Persian Jews

Persian Jews

ethnic group
group=Iranian Jews

poptime= 'Persian Jews'250,000 to '350,000' (est.)
region1 = flagcountry|Israel
pop1 = 135,000-200,000 (including Kurdish-Iranian Jews)
region2 = flagcountry|United States
pop2 = 100,000
region3 = flagcountry|Iran
pop3 = ~25,000
region4 =flagcountry|Australia
region5 =flagcountry|Canada
region6 =Theflagcountry|Commonwealth of Independent States
pop6 = >1000
region7 =flagcountry|India
pop7= >200
region8 =flagcountry|European Union
pop 8 =N/A
region9 =flag|Brazil
region11 =flag|United Arab Emirates
region12 =flagcountry|Afghanistan
pop 12= 1
langs=Persian languages, Hebrew, Judeo-Aramaic language
related=Bukharan Jews, Kurdish Jews, Mountain Jews, Mizrahi Jews, Persians, Jews

Iranian diaspora
Jews and Judaism sidebar

Persian Jews or Iranian Jews are Jews historically associated with the Persian Empire or Iran.

Judaism is one of the oldest religions practiced in Iran and dates back to the late biblical times. The biblical books of Isaiah, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles, and Esther contain references to the life and experiences of Jews in Persia.

Today, the largest groups of Jews from Persia are found in Israel, which in 1993 was home to 75,000 people, including second-generation Israelis. [Harvard reference|Surname=Yegar|Given=M|authorlink= |Year=1993|Title=Jews of Iran|Journal=The Scribe|volume= |Issue=58|Pages=2|URL= In recent years, Persian Jews have been well-assimilated into the Israeli population, so that more accurate data is hard to obtain.] and the United States, which is home to a community of some 100,000 people - especially in the Los Angeles area and Great Neck, New York. Those in Los Angeles have settled mostly in the Westside upper class neighborhoods of Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Santa Monica, Westwood, and West L.A. They make up at least a fifth of the resident population of Beverly Hills, and a third of the student body at the local high school. [,0,7972368.story?track=rss] []

The current Jewish population of Iran is about 25,000, [citeweb|url=|title=Iran Jewish leader calls recent mass aliyah 'misinformation' bid|publisher] [citeweb|url=,7340,L-3540651,00.html|title=,7340,L-3540651,00.html|title=Iran Jewish MP criticizes 'anti-human' Israel acts|publisher=Ynet|date=5.7.2008] [citeweb|url=|title=Iran's proud but discreet Jews|publisher=BBC|date=2006-09-22] though estimates vary. Notable population centers include Tehran, Isfahan, and Shiraz. Historically, Jews maintained a presence in many more Iranian cities, and Jews are protected in the Iranian constitution. [citeweb|url=|title=Iran Jewish leader calls recent mass aliyah 'misinformation' bid|publisher] Iran supports, by far, the largest Jewish population of any Muslim-majority country, [ IRAN: Life of Jews Living in Iran] ] and it is home to the largest Jewish population in the Middle East after Israel.

There are also smaller communities in Western Europe, Australia, and Canada. A number of groups of Jews of Persia have split off since ancient times. They are now recognized as separate communities, such as the Bukharian Jews and Mountain Jews. In addition, there are several thousand in Iran who are, or who are the direct descendants of, Jews who have converted to Islam and the Bahá'í Faith [ [ The Conversion of Religious Minorities to the Bahá'í Faith in Iran] ] .


Today the term "Iranian Jews" is mostly used to refer to Jews from the country of Iran, but in various scholarly and historical texts, the term is used to refer to Jews who speak various Iranian languages. Persians in Israel (virtually all of whom are Jewish) are referred to as "Parsim" ( _he. פרסים meaning "Persians"). Jews in Iran (and Jewish people in general) are referred to by four common terms: "Kalimi", which is considered the most proper term, "Yahudi or Pejmani", which is less formal but correct, "Israel" the term by which the Jews refer to themselves, and "Jood" or "Johood", a term having negative connotations considered by many Jews as offensive.


The beginnings of Jewish history in Iran date back to late biblical times. The biblical books of Isaiah, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles, and Esther contain references to the life and experiences of Jews in Persia. In the book of Ezra, the Persian kings are credited with permitting and enabling the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their Temple; its reconstruction was affected "according to the decree of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia" (Ezra 6:14). This great event in Jewish history took place in the late sixth century BCE, by which time there was a well-established and influential Jewish community in Persia.

