PERSIA


PERSIA (Heb. פָּרָס, Paras), empire whose home coincided roughly with that of the province of Fars in modern Iran. Its inhabitants, calling themselves Persians, are first mentioned in Assyrian records of approximately 640 B.C.E. According to these records, the king of "Parsuwash" acknowledged the

Jewish communities in Persia. Jewish communities in Persia.

suzerainty of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. According to the Persian tradition followed by Herodotus, the Persians had submitted to the *Medes in the second quarter of the seventh century. Several central terms of political life, such as the word for king and even the name Pārsa, appear to show Median peculiarities. On the other hand, the Persians came under the cultural influence of *Elam, and it was in the Elamite language that accounts were kept in the Persian treasury at Persepolis, in the Persian homeland, as late as 459 B.C.E. The Persians' dependence on the Medes was terminated by *Cyrus II who rebelled against the last of the Median kings, Astyages. Astyages marched against him, but the Median army revolted and handed over their king to Cyrus in 550. Plundering Ecbatana (now Hamadan), the Median capital, Cyrus became ruler of Media. According to official Persian tradition, he was a maternal grandson of Astyages and was supported by Median nobles. To the outside world, his seizure of the Median crown looked like a mere change of dynasty. Media, which in alliance with *Babylon had destroyed the Assyrian Empire in 612, was a great power, whereas the Persians had been unknown before Cyrus. Therefore, foreigners (e.g., Herodotus) continued to speak of "Medians" when meaning "Persians." In Daniel 8:3 the two-horned ram is a symbol of Media and Persia.

Cyrus went on to conquer the Lydian kingdom of Croesus in 547, and the Babylonian Empire of *Nabonidus in 539. His son *Cambyses II (525) added Egypt to the Persian dominions, which now extended from the Nile to the Syr-Darya (Jaxartes) and the Indus. The death of Cambyses (522) was followed by a civil war, won by *Darius I, a distant relation of Cambyses. Direct descendants of Darius I ruled the empire for six generations after him. *Darius III, from another branch of the same family, lost the empire to Alexander the Great. Kings from Cyrus to Darius III were:

Cyrus 559–530 B.C.E.

Cambyses 530–522

Darius I 522–486

Xerxes I 486–465

Artaxerxes I 465–424

Xerxes II 424–423

Darius II 423–404

Artaxerxes II 404–359

Artaxerxes III 359–338

Arses 338–336

Darius III 336–330

The paramount fact in the history of the Achaemenids was the failure of Darius I in 490 and Xerxes I in 480–479 to conquer Greece. The Athenians and their allies wrested the Aegean coast of Asia Minor and the Aegean Islands from the Persians during 479–469, and also supported the Egyptian revolt in 459–454. The Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta (432–404) allowed Persia to recoup its territorial losses, but economically and culturally the Greeks remained preeminent. Greek silver, and in the fourth century its imitation, was the money used in the Persian Empire; Greek merchandise, as illustrated by finds of Greek vases, dominated the foreign commerce of Persia; and Greek mercenaries became an essential part of Persian armies. For the first time in history, the monarchical, hierarchical, and priestly "East" faced the republican, egalitarian, and secular "West," and the Persian bowman following his king was always outdone by the Greek infantryman ready to die in obedience to the law of his city.

The king ruled "by the favor of Ahuramazda," the supreme god, and his power of life and death was unlimited. Nevertheless, once fixed in a certain prescribed form, his decisions could not be revoked by him, "according to the law of the Medes and the Persians" (Dan. 6:9). In practice, the king consulted his counselors (Ezra 7:14; cf. Esth. 1:13; Jonah 3:6), and could not afford to offend the Persian nobility. He could execute a wicked judge, and with his skin upholster the judge's seat, but it was a son or another relative of the judge who would be appointed to judge from the same bench (Herodotus 5:25). Though the high officials, the royal guard, and the standing army were recruited from among Persians and Medes, non-Iranians could occupy high posts. Of the 23 high royal officers (ustarbar) who are mentioned in the *Murashu documents, only eight have Iranian names. Though the Achaemenian king stressed that he was a "Persian, son of a Persian, Aryan of Aryan lineage," the Persians were not "nationalists." "Nationalism" in the ancient Near East meant belonging to a city (e.g., Babylon, Jerusalem) and its deities. The Persians were tribesmen; their grandees were not citizens, or even inhabitants of a city, but lived on their estates. Being aristocrats, they did not need to be "nationalists," and used the talents of their subjects freely and easily.

Cyrus and his heirs, following the Assyrian practice, used Aramaic as the language of administration throughout the Persian Empire. As the Persian kings and their grandees were illiterate, the written language of administration was of no concern to them. Even in the ritual, the written language was Aramaic (R.A. Bowman, Aramaic Ritual Texts from Persepolis, 1970). The interpreters were on hand to translate the Persian orders into Elamite or Aramaic and to read aloud in Persian, an Indo-European language, the documents written in Aramaic or Elamite. The Persian script, borrowed indirectly from the Babylonians, was also cuneiform and as such inconvenient for writing on papyrus or leather. It seems to have been used only for monumental inscriptions engraved on stone or on metal.

The empire was divided into enormous administrative units known as satrapies. The satrapy "Beyond the River" (Abar-Nahara, e.g., Ezra 5:3), to which Judah belonged, extended from the *Euphrates to the Mediterranean. The satrap was the head of the administration, commander of the troops, and supreme judge and tax collector of his satrapy. Each satrapy had to pay a fixed tribute to the king, in cash and/or kind. The provinces within the satrapies had to maintain the troops, the administration of the satrapy, and the viceroy. Nehemiah, governor of the miniscule province of Judah, had to feed over 150 men daily (Neh. 5:17). There were various taxes (Ezra 4:13; 7:24), and taxation was heavy (Neh. 5:4). In addition, there was the baksheesh (Mal. 1:8). The satrap was virtually omnipotent in his satrapy, as the story of the temple of *Elephantine shows, but he had to consult his advisers and it was prudent to submit controversial questions to the king (Ezra 5:6). However, the dimensions of the satrapy made local self-administration necessary, and Nehemiah in his quarrel with the neighbors of Jerusalem does not appeal to the satrap of Abar-Nahara ("trans-Euphrates"), but mobilizes the Jewish militia (Neh. 4:7ff.). Self-administration extended to private law, and the scribes drafting private contracts made the Aramaic common law prevalent throughout the Persian Empire.

