Purim – the festival that highlights the experience of ancient Persian Jewry – arrives this weekend. In advance of the holiday, (and given the current state of affairs in that part of the world) I thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at the little-known present day Jewish community of Iran.
Some of the following facts may surprise you:
– Iran is home to 25,000 Jews – the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside of Israel.
– Judaism is a recognized minority religion in Iran. The religious rights of Jews are protected by the Islamic constitution, which allows them observe Jewish traditions freely.
– According to Iranian law, the Jewish community can elect its own member of parliament (currently Maurice Motamed, above).
– There are approximately 30 synagogues, six kosher butchers and a Jewish hospital in Tehran. Children may attend Jewish schools (though all principals are Muslim, the schools do not close on Shabbat and the curriculum is supervised by the government).
– There is the Jewish hospital in Tehran, which has a Jewish director and is funded by donations from the Diaspora.
– Because of the Islamic nature of the regime, Jews, like other minorities, face discrimination which prevents them from securing government jobs or becoming army officers.
– Though Iranian Jews are not allowed to publicly support the Jewish state in any way, they are allowed to travel to and from Israel – a fact both countries have recently acknowledged.
– Despite Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial and anti-Israel rhetoric – as well as efforts by the world Jewish community to encourage their emigration – Iranian Jews are generally opting to stay in their native homeland.
Though the Jewish population of Iran is but a vestige of what it once was, Iranian Jews are proud of their history and fiercely devoted to their community. For more in depth information about Jewish Iran, I highly recommend this BBC piece and this recent article from the Jewish Forward.