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

Some of the communities have been isolated from other Jewish communities, to the extent that their classification as "Persian Jews" is a matter of linguistic or geographical convenience rather than actual historical relationship with one another. During the peak of the Persian Empire, Jews are thought to have comprised as much as 20% of the population. []

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 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." []

Cyrus the Great and Jews

Three times during the 6th century BCE, the Jews (Hebrews) of the ancient Kingdom of Judah were exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. These three separate occasions are mentioned in Jeremiah (52:28-30). The first exile was in the time of Jehoiachin in 597 BCE, when the Temple of Jerusalem was partially despoiled and a number of the leading citizens removed. After eleven years (in the reign of Zedekiah) a fresh rising of the Judaeans occurred; the city was razed to the ground, and a further deportation ensued. Finally, five years later, Jeremiah records a third captivity. After the overthrow of Babylonia by the Persian (Iranian) Achaemenid Empire, Cyrus the Great allowed the Jews to return to their native land (537 BCE), and more than forty thousand are said to have done so, (See Jehoiakim; Ezra; Nehemiah and Jews). Cyrus also allowed them to practice their religion freely (See Cyrus Cylinder) unlike the previous Assyrian and Babylonian rulers.

econd temple

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

Haman and Jews

According to the Book of Esther, in the Tanakh, Haman was an Agagite noble and vizier of the empire under Persian King Ahasuerus, generally identified by Biblical scholars as possibly being Xerxes I (Son of Darius the Great) in 6th century BCE. Haman and his wife Zeresh instigated a plot to kill all the Jews of ancient Persia. The plot was foiled by Queen Esther, Queen of Persia; and as a result, Haman and his ten sons were hanged. The events of the Book of Esther are celebrated as the holiday of Purim.

Parthian period

Jewish sources contain no mention of the Parthian influence; the very name "Parthia" does not occur. The Armenian prince Sanatroces, of the royal house of the Arsacides, is mentioned in the "Small Chronicle" as one of the successors (diadochoi) of Alexander. Among other Asiatic princes, the Roman rescript in favor of the Jews reached Arsaces as well (I Macc. xv. 22); it is not, however, specified which Arsaces. Not long after this, the Partho-Babylonian country was trodden by the army of a Jewish prince; the Syrian king, Antiochus Sidetes, marched, in company with Hyrcanus I., against the Parthians; and when the allied armies defeated the Parthians (129 BC) at the River Zab (Lycus), the king ordered a halt of two days on account of the Jewish Sabbath and Feast of Weeks. In 40 BC the Jewish puppet-king, Hyrcanus II., fell into the hands of the Parthians, who, according to their custom, cut off his ears in order to render him unfit for rulership. The Jews of Babylonia, it seems, had the intention of founding a high-priesthood for the exiled Hyrcanus, which they would have made quite independent of the Land of Israel. But the reverse was to come about: the Judeans received a Babylonian, Ananel by name, as their high priest which indicates the importance enjoyed by the Jews of Babylonia. Still in religious matters the Babylonians, as indeed the whole diaspora, were in many regards dependent upon the Land of Israel. They went on pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the festivals.

The Parthian Empire was an enduring empire that was based on a loosely configured system of vassal kings. Certainly this lack of a rigidly centralized rule over the empire had its draw backs, such as the rise of a Jewish robber-state in Nehardea (see Anilai and Asinai). Yet, the tolerance of the Arsacid dynasty was as legendary as the first Persian dynasty, the Achaemenids. There is even an account that indicates the conversion of a small number of Parthian vassal kings of Adiabene to Judaism. These instances and others show not only the tolerance of Parthian kings, but is also a testament to the extent at which the Parthians saw themselves as the heir to the preceding empire of Cyrus the Great. So protective were the Parthians of the minority over whom they ruled, that an old Jewish saying indicates, "“When you see a Parthian charger tied up to a tomb-stone in the Land of Israel, the hour of the Messiah will be near”". The Babylonian Jews wanted to fight in common cause with their Judean brethren against Vespasian; but it was not until the Romans waged war under Trajan against Parthia that they made their hatred felt; so, that it was in a great measure owing to the revolt of the Babylonian Jews that the Romans did not become masters of Babylonia too. Philo speaks of the large number of Jews resident in that country, a population which was no doubt considerably swelled by new immigrants after the destruction of Jerusalem. Accustomed in Jerusalem from early times to look to the east for help, and aware, as the Roman procurator Petronius was, that the Jews of Babylon could render effectual assistance, Babylonia became with the fall of Jerusalem the very bulwark of Judaism. The collapse of the Bar Kochba revolt no doubt added to the number of Jewish refugees in Babylon.

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

assanid period (226–634CE)

By the early Third Century, Persian influences were on the rise again. In the winter of 226 CE, Ardashir I overthrew the last Parthian king (Artabanus IV), destroyed the rule of the Arsacids, and founded the illustrious dynasty of the Sassanids. While Hellenistic influence had been felt amongst the religiously tolerant Parthians, [ [] (see esp para's 3 and 5] [ [] (see esp para. 2)] [ [] (see esp para. 20)] the Sassanids intensified the Persian side of life, favored the Pahlavi language, and restored the old monotheistic religion of Zoroastrianism which became the official state religion. [ [ Art & Culture ] ] This resulted in the suppression of other religions. [ [] (see esp para. 5)] A priestly Zoroastrian inscription from the time of King Bahram II (276–293 CE) contains a list of religions (including Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism etc.) that Sassanid rule claimed to have "smashed". [ [] (see esp para. 23)]

Shapur I ("Shvor Malka", which is the Aramaic form of the name) was friendly to the Jews. His friendship with Shmuel gained many advantages for the Jewish community. Shapur II's mother was Jewish, and this gave the Jewish community relative freedom of religion and many advantages. He was also friend of a Babylonian rabbi in the Talmud named Raba (Talmud), Raba's friendship with Shapur II enabled him to secure a relaxation of the oppressive laws enacted against the Jews in the Persian Empire. In addition, Raba sometimes referred to his top student Abaye with the term Shvur Malka meaning "Shapur [the] King" because of his bright and quick intellect.

