KASHAN, city in the central part of Iran. Its industrious people made Kashan prosperous, which also benefited the Jewish inhabitants. The beginning of Jewish settlement in Kashan is unknown but the dialect spoken by the Jews points to their antiquity. The earliest reference to the existence of a Jewish community in Kashan may be found in the colophon of a book of prose written in the year 1805; however, there is no doubt that their earliest presence far predated the 15th century. We know that Kashan was a flourishing city before the *Mongol invasion (early 13th century) and, although seriously damaged during the invasion, seems to have been rebuilt. Unlike many cities and towns across Persia populated by Sunni Muslims, Kashan was for the most part Shi'ite. As a result, it did not suffer from the establishment of the Shi'ite Safavid dynasty in the early 16th century, as did other Sunni cities and towns.
However, despite the beauty and prosperity of Kashan, its Jews suffered persecutions. There were several waves of forced conversion in the city. We know of these events from the account by *Babai ibn Lutf, who described the suffering of the Persian Jews between the years just before 1613 and early in 1662. The reign of Shah *Abbas II was particularly hard. From the beginning of 1657 to the beginning of 1662, Jews throughout the country (including 7,000 Jews of Kashan) were forced to convert to Islam. After seven years of apostasy, the Jews of Kashan were allowed to return to Judaism, thanks to the intervention of a Shi'ite priest, learned Sufi, and great poet Mohammad ibn Mortezā Mohsen Fayz (d. 1680), as well as substantial payments to the ruling authorities in Kashan and *Isfahan and a change in local municipal government. According to *Babai ben Farhād, Jews of Kashan suffered persecutions around 1730.
Kashan is reputed for its Jewish poets and scholars such as Judah ben Eleazar, Babai ibn Lutf, Babai ibn Farhād, Samuel Pir Ahmad, Sarmad the Sufi (who later embraced Islam), *Amina, and others. The missionary Stern was twice in Kashan, in 1850 and 1852. He wrote that there lived in Kashan 150 Jewish families in the midst of 30,000 Muslim inhabitants and, due to the prosperity of the town the general condition of the Jews in Kashan was much better than those of Isfahan. On the other hand, *Benjamin II, who was in Kashan about the same time as Stern, claimed that 180 Jewish families lived there in fear. According to Castleman the Jewish community of Kashan consisted of 100 families and most of them were poor. Neumark (1884), who did not visit Kashan, heard that the "plague of Bahaism which afflicted the Jews of Hamadan infected also the Kashani Jews."
According to BAIU (1906) there lived in Kashan 2,000 Jews in 130 houses among 50,000 Muslim inhabitants. A Jewish school was founded in Kashan in 1910 by a local philanthropist named Jekutiel. There were 1,380 Jews living in Kashan in 1943 ('Ālam-e Yahud, pp. 379, 472–73). Many of these Jews left Kashan to live in Teheran, London, and Israel. Lord David Alliance, a native of Kashan (b. 1932), who immigrated to London at the age of 17, became one of the greatest textile industrialists in England. At the end of the 20th century, Kashan, which once was called "the Little Jerusalem," ceased to be a dwelling place of Jews.
Ālam-e Yahud, 22 (Jan. 15, 1946) and 28 (Mar. 12, 1946); Benjamin II, Eight Years in Asia and Africa from 1846 to 1855 (1863); BAIU = Bulletin de l'Alliance Israélite Universelle, Paris; Y.F. Castleman, Massa'ot Shali'aḥ Ẓefat be-Arẓot ha-Mizraḥ (1942); V.B. Moreen, Iranian Jewry during the Afghan Invasion (1990); A. Netzer, "Redifot u-Shemadot be-Toledot Yehudei Iran ba-Me'ah ha-17," in: Pe'amim, 6 (1980), 32–56; E. Neumark, Massa be-Ereẓ ha-Kedem, ed. A. Ya'ari (1947).
[Amnon Netzer (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.