GILĀN, province of Iran situated in the southern part of the Caspian Sea and to the north of Alborz Mountains at the delta of the river Sefid-Rud. Gilān's population density, within its present borders, is 14,000 people per square mile and at the beginning of the 20th century had a population of about half a million, a majority of whom were the original Gilān people who spoke the Gilaki dialect and minorities who were Armenians, Gypsies, Jews, and a few thousand immigrants from Russia.
The beginning of the Jewish settlement in Gilān is not known, but the first reference to Jews living in Chākhān, a place north of the city of Lāhijān, appears in Mir Zahir al-Din's writings (1441/2). The second source is the Chronicle of *Bābāi ben Lutf (Ms JTS 401, fol. 20b) referring to the city of Rasht (17th century). The third source belongs to the Armenian Bishop Arakel (17th century), who mentions the city of Fuman. The fourth source is the record of Ya'kov Dilmanian regarding the transfer of the Jews from Gilān and Deylamān to Mashhad (see *Mahshad). Jaubert (p. 435) and Rabino (pp. 70–71) mention that about 50 Jewish families lived in Rasht in miserable conditions (during 1806–09).
In the plague of 1830 about one third of the then 60,000 inhabitants of Rasht perished. According to Curzon (vol.2, p. 385) the city of Rasht looked like a ghost town. The plague certainly affected the local Jews, too. Levy (p. 1005) claims that many Jews in Rasht perished in the massacre which, according to him, occurred around 1750. There is a place in Rasht called Yehudi-Tappeh (Jewish Height) but no one remembers exactly when it was populated by Jews.
Another important city in Gilān is Siyāhkal whose Jewish population holds a tradition saying that they were the descendants of King David. Unlike the Jews of Rasht, the Jews of Siyāhkal speak Gilaki among themselves, which may indicate their antiquity in Gilān. According to Rabino (pp. 33, 80) there were between 15 and 20 Jewish families in Siyāhkal working as petty merchants at the beginning of the 20th century. There was a pogrom in Siāhkal in which many Jews were killed, some converted to Islam, and others left the city to live in Rasht. It is possible that this pogrom occurred around the year 1880 (Netzer, Siyāhkal).
Threre are also general references to the existence of Jews in several settlements in Gilān such as Eframjān, Khomām, Yahud-Kelayeh, Lāhijān, Fumanāt, Rudbār, and others about which we know very little (Netzer, Siyāhkal).
Up to 1948, Rasht and the sea port Pahlavi were relatively the most populated cities as far as Jews, Armenians, and Muslims were concerned. Most of the Jews were immigrants from *Kashan, *Isfahan, and Siyāhkal, almost all of whom worked in textile business. At that time, Rasht had about 30 Jewish families, one synagogue, and one elementary school called Koresh. The Jewish population of Pahlavi numbered less than half of that of Rasht. After the Islamic Revolution in Iran there remained only one Jewish family in Rasht. There are no reports on the existence of Jewish communities in the early 21st century in other cities and towns of the province of Gilān.
G.N. Curzon, Persian and the Persian Question, 1–2 (1892), index; A.P. Jaubert, Voyage en Arménie et Perse fait dans les années 1805 et 1806 (1821); H. Levy, History of the Jews of Iran, 3, Teheran (1960); A. Netzer, "Yehudim be-Gilān," in: Yeẓirah ve-Toladot (1994), 215–32; idem, "Jews of Siyāhkal," in: Shofar (a monthly Jewish-Persian magazine), 274 (December 2003), 22ff.; 275 (January 2004), 22ff.; L. Rabino, Les provinces caspiennes de la Perse (1917).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.