Early Islamic period (634–1255)

After the Islamic conquest of Persia, Jews, along with Christians and Zoroastrians, were assigned the status of dhimmis, non-Muslim subjects of the Islamic empire. Dhimmis were allowed to practice their religion, but were required to pay taxes (jizya, a poll tax, and initially also kharaj, a land tax) in place of the zakat, which the Muslim population was required to pay. Like other Dhimmis, Jews were not required to pay the Zakat tax, a tax obligatory on Muslim subjects equal to 2.5% of their savings, and were exempt from military draft. Viewed as "People of the Book" they were treated as fellow monotheists, though they were treated differently depending on the ruler at the time. On the one hand, Jews were granted significant economic and religious freedom when compared to their European co-religionists. Many served as doctors, scholars, and craftsman and gained positions of influence in society. On the other hand, however, they were, like other non-Muslims, usually excluded from positions of executive authority, limiting their opportunities for political advancement.

Mongol rule (1256–1318)

In 1255, Mongols led by Hulagu Khan invaded parts of Persia, and in 1258 they captured Baghdad putting an end to the Abbasid caliphate. [ ['s_Trip_Three.html Battuta's Travels] ] In Persia and surrounding areas, the Mongols established a division of the Mongol Empire known as Ilkhanate. Because in Ilkhanate all religions were considered equal, Mongol rulers abolished the inequality of dhimmis. One of the Ilkhanate rulers, Arghun Khan, even preferred Jews and Christians for the administrative positions and appointed Sa'd al-Daula, a Jew, as his vizier. The appointed, however, provoked resentment from the Muslim clergy, and after Arghun's death in 1291, al-Daula was murdered and Persian Jews suffered a period of violent persecutions from the Muslim populace instigated by the clergy. The Orthodox Christian historian Bar Hebraeus wrote that the violence committed against the Jews during that period "neither tongue can utter, nor the pen write down".Littman (1979), p. 3]

Ghazan Khan's conversion to Islam in 1295 heralded for Persian Jews a pronounced turn for the worse, as they were once again relegated to the status of dhimmis. Öljeitü, Ghazan Khan's successor, destroyed many synagogues and decreed that Jews had to wear a distinctive mark on their heads; Christians endured similar persecutions. Under pressure, some Jews converted to Islam. The most famous such convert was Rashid al-Din, a physician, historian and statesman, who adopted Islam in order to advance his career at Öljeitü's court. However, in 1318 he was executed on fake charges of poisoning Öljeitü and for several days crowds had been carrying his head around his native city of Tabriz, chanting "This is the head of the Jew who abused the name of God; may God's curse be upon him!" About 100 years later, Miranshah destroyed Rashid al-Din's tomb, and his remains were reburied at the Jewish cemetery.

In 1383, Timur Lenk started the military conquest of Persia. He captured Herat, Khorasan and all eastern Persia to 1385 and almost all inhabitants of Neishapur and other Iranian cities. When revolts broke out in Persia, he ruthlessly suppressed them, massacring the populations of whole cities. When Timur plundered Persia its artists and artisans were deported to embellish Timur's capital Samarkand. Skilled Persian Jews were imported to develop the empire's textile industry. [ [ Bukharan Jews] ]

afavid and Qajar dynasties (1502–1925)

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

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

Under Nadir Shah (1736–1747), Jews experienced a period of relative tolerance when they were allowed to settle in the Shi'ite holy city of Mashhad. Yet, the advent of a Shi'a Qajar dynasty in 1794 brought back the earlier persecutions.

Lord Curzon described the regional differences in the situation of the Persian Jews in 19th century: "In Isfahan, where they are said to be 3,700 and where they occupy a relatively better status than elsewhere in Persia, they are not permitted to wear "kolah" or Persian headdress, to have shops in the bazaar, to build the walls of their houses as high as a Moslem neighbour's, or to ride in the street. In Teheran and Kashan they are also to be found in large numbers and enjoying a fair position. In Shiraz they are very badly off. In Bushire they are prosperous and free from persecution." [Lewis (1984), p. 167]

