Exploring Jewish life in Iran

By Avi Abelow @aviabelow

While Iran today is one of the biggest enemies of the Jewish state, today’s Iranian Jewish community is one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world. The Jewish community was established in the 6th century, after the Jews were expelled from Israel by the Babylonians.

While at one time, this Jewish community was one of the largest in the world, as of 2012, Iran’s official census counted a little less than 9,000 Jews who remain in Iran, with the majority living in Tehran.

In 1948 the Jewish community numbered between 140,000-150,000, yet after 1948, Jews began to immigrate to Israel, with a large exodus of Jews, to places all over the world, after the Islamic revolution in 1979.

Jewish Life in Iran Today

Persian Jews have lived in the area of today’s Iran since the first Jewish diaspora, which took place over 2,700 years ago, when the Assyrians conquered the (Northern) Kingdom of Israel (722 BC) and sent the ten tribes of that Kingdom into captivity.

Additional Jews were then exiled to Persia in 586 BC, after the Babylonians captured the Jewish Kingdom of Judea and expelled the Jews from the remaining two Tribes from there.

Interestingly enough, it was the Persian Kings Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerzes who allowed the Jews to return to Israel and rebuild the Jewish Temple, just 70+ years after they were expelled from Judea by the Babylonians.

Unfortunately, most Jews decided to stay in Persia instead of returning to Israel and only 40,000+ Jews decided to return.

The Jewish holiday of Purim actually is the story of Persian Jewry after the Babylonian expulsion! Every year Jews around the world celebrate this holiday by wearing costumes. Some of the most famous costumes of the holiday are the Jewish Queen Esther, the villain of the story, Haman, who was the Persian viceroy to King Ahashvarous, and the Jewish Hero Mordechai.

The Jewish heroes, Queen Esther and Mordechai, are buried in Hamadan, Iran.

Interior of Tomb of Esther and Mordechai

Daniel, the Jewish prophet, also lived in ancient Persia, after being expelled from Jerusalem. His burial place is in Susa, Iran.

Daniel in the Lions Den.

Many might ask how Jews live in the Islamic Republic of Iran today, the biggest state enemy of the Jewish state of Israel – this video gives a glimpse of that reality.

The interviewer in this video deals with that exact conundrum. She finds out, and explains, that while Iran wants to destroy the country of Israel, it validates Judaism as a religion. Thus, the Jews live in Iran as a minority, under Sharia law, with the appropriate rights. They are allowed to live as Jews, with freedom to pray and worship in their Synagogues at the same time as taking part in Iranian society. While they are allowed to work in all professions, there are limitations on how high Jews can achieve in certain areas, like politics and the army.

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Organizational psychologist/management consultant turned Movie Producer (“Home Game” on Gush Katif), Avi is now CEO of 12Tribe Films, a business specializing in video and social media marketing for Israel. You can also follow my mobile updates on Telegram: https://t.me/aviabelowupdates

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