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The history of Persian Jews dates back to ancient Iran marked by the emancipation of the Jews from Babylonian captivity after the Persian conquest. In relative terms, the Persian treatment of other religions, including the jews, is among the first enlightened and universal practice of religious tolerance in ancient times, a practice which was perhaps more universal and inclusive than the restricted religious tolerance of the Moslems limited to "the people of the book."
According to Biblical and historical sources, Jews did not only gain freedom but also the favor and financial support of the Persian King, Koroush (Cyrus), to rebuild their communities. Thus decreed King Koroush (Cyrus): " As for the house of God which is at Jerusalem, let the house be built.....And let its cost be given from the king's house. Also let the gold and silver utensils of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took from the house of God and brought to Babylon, be restored and brought again to the temple which is in Jerusalem, each to its place. And you shall put them in the house of God." 1
This policy of religious tolerance continued under the subsequent Persian monarchs, and the writing of the "book of laws of Moses," and the revival of the religion led and organized by Ezra owes much to the support and assistance of the Persians. To Ezra, Khashayar Shah decreed: "I make a decree that all who in my kingdom from among the people of Israel and their priests and Levites wishes to go with you to Jerusalem, shall go.... and to bring the silver and gold which the king and his counselors have offered to the God of Israel whose house is in Jerusalem.....Whatever is ordered by the God of heaven, let it be done exactly for the house of the God of heaven, for why should there be wrath against the kingdom of the king and his sons." 2
Later, during the centuries of rivalry and warfare between the Roman and Persian empires, the Jews even beyond the Persian boundaries seem to have favored and allied themselves with the Persians. The Sassanian capital, Ctesiphon, just south of today's Baghdad, was the center of Jewish religious learning in Iran. With the advent of Islam in Iran, limited tolerance was afforded to the Jews, though it required segregated communities and paying of the poll tax. This religious tolerance, frequently violated during the periods of national turmoil and local fanaticism, was limited to the community rights of the Jews and not granting of personal rights or even relative equality with the Moslems. The poll tax was often collected by the Jewish community and the community itself was subject to the supreme Islamic Laws.
Despite mass conversions, significant communities of Jewish population remained throughout the old Persian empire and eyewitness accounts such as that by Bironi, indicate the presence of Jewish communities in Hamadan as well as many other major cities of northern and central Iran. These communities extended to the east and northeast as Bironi reports interviewing the Jewish leaders and scholars in Kharazm and even reports on Iranian Jews leading the Ghara'at (Qaraite) Movement, a fundamentalist sect in Judaism, preaching the return to the Old Testament. 3 According to another source, the Jewish population outnumbered the Christians in North and Central Iranian cities. 4
The treatment of the Jews under Islamic Religious tolerance was immeasurably better than their outright persecution, massacre and forced conversions in the Christian lands, among which the Spanish inquisition, Hitler's genocide, and Russian pogroms are only a few examples of many recorded incidences, abhorrent examples of savage and uncivilized acts of humankind's self-mutilation and violence, and unprecedented in world history with the exception of perhaps the genocide and extermination of native Americans in the hands of white European settlers. But the Persian Jews seldom enjoyed the degree of tolerance afforded the Andulasian or Ottaman Jewish population, particularly after the imposition of the Shi'ai sect as the state's religion in Iran in late 15th and 16th centuries.
The Shi'ais demonstrated a far greater concern with the Islamic concepts of Taharat (purity) and Nejasat (impurity), and non-believers were classified among the impure or Najess, where any contact with them or objects touched by them, required the ritualistic act of purification. 5 Being classified as ritualistically impure, the jews were put in the same category as dogs and pigs which were considered as Najass, required to live in a segregated area, stay indoors at times of rain or snow, and not to touch any item for sale in a store unless it was promptly purchased. Such restrictions, to a lesser degree, were prevalent well into the 20th century and part of the religious teachings of Ayatallah Khomaini as detailed below.
