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Special to the JTA Jewish Community in Iran

November 24, 1978
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A recent visitor to Iran who is familiar with the Jewish community there has told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the Jews of Iran are "very apprehensive" about possible drastic changes in government that might take place. According to his report, Irani Jews fear that restrictions against them would be initiated if a new government with predominant religious influence were to come to power.

When Shiite Moslem Ayatullah Shariatmadri was interviewed by foreign correspondents recently, the visitor said, this influential leader expressed the view that Jews had traditionally enjoyed the protection of the Moslem state, and they would continue to do so under a religion-oriented government. Shariatmadri added, however, a proviso to the effect that this would only be the case as long as the Jewish community in Iran agreed not to support Zionism or the State of Israel.

Under the aegis of the Shah, the visitor explained, the Jewish community and other minorities have enjoyed human rights, religious freedom and prosperity. Minorities are recognized and represented in the Irani Majlis, or Parliament, with the Jewish community served by their elected representative, Yosef Cohan.


According to the Shiite religious edicts, however, Jews and other non-Moslems are adversely regarded. For many such devout Moslems, it has not been customary to have contacts with the Jewish community. There were instances of anti-Jewish literature being distributed in bazaars during the latest upheavals, the visitor said, but these supposedly originated from individual Moslem leaders and the Moslem religious leadership publicly disassociated itself from them.

There are approximately 80,000 Jews now living in Iran, with the majority in Teheran and also large clusters in the cities of Shiraz and Isfahan. Under the Shah, Irani Jews have become relatively affluent, enjoyed complete freedom to enter professions, and established industries and businesses, with the encouragement of the government, the visitor said.


The Jewish community in Iran is composed of three separate groups, he explained. The majority are members of the Irani Jewish community which is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, Jewish communities in the diaspora. There has been such a community in parts of Iran ever since the destruction of the first Temple.

A second group, an offspring of the first, is called the Mashedi community, originating in Mashed, one of the cities holy to the Shiite faith. These Jews were forced to embrace Islam about 150 years ago, but kept Judaism secretly alive and returned to open practice when conditions permitted. Because of its unique history, the visitor said, this group of 3000 families generally keeps to itself. They are primarily occupied with carpet dealing, and now have communities outside of Iran, in Israel, Milan, Italy and elsewhere.

Iraqi Jews who came to Iran as recently as the 1930s and 1940s comprise another small group. They are usually merchants and their traditions differ slightly from those of the other communities.

Until the turn of the century, Jews in Iran, as in many Moslem countries, lived in special quarters, or ghettos. Since the time of the father of the current Shah, they have been allowed to live in all parts of Teheran and other cities. The Jewish community has a representative body called Anjumman Kalimian, which is elected periodically by members of the community. All matters of communal life, welfare and education are administered by this Jewish committee, the visitor said. At present, there are about 80,000 Irani Jews living in Israel.

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