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Hamadan, Iran

HAMADAN, a city situated in the western part of *Iran . Hamadan is Ahmatha of the Bible (Ezra 6:2) which was the capital city of the Medes (708–550 B.C.E.). It is probable that Jews who were deported from Samaria to Media (II Kings 18:11) in about 722 B.C.E. by the Assyrian king Shalmaneser also settled in Hamadan. The city was called by the Achemenian kings, who replaced the Medes around 550 B.C.E., Hangmatana, Agbatana or Akbatana – probably meaning "gathering place." The biblical name "Ahmatha" does not occur in the Talmud, instead we find there the name as ḤMDN (Kid. 72a). The Persian Jews identify Hamadan with "Shushan ha-Bira," which obviously is a mistake.

The 10th-century *Karaite historian, Qirqisani (Kirkisani), mentions a rebellious Jewish individual by the name of Yudghan (perhaps Yehuda) of Hamadan who headed a movement in the eighth century against the Arab authorities of his time. In about 1167, Benjamin of Tudela estimated the number of Jews in Hamadan from 30,000 to 50,000. Around that time there probably existed there a yeshivah which functioned in connection with the Jewish authorities in Baghdad (see Iggerot of Samuel ben Ali).

Benjamin's travelogue (p. 57) is, so far, the earliest Jewish record which mentions the tradition held by the Persian Jews regarding the tombs of Esther and Mordecai in Hamadan. The tombs are also mentioned by the Judeo-Persian poet of the 14th century, Shāhīn, and about 300 years later by *Bābāi ben Lutf . The archeologist Ernst Herzfeld (pp. 104–107) suggested that the Queen Shushandokht, the wife of the Sasanian king Yazdegerd I (399–420), is buried under the mausoleum. However, Jews and Muslims alike regard these tombs as a holy site. The tombs are visited especially during Purim, in the month of Adar, by Jews from all over *Persia (Netzer, 1984, 177–184).

Rashid al-Dawlah, a great Jewish scholar, historian, and the first vizier to the Ilkhanids, was born in Hamadan (about 1247). He was accused of plotting to murder the Ilkhan and executed in 1318. The Jews of Hamadan, like Jews of many towns all over Iran, suffered mortal persecutions and forced conversions during the Safavid period (1501–1736). Their suffering is recorded in the Chronicle of Bābāi ben Lutf (JTS Ms 401, fols 55–60).

According to David de-Beth Hillel (pp. 102–103), who visited Hamadan around 1827, there were 200 Jewish families living among 100,000 Muslim inhabitants. Some Jews were physicians, others goldsmiths or wealthy merchants. The city also had about 1,000 Armenian families. Benjamin II was in Hamadan in 1850 and reported that the city had 500 Jewish families that had three synagogues and three rabbis (pp. 248–253). Two years later, the missionary Stern visited Hamadan for the purpose of converting its Jews to Christianity. He claimed that the Jews of Hamadan were enthusiastic to purchase and read the New Testament. He, too, reported that 500 Jewish families lived in the city in their own separate Mahalleh. He complained about the harsh treatment of the Jews by the Muslim clergy (244ff.). Rabbi Yehiel Fischel Castleman visited Hamadan in 1860 and described most of the Jews of the city as wealthy but hated by the Muslims (71).

Ephraim Neumark visited Hamadan in 1884 and wrote of the Jewish poor. He also described the solicitous efforts of the Christian mission in Hamadan, which opened a school in the city that the Jewish children attended free of charge and also helped the poor families materially and financially. Then he says: "There is not a family [in Hamadan] that has not been touched by the blight of the Bahāis bearing the banner of their mission. And what will happen when the faithful [Jewish] boys grow up in the Missionary School? God alone knows!" (pp. 80–81). The beginning of this blight was evidenced among the Jews first in Hamadan from which it spread to *Teheran , Kashan, and elsewhere. "Those who left the Jewish faith for this creed found refuge from [the] wrath of the king, Nāser al-Dīn Shah, in the shadow of the Christian mission, which lay in wait for their souls, for in their terror of the king, it served as a [sheltering] wall" (80–81). According to Neumark, there were about 800 Jewish families in Hamadan, approximately 150 of whom were Jews who had converted to the Bahāi religion (p. 81).