One of the earliest eyewitness accounts of the Jewish population in Modern Iran is provided by J. J. Benjamin who traveled through Iran in mid 19th century. According to him, the Persian Jews were required to live in a segregated part of the city, considered unclean, and forbidden to walk or trade in the Moslem areas. They were forbidden to trade in foodstuff or go out when it rains on account of their impurity. If a Persian Moslem killed a Jew, his punishment upon the testimony of two Moslems against him was a fine of 12 tomans, while lack of Moslem witnesses let the crime go unpunished. A jew who wishes to make a purchase in a store is forbidden to inspect the good and upon touching it is required to purchase it at any quoted price. And finally Benjamin tells us that a Persian Jew who dared to show himself outdoor during the days of Shi'ai religious mourning "is sure to be murdered." 6
Similar descriptions of Persian Jewish communities are provided by other travelers and eyewitness accounts, including Lord Curzon, an agent of British Imperialism in the area, and himself a brutal instrument of exploitation and persecution of people of the "East." He states that the Jews "Usually compelled to live apart in a Ghetto, or separate quarter of the towns.......In Isfahan, where there are said to be 3,700, and where they occupy a relatively better status than elsewhere in Persia, they are not permitted to wear the Kolah or Persian head-dress, 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 streets." 7
Accordig to another traveler, compared to other religious minorities in Iran, the Jews were most impoverished and maltreated of all, living under conditions far below those enjoyed by the Jews under the Ottoman Empire. 8 Similar and most extensive description of the Jewish Community is provided by the Shah's Physician, Jakob Edouard Polak. 9
The history and lives of the Persian Jews are also marked by forced conversions, lynching and massacre, under the Shi'ai influence, nearly always instigated by a Mollah, and often in conjunction with and cooperation of the ruling Shah or Khan. The unity of State and Religion, made these two centers of power and oppression quite inseparable, for the Divine rights of the King was always justified and legitimized by majority of the leading clergy and historically the rebellious Mollahs were an exception to this rule.
Even under Shah Abbas, one of the more enlightened Safavi Monarchs in his treatment of religious minorities, particularly the Armenians, the jews, along with Zoroastrians and Christians became subjects of forced conversion, and evicted from Isfahan in 1656 because of their pollutant effect and religious impurity. But many forcefully converted Jews continued to practice their religion in secret and the failure of the policy gave rise to protests by the clergy and some Moslem merchants who did not consider these converts as real Moslems and hence a new edict in 1661 allowed them to revert to open practice of Judaism under state restrictions, including the wearing of a patch to identify them as Jews. The wearing of a patch to identify a non-believer was not limited to the Jews, and was also required for the Christians who wore a cross, though by a decree, the Armenians were exempted from wearing a patch. 10
According to Thevenot, a contemporary French traveler in Isfahan: "They found that what external professions so ever they made of Mohametanism, they still practiced Judaism; so that there was a necessity of suffering them to be again bad Jews, since they could not make good Musulmans of them." 11
The status of the Jew and other religious minorities deteriorated after Shah Abbas, particulary for the Armenians after the Afghan invasion, who were wrongly accused of not helping to defend the city of Isfahan. 12
Ironically, Nader Shah (1736-1747), an exceptionally brutal man even toward the members of his own family, appears to have been the most tolerant Persian Monarch. This cannot be attributed to his Sonni convictions, since it appears that altogether Nader Shah was not a religious man. He is reputed to have ordered the translation of the Bible, and after having it read to him and debated in a gathering of Moslem, Christian and Jewish scholars, prompted to ridicule all three groups to believe in such superstitions and nonsense.13
But Nader Shah supported the establishment of a Jewish community in Mashhad, a Shi'ai holy city where the shrine of Shi'ai saint, the eighth Imam, Reza, is located. There are also historical records indicating a favorable attitude toward the Christians, of visiting and funding Churches in Khorasan and Georgia, and of recruiting Armenians in the army. 14
But these periods of tolerance, meaningful only when looked upon in relative terms and within the context, were short lived. In 1839, many of Meshhad jews were massacred and the survivors subjected to forced conversion. 15 But the Jewish community survived such onslaughts, even thriving during the 20th century, though after the establishment of the dictatorship of the Islamic Republic and renewed persecution of Persian Jews along with the rest of Iranians, there are today more Mashhadi Jews in New York City, than in the city of Mashhad. Anyone who is familiar with the Mashhadi Jewish community in New York City knows of their Iranianness, their love of Persian language, literature and culture, exiled like _all other Iranians, missing the sounds and sights of their homeland, land on which their forefathers lived and suffered the oppression of Shahs and Mollahs.