In Ezekiel 27:10 and 38:5, the name "Persia" is probably a corruption. Deutero-Isaiah expected that Cyrus would rebuild Jerusalem (44:28; 45:1). Having conquered Babylonia, Cyrus reversed the Babylonian policy and returned captive gods and their worshipers to their homes. However, by taking care of *Marduk in Babylon and of "the God who is in Jerusalem" (Ezra 1:3), Cyrus became the legitimate successor of the kings of Babylon and of the kings of the House of David. After the restoration of the Temple and Darius I and until the revolt against Rome in 66 C.E., the priests of Jerusalem offered a sacrifice daily for the welfare of the heathen overlord of Zion. Written in the first half of the fourth century B.C.E., the work of the Chronicler (Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah) expresses this recognition of alien domination: the Temple was restored "by command of the God of Israel and by order of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes, king of Persia" (Ezra 6:14). However, Jerusalem was an insignificant town in an enormous empire, and if the Persian kings took the trouble to humor the God of Jerusalem, they did it rather for the sake of the Babylonian and Persian Jewry. Knowledge of the latter is almost nil. The story of *Susanna in the Apocrypha reflects Jewish self-government in Babylonia. The story of *Tobit illustrates the family life, faith, and also the superstitions of Persian Jews. However, the society which produced *Zerubbabel, *Ezra, and *Nehemiah was not that of Tobit and Susanna.

Again, almost nothing is known about contacts between the Persians and the Jews. Yet Gadal-Yama (Gadal-YHWH, Gedaliah), who in 422 was called upon to serve as a cuirassier to the royal army in a campaign at Erech (Uruk) and was the beneficiary of a fief, must have had Iranian comrades. One source indicates that a Persian magus was on friendly terms with a servant of the Lord in Elephantine (E.G. Kraeling, Brooklyn Museum Aramaic Papyri (1953), 4:24, 175). Because so little is known about the Iranian religions in Achaemenian Persia, it is difficult to determine the nature and extent of their influence on the Jews in the Persian period. The Jews preserved a favorable memory of the Persian kings, as their rule brought them two centuries of peace. By favoring the clergy, the Persian king laid the foundation for the later role of the high priests. For the first and last time, Jerusalem and the whole Diaspora, from the Indus to the Nile, remained under the sway of the same overlords. From Babylonia, Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah came to the aid of Jerusalem. The Jews at Elephantine could ask Jerusalem for assistance. When, after the death of *Alexander, the unity of the political world of which the Jews were a part was destroyed, the religious and spiritual link that had been forged between Jerusalem and the Diaspora under the Achaemenids remained, and it has persisted for 23 centuries.

[Elias J. Bickerman]

Pre-Islamic Persia

Traditions and legends connect the origin of the Jewish Diaspora in Persia with various events in Israel's ancient history, the starting points being regarded as the deportation of the Israelites in the time of Tiglath-Pileser III (d. 727 B.C.E.) from Samaria to the "cities of Media and Persia," the forced migration in the time of Sargon II of Assyria (d. 705) and of his son Sennacherib (681), or the destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar (d. 586). When the famous "Cyrus Declaration" (538 B.C.E.) allowed those Jews who were living as exiles on the "rivers of Babylon" to return to their homeland, Judea, and to rebuild their national life, some of them, who had established themselves economically and socially in their new surroundings, preferred to remain on Babylonian-Persian soil. These remaining exiles can be regarded as the nucleus of the permanent Jewish settlements which gradually expanded from the chief centers in Babylon to the interior provinces and cities of Persia, Ecbatana, Susa, and other places. The emergent group of Jewish colonies spread, in the words of the Book of Esther, "over all the provinces of the king… scattered among all peoples of the Persian Empire."

Favored by the tolerant attitude of the rulers toward their Jewish subjects, such dignitaries as Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Mordecai, and Esther emerged from these settlements and were able to play a leading role at the royal Persian court. The gratitude of the Jews toward the Persian Achaemenid rulers found expression in subsequent generations in a mishnaic injunction that a picture of Susa, the capital of the Persian kings, should be affixed on the eastern gate of the Temple to remind the Jews of their deliverance and the tolerance of the Achaemenids (Mid. 1:3b; Men. 98a). The overthrow of the Achaemenid dynasty resulting from Alexander the Great's conquest of Persia and the rule of the Seleucids over the eastern parts of Alexander's empire does not seem to have hindered the existence and expansion of Jewish settlements in Persia.

Under the Parthian dynasty (249 B.C.E.–226 C.E.) the size and influence of well-organized Jewish communities beyond the Euphrates and Tigris was acknowledged in contemporary literature. Philo, in his Embassy to Gaius (245), mentions the "large number of Jews in every city" in the trans-Euphratian Diaspora. Josephus refers to Jews in Babylonia, Media, and other distant provinces, and stresses that "Jews beyond the Euphrates are an immense multitude and not estimated by numbers." Apocryphal literature, in particular the Book of the Maccabees, alludes to the existence of Jews in "the cities of Persia and Media"; and the anonymous author of the Sibylline Oracles refers to Jews "in every country and every sea." The New Testament makes special mention of Jewish pilgrims coming to Jerusalem from the eastern Diaspora, from Elymais, Susa, and other territories. The Book of Tobit refers to Jews in Media, in particular to the city of Rhages. The Mishnah mentions a R. Nahum of Media (Naz. 5:4; BB 5:2) and talmudic sources contain a reference to an epistle sent by Rabban Gamaliel "to our brethren in the exile of Babylon, Media, and other remote provinces" (Sanh. 11a).

