Wednesday, January 9, 2013

How Jews Wound Up in Persia "Iran"

Nadene Goldfoot
It all started with the Assyrians. The last king of Israel, King Hoshea (730-721 BCE)  in 726 tried to throw off the yoke of the Assyrians which led to Shalmaneser V's siege of Samaria and its capture in 721 by his successor, Sargon.  Sargon annexed the country and deported 27,290 Israelites to Assyria and Media and replaced them with Syrian and Babylonian prisoners.

 Nebuchadnezzar was a king of Babylonia (605-562 BCE).  He had a victory over the Assyrian-Egyptian alliance at Carchemish in 605 BCE  and had conquered all the lands from the Euphrates River to the Egyptian frontier, including Judah in 586 BCE when large numbers of Jews were deported.   Judah was the southern part of the division of Israel that occurred in 933 BCE when King Solomon died.  As a state, it was poor and unimportant compared to Israel.

In 597 BCE, after Judah revolted, Nebuchadnezzar sent contingents which captured Jerusalem, took out King Jehoiachin (608-598 BCE) and replaced him with his own choice of Zedekiah (597-586 BCE), and exiled 8,000 of the local Jewish aristocracy to Babylon.  8 years later, Zedekiah rebelled, so Nebuchadnezzaar's army, under Nebuz-Aradan again invaded Judah, captured Jerusalem in 586 and destroyed the Temple.  they laid waste the cities and exiled masses of the population.  The king was taken to Riblah where he was killed.

King Cyrus II of Persia conquered  the Babylonian Empire which included  Judah.   In 538 BCE.  he granted permission to the exiles of Judah in Babylon to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple.  The Jews thought he was absolutely divine as he chose to have an enlightened policy towards his subject people.

Jews were living in Shushan, Persia before 330 BCE as they were part of the exiled from Israel and Judah.  Jews were threatened to all be killed by Haman, chief minister (vizier)  of King Ahasuerus's "Xerxes I" (486-465 BCE) court, the first Hitler wanting to slaughter all Jews.  His excuse was because they were too haughty and hated the palace official Mordecai the Benjamite's  independent attitude .  Mordecai had refused to bow to Haman.  The Queen, Esther "Hadassah", heard about the plot from her Uncle Mordecai, and had to divulge her secret of being Jewish to her husband, the King.  He was incensed and stopped Haman and hung him and his sons as a result.  Mordecai was given Haman's position.   The Jews mostly were living in Shushan, capital of Persia,  at this time.  Excavations reveal the royal palace probably mentioned in the book of Esther.

For the next 2 centuries, both the mass of Jews in exile in Mesopotamia and in Judah were under Persian rule.  Judah had continued to be a Persian province but with local autonomy.  Jews were living in 127 provinces of Persia by the time of Queen Esther.

In 1499 Persia became independent under the Safavid dynasty and the Shiite form of Islam was dominant and intolerant in theory and practice.  The Jews were treated worse than in other parts of the Moslem world.  All sorts of restrictions were enforced.

Jews were exiled  to Isfahan, a town of western Persia (later called Iran).  .  Then they were settled there by the Persian Jewish Queen Shushan-Dukht.  She was the wife of the Sassanian king Yazdigird I (399-420 AD) The Sasanids were heirs of the ancient Achaemanean Empire, and their empire began in 226 CE. They controlled both sides of the Caspian Sea, the eastern part of the Fertile Crescent, and the whole territory between the Tigris and Indus rivers.  Their religion was Zoroastrianism and their language was "Pahlavi" or middle Persian.  Religion was the tool of the state.  The Iranians were very homogeneous and proud of their heritage, constantly at war with the Byzantines.

   His son, King Yazdigird II (438-459 CE) persecuted both Jews and Christians at the end of his reign.  Riots against Jews in Isphahan took place under King Peroz (459-484 CE).  It was said that two Zoroastrian priests were murdered by Jews.  King Yazdgerd III met the Arabs and was defeated in 641 CE.

The town became the center of the pseudo-messiah, Abu Issa al-Isfahani in 700 CE. .  Like Mohammad, this tailor could neither read or write. Mohammad in Saudi Arabia had died in 632 CE.   He said that he was the last of the 5 forerunners of the Messiah ben David.  His goal was to make the Jews politically independent and they revolted against the Ommiad calif 'Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (684-705). They were to give up wine and animal products as long as they were in exile.   The largest quarter in the town was known as Yahudiyyah in the 10th and 12th centuries.  Benjamin of Tudela reported that 15,000 Jews lived there.

By the 17th century, the Jews were persecuted and a number were forcibly converted to Islam, especially in Isfahan.  Things finally improved under Nadir Shah (1736-1747). He had Meshed as his new capital where Jews had been excluded, but with him in power, he invited a Jewish community to live there. When he died the intolerance came back.  In 1839 the whole community was forcibly converted to Islam, but kept a secret fidelity to Judaism as "Jedid al-Islamd.    The present Jewish population's occupation are crafts and trade.

By the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, 3,000 Jews were living in Isfahan.  Many of Iran's Jewish population of 80,000  have since left.  In 2010, 10,400 Jews were living in Iran which is 0.05% of the population of 75,078,000.  Israel has an Iranian Jewish population of 300,000 to 350,000 with many making aliyah after the 1979 rioting in Iran. Most Iranian Jews emigrated to Israel between 1975 to 1991.   The USA is home to about 60,000 to 80,000.  .

I lived in Israel from 1980-1985 and was told the story by a fellow jr high Iranian teacher of his male members of his extended family being hung by the government in Iran for causing  Jews to want to leave because of religious persecution. It was not easy leaving Iran.  My cousin's husband had to sneak out when a teenager on a camel with other young fellows in order to leave.  He eventually made his way to the states.

Reference: The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia
Textbook:  Middle East-Past & Present by Yahya Armajani and Thomas M. Ricks,

No comments:

Post a Comment