

Many Iranian Jews have also converted to Shia in Iran. The largest conversion was in Mashhad in late 1800 hundreds.
In Portugal and Spain we also had the same process of forced assimilation with the products called the "New Christians," as depicted in Richard Zimler's "The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon." In Mashhad they new convertors were called "New Muslims," and we don't have a novel about them yet.
Just in case you have access to that three volume history from Khanlary, volume one is where I cited the picture and text.
We would be remiss not to mention "On The Jewish Question."


dohelzen منم آن مست دهلزن که شدم مست به میدان دهل خویش چو پرچم به سر نیزه ببستم

اﺳﻄﻮره ﺑﻨﯿﺎن ﻫﺎ و ﯾﻬﻮد ﻫﺎی اﻧﺪﯾﺸﻪ ﺳﯿﺎﺳﯽ

بعد از مرگ یوسف ق بیله او م یان دو پسرش تقس یم شد و دو ق بیله مناسه و افرا ئیم
به وجود آم د. مناسه و افرا ئیم قدرتمندتر ین و ثروتمندتر ین قبا ی ل بن ی اسرا ئیل بودند و ..

سال 928 پیش از م یلاد قوم ب نی اسرائیل به دو دولت تقس یم شد ک ه با هم اختلاف و
تعارض داشتند : یکی دولت مستقر در اراض ی شما لی بود ک ه ده ق بیله بن ی اسرا ئیل
به رهبری سبط افرا ئیم و خاندان یوسف تأس یس کردند و د یگری دول تی بود که به وس یله
قبایل یهودا و ب نیامین ایجاد شد و رهبر ی آن با سبط یهودا بود

از ای ن پس تار یخ
بنی اسرائیل را اختلاف و رقابت و جنگ م ی ان ای ن دو دولت، و به تع بی ری می ان دو
خاندان یوسف و یهودا، رقم م ی زند

کهن ترین کتیبه ای که به دست آمده و نام شاه ی از بن ی اسرا ئیل در آن
درج شده، لوح استوانه ای شلمنصر سوم، پادشاه آشور، است . جالب است بدا نیم که این
قدیم یترین کتیبه ای است که نام شاه ی از عرب نیز در آن یافت شده است . ای ن کتیبه
نشان م ی دهد که دوازده ح کمران دولت های شرق مدیترانه، به رهبر ی بن حدد (شاه
آرامی دمشق )، اتحاد یه ای عل یه امپراتور ی توسعه طلب آشور ایجاد کرده بودند . یکی از
آن ها اخاب اسرا ئیلی است و دیگری جندب عرب . در این کتیبه نام ی از دولت و شاه
یهود در میان نیست و این نشان می دهد که در آن زمان دولت یهودیه اهمیتی نداشت

با شروع توسعه طلبی امپراتور ی آشور به سمت غرب، دولت یهود رو ی ه ای خائنانه
علیه دولت قبا یل ده گانه شما لی ب نی اسرائیل و دولت آرام ی دمشق در پیش گرفت، خود
را به آشور نزد یک کرد و سرانجام آشور را به حمله به دولت ها ی دمشق و افرا ئیم
تحریک نمود . ابتدا، در سال 732 پیش از میلاد، دمشق به تصرف آشور ی ها درآمد و
مردم آن به اسارت درآمدند و سپس، در سال 720 پ یش از م یلاد، در زمان سلطنت
سارگون د  وم در آشور ، به ح یات دولت افرا ئیم پا یان داده شد . به این تر تی ب، با توطئه
سران ق بیله یهودا ده ق بیله ب نی اسرائیل سرنوش تی شوم یافتند . بخش ی از س کنه دولت
افرائیم و شهر سامر یه، که کتیبه ها ی آشور ی شمار آن ها را 27290 نفر ذ ک ر ک رده،

بخش بزرگ تری از آن ها به عنوان اس یر و برده در ز یر ی وغ و سلطه دولت یهود قرار
گرفتند. بعدها هم در متون عهد ع تیق و هم در فقه تلمود ی با مفاهیم ”غلام عبران ی“ و
”کنیز عبرا نیه“ مواجه می شویم. منظور همان اعضای سایر قبایل بنی اسرائیل است ک ه به
اسارت یهودیان درآمده اند