Under the Sassanid dynasty (226–642) the Jewish Diaspora in Persia had grown considerably; it also increased with the voluntary movements of Jews from the Roman provinces into Persia, as well as through the forced migration of Jews from territories adjacent to Persia. According to the Armenian historian, Moses of Chorene, in 364 C.E. Shapur II (309–379) transferred a great number of Jews, some say 7,000, to the interior of Persia. The Babylonian Talmud, a product of Babylonian Jewry in the Sassanid period, though concentrating mainly on Jewish life within the boundaries of Babylon, affords glimpses into the geographical diffusion of Jewish settlements beyond the Euphrates and Tigris, and apart from the dense Jewish population in such cities as *Sura, *Pumbedita, *Nehardea, *Mahosa, *Nisibis, *Naresh, *Ctesiphon (Be-Ardashir), there were Jewish settlements remote from Babylonian centers, in the interior provinces of the Sassanid Empire, in Media, *Elam, Khuzistan, Susiana, in such cities as Hulvan, *Nehavend, *Hamadan (Ecbatana), Be Lapat (Gundashapur), *Ahwaz (Khurramshahr), *Susa, and Tustar, and up to the Persian Gulf. The spread of Jewish settlements throughout the Sassanid realm is also indicated by the express reference to them in the inscription of Karter, one of the leaders of the Mazdaan priesthood in the period following Shahpur I.

The First Six Centuries under the Caliphate (642–1258)

LEGAL STATUS

The battle at Nehavend in 642 which signaled the defeat of the Sassanid army by the invading Arab Muslims terminated the national and political independence which Persia had enjoyed for nearly 12 centuries, from the time of Cyrus the Great until Yazdegerd III. The changes resulting from the Muslim Arab conquest of Persia affected the whole structure of the Persian Empire in its political, religious, cultural, and linguistic aspects. Politically, Persia ceased to be an independent entity, being incorporated as a province into the great Arab-Islamic empire. The development of Persia was henceforth controlled and shaped to a large degree by the political authorities, the *Umayyad and *Abbasid caliphs of *Damascus and *Baghdad respectively, and the viceroys appointed by them. Increasingly Arabic words infiltrated the Persian language, written from then on in Arabic script. The Islamic conquest replaced Zoroastrianism with *Islam as the state religion. These changes had a profound impact on the many religious minorities within Persia and in particular on the Jewish settlements within the Babylonian-Persian Diaspora, affecting first their legal and political status. The attitude of Islam toward the non-Muslims living within an Islamic realm was regulated by a contract which deprived the *dhimmis of social and political equality, making them in effect "second-class" citizens. At various periods in history this led to the enactment of discriminatory measures which were embodied in the so-called "Covenant of *Omar."

THE CRADLE OF JEWISH SECTARIANISM

The religious and social fermentation affecting the Persian population in the early centuries of Islamic rule also touched Jewish life, giving rise to Jewish sectarian movements, freethinkers, heretics, and pseudo-messianic claimants. The first recorded sectarian movement initiated by a Persian Jew was connected with the name of *Abu ʿĪsā, a tailor who lived in the time of the Umayyad caliph ʿAbd al-Malik ibn Marwān (d. 705). Greatly influenced by the heterodox tendencies manifest within the Islamic environment, he proclaimed himself a messiah, acknowledged Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad as true prophets, advocated fundamental changes in the Jewish calendar, Jewish ritual, and prayer, aimed at a reform of and a revolt against rabbinic Judaism. He seems to have gained a considerable following among the Jews of Isfahan and other places. His adherents were described as a community of simpleminded, uneducated Jews: "barbarian, ill-bred peoples, destitute of intellect and knowledge." Abu ʿĪsā's messianic claims and political ambitions brought him into open conflict with the Islamic authorities and he is said to have been killed in a battle with the troops of the caliph. After his death his movement continued under his disciple *Yudghan of Hamadan, who broke even more radically with the halakhah. His adherents, known as Isunians or Isfahanians, are said to have been eagerly awaiting the return of their mahdi, Abu ʿĪsā, in Isfahan until the tenth century. A certain Mushka of Qum created another movement proclaiming Muhammad as a true prophet, and calling on his adherents to wage a "holy war." In the remote region of *Khurasan in the ninth century, a Jew from the city of Balkh, known as *Ḥiwi al-Balkhi, arose among the scattered Jewish communities. Hiwi's heretical teachings are known mainly through the 200 answers which *Saadiah Gaon wrote in refutation of his beliefs.

The greatest schism in Oriental Jewry in these early centuries was the rise of the *Karaite movement founded by *Anan b. David in the eighth century; some of its most distinguished leaders hailed from Persia, such as Benjamin b. Moses *Nahāwendī, Daniel b. Moses al-Qūmisi, and others. The Karaite scholar and traveler Jacob al-*Kirkisānī (tenth century) depicts the spread and distribution of Karaite communities over many Persian provinces and cities, such as Isfahan, Tustar, Jibāl, Khurasan, Fars, etc. Due to Saadiah Gaon's intervention and the activities of subsequent geonim and exilarchs, rabbinic-talmudic Judaism asserted its influence on the Persian communities, though Karaite communities continued to exist in many Persian cities well into the 16th century.

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CENTER AND PERIPHERY

The backbone of the communal organization of Babylonian Persian Jewry was the *exilarch, the resh galuta, appointed by the Islamic authorities, who was responsible for the collection and prompt delivery of the annual poll tax levied on every male. He and the gaon of the talmudic academies in Babylonia were the recognized authorities for the widely scattered Jewish Diaspora in the East. The relationship between the Babylonian authorities, the center, and Persia, the periphery, expressed itself in subsequent centuries in a twofold way, financially and culturally. The Persian communities were expected to send financial support to Babylonia for the maintenance of the talmudic academies of Sura and Pumbedita. Available sources refer to the annual contributions made by Nehavend, Fars, Hulvan, and other communities, but also indicate that some Persian communities refused or were delinquent in sending their contributions, which sometimes led to the despatch of special envoys from Babylonia to collect the revenue through the intervention of the Islamic authorities. The tenth-century chronicle of *Nathan b. Isaac ha-Kohen ha-Bavli, and a parallel version in *Seder Olam Zuta, recount a dispute between *Kohen Zedek b. Joseph, the head of the academy in Pumbedita, and the exilarch *Ukba over the jurisdiction over the Jews of Khurasan.