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

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

In the 19th century there were many instances of forced conversions and massacres, usually inspired by the Shi'a clergy. A representative of the "Alliance Israélite Universelle", a Jewish humanitarian and educational organization, wrote from Tehran in 1894: "…every time that a priest wishes to emerge from obscurity and win a reputation for piety, he preaches war against the Jews". [Littman (1979), p. 10] In 1830, the Jews of Tabriz were massacred; the same year saw a forcible conversion of the Jews of Shiraz. In 1839, many Jews were massacred in Mashhad and survivors were forcibly converted. However, European travellers later reported that the Jews of Tabriz and Shiraz continued to practice Judaism in secret despite a fear of further persecutions. Famous Iranian-Jewish teachers such as Mullah Daoud Chadi continued to teach & preach Judaism inspiring Jews throughout the nation. Jews of Barforush were forcibly converted in 1866; when they were allowed to revert to Judaism thanks to an intervention by the French and British ambassadors, a mob killed 18 Jews of Barforush, burning two of them alive. [Littman (1979), p. 4.] [Lewis (1984), p. 168.]

In the middle of the 19th century, J. J. Benjamin wrote about the life of Persian Jews:

"…they are obliged to live in a separate part of town…; for they are considered as unclean creatures… Under the pretext of their being unclean, they are treated with the greatest severity and should they enter a street, inhabited by Mussulmans, they are pelted by the boys and mobs with stones and dirt… For the same reason, they are prohibited to go out when it rains; for it is said the rain would wash dirt off them, which would sully the feet of the Mussulmans… If a Jew is recognized as such in the streets, he is subjected to the greatest insults. The passers-by spit in his face, and sometimes beat him… unmercifully… If a Jew enters a shop for anything, he is forbidden to inspect the goods… Should his hand incautiously touch the goods, he must take them at any price the seller chooses to ask for them... Sometimes the Persians intrude into the dwellings of the Jews and take possession of whatever please them. Should the owner make the least opposition in defense of his property, he incurs the danger of atoning for it with his life... If... a Jew shows himself in the street during the three days of the Katel (Muharram)…, he is sure to be murdered." [Lewis (1984), pp. 181–183]

In 1910, the Jews of Shiraz were accused of ritually murdering a Muslim girl. Muslim dwellers of the city plundered the whole Jewish quarter, the first to start looting were the soldiers sent by the local governor to defend the Jews against the enraged mob. Twelve Jews, who tried to defend their property, were killed, and many others were injured. [Littman (1979), pp. 12–14] Representatives of the "Alliance Israélite Universelle" recorded other numerous instances of persecution and debasement of Persian Jews. [Lewis (1984), p. 183.]

Driven by persecutions, thousands of Persian Jews emigrated to Palestine in the late 19th – early 20th century.Littman (1979), p. 5.]

Pahlavi dynasty (1925–1979)

The Pahlavi dynasty implemented modernizing reforms, which greatly improved the life of Jews. The influence of the Shi'a clergy was weakened, and the restrictions on Jews and other religious minorities were abolished.Sanasarian (2000), p. 46] According to Charles Recknagel and Azam Gorgin of Radio Free Europe, during the reign of Reza Shah "the political and social conditions of the Jews changed fundamentally. Reza Shah prohibited mass conversion of Jews and eliminated the Shi'ite concept of uncleanness of non-Muslims. Modern Hebrew was incorporated into the curriculum of Jewish schools and Jewish newspapers were published. Jews were also allowed to hold government jobs. [ [ The History Of Jews In Persia/Iran ] ] Reza Shah's ascent brought temporary relief to Jews; however, in the 1920s, Jewish schools were closed. According to Eliz Sanasarian, in the 1930s, "Reza Shah's pro-Nazi sympathies seriously threatened Iranian Jewry. There were no persecutions of the Jews, but, as with other minorities, anti-Jewish articles were published in the media. Unlike religiously motivated prejudice, anti-Jewish sentiments acquired an ethnonational character, a direct import from Germany."

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

The reign of shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi after the deposition of Mossadegh in 1953, was the most prosperous era for the Jews of Iran. In the 1970s, only 10 percent of Iranian Jews were classified as impoverished; 80 percent were middle class and 10 percent wealthy. Although Jews accounted for only a small percentage of Iran's population, in 1979 two of the 18 members of the Iranian Academy of Sciences, 80 of the 4,000 university lecturers, and 600 of the 10,000 physicians in Iran were Jews.

During the Islamic Revolution many of the Iranian Muslims, especially wealthy Muslim leaders in Tehran and many Muslim villages surrounding Esfahan and Kerman converted to leave the country once known for its love for the Jewish society. In late 1979s, the people whom converted was estimated at 50,000–90,000.

