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Bushire (Bushehr), Iran

BUSHIRE (Arab. Bushehr), port city at the northern end of a peninsula on the Persian Gulf. During the 18th century it was a small town when Nader Shah (1736–47) built a naval base for Iran's fleet there. Subsequently Bushire became a center of trade and thus attracted the attention of the English East India Company (EEIC), which later moved many Iranian Jews as well as Iraqi Jews from *Basra and *Baghdad , and those who already had been living around the Persian Gulf, to settle in the city. The Jews of Bushire were mostly connected with the EEIC and Dutch Trading Company, an exporter of silk, woolen cloth, sugar and spices to European markets.

In the 18th century the general population was estimated at 20,000, which remained more or less stable throughout the 19th century. In 1808 Dupré counted 24 Armenian and Jewish households in Bushire. The Jewish traveler David d'Beth Hillel wrote the following about the Jews of Bushire in around 1828: "Bushire is a small town … it is a place of much trade, because it is the gate of Persia … there are about 200 poor families of Persian Israelites, having three synagogues; most of them are goldsmiths; they are very badly treated by the common Mahometans [i.e., Muslims]." He also reported that there were 500 families of Armenians who were "ill treated as are the Jews," all of them live among 5,000 Muslim families (p. 106; see Bibliography below).

Twelve years later, Coste found 200 Jewish and five Armenian households in the city. Around that time, because of Davud Pasha's despotic rule in Baghdad (1817–31), many Jews emigrated to the East, and probably some of them on their way to Calcutta, Sydney, and China settled in Bushire. Benjamin II (1850) wrote: "Here [Bushire] live about 70 Jewish families, who are less oppressed than those living in the interior of Persia. They owe this to the English consul" (p. 226). Rabbi Yehiel Fischel Castlemen (1860) reported that there were 40 Jewish families in Bushire, most of them silversmiths (p. 58).

The Anglo-Indian telegraph (completed in 1876) was one of the main factors that boosted the economy and made Bushire the main harbor on the Iranian side of the Persian Gulf, which accounted for 40 percent of all traffic in the Persian Gulf at the beginning of the 20th century. After World War II, *Abadan and Khorramshahr took the lead in commerce, which caused Bushire to decline. Naturally, the Jews were affected by the deterioration of the economy. However, the city's general population increased from 30,000–40,000 in the mid-1950s to over one million according to the census at end of the 20th century.

The Jews of Bushire were among the first groups of Khuzestani Jews who emigrated to the Land of Israel at the end of 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. They organized an institution (1913) called Ḥevrat Shalom ve-Reʿut, which aimed at helping the poor Persian Jews in Jerusalem. The sign on the door of their institution can still be seen in Agrippas Street near Maḥaneh Yehudah. According to ʿĀlam-e Yahūd, a Jewish Persian monthly published in Teheran, there were 400 Jews in Bushire after World War II. About 10 percent belonged to the middle class and the rest were poor. They had four synagogues and most were small-scale goldsmiths and textile dealers. They had no Jewish school of their own and lived under poor sanitary conditions. After the Islamic Revolution (1979) many left for *Teheran , Israel, and the U.S., so that no Jewish families were reported in Bushire by the end of the 20th century.


ʿĀlam-e Yahūd, 13 (Oct. 1945), 236; J.J. Benjamin II, Eight Years in Asia and Africa from 1846 to 1855, (1863); A. Ben-Jacob, Yehudei Bavel (1965); Y.F. Castleman, Massaʿot Shaliyah Ẓefat be-Arẓot ha-Mizraḥ (1942); P.X. Coste, Notes et souvenirs de voyages, 1 (1876), 324–26; G.N. Curzon, Persia and the Persian Question, 2 vols (1892), index; David d'Beth Hillel, Unknown Jews in Unknown Lands (1824–1832), ed. W.J. Fischel (1973); A. Dupré, Voyage en Perse…, 2 (1819), 34–49; W.J. Fischel, "The Region of the Persian Gulf and its Jewish Settlements in Islamic Time," in: Alexander Marx Jubilee Volume (1950), 203–30; C. Issawi (ed.), The Economic History of Iran 1800–1914 (1971), 83–91, 130–42; A. Netzer, "Aliyat Yehudei Paras ve-Hityashvutam be-Ereẓ-Yisrael," in: Mi-Kedem u-mi-Yam, 1 (1981), 281–94; X. de Planhol, "Bushehr," in: Encyclopaedia Iranica, ed. E. Yarshater (1990), 569–72; D.S. Sassoon, A History of the Jews in Baghdad (1949), Index.

[Amnon Netzer (2nd ed.)]

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