The Babylonian authorities made their influence felt on the Persian communities by controlling their education and by exercising their prerogative of appointing judges, dayyanim, and rabbis for the Persian communities. The chief rabbi of Isfahan, in the time of *Benjamin of Tudela, was Sar Shalom and the spiritual leader of *Samarkand Obadiah ha-Nasi, both appointed by the Babylonian gaon. As the 12th-century "Iggeret" of Gaon *Samuel b. Ali indicates, vigorous efforts were made to foster talmudic education in the Persian communities culminating in the establishment of a yeshivah in Hamadan, which together with Isfahan seemed to have been the cultural center of the Persian Diaspora at this period. According to the Iggeret, the Babylonian gaon sent his own son-in-law, *Zechariah b. Barachel, and later dispatched a distinguished student of his, Jacob b. Eli, to Hamadan to deal with halakhic questions and advise the community. There is mention also that a young rabbinical student, David of Hamadan, arrived in Baghdad with a letter of recommendation from the pakid, the trustee of the Hamadan yeshivah. It is noteworthy that part of the correspondence preserved between Baghdad and Hamadan was written in Persian.

ECONOMIC ACTIVITIES OF THE JEWS

The position as dhimmī within Islamic society allowed the Jews complete freedom in the pursuit of economic opportunities. Scanty though the data are, a thorough examination of the available Muslim and Hebrew sources indicates that Persian Jews were engaged in many branches of artisanship and handicraft, as weavers, dyers, gold and silversmiths, and also as merchants and shopkeepers, jewelers, wine manufacturers, and dealers in drugs, spices, and antiquities. Due to the imposition of heavy land taxes, their share in agriculture declined to a great extent. When Baghdad became the capital of the Abbasid caliphate (762), a fundamental change occurred in the economic stratification of Babylonian-Persian Jewry. With the ever-increasing urbanization of the Islamic east and the development of trade and commerce on an international scale, a wealthy class of Jewish merchants emerged in the leading centers of the Diaspora, such as Baghdad, Ahwaz, *Isfahan, and *Shiraz.

From the tenth century on, Jewish merchants began to participate in banking and moneylending and to play a leading role as financial experts and bankers (see *Banking) in the service of the caliphs and their viziers. Known as Jahābidha ("court bankers"), they carried out major financial transactions such as the administration of deposits, remittance of funds from place to place through the medium of suftaja ("letter of credit") – widely used instrument of the prevailing credit economy – and by supplying huge loans for the caliph, his viziers, his court, and his army. Jewish court bankers were also to be found at the courts of the Buyids, the Ghaznavids, and the Seljuk sultans. In the time of Sultan Mahmud (997–1030) of the Ghaznavid dynasty, the Jew Isaac, a resident of Ghazni, was in the sultan's service and was entrusted with the administration of his lead mines in Balkh in Khurasan. Numerous Court Jews also served the Seljuk sultans. Their celebrated vizier, Niẓām al-Mulk (d. 1192), though in his Persian work, Siyāsat Nameh, he emphatically rejected the employment of dhimmī in governmental service, at the same time maintained close and friendly associations with Jewish officeholders, tax-farmers, bankers, and money experts who had been called upon to assist him. Many of the wealthy Jewish merchants were subjected to extortion, confiscation, and torture at various intervals, causing a wave of emigration to other parts of the Islamic world. Notable among those Persian Jews who emigrated in the 11th century were the two Jewish merchants from Tustar known as the Banu Sahl al-Tustari, who rose to great influence and position in the service of the Fatimid caliphs in *Egypt.

THE GEOGRAPHICAL SETTING

The status of *dhimmī allowed the Jews complete freedom of movement and settlement within the Islamic realm. During the first six centuries of Islamic rule over Persia, the Jewish Diaspora experienced an unprecedented expansion and remarkable geographical diffusion into all the provinces of Persia and the eastern lands of the caliphate. Muslim geographers and historians, rabbinic and geonic sources, and the account of *Benjamin of Tudela and other 12th-century travelers make it possible to discern the major areas of Jewish settlement. Jewish colonies were established in all the interior provinces of Persia. These settlements seemed to have served as a springboard for further expansion into the easternmost provinces of Khurasan and *Transoxiana and even China. Jewish communities are recorded in *Nishapur, *Balkh Ghazni, Kabul, Seistan (Sistan), *Merv, Samarkand, Khiva, *Bukhara, and other regions. No clear picture emerges of the numerical strength of the Jewish Diaspora in Persia in this period. Some Persian and Arab geographers of the tenth century make comparative statements showing the relative strengths of some non-Muslim groups in various Persian provinces. Thus, the tenth-century Arab geographer, al-Muqaddasī, in comparing the various non-Muslim minorities stated, "in the province of Jibāl Jews are more numerous than Christians; in the province of Khuzistan Christians are few and Jews not numerous; while in the province of Fars the Zoroastrians are more numerous than the Jews and there are only a few Christians."

