A David Rahni’s Review on the Book
Comprehensive History of THE JEWS OF IRAN
The outset of the Diaspora by H. Levy available from Mazda Publishing
(ISBN 1-568-59086-5, 1999)
I had actually read the original Persian version of the book, Comprehensive History of Jews of Iran years ago; nonetheless, it was quite enlightening now to re-read it in English with nostalgic reminiscences. So, notwithstanding the much heated (mostly baseless) rhetoric by a few self-serving politicians from all sides, let me share with you a select digest of highlights of the Book, which clearly demonstrate the deeply sustained lives of Jewish people of Iran and the rest of the population there for at least three millennia. A highly popular TV sitcom in Iran called Zero Degree Turn, that has currently captivated the whole country Monday evenings during its broadcast, is a self testimonial to such deep relationship (watch several segments on Youtube at //www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQnlAerDSj0 ). An avid reader should also refer to the Center for Iranian Jewish History .
The highlights of the Book are as follows:
1. The Iranian Jewish history coincides with the time of the arrival of the Aryan tribes (The Persians, the Medes and the Partians) in the Iranian plateau, a little over 3000 years ago.
2. The exodus of the Babylonian Jews into Iran coincides with their Exodus from Egypt in the same era.
3. The multi-faceted contributions of Jews of Iran toward the civilization Iran, is brought out in the Bible and other narratives of the past several millennia.
4. Perhaps as many as one-third of Iranians throughout the 14th century, were of Jewish faith, the other Iranians were one-third Moslem and the remaining one-third, Zoroastrian (believed to be the first monotheistic religion), as narrated by the European Orientalist travelers of the time.
5. Cyrus the Great, the Persian King of the Achaemenid Dynasty, is cited on multiple times in the Old Testament, and his royal successors provided long standing refuge to people of Jewish faith in all region of Iran. Cyrus, after he conquered Jerusalem invited all Jewish people, if they wished, to return to rebuild the second temple (Book of Ezra). The First Declaration of Human Rights Tablet by Cyrus is kept at the United Nations. (The first temple had been burned down before Cyrus by Nebukenezer, the King of the Babylon).
6. Through intermarriages, voluntary and involuntary conversions to Islam, and in the past 150 years to Baha'ism, there are hardly any discernable genetic bio-markers, albeit phenotypic distinctions that identify amongst Iranians of Jewish, Moslem, Baha'i, Zoroastrian or Armenian descent. They are all look alike, in almost all cases are of the same stock, and they follow a set of Iranian cultural norms that has extended for several thousand years in the region.
7. There are historical and contemporary evidence of vibrant Jewish life in major cities of Iran such as Susa, Hamedon, Kashan, Neishapur, Tus, Rey, Mash-had, Shiraz, Esfahan, Tehran, Toyserkan; the same is (was) also evident in Iranian cities of the past--that are currently in other countries--like Baku, Samarghand, Bukhara, Merv, Herat, and Tashkent. The book presents certain evidence to conclude that up to ten of the twelve Jewish tribes must have been integrated into the Iranian populations over time.
7. Despite periodical inequalities and injustices inflicted on the Iranian Jews, there has never been any state sponsored or clan instigating directed persecutions against anyone especially none evidence of against the Jewish people.
8. The Book illustrates that there are more Jewish relics, monuments, prophets, celebrations (e.g., Hanukah and Purim), etc. in Iran than anywhere else in the world.
9. The Book highlights the substantive contributions of Iranian Jews in every field, ranging from government to trade and banking, and arts and sciences, literature and poetry, logic and ethics, etc.
10. The presence of Iranian scholars, Jew and Moslem alike, in the Moslem governing courts of Spain circa 750-1300, Baghdad and Damascus circa 800-1500, and the Ottoman’s Constantinople circa 1500-1900, is concretely documented. The origin of the Talmud is said to date back to Persia, circa 550 COE in the Sassanid Dynasty reign.
11. Many duly recognized Jewish prophets, leaders and royalties were Iranian in history. Names such as Daniel, Esther and Mordecai are just a few who come to mind and whose resting places are still revered by all Iranians.
12. In 1979, there were well over 100,000 Iranian Jews in Iran. Just as the three plus million Moslem Iranians including one million in the U.S. alone left, more than half the Jewish population immigrated to the U.S. and Israel as well. However, there are still 30,000 Iranian Jews living in Iran. An earlier Iranian Jewish migration to Israel at or a bit after the Independence of Israel had also occurred, thereby making the current Israelis of Iranian ancestry up to 300,000. They do have an elected member of the Iranian Parliament, as do the Armenians, the Assyrians and Zoroastrians. In fact, Iran still ranks second in the Middle East and the third worldwide, when it comes to its citizens of Jewish heritage.
So, I would once again recommend purchasing and reading the Book, and furthermore, encourage its acquisitions by public and college libraries. Educators can use it as an assigned reading supplement to appropriate courses.
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