In this Front Page article, Dr Andrew G Bostom argues that Iran’s latest genocidal threats against Israel fit seamlessy into a tradition of Islamic Jew-hatred, culminating in four centuries of discrimination and forced conversion. As a result, cities like Tabriz became Judenrein. The 20th century Pahlavi era, in which Jews enjoyed unprecedented freedoms and prosperity, and relations between Iran and Israel were good, now seems a brief aberration. (With thanks: Charles)
“The pillars of this continuous modern campaign of annihilationist antisemitism are the motifs from traditional Islamic Jew hatred, including, most significantly, Islamic eschatology. These deep-seated Islamic theological motifs are further conjoined to Holocaust denial, and the development of a nuclear weapons program intended expressly for Israel’s eradication.
Shah Ismail’s Living Legacy:At the outset of the 16th century, Iran’s Safavid rulers formally established Shi’a Islam as the state religion, while permitting a clerical hierarchy nearly unlimited control and influence over all aspects of public life. The profound influence of the Shi’ite clerical elite, continued for almost four centuries (although interrupted, between 1722-1795, during a period of [Sunni] Afghan invasion, and internecine struggle), through the later Qajar period (1795-1925), as characterized by the Persianophilic scholar E.G. Browne:
The Mujtahids and Mulla are a great force in Persia and concern themselves with every department of human activity from the minutest detail of personal purification to the largest issues of politics
“These Shi’ite clerics emphasized the notion of the ritual uncleanliness (najis) of Jews, in particular (but also Christians, Zoroastrians, and others), as the cornerstone of inter-confessional relationships toward non-Muslims. The impact of this najis conception was already apparent to European visitors to Persia during the reign of the first Safavid Shah, Ismail I (1502-1524). The Portuguese traveler Tome Pires observed (between 1512-1515), “Sheikh Ismail…never spares the life of any Jew,” while another European travelogue notes, “…the great hatred (Ismail I) bears against the Jews…”
“Two examples of the restrictive codes for Jews conceived and applied during the Safavid period (1502-1725) are appended below, in Table 1, and Table 2. Their persistent application into the Qajar period, which includes the modern era (1795-1925), is confirmed by the observations of the mid-19th century traveler Benjamin in Table 3, and a listing of the 1892 Hamadan edict conditions in Table 4.
A letter (dated October, 27, 1892) by S. Somekh of The Alliance Israelite Universale, regarding the Hamadan edict, provides this context:
The latter [i.e., the Jews] have a choice between automatic acceptance, conversion to Islam, or their annihilation. Some who live from hand to mouth have consented to these humiliating and cruel conditions through fear, without offering resistance; thirty of the most prominent members of the community were surprised in the telegraph office, where they had gone to telegraph their grievances to Teheran. They were compelled to embrace the Muslim faith to escape from certain death. But the majority is in hiding and does not dare to venture into the streets…
“The latter part of the reign of Shah Abbas I (1588-1629) was marked by progressively increasing measures of anti-Jewish persecution, from the strict imposition of dress regulations, to the confiscation (and destruction) of Hebrew books and writings, culminating in the forced conversion of the Jews of Isfahan, the center of Persian Jewry. The exploits of two renegade Jewish converts to Islam, Abul Hasan Lari (of Lar), and Simon Tob Mumin of Isfahan were instrumental in having the Shi’ite authorities enforce restrictive headdress and badging regulations as visible signs of discrimination and humiliation. Their success in having these discriminatory regulations applied to Jews was confirmed by the accounts of European travelers to Iran. For example, Jean de Theve´not (1633-1667) commented that Jews were required,
To wear a little square piece of stuff two or three fingers broad…it had to be sewn to their labor gown and it matters not what that piece be of, provided that the color be different from that of the clothes to which it is sewed.
“And when the British physician John Fryer visited Lar in 1676, he noted that, “…the Jews are only recognizable by the upper garment marked with a patch of different color.”
However the renegade Abul Hasan Lari’s “mission” foreshadowed more severe hardships imposed upon the Jews because of their image as sorcerers and practitioners of black magic, which, according to the pre-eminent historian of Persian Jewry, Walter Fischel, was “as deeply embedded in the minds of the [Muslim] masses as it had been in medieval Europe.” [emphasis added] The consequences of these bigoted superstitions were predictable, as Fischel observes:
It was therefore easy to arouse their [the Muslim masses] fears and suspicions at the slightest provocation, and to accuse them [the Jews] of possessing cabalistic Hebrew writings, amulets, talismans, segulot, goralot, and refu’ot, which they [the Jews] were using against the Islamic authorities. Encouraged by another Jewish renegade, Siman Tob Mumin from Isfahan, who denounced his co-religionists to the authorities, the Grand Vizier was quick in ordering the confiscation of all Hebrew cabalistic writings and having them thrown into the river.