Concrete figures appear for the first time in the 12th century thanks to the travels of Benjamin of Tudela and *Pethahiah of Regensburg. According to Benjamin's account, 30,000 Jews lived in *Hamadan; 15,000 in *Isfahan; 10,000 in *Shiraz; 25,000 in *ʿAmadiya; 4,000 in Tabaristan; 7,000 in Susa; 4,000 in Hulvan; 80,000 in Ghazni; 50,000 in Samarkand; and in the region of the Persian Gulf, 500 in Kish and 5,000 in Qatif. There is no doubt that all these figures are unreliable and exaggerated, arrived at by hearsay alone. This far-flung Diaspora in Persia and Khurasan was not just an agglomeration of immigrants without guidance and leadership; it was dependent, culturally and religiously, on the official Jewish authorities in Baghdad, the exilarchs and the gaon, who controlled and guided them throughout this period. Benjamin of Tudela emphasizes that the Jewish leadership in Babylonia had considerable authority over all the Jewish communities under the caliph and stresses the extent of their jurisdiction "over all the Jewish communities in Mesopotamia, Shinear, Media, Elam, Khurasan, Persia, Saba, Armenia, over the mountains of Ararat, Caucasus, Georgia, unto the borders of Tibet and *India." Similarly, Pethahiah of Regensburg speaks of the power of the gaon "in all the lands of Assyria, Damascus, in the cities of Persia and Media, in Babylon." The extent and scope of the Jewish Diaspora in Persia must have been well known to the Persian authorities, as illustrated in the appearance of pseudo-Messiah David *Alroy in ʿAmadiya in the time of the Seljuk sultan Sanjar (d. 1156). Realizing that the messianic movement might encroach on his authority, the sultan, according to the report of Benjamin of Tudela, threatened to eliminate "all the Jews in all the parts of the Persian Empire" unless the movement was stopped.

Under the Il-Khan Dynasty (1258–1336)

The invasion of Persia by Hulagu Khan, culminating in the conquest of Baghdad and the overthrow of the Abbasid caliphate in 1258, also brought about a fundamental change in the situation of the Jews in the Persian Diaspora. Under Hulagu and some of his successors of the newly established Il-Khan dynasty, the concept of the dhimma ("the protected people") and the division between "believers" and "nonbelievers" were abolished, and all the various religions put on equal footing. Thus Persian Jews were afforded a unique opportunity to participate actively in the affairs of the state and in the time of Arghun Khan (1284–91), a Jew by the name of *Saʿd al-Dawla al-Safī ibn Hibatallah achieved an unexpected and spectacular rise to power and influence. Under subsequent Il-Khan rulers another Persian Jew, Faḍl Allah ibn Abi al-Khayribn Ali al-Hamadhānī, had a similarly meteoric rise and fall. The cultural climate which had enabled these two Jews to achieve power in the economic and political sphere also led to the genesis and growth of *Judeo-Persian literature.

Under the Safawid Dynasty (1502–1736)

The fate of the Jews in Persia and Babylonia under Tamerlane (d. 1405), the greatest world conqueror Asia has produced after Genghis Khan, is shrouded in obscurity. It must be assumed that in the wake of the devastating campaigns which spread destruction and annihilation over all the lands of western Asia, the Jews did not escape the atrocities which Tamerlane and his army committed everywhere. The Jewish settlements were undoubtedly reduced and decimated through warfare, the intolerance of the authorities, and the fanaticism of the masses. But that the Jewish settlements in Persia, although weakened and reduced in numbers, survived these troubled centuries became evident with the emergence of a new dynasty, the Safawids. Under this dynasty the Jews once again appear on the scene, and according to European travelers of that period they were living in "all the cities of Persia" and were estimated at about 30,000.

The founders of the Safawid dynasty put the country on entirely new political and religious bases. They introduced Shiʿism as the state religion and established a hierarchy of clergy with almost unlimited power and influence in every sphere of life. The concept of the "ritual uncleanliness" of non-believers, the principal cornerstone of their interconfessional relationship, made the life of the Jews in Persia a sequence of suffering and persecution. Under no other Persian dynasty was the hatred of the Jews more intense. They experienced a temporary improvement under Shah *Abbas I (d. 1629) who introduced reforms in order to weaken the theocratic basis of the state and free Persia from the fetters of its all-too-powerful Shiʿa clergy, and to break the political, economic, and cultural isolation of the country.

Realizing that the most urgent requirement for Persia was increased population and economic ties with the outside world, Shah Abbas fundamentally changed the policy of the state toward non-Muslims and foreigners. Far from being antagonistic, as were his predecessors, toward Europeans and nonbelievers, he encouraged the immigration of foreigners–merchants, settlers, and artisans – from neighboring countries such as Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, and also from Europe. By granting freedom of religion and special privileges and facilities to all who were prepared to come to his territory, he was able to succeed. This liberal and tolerant attitude made Persia at that time the meeting place of European envoys, emissaries, diplomats, merchant-adventurers, and missionaries – all eager to obtain commercial, political, or religious concessions and privileges. Never before in the history of Persia's relationship with the outside world were the economic and political ties between Persia and Europe closer.

For the Jews of Persia, the second part of the 17th century was a time of great suffering and persecutions. The conception of the ritual uncleanliness of the Persian Jew, which led to the introduction of a special headgear enforced on all Jews in Persia and to a crusade against Hebrew books, culminated under Shah *Abbas II (1642–66) in the forced conversion of all the Jews in Persia, a catastrophe which brought them to the very brink of destruction. This persecution, a tragic parallel to the Inquisition of Spain, was regarded as more cruel than that of the time of Ahasuerus and Haman. European sources as well as the Judeo-Persian chronicles of *Babai ibn Lutf and Babai ibn Farhad describe in great detail the sufferings of the Jews during the time of Shah Abbas II. They show how in Isfahan, the capital, and in other communities the Jews were compelled to abandon their religion, how their synagogues were closed and they were led to the mosque, where they had to proclaim a public confession of Muslim faith. After their forced conversion, they were called new Muslims; they were then, of course, freed from the payment of the poll tax and from the wearing of a special headgear or badge. Despite all the measures on the part of the Shiʿa clergy to supervise the Islamization of the Jews, most of them adhered tenaciously and heroically in secret to their religion and began to live a dual life as secret Jews, repeating the phenomenon of *Marranos in an Islamic version. The double life of these forcibly converted Jews did not escape the attention of the Persian authorities, and led finally to an edict issued in 1661 allowing the Jews to return openly to their religion.

When J. Fryer visited Persia a decade later (1672–81), he found the Jews "congregated on their Sabbaths, new moons, and feast days in synagogues without disturbance." Under the successors of Shah Abbas II, Shah Suleiman (d. 1694) and Shah Husein (d. 1722), the persecution and oppression of the Jews were, however, renewed, and it was only with the rise of a new and remarkable ruler, *Nadir Shah (1736–47), that the Jews of Persia were saved from complete annihilation.

