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Because of Isolation, Iranian Jews Have Their Own Customs, Traditions

June 6, 2006
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Iranian Jews have long practiced a unique brand of Judaism. Because Jews in Iran have lived in relative isolation for hundreds of years, their Jewish practice doesn’t fall into traditional categories like Reform or Sephardi. Despite popular misconceptions, Iranian Jews neither speak the Arabic language nor identify with its culture.

In Iranian Jewish tradition, Shabbat dinners and holiday gatherings are large affairs, a practice that originated inside ghetto walls where everyone knew everyone, and therefore all had to be invited. They are often celebrated with traditional Persian dishes, such as rice-based stews, fresh fruits and a chicken soup called gondi.

Purim is a major landmark on the Iranian Jewish calendar because the story is said to have taken place in ancient Persia, which is today Iran. Celebrations include a 24- hour fast, megillah readings and desserts called halvah, made of flour or rice, sugar, oil and saffron.

Weddings are also large, elaborate processes. At one party, the groom asks the bride’s family for permission to marry. In another, sweets are exchanged as a symbol of happiness. Other celebrations include a bathing ritual for bride and groom, a wedding shower for the bride, and a get-to-know you session for extended family members.

But in Iranian Jewish practice, outwardly visible customs, such as wearing masks during Purim, take a backseat to more inwardly focused customs, such as family-centered events in the home. Because of fear of persecution, Jews in Iran traditionally do not give their children Hebrew names, nor do they pay membership dues to a synagogue.

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