Category Archives: Purim

Jewish Iran 101

mot.jpgPurim – 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.

Sick to My Stomach

hangmans-noose.jpgLike many of you, I couldn’t avoid images of Saddam’s hanging blasting out at me from every corner of the web this past week. The top posts on most blogs invariably advertised the most “uncensored” version of the now infamous cell phone footage of the Hussein execution. Not a proud week to be a blogger…

Apart from the sheer barbarism of this film being shared so happily across the world and into our computers, I can’t help but be sickened by everything that this event represents. It was put very aptly by John Simpson, the World Affairs editor of the BBC, reporting from Iraq:

Altogether, the execution as we now see it is shown to be an ugly, degrading business, which is more reminiscent of a public hanging in the 18th century than a considered act of 21st century official justice. Under Saddam Hussein, prisoners were regularly taunted and mistreated in their last hours. The most disturbing thing about the new video of Saddam’s execution is that is all much too reminiscent of what used to happen here.

Yes, Saddam was evil incarnate in so many ways, and few could reasonably deny that the world is better off without him. But his botched show trial and rushed execution (in the words of Iraq’s Shi’ite Prime Minister, “an Eid gift to the Iraqi people”) was primal, tribal justice pure and simple. Shame on us all for even being involved in this morass of sectarian vengeance.

On Purim, we will joyfully celebrate the downfall of Haman, another horrible tyrant who met a similarly ignoble fate on the gallows. But the beauty of this holiday is that it comes as one brief moment of absurdist catharsis. Purim is the day we allow our deepest darkest revenge fantasies to hold sway – largely so that they cannot hold their grip upon us during the rest of the year.  In Iraq, alas, we have all been sucked into a Purim-style nightmare from which there is no discernable end in sight.

Adar has come early this year. Be very afraid…