COMMUNAL AND RELIGIOUS LIFE

The establishment of Persia as a national state under the Safawid dynasty had far-reaching repercussions on Jewish community life in Persia. During the Abbasid period, the exilarch or the gaon, from his central seat in Baghdad, exerted supreme authority in all religious and cultural matters over all the Jewish communities in the far-flung Diaspora of Asia, including Persia, which then formed a part of the Eastern caliphate. With the rise of the Safawids, the official bonds which the Persian Jewish communities might still have maintained formally with Jewish authorities outside the borders of the country were completely severed. The official representative of the Jews in Persia, the chief rabbi of Isfahan, was no longer appointed by the gaon of Baghdad as in preceding centuries, nor were Persian Jews expected or willing to support the Jewish academies in Baghdad. Persian Jews ceased to be responsible to any central Jewish leadership and their communal life was put on a purely territorial basis.

Due to their geographical proximity to the central government and their numerical strength the Jews of Isfahan, the new capital of the Safawid dynasty, assumed the religious and cultural leadership and functioned as representatives and spokesmen for all Persian Jewry. At the head of the community of Isfahan was a nasi, who was assisted by the rabbi, mullah, or dayyan. The nasi, who was highly respected, was responsible for the prompt payment of taxes to the local authorities. If the taxes were not paid in due time or in the due amount requested, he could be dismissed by the authorities or even imprisoned. On the other hand, if the authorities were satisfied, the nasi would receive a sign of distinction and honor. It seems that in the time of the Safawids there existed in Isfahan, as part of the general administration, a special divan which regulated the financial affairs of the non-Muslims and examined petitions of protest, grievances, requests, or complaints from the Jews against officials of the administration. At the head of the divans stood a high official appointed by the grand vizier, sometimes assisted by a Jewish apostate who acted as adviser or spy for the authorities.

The frequent mention of a "Jewish quarter" indicates the geographical separation of the Jews from the Christian and Muslim population. The Jewish quarter housed the residences of the Jewish population, their synagogues, and schools, the mikveh, and other religious institutions. In the time of the Safawids Isfahan had at least three synagogues, while *Kashan is said to have had ten; it can be assumed that at least one synagogue existed in every Jewish settlement in Persia. The religious life of the Jews in Safawid Persia was established on a rigid, rabbinical, traditional basis. There were also some Karaite communities, especially in Kazerun. A typical feature in the religious life of the Persian Jew at this, and indeed at all times, was the custom of making pilgrimages to some of the Jewish "holy places" in Persia, in particular to the mausoleum of Mordecai and Esther in Hamadan, to the tomb of the prophet Daniel in Susa, and to the burial places of other biblical heroes believed to be interred on Persian soil. At this period another "holy place" came into prominence, the alleged visiting place of Serah bat Asher in the vicinity of Isfahan at Pir Bakrān.

Despite the territorial limitation, the Jews of Persia had contacts with the outside Jewish world, particularly with Ereẓ Israel through "messengers from Zion" who toured the Jewish communities in that period, fostering the love for Zion and collecting funds for the charitable institutions in the Holy Land. Among these early sheliḥim were R. Moses *Alshekh (c. 1593) from Safed, Baruch Gad of *Jerusalem, and above all, R. Yahuda Amram Divan (d. 1752) who repeatedly visited the Jewish communities in Persia. The messianic movement of *Shabbetai Ẓevi made an impact on Persian Jewry. It was in this period that the Jews began to migrate to territories outside the border of Persia to neighboring regions such as *Afghanistan, Turkestan, Samarkand, and Bukhara in the east, and to Kurdistan, the Caucasus, and Egypt in the west. Persian Jews also moved to India; most famous of them was *Sarmad, the Jew of Kashan, who became a fakir and a Sufi dervish.

Under the Kajar Dynasty (1794–1925)

The political and religious foundations of the Kajar dynasty which ruled over Persia were essentially a continuation of those of the Safawid dynasty. The Shiʿite concept of the ritual uncleanliness of the nonbelievers prevailed, with the related attitude of the Persian authorities toward their non-Muslim minorities, Christians and Jews alike. The intolerant attitude toward the Jews led to innumerable legal and political restrictions which made their daily life, throughout the 19th century, an uninterrupted sequence of persecution, oppression, and discrimination. The reports of many European missionaries and travelers to Persia describe the tragic fate of the Jews in Persia during the Kajar dynasty. Whole Jewish communities, as well as many individual Jews, were forcibly converted to Islam in many provinces of the Persian Empire, a movement which reached its peak in the forced conversion of the whole Jewish community in *Meshed in 1839 under Muhammad Shah (1834–48).

Even during the reign of Nasr-ed-Din Shah (1848–96), who realized the necessity for thorough reform of the whole Persian administration and social structure, persecution of the Jews continued, coupled with legal and social discriminations of the severest nature, including the enforcement of a special Jewish badge and Jewish headgear. The entire community was held responsible for crimes and misdemeanors committed by its individual members; the oath of a Jew was not accepted in a court of justice; and a Jew who converted to Islam could claim to be the sole inheritor of family property, to the exclusion of all relatives who had not changed their religion.

The Jewish minority in Persia had been left entirely to itself and no outside organization, Jewish or other, had taken any interest in its fate. Contact with the Jewish world at large, and particularly with the Jews in Ereẓ Israel, was occasionally maintained through the sheliḥim sent on behalf of the communities of Hebron, Tiberias, Safed, and Jerusalem, to the remote Jewish communities in Persia, Bukhara, and Afghanistan. In the middle of the 19th century four brothers of one Jewish family were the busiest and most popular physicians in the city of *Teheran. One of them, Hak Nazar, was for some time court physician of Muhammad Shah. They had, however, just as little influence on the actual political situation of their coreligionists as did the European physicians subsequently appointed by Nasr-ed-Din and his successors, among whom figured most prominently the Austrian physician, J.E. *Polak. In the second half of the 19th century the Persian Jews acquired a powerful ally in their struggle for justice and emancipation – Western European Jewry.