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

Islamic republic (after 1979)

At the time of the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, there were approximately 140,000–150,000 Jews living in Iran, the historical center of Persian Jewry. Over 85% have since migrated to either Israel or the United States. At the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, 80,000 still remained in Iran. From then on, Jewish emigration from Iran dramatically increased, as about 20,000 Jews left within several months after the Islamic Revolution. In mid- and late 1980s, the Jewish population of Iran was estimated at 20,000–30,000. The reports put the figure at around 35,000 in mid-1990s [Sanasarian (2000), p. 48] and at less than 40,000 nowadays, with around 25,000 residing in Tehran. However, Iran's Jewish community still remains the largest among the Muslim countries. [ [ Jews in Iran Describe a Life of Freedom Despite Anti-Israel Actions by Tehran | ] ]

Ayatollah Khomeini met with the Jewish community upon his return from exile in Paris and issued a fatwa decreeing that the Jews were to be protected. In the Islamic republic Jews have become more religious. Families that had been secular in the 1970s started keeping kosher and strictly observing rules against driving on Shabbat. They stopped going to restaurants, cafes and cinemas and the synagogue perforce became the focal point of their social lives. [ IRAN: Life of Jews Living in Iran] ] As Haroun Yashyaei, a film producer and former chairman of the Central Jewish Community in Iran has quoted [ [ Jews in Iran Describe a Life of Freedom Despite Anti-Israel Actions by Tehran] ] :

"Khomeini didn't mix up our community with Israel and Zionism - he saw us as Iranians,"

The Islamic republic government has made a clear effort to distinguish between Zionism as a secular political party that enjoys Jewish symbols and ideals and Judaism as the religion of Moses.

On March 16, 1979, Habib Elghanian, the honorary leader of the Jewish community, was arrested on charges of "corruption", "contacts with Israel and Zionism", "friendship with the enemies of God", "warring with God and his emissaries", and "economic imperialism". He was tried by an Islamic revolutionary tribunal, sentenced to death, and executed on May 8. [Sanasarian (2000), p. 112] In 2000, a group of 13 Orthodox Jews in the southern city of Shiraz were accused of spying for Israel. The case prompted an international outcry that led to the eventual release of the Jewish prisoners after years of quiet diplomacy. [ Iranian Jews Reject Outside Calls To Leave] ] In 2006, a false story in the "National Post" of Canada claimed that the Iranian parliament was considering requiring a yellow insignia for Jews in Iran. The story was confirmed by the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. AIPAC sent out an "e-mail blast" to reporters on the story, which became a major press event in the United States. [ [ "Anatomy of a Hoax", Jewish Week.] ] The false story turned out to originate with Iranian-born journalist Amir Taheri from the Benador Associates speakers bureau.

Although Ahmadinejad has harsh viewpoints against Israel and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and even though Israeli officials and some American Jewish communal leaders have urged Iranian Jews to leave, Iranian Jews have stayed. Even though they are allowed to emigrate abroad it raises suspiscion about them and can make life harder for them.Fact|date=October 2007. The Jews living there are also not allowed to go freely to Israel, and even if they do they are interrogated. According to the statistics compiled by HIAS, 152 out of 25,000 Jews left Iran between October 2005 and September 2006 — down from 297 during the same period the previous year, and 183 the year before. Sources said that the majority of those who have left in recent years cited economic and family reasons as their main incentive for leaving, rather than political concerns. Even both Maurice Motamed, the Jewish member of the Iranian parliament, and Haroun Yeshayaei, former chairman of the Jewish Central Committee of Tehran, publicly condemned the president’s views in an unusual letter to Ahmadinejad, sent in February 2006.

In June 2007, there were reports that told of a failed effort to encourage Iranian Jews to emigrate to Israel by offering a five-thousand-dollar incentive. [,,2125155,00.html]

Current status in Iran

In the midst of tensions between the U.S and Iran and between Iran and Israel, Iranian-Jewish Americans and Israelis offered money to the remaining Jews in Iran in order to help them relocate to California and/or Israel. In August 2007, the Iranian Jews in Iran, responded by saying they "resent such transparent political enticements."

Iran's Jewish community is officially recognized as a religious minority group by the government, and, like the Zoroastrians, they are allocated one seat in the Iranian Parliament. Maurice Motamed has been the Jewish MP since 2000, and was re-elected in 2004. In 2000, former Jewish MP Manuchehr Eliasi estimated that at that time there were still 30,000–35,000 Jews in Iran, other sources put the figure as low as 20,000–25,000. [ [ Report] , Reuters, February 16 2000, cited from Bahá'í Library Online. The "Encyclopaedia Judaica" estimated the number of Jews in Iran at 25,000 in 1996.]

Today Tehran has 11 functioning synagogues, many of them with Hebrew schools. It has two kosher restaurants, an old-age home and a cemetery. There is a Jewish library with 20,000 titles. Iranian Jews have their own newspaper (called "Ofogh-e-Bina") with Jewish scholars performing Judaic research at Tehran's "Central Library of Jewish Association". [ Persian Rabbi] ] The "Dr. Sapir Jewish Hospital" is Iran's largest charity hospital of any religious minority community in the country; [ Persian Rabbi] ] however, most of its patients and staff are Muslim.Harrison, Francis (September 22, 2006). " [ Iran's proud but discreet Jews] ". BBC. URL accessed on October 28, 2006.]