Similar outbreaks of massacre and persecutions are reported in other Iranian cities such as Baraforush, Isfahan and Shiraz.16 Regarding the situation in Shiraz and Isfahan, Curzon wrote: "During the absence of Shah in Europe in 1889, a fanatical disturbance took place in Shiraz and Isfahan, largely instigated by the clerical firebrand, sheikh Agha Nejefi [Najafi], whom I have mentioned, in the course of which a Jew was killed in the streets, and his murderer was at first suffered to go scot-free, and finally only sentenced to the bastinado. The Sheikh, by way of improving or embittering the situation, took upon himself to promulgate a series of archaic disabling laws against the Jews of Isfahan, in which odious restrictions were imposed upon their food, dress, habits, life, fortune, inheritance, and trade." 17
Such outbreaks prompted the Jewish communities in_ some of the European nations, by now enjoying far greater tolerance and better treatment than their co-religionists in the "East," to petition the Persian monarch, Naser-al-Din Shah, for protection and improved conditions of the Jews in Iran. Naser al-Din Shah received several petitions in the European capitals and in his 1873 memoirs provides this account of his conversation with the celebrated Rothchild, the Jewish leader and capitalist: "He greatly advocated the cause of the Jews, mentioned the Jews of Persia, and claimed tranquillity for them. I said to him: I have heard that you, brothers, possess a thousand crores of money. I consider the best thing to do would be that you should pay fifty crores to some large or small State, and buy a territory in which you could collect all the Jews of the whole world, you becoming their chiefs, and leading them on their way to peace, so that you should no longer be thus scattered and dispersed." We laughed heartily, and he made no reply. I gave him an assurance that I do protect every alien nationality that is in Persia." 18
It is ironic that Naser al-Din Shah would be discussing a concept central to Zionism with the Rothchilds which were instrumental in passing of the Balfour Declaration leading to the eventual establishment of the state of Israel. But the most important part of this passage is the last sentence which refers to the Persian Jews, people who had lived in Iran for over two thousand years, as an "alien nationality," lumped together with other aliens in Iran. This best reflects the sovereign's attitude toward his own people, though of a different religion. Hence under the Ghajars, little changes took place before the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-11.
After the establishment of the Dictatorship of the Islamic Republic and Velayate Faghih, where an omnipotent Mollah acts as a Supreme Leader and representative of God, more powerful than an absolute Shah, the persecution of the Jews and other religious and ethnic minorities reached their highest level in modern Iranian history. Under the Shi'ai fanaticism, archaic and medieval concepts of Taharat and Nejasat with respect to non-believers are found in religious writings and teachings of fanatical Shi'ai Mollahs such as Khomaini. In one such a book, filled with medieval superstition and instructions, most offensive to women than any religious or ethnic minority, the unbeliever is classified as "unclean" along with urine, carrion, pigs and dogs. The followers are told by Khomaini that every part of the body of an unbeliever, dry or moist, is najess (impure). Ironically, he proceeds to advise his followers, that when such an unbeliever is converted to Islam, he/she becomes ritually clean.19
Elsewhere, in his book on the Islamic Government, he requires the non-Moslems to pay a poll-tax in return for state's protection, but excludes them from actual political participation and holding of government offices. Put simply, a non-Moslem cannot enjoy the same rights as Moslem citizens. 20 Of course, in practice, under the present day dictatorship of the Islamic Republic and Velayate Faghih, rights of citizens, Moslem or not, have little value since all basic human and democratic rights of Iranians are brutally denied and violated daily.
Regarding the Jews, as in case of Baha'eis, the persecution of a religious minority has also strong political tone and dimension. In case of Baha'eis, the religion having originally sprang from Islam, intermingled with political demands and peasant uprisings, both the state and the clergy found it more convenient to denounce Babism and its off-shoot as a political foreign conspiracy, than a religious heresy, an act of clerical and government partnership in chicanery, which has been responsible for the continued persecution and massacre of the Bahai population in Iran.
In government propaganda, the anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist pronouncements, also cast a shadow of doubt on the patriotism and loyalty of every Persian Jew, intended to further isolate and humiliate the Persian Jewish population, for if Jews as "the people of the Book" are to be tolerated, a Zionist Jew is the enemy of the "state and the people," tantamount to a fifth column on the Iranian soil. What is hypocritically forgotten is to see the similarities between the fascist regime of the Mollahs and the Zionist regime of Israel, which it fanatically condemns, for imposing Judaism as the state religion, and for engaging in acts of aggression, confiscation, and violation of_ all basic human and democratic rights of non-Jewish population brought under its dictatorship.