In 1892 there rose a fanatic, Mulla ʿAbdallah, in Hamadan who issued a fatwā to kill the Jews of the city if they refused to abide by restrictions imposed upon Jews, such as wearing the "Jewish patch." Later they were ordered to embrace *Islam or face the death penalty. For about 40 days Jews were afraid to leave their Mahalleh. The intervention of the central government together with the British consulate prevented a brutal massacre (BAIU, 18, (1892), 48; Levy, 756–762). Narrating the event, Levy argues that if one recalls the severe persecutions led by Mulla ʿAbdallah and the warm, friendly, supportive attitude of the Bahāi inhabitants towards the persecuted Jews, who were on the verge of annihilation, one can also understand the mutual affection evinced by believers of both these religions in Hamadan. Levy points out that during this time, about 30 Jews from the community's elite in Hamadan were forced to convert to Islam. Later, some of the converts turned to the Bahāi religion. According to Levy, the positive approach demonstrated by some of Hamadan Jews toward the Bahāi religion also rubbed off on Teheran's Jewish community and the other provincial towns.

Yehudah Kopeliovitz (Almog) visited Iran in 1928. Referring to the Jewish women's organization in Hamadan, which was founded around 1910, Kopeliovitz mentions that one paragraph (#12) in the charter of the "Hadassah Society for Jewish Women in Iran – Hamadan" stated that the society endeavors to influence the Jewish women not to take part in Bahāi meetings (handwritten papers are kept in the Ben-Zvi Institute, Jerusalem).

The geographer Dr. Abraham Jacob Brawer visited Iran in 1935 and during his visit to Hamadan, he was given an estimated number of 8,000 Jews out of a total population of 100,000. He felt that because of the government's closure of the city's Bahāi schools, Bahāi children were attending Jewish schools. He writes:

As I was told, approximately one quarter of Hamadans Jews were converted to the Bahāi religion. The conversion movement was only halted 12 years ago during the new regime [of Reza Shah]. The return to Zion [Land of Israel] and the country's modernization put an end to the Jews' fascination with Bahāism. (p. 22).

According to the Bulletin de Alliance Israélite Universelle (BAIU, 1904, 169) there were about 5,900 Jews in Hamadan. This figure decreased to 3,000 in 1948, on the eve of the independence of Israel (Landshut, 63). It was reported that about 15 individual Jews lived in Hamadan at the end of the 20th century.


M.D. Adler (ed.), The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela (1907); ʿAlam-e Yahud, a Jewish monthly in Persian published in Teheran, 21 (1946), 362; BAIU; J.J. Benjamin II, Eight Years in Asia and Africa from 1846 to 1855 (1863); A.J. Brawer, "Mi-Parashat Mass'otay be-Paras," in: Sinai, 1–2 (1938), 1–38; Y.F. Castleman, Massa'ot Shali'aḥ Ẓefat be-Arẓot ha-Mizraḥ (1942); David d'Beth Hillel, Unknown Jews in Unknown Lands (18241832), ed. W.J. Fischel, (1973); S. Landshut, Jewish Communities in the Muslim Countries of the Middle East (1950), 61–66; H. Levy, History of the Jews of Iran, 3. Teheran (1960); A. Netzer, "Kivrot Esther u-Mordekhai ba-Ir Hamadan she-be-Iran," in: Yisrael: Am ve-Ereẓ (1984), 177–84; idem, "Redifot u-Shemadot be-Toledot Yehudei Iran ba-Me'ah ha-17," in: Pe'amim, 6 (1980), 32–56; idem, "Yahudiyānei Iran dar avāset-e qarn-e bistom," in: Shofar (a Jewish monthly in Persian), 244 (June 2001), 23; E. Neumark, Massa be-Ereẓ ha-Kedem, ed. A. Yaari, (1947); H. Sarshar, "Hamadan: Jewish Community," in: Encyclopedia Iranica, ed. Ehsan Yarshater, 11 (2003), 615–23; J.B. Schechtman, On Wings of Eagles (1961); H.A. Stern, Dawning of Light in the East (1854).

[Amnon Netzer (2nd ed.)]


Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.