Chief Rabbi Yousef Hamadani Cohen is the present spiritual leader for the Jewish Community of Iran. [ [ IRAN: KOSHER INFO AND SYNAGOGUES] Kosher Delight] In August 2000, Chief Rabbi Cohen met with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami for the first time. [ [ Khatami Meets Jewish leaders] BBC] In 2003, Chief Rabbi Cohen and Morris Motamed met with President Katami at Yusef Abad Synagogue which was the first time a President of Iran had visited a synagogue since the Islamic Revolution. [ [ Report of Iranian President’s visit from Yousef-Abad Synagogue, Tehran] Iran Jewish] Haroun Yashayaei is the chairman of the Jewish Committee of Tehran and leader of Iran's Jewish Community. [ [ The Jewish Community of Tehran, Iran] Kashrut Authorities in Iran and Around the World] [ [ Report of Iranian President’s visit from Yousef-Abad Synagogue, Tehran] Iran Jewish] On January 26, 2007, Yashayaei's letter to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad concerning his Holocaust denial comments brought about worldwide media attention. [ [ Iran: Jewish Leader Criticizes President For Holocaust Denial] Radio Free Europe] [ [ Iran’s Jews uneasy over Holocaust-denier Ahmadinejad] Daily Times] [ [ On the Jewish Presence in Iranian History] Monthly Review]


Like other religious minorities in Iran, Jews suffer from discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment, education, and housing. According to the U.S. Department of State, Jews may not occupy senior positions in the government or the military and are prevented from serving in the judiciary and security services and from becoming public school heads.cite web|author=U.S. Department of State |title=International Religious Freedom Report 2004: Iran|url=|accessdate=2006-05-14]

The anti‑Israel ipolicies of the Iranian government create a hostile atmosphere for the Jewish community. In 2004, many Iranian newspapers celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of the publishing of the anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Jews are often the target of degrading caricatures in the Iranian press. Fact|date=February 2007 Jewish leaders reportedly are reluctant to draw attention to official mistreatment of their community due to fear of government reprisal.

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

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

With some exceptions, there is little restriction of or interference with the Jewish religious practice; however, education of Jewish children has become more difficult in recent years. The Iranian government reportedly allows Hebrew instruction, recognizing that it is necessary for Jewish religious practice. However, it strongly discourages the distribution of Hebrew texts, in practice making it difficult to teach the language. Moreover, the Iranian government has required that several Jewish schools remain open on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath, in conformity with the schedule of other schools in the school system. Since working or attending school on the Sabbath violates Jewish law, this requirement has made it impossible for observant Jews both to attend school and adhere to a fundamental tenet of their religion.

Jewish citizens are permitted to obtain passports and to travel outside the country, but they often are denied the multiple-exit permits normally issued to other citizens. With the exception of certain business travelers, the authorities require Jewish persons to obtain clearance and pay additional fees before each trip abroad. The Iranian government is concerned about the emigration of Jewish citizens and permission generally is not granted for all members of a Jewish family to travel outside the country at the same time.

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

Contacts with Jews outside Iran

Rabbis from Neturei Karta, an orthodox sect from America, which has in the past provided a Jewish presence for anti-Zionist regimes which have funded it, [] have visited Iran on several occasions. [] [] [] [] []

Traveling to Israel is forbidden for all the citizens of Iran, mentioned very clearly on the last page of the passport, however according to Maurice Motamed in recent years, the Iranian government has allowed the Jewish Iranians to visit their family members in Israel and that the government has also allowed those Iranians living in Israel to return to Iran for a visit. []

Limited cultural contacts are also allowed, such as the March 2006 Jewish folk dance festival in Russia, in which a female team from Iran participated. [] []

At least 13 Jews have been executed in Iran since the Islamic revolution, most of them for their connections to Israel. For example, in May 1998, Jewish businessman Ruhollah Kadkhodah-Zadeh was hanged in prison without a public charge or legal proceeding, apparently for assisting Jews to emigrate. []

In July 2007 Iran's Jewish community rejected financial emigration incentives to leave Iran. Offers ranging from 5,000-30,000 British pounds, financed by a wealthy expatriate Jew with the support of the Israeli government, were turned down by Iran's Jewish leaders [,,2125154,00.html] [,,2125419,00.html] . However, in late 2007 at least forty Iranian Jews accepted financial incentives offered by a Zionist charities for immigrating to Israel [] .

As of 2007 Iran's Jewish population is the largest of any country in the Middle East besides Israel.

Jewish centers of Iran

Most Jews are nowadays living in Tehran, the capital. Traditionally however, Shiraz, Hamedan, Isfahan, Nahawand, Babol and some other cities of Iran have been home to large populations of Jews. At present there are 25 synagogues in Iran. [یافته های طرح آمارگیری جامع فرهنگی کشور، فضاهای فرهنگی ایران، آمارنامه اماکن مذهبی، 2003، وزارت فرهنگ و ارشاد اسلامی، ص 344]

Jewish education in Iran

In 1996, there were still three schools in Teheran in which Jews were in a majority, but Jewish principals had been replaced. The school curriculum is Islamic and the Tanakh is taught in Persian, rather than Hebrew. The Ozar Hatorah organization conducts Hebrew lessons on Fridays.