Finally, one of the abhorrent and despicable dimensions of discrimination and persecution is the daily humiliation of a non-Moslem Iranian in a religiously fanatical Moslem environment. The fact that from early childhood, a non-Moslem learns that, at best, he is a second class citizen, not equal to his peers, able to enjoy the same rights and privileges, and subject to their ridicule and humiliations.
Every fair-minded Iranian, in contact with the Persian Jews, must recall such occasions of abuse, when a Jewish child is ridiculed, called a miser and a coward, afraid at sight of blood, only because when hit and abused, a Jewish child knows that he cannot return the punches. During the years of my boyhood in Tehran, and as a devout fanatical Shi'ai, I can recall many such occasions, and only the years of learning and reflection, aged by the sufferings and wiser by the teachings and experience of our people's struggle for their freedom, equality and democratic institutions, have I come to learn that no Iranian is ever free, till all Iranians are free, equal and proud citizens of our beloved land. I know that day shall come soon, when the Iranian people shall topple the towers of this new Babylon, the minarets of our people's captivity, servitude and sufferings, Moslem and non-Moslem alike, and build a free and democratic Iran.
Beh Omide Iran-e Azaad O Abaad
TO BE CONTINUED UPON REQUEST
1. Ezra 6:3-5. 2. Ibid., 7:12-26. 3. Biruni. Athar al-Baqiya, ed. E. Sachau, Leipzig, 1876. 4. Moghadassi. Ketabe Ahsan al-Tagasem 5. For non-Moslems who are not familiar with these concepts, see Encyclopedia of Islam, First Edition or any standard book on Islamic law and customs. 6. J. J. Benjamin. Eight Years in Asia and Africa, n.d., pp 211-213. 7. G. N. Curzon. Persia and the Persian Question, I, 1892, pp. 510-511. 8. Arminius Vambery. The Story of My Struggles, n.d., p.395. 9. Jakob Edouard Polak. Persien: Das Land und seine Bewohner, 2 vols., Leipzig, 1865. 10. Abdol-Rafi Haghighat. Tarikhe Nehzathaye Fekri Iranian. Section II, Part I, P. 576. 11. Jean de Thevenot. Travels. London, 1687, p. 110. This book and another by the French businessman, Chardan are valuable books in describing the Persian society and customs seen from the perspective of a contemporary foreign traveler, rich in examples, informative and instructive for those who wish to know how the 17th century Persians were viewed by others who had a first hand knowledge and experience of living with them. 12. Abdol-Rafi Haghighat, Ibid., pp. 580-582. 13. Ibid., p. 583. 14. Ibid., pp. 582-584. 15. J. Wolf. Narrative of a Mission to Bokhara in 1843-1845, London, pp. 238-239. Also mentioned in Curzon, Ibid., pp. 165-166. 16. A. H. Mounsey. Journey Through the Caucasus, London, 1875, pp. 273-282. 17. Curzon, Ibid. 18. J.W. Redhouse (tr). The Diary of H.M. The Shah of Persia, London, 1874, reprinted by Mazda, 1995, 237. The meeting with the Jewish leaders in London is also mentioned in the book without any details; see also Curzon, Ibid. For the actual text of the London petition, see D. Littman. Wiener Library Bulletin, 1979, pp. 5-7. 19. Rohallah Khomaini. Tozih al-Masa'el. n.d. pp. 15, 18: and pp. 14, 17 in an older printing. 20. Rohallah Khomaini. Hokumant-e Islami. Moslem Students Association, US-Canada, circa late 1960s. There are many different editions and reprints of this book. ------------------------------------------------------------- For free distribution when attributed to the author, F Ashkey. 6/14/98
From: Bryant Kirmizian
Date: 14 Oct 2003
Remote Name: 184.108.40.206
you are full of shit, Azeris and Turks are there own breed, no one on this planet is a fucked up as you are. "give us OUR LAND" that is not your land it is ARMENIAN land and so is most of Turkey, you genocidal bastards, hello to all the Persians, from all the Armenians, dont listen to these losers