THE INTERVENTION OF WESTERN JEWRY

Reports on the plight of Persian Jews moved the *Board of Deputies of British Jews and later the *Anglo-Jewish Association under Sir Moses *Montefiore and the *Alliance Israélite Universelle under Adolphe *Crémieux to action, urging intervention by the British and French ministers in Teheran. When news of a terrible persecution of Jews in Hamadan reached London in 1865, Sir Moses Montefiore decided to leave for Persia and to obtain from the shah an edict of safety for the persecuted Persian Jews. However, he was dissuaded by the British Foreign Office, who stated that "the journey would be perilous even to a younger man and could be undertaken by him at the risk of his life." In addition to their political plight, the Jews of Persia experienced new hardship through the outbreak of a famine in 1871, which the leaders of European Jewry tried to alleviate through a relief fund. The Jewish leaders in Paris and London were again on the point of considering sending a Jewish delegation to Persia when the news reached them in 1873 that Nasr-ed-Din Shah, anxious to appear as a tolerant and progressive monarch, had embarked on a visit to Europe. Seizing their opportunity, the leaders of the Alliance Israélite Universelle and the Anglo-Jewish Association organized a movement intended to impress the shah with the importance and influence of European Jewry, to stress their equality and emancipation in all European countries and their unanimous desire to see an improvement in the condition of their coreligionists in Persia.

In every European capital through which the shah planned to travel, committees of the most influential Jews were organized to present him personally with petitions calling for the improvement of the Persian Jews' situation. This was carried out in Berlin on May 4, 1873, in Amsterdam on June 10, in Brussels on June 17, in London on June 24, in Paris on July 12, in Vienna on August 6, and in Constantinople on August 20. In London the shah had a meeting with *Disraeli and also received Sir Moses Montefiore in private audience in Buckingham Palace. In all these petitions the spirit of Cyrus the Great was recalled and the grievances of the Jews in Persia were listed. The highlight of these activities was the memorable interview in Paris between the shah and Adolphe Crémieux and his associates on July 12, 1873. Apparently impressed by the strength and unity of European Jewry, the shah promised to make the protection of his Jewish subjects his own and his grand vizier's special responsibility, to establish a special court of justice for the Jews, and above all to help in the establishment of Jewish schools in Persia as suggested by the European representatives. In order to encourage and strengthen the persecuted Persian Jews, the text of the petitions submitted to the shah in the various capitals of Europe, together with the reply of the shah and his minister, were translated into Hebrew and published as a booklet called Mishlo'aḥ Manot (1874), which was distributed among the Jewish communities in Persia. Despite all the well-meaning promises of the shah, the central government in Persia failed to prevent new outbreaks of hostilities against the Jews. There was, therefore, enough reason to intervene again and to remind Nasr-ed-Din during his last journey to Europe of his previous promises and assurances. On July 4, 1889, a deputation of British Jewry, led by Sir Albert Sassoon, had an interview with the shah in Buckingham Palace. The members of the deputation included Lord Rothschild, Sir J. Goldsmid, and Sebag Montefiore. The demand for the establishment of Jewish schools in Persia was again the central issue.

Under Shah Muzaffar-ed-Din (1896–1907) a definite improvement in the destiny of Persian Jews took place in connection with the constitutional movement, which had far-reaching consequences for all religious groups in Persia. Persian Jews took an active part in this constitutional movement, receiving official thanks for their efforts from the first parliament of Persia in 1906, although neither the Jews, the Armenian Christians, nor the Zoroastrian minority were yet permitted to send their own deputy to parliament and had to agree to be represented by a Muslim deputy. For Persian Jews the constitutional movement meant a step forward toward their emancipation and equality. The dualism in legislation between the religious laws, the shariʿa, and the civil law, was abolished, as were the discriminatory and humiliating medieval restrictions against the Jews. Unfortunately for the country, three months after parliament convened Shah Muzaffar-ed-Din died, and under the new ruler, Shah Muhammad Ali (1907–09), the constitutional movement quickly disappointed the high hopes placed in it by the liberal elements among the Muslims and the Jews in Persia.

At this stage the Persian Jews were assisted in their struggle for survival by the intervention of the U.S. diplomatic representative in the country. Reference to Persian Jews appeared in U.S. diplomatic correspondence in 1918, in connection with the relief activities of the *American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The State Department, as well as U.S. diplomatic representatives abroad, helped the committee in distributing funds, food, and other necessities to the starving Jews everywhere. This intervention also continued in the period after World War I, through the U.S. representative in Persia from 1921 to 1924, namely the minister plenipotentiary, Joseph Saul *Kornfeld, a former rabbi. The dissolution of the Persian parliament; the deposition of Shah Muhammad Ali by the National Assembly; the reconvening of a second parliament in 1909 by Ahmed Shah (1909–25); the great financial crisis which brought the American experts, M. Shuster and A.C. Millspaugh, to Persia; the steady changes in the cabinet and the government; and the encroachment of Russia in the north and Great Britain in the south – all this contributed to a state of unrest and danger, so that at the outbreak of World War I, Persia stood at the very brink of disintegration.

THE ESTABLISHMENT OF JEWISH SCHOOLS IN PERSIA

For the Persian Jews the rule of Muzaffar-ed-Din was a turning point, since at this period the first Jewish schools of the Alliance Israélite Universelle were established in Persia. The idea of Jewish schools in Persia, conceived in 1866, became in 1873 the central issue in the discussions between the Jewish authorities in Europe and the Persian government; in 1889 it was still a matter of discussion alone, but finally, after ten years, it was realized. In 1898 the first school of the Alliance Israélite Universelle was opened in Teheran, followed by similar schools in Hamadan in 1900, in Isfahan in 1901, in Shiraz and Sena in 1903, and in *Kermanshah in 1904. As two main dangers threatening Jewish survival in Persia during the 19th century were Christian missionary activities and the *Bahai movement, the Jewish schools of the Alliance played an important role in the struggle for spiritual survival. The educational facilities available to Persian Jews were considerably strengthened and augmented from 1944, not only through the activities of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the establishment of vocational training schools and workshops under the auspices of the *ORT, but also by a new educational movement sponsored by a group of prominent U.S. and European philanthropists and generously supported by the Joint. This movement, known as "Oẓar ha-Torah" or "Gandj Danesh," which aimed at strengthening traditional Judaism and Hebrew education among the Jewish communities in *Morocco, Persia, and elsewhere, succeeded in establishing, in close cooperation with the Alliance Israélite Universelle, new schools, teacher training seminars, summer camps, and other educational facilities. Under the leadership of its first director, Rabbi I.M. Levi, Oẓar ha-Torah instilled a new religious spirit into the younger generation.