In principle, but with some exceptions, there is little restriction of or interference with the Jewish religious practice; however, education of Jewish children has become more difficult in recent years. The Government reportedly allows Hebrew instruction, recognizing that it is necessary for Jewish religious practice. However, it strongly discourages the distribution of Hebrew texts, in practice making it difficult to teach the language. Moreover, the Government has required that several Jewish schools remain open on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath, in conformity with the schedule of other schools in the school system. Since certain kinds of work (such as writing or using electrical appliances on the Sabbath violates Jewish law), this requirement to operate the schools has made it difficult for observant Jews both to attend school and adhere to a fundamental tenet of their religion.

Saturday is no longer officially recognized as the Jewish sabbath and Jewish pupils are compelled to attend school on that day.Fact|date=December 2007

Jewish attractions of Iran

Almost every city of Iran has a Jewish attraction, shrine, or historical site. Prominent among these are the Esther and Mordechai and Habakkuk shrines of Hamedan, the tomb of Daniel in Susa, and the "Peighambariyeh" mausoleum in Qazvin. Usually Muslims go to Daniel shrine for pilgrimage.

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

Persian Jews outside Iran

Persian Jewish communities outside Iran have suffered even greater declines than within Iran. In Afghanistan, most Persian Jews fled the country after the Soviet invasion in 1979. Only one Jew, Zablon Simintov, remains in the capital of Kabul. There are estimated to be approximately four dozen Persian Jewish families living in Kazakhstan which call themselves Lakhloukh and speak Aramaic. They still hold identity papers from Iran, the country their ancestors fled en masse almost 80 years ago. [ [ In Kazakhstan, Jewish Families Carry On a Tradition Born in Persia] ] The community in Pakistan, where the state religion is Islam, has dwindled to less than 200. Persian Jewish communities in what is now India, on the other hand, have avoided such persecutions, and are regarded as part of the community of "Baghdadi Jews". Jews have resided for centuries in the Rann of Kutch region as well as Bombay, but most have chosen to emigrate to Israel since 1948: see Indian Jews. There are many Persian Jews in the United States, specifically in California and New York State. Many Persian Jews live in Beverly Hills, in Los Angeles. Estimates place the Persian community population as high as 25% in Beverly Hills, while others place it even higher (close to half or more). A 2007 article stated that: "...about 8,000 of Beverly Hill's approximately 35,000 residents are of Iranian descent" [] . On March 21, 2007, Jimmy Delshad, a Persian Jew who immigrated to the United States in 1958, became the mayor of Beverly Hills, elected with bilingual English-Persian ballots [ [ Iranian Jew poised to become mayor of Beverly Hills | Jerusalem Post ] ] , making him one of the highest ranking elected Iranian-American officials in the United States.In Israel, Persian Jews are classified as Mizrahim. Both former President and former defense minister of Israel (now Minister of Transportation) are of Persian Jewish origin, the number about 140,000, (2% of the nations population).


Most Persian Jews speak standard Persian, but various Jewish languages have been associated with the community over time. They include:
*Dzhidi (Judæo-Persian)
*Bukhori (Judæo-Bukharic)
*Juhuri language (Judæo-Tat)

Famous Persian Jews

*Bahram V Fact|date=April 2008 King of Persia (421–438). Jewish mother
*Dan Ahdoot - Stand-up comedian
*Jonathan Ahdout - Actor
*Sa'ad al-Dawla - Physician and statesman
*Rashid al-Din - Doctor, writer, and historian
*David Alliance - British businessman and a Liberal Democrat politician
*Sacha Baron Cohen - English Comedian/ Actor (Borat & Ali G)
*Daniel - Biblical character of the Book of Daniel A prophet buried in Susa
*Ehsan Yarshater - founder of the Encyclopedia Iranica
*Richard Danielpour - Composer
*Habib Elghanian - Businessman
*Esther - A biblical heroine of the Book of Esther
*Hacham Uriel Davidi - Religious leader
*Soleiman Haim - One of the first dictionary writers of the Persian language.
*Soleyman Binafard - wrestler
*Roya Hakakian - Writer
*Dan Halutz - Former chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces
*Jonathan Kashanian, winner of "Grande Fratello" (the Italian version of "Big Brother") (Iranian parents)
*Moshe Katsav - Former President of Israel
*Janet Kohan-Sedq - track and field athlete
*Isaac Larian - Chief Executive Officer of MGA Entertainment
*Shaul Mofaz - Current Israeli Minister of Transport
*Mordechai - Biblical character Book of Esther
*Maurice Motamed - Jewish member of the Iranian parliament
*Benjamin Nahawandi - Karaite scholar of the early Middle Ages
*Joseph Parnes - Investment Advisor
*Meulana Shahin Shirazi - Early Persian poet
*Bahar Soomekh - Actress
*Shaun Toub - Actor
*Bob Yari - Film producer
*Elie Tahari, high-end fashion designer []
*Jimmy Delshad - Mayor of Beverly Hills
*Sam Nazarian - Hotel, Night Club Entrepreneur & Film Producer
*Saeed Emami - Iranian intelligence officer and alleged murderer of political activists.
*Habakuk - A prophet buried in Tooyserkan
*Habibollah Asgaroladi - Iranian politician in the 1980s (His ancestors converted to Islam during first half of 20th century).Fact|date=July 2008
*Yousef Hamadani Cohen - Spiritual leader of the Iranian Jews.
*David Alliance, Baron Allianceis an Iranian-born Jewish-British businessman and a Liberal Democrat politicia
*Shaul Bakhash is a reigning doyen of Persian studies at George Mason University where he is Clarence J. Robinson Professor of History

