Op-Ed: The Plight of the Jewish Community of Iran
Needless to say, Assad’s use of chemical weapons and the ramifications of an American response were prime topics around the table. But much discussion was also made of Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani’s tweet, wishing the Jewish people, particularly the Jews of Iran a blessed Rosh Hashana. Not surprisingly some hailed this as a new beginning, a refreshing opening between the Mullahs and worldwide Jewry so recently decried by the Holocaust denying former President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The Jewish community in what was once called Persia, modern day Iran, has existed for almost 2600 years. For most of that period the Jewish population prospered and expanded throughout the region. This all changed in 642 C.E. with the invasion of Arab Muslims and the installation of of Islam as the state religion. From that point until the secularization of modern day Iran in 1925 under the Phalevi Dynasty, the socio/economic position of the Jews was degraded to second class citizenry.
In a pogrom all too familiar throughout Jewish history the local synagogue was burned to the ground. Between 30-40 people had their throats slit, 2400 others were forced to convert to Islam or face the sword as well. Although converted, most still continued practicing Judaism in secret. They became known as “Crypto Jews” From that point going forward, considerable emigration to the Land of Israel began, and the Zionist movement spread throughout the community.
In 1948, at the state of Israel's establishment, there were approximately 100,000 Jews living in Iran. Today, unverifiable estimates put the numbers somewhere between 10,200 to a high of 25,000.
According to Mr. Rafizadeh, at the outset of Khomeini’s rise to power, he sought support from the influential Jewish community by professing the Jewish people in Iran should enjoy the same citizenship rights as every other citizen. But once the Shah was deposed, those rights never materialized.
Almost immediately, both Khomeini and the ruling Mullahs began arresting the most prominent Jewish leaders and businessmen, many of whom were accused of spying for Israel and executed. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, those who could, particularly the wealthy, began a mass emigration to both the United States and Israel.
The author concludes by stating these “laws based on the Quran, and Shari’a law only begin to encompass the deep-rooted religious inequality of the region.”
Not everyone agrees with this statement.
When asked why he left, he replied that it is because his children went to the United States to study in American yeshivot and he just followed. When questioned, former congregants in the Shiraz Jewish community felt the Rabbi, fearing for his life, fled rather than emigrated. It is possible he is afraid for the lives of those who didn't and his words can be seen in that context.
Rouhani’s gesture wishing the Jews of Iran a blessed New Year is welcomed. Duplicitous or not, such words would never have left the lips of the unabashed anti-Semite Ahmadinejad.
The director of the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism, Dr. Esther Webman concurs: “There's still a very basic fear. You can't paint a fantastic picture showing everything is alright....“Jews have to follow very clear and rigid rules.”
Others argue that with 30 active Synagogues in Teheran, despite the aforementioned, on a comparative basis, Jews are tolerated far better in Iran than in most, if not all other Islamic countries in both the Middle East and Africa. If toleratiing Jews is a measuring stick, that seems to be true.
"Some feel so threatened that many choose to convert to Islam, but continue to practice Judaism in secret". As previously referenced, they, too, as in other times and places in Jewish history, became known as “Crypto Jews.”
Further accentuating the deprivations of Jewish life in post revolution Iran, a female student named Sepideh had this to say about her chances of getting married to a Jewish man: “There are almost no educated Jewish boys left in Iran to consider for marriage. Emigration is the last resort that we must consider so that maybe we can experience a future free of restrictions.”
Ceasing the constant defamation of Israel would go a long way in breaking the rigid climate of fear and anti-Semitism Jews live under as second class citizens. Actions such as these would really mean a L’Shana Tovah; a good year, to the Jewish community of Iran.