ALIYAH TO THE HOLY LAND

The 19th century was also characterized by a mass immigration of Persian-speaking Jews from Persia and neighboring countries to Ereẓ Israel. Almost parallel with the *Ḥibbat Zion movement in Russia, but probably without any direct contact with it, a great number of Persian-speaking Jews set out for the Holy Land. They came from Teheran and Shiraz, from Hamadan, *Yezd, and Isfahan, from Kashan and Meshed, from *Herat and Kabul, from Bukhara and Samarkand. The awakening of Persian Jews in the 20th century was also expressed in a Zionist movement which spread throughout most of the Jewish communities in Persia. This renaissance found literary expression in the establishment of a Judeo-Persian and Hebrew press in Teheran, which printed the first Persian textbook of modern Hebrew. This was followed by a history of the Zionist movement, written in Persian in Hebrew characters (1920) by Aziz b. Jonah Naim, and a Hebrew translation of Herzl's Der Judenstaat and his biography by A. Bein. This circle also published a Jewish newspaper in Persian, Ha-Ge'ullah, and another called Ha-Ḥayyim, which became the mouthpiece of the Jewish renaissance movement founded by Shmuel Haim who functioned as Jewish representative in the Majles in 1923–26. Some of Bialik's poems were translated into Persian by Aziz b. Jonah Naim and published in these periodicals.

Under the Pahlavi Dynasty (1925–1979)

The political and social conditions of Persian Jews were fundamentally changed with the ascent to the throne of Riza Khān Pahlavi and the establishment of the new Pahlavi dynasty in 1925. In 1921, Riza Khān Pahlavi took Teheran; in 1923 he became prime minister; and on Oct. 31, 1925 the parliament in Teheran deposed the last Kajar ruler and entrusted Riza Khān with the provisional government. On Dec. 15, 1925, he was crowned shah of Persia and became the founder of the new Pahlavi dynasty. Bent on secularization and Westernization of his country, Riza Shah, and after him his son Muhammad Riza, carried out far-reaching reforms affecting the social, cultural, and political structure of the country. By breaking the power of the Shiʿa clergy, which for centuries had stood in the way of progress, by freeing the country from the fetters of fanatical and intolerant circles, and by eliminating the Shiʿa concept of the ritual uncleanliness of the nonbelievers – once the basic foundation of the state attitude toward non-Muslims – the shah laid the foundations for a revival which had most beneficial effects on the Jewish sector of the population. No other country except *Turkey went through so fundamental a change in so short a time as Persia (or, as it has since been called, *Iran) under the new dynasty. This change brought about the political emancipation of the Jews in Persia, for which they, assisted by Western European Jewry, had struggled in the latter half of the 19th century. When World War II broke out, with the subsequent political upheavals and the deposition of Riza Khān Pahlavi, the whole process of the Jewish regeneration in Iran was in jeopardy. Yet under Riza Shah's successor, Muhammad Riza, a very favorable climate was provided for the continuous improvement of Jewish life in Persia.

For the modern period, see *Iran.

[Walter Joseph Fischel]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

PRE-ISLAMIC PERIOD: J. Obermeyer, Die Landschaft Babylonien (1929); Neusner, Babylonia (incl. bibl). MUSLIM PERIOD; W.J. Fischel, Jews in the Economic and Political Life of Medieval Islam (1937, 19692); idem, in: Tarbiz, 6 (1935), 523–6; idem, in: Zion, 1 (1935), 49–74; 2 (1937), 273–93; idem, in HJ, 7 (1945), 29–50; 8 (1946), 66–77; idem, in: Alexander Marx Jubilee Volume (1950), 203–30; idem, in: JSOS, 12 (1950), 119–60; idem, in: HTR, 45 (1952), 3–45; idem, in: Ha-Kinnus ha-Olami le-Madda'ei ha-Yahadut 1947 (1952), 477–86; idem, in: Joshua Starr Memorial Volume (1953), 111–28; idem, in: PAAJR, 22 (1953), 1–21; idem, in: L. Finkelstein (ed.), The Jews (19603), 1149–90; idem, in: JAOS, 85 (1865), 148–53. 19th–20th CENTURIES: H. Levy, Tarikh Yahud Iran, 3 vols. (1956–60); A. Ben-Jacob, Yehudei Bavel (1965); I. Ben-Zvi, Meḥkarim u-Mekorot (1967), 285–410. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Gil, Tustaries, Family and Sect (1981); V.B. Moreen, Iranian Jewry's Hour of Peril and Heroism (1987); 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), 32–6; idem, "Aliyat Yehudei Paras ve-Hityash evutam be-Ereẓ-Yisrael," in: Miqqedem u-Miyyam (1981); idem, "Kivrot Ester u-Mordekhai ba-Ir Hamadan she-ba-Iran," in: Amve-Areẓ (1984), 177–84; idem, "Tekufot u-Shelavim be-Maẓav ha-Yehudim ve-ha-Pe'ilut ha-Ẓiyyonit be-Iran," in: Yahadut Zemanenu, vol. I (1983), 139–62; idem, "Anti-Shemiyut be-Iran, 1925–1950," in: Pe'amim, 29 (1986), 5–31; idem, "Jewish Education in Iran," in: H.S. Himmelfarb and S. Dellapergola (eds.), Jewish Education Worldwide (1989), 447–61; idem, "Korot Anusei Mashhad lefi Ya'akov Dilmanian," in: Pe'amim, 42 (1990), 127–156.


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.