ee also

*Madare sefr darajeh
*Bukharian Jews
*History of the Jews in Iran
*International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust
*International Holocaust Cartoon Competition
*Iran-Israel relations
*Islam and Judaism
*Jews of Iran (documentary film)
*List of Asian Jews
*Mountain Jews
*Persian people
*Religious minorities in Iran
*Shiraz blood libel



* "Iran. 1997" (1997). "Encyclopedia Judaica" (CD-ROM Edition Version 1.0). Ed. Cecil Roth. Keter Publishing House. ISBN 965-07-0665-8
* cite book |first=Eliz |last=Sanasarian|title=Religious Minorities in Iran
publisher=Cambridge University Press |location=Cambridge |year=2000 |id=ISBN 0-521-77073-4

*Karmel Melamed, [ Persian Jews politicking on Rodeo Drive] "JTA International Wire News Service", February 20, 2007

External links

* [ Portal of Persian in Israel ]
* [ Jews of Persia]
* [,com_frontpage/Itemid,1/ Persian Rabbi]
* [ Iranian American Jews & Middle East Affairs]
* [ Iranian Jewish Chronicle Magazine]
* [ Sephardic Studies, Iran]
* [ "Jews of Iran", a Documentary covering temporary Jewish life in Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan]
* [ History of the Iranian Jews]
* [ Comprehensive History of the Jews of Iran]
* [ The Jewish Virtual Library's Iranian Jews page]
* [ Parthia (Old Persian Parthava)]
* [ Center for Iranian Jewish Oral History]
* [ Former Jewish Ghetto in Tehran]
* [ Pictures of persian Jewish ]
* [ Iran's Jews won't mark Yom Ha'atzmaut]
* "The Cyrus Prism: The Decree of return for the Jews, 539 BCE", edited by Charles F. Horne, [ Iran Chamber Society]
* A short sample of the documentary film "In Search of Cyrus the Great", directed by Cyrus Kar, in production, hosted by [ International Committee to Save the Archaeological Sites of Pasargadae] (9 min 58 sec)

News sites

* [ L.A. Persian Jews and Muslims oppose bombing Iran]
* [ Iranian Jews Shocked At Katsav Plea Bargain]
* [ Last News of Iranians Jews]
* [ Jerusalem Post: Only Iranian Jewish Holocaust Survivor]
* [ Iranian Jews Reject Outside Calls To Leave]
* [ First Iranian Jewish Emmy Winner]
* [ BBC report on the lives of Jews in Iran ]
* [ Iranian Jewish Mayor of Beverly Hills To Introduce Iran Divestment Measure]
* [ Persian Jewish Artist Finds New Freedom ]
* [ Iranian Jews turn to show biz]
* [ The invisible Iranians]
* [ Three Iranian Jews run for seats on Beverly Hills City Council]
* [ Iranian Jewish Colored Band Report Discredited]
* [ International Religious Freedom Report, 2001. Iran] at US State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
* [ Iranian Jews sue Iran's Former President in U.S]
* [ What Makes Jews Attracted to Iran?]
* [ Persian Jews Stand By Katsav During Scandal]
* [ Christian Science Monitor: "Jews in Iran Describe a Life of Freedom Despite Anti-Israel Actions by Tehran"]
* [ Roots of Ahmadinejad's anti-Semitism]
* [;_ylt=ApzMTjY2RdGjGzEiDHWEn_67u8wF;_ylu=X3oDMTBjM3FjYjBzBHNlYwNibG9nLXN1bQ-- Yahoo News - 'We Are Citizens of This Country', by Kevin Sites]
* [ Iran Jews Establish New Temple in Downtown L.A.]
* [ Iranian Jews Mourn Passing of Spiritual Leader]
* [ Exclusive: Immigrant moves back 'home' to Teheran] "Jerusalem Post". November 3, 2005
* [ New Website Honoring Jewish Cemetery In Tehran]
* [ Iranian Jew Still Held Captive in Iran]
* [ Iran's Jews Worry About the Future] (video news report)
* [ Iranian Jews in L.A. Dive Into Politics]
* [ In Ahmadinejad's Iran, Jews still find a space]
* [ Ancient Judeo-Persian Language Kept Alive]
* [ Splintered Persian Jewish Groups Merge ]

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