“These punitive measures in turn forebode additional persecutions which culminated in the Jews of Isfahan being forcibly converted to Islam toward the end of Abbas I’s rule. Moreover, even when Isfahan’s Jews allowed living to return to Judaism under Shah Safi, they continued to live under the permanent threat posed by the “law of apostasy”, till the late 19th century.
One of the most dangerous measures which threatened the very existence of the Jewish community in Isfahan and elsewhere was the so-called “law of apostasy” promulgated at the end of Abbas I’s rule and renewed in the reign of Abbas II. According to this law, any Jew or Christian becoming a Muslim could claim the property of his relatives, however distant. This decree, making the transfer of goods and property a reward for those who became apostates from their former religion, became a great threat to the very survival of the Jews. While the Christian population in Isfahan protested, through the intervention of the Pope, and the Christian powers in Europe, against the injustice of this edict, there did not arise a defender of the rights of Jews in Persia. [emphasis added] Although the calamity which this law implied was lessened by the small number of Jewish apostates who made use of this inducement, it was a steady threat to the existence of Jewish community life and brought about untold hardship. It was only in the 19th century that leaders of European Jewry such as Sir Moses Montefiore and Adolph Cremieux took up the fight for their brethren in Persia against this discriminatory law. Apart from this legal discrimination, the Jews of Isfahan were particularly singled out for persecution and forced conversion in the seventeenth century. It is reported that they were forced to profess Islam publicly; that many of their rabbis were executed, and that only under Shah Safi (1629-1642), the successor of Abbas I, were the Jews of Isfahan, after seven years of Marrano life, permitted to return publicly to their Jewish religion…[emphasis added]
“After a relatively brief respite under Shah Saf’i (1629-1642), the severe persecutions wrought by his successor Shah Abbas II (1642-1666), nearly extinguished the Iranian Jewish community outright, as Fischel, explains:
Determined to purify the Persian soil from the “uncleanliness” caused by the presence of non-believers (Jews and Christians in Isfahan) a group of fanatical Shi’ites obtained a decree from the young Shah Abbas II in 1656 which gave the Grand Vizier, I’timad ad-Daula, full power to force the Jews to become Muslims. In consequence, a wave of persecution swept over Isfahan and the other Jewish communities, a tragedy which can only be compared with the persecution of the Jews in Spain in the fifteenth century [more appositely, the 13th century Almohad persecutions] 711
[the important eyewitness Jewish chronicles, the Kitab i Anusi]…describe in great detail how the Jews were compelled to abandon their religion, how they were drawn out of their quarters on Friday evening into the hills around the city and, after torture, 350 Jews are said to have been forced to [convert] to Islam. Their synagogues were closed and the Jews were lead to the Mosque, where they had to proclaim publicly the Muslim confession of faith, after which a Mullah, a Shi’a religious leader, instructed the newly-converted Muslims in the Koran and Islamic tradition and practice. These newly-converted Muslims had to break with the Jewish past, to allow their daughters to be married to Muslims, and to have their new Muslim names registered in a special Divan [council]. To test publicly their complete break with the Jewish tradition, some were even forced to eat a portion of camel meat boiled in milk. After their forced conversion, they were called New Muslims, Jadid al-Islam. They were then, of course, freed from the payment of the poll tax and from wearing a special headgear or badge.”
The resistance of the Jews developed the phenomenon of “Marranos”, Anusim, and for years they lived a dual religious life by remaining secretly Jews while confessing Islam officially
“Fischel also refers to the fact that contemporary Christians sources “confirm…with an astounding and tragic unanimity” the historical details of the Judaeo-Persian chronicle regarding the plight of the Jews of Isfahan (and Persia, more generally). For example, the Armenian chronicler Arakel of Tabriz, included a chapter entitled, “History of the Hebrews of the City of Isfahan and of all Hebrews in the Territory of the Kings of Persia-the Case of Their Conversion to Islam”. Arakel describes the escalating brutality employed to convert the hapless Jewish population to Islam—deportation, deliberately harsh exposure to the elements, starvation, imprisonment, and beatings.
“Mohammad Baqer Majlisi (d. 1699), the highest institutionalized clerical officer under both Shah Sulayman (1666-1694) and Shah Husayn (1694-1722), was perhaps the most influential cleric of the Safavid Shi’ite theocracy in Persia. By design, he wrote many works in Persian to disseminate key aspects of the Shi’a ethos among ordinary persons. His Persian treatise, “Lightning Bolts Against the Jews,” despite its title, was actually an overall guideline to anti-dhimmi regulations for all non-Muslims within the Shi’ite theocracy. Al-Majlisi, in this treatise, describes the standard humiliating requisites for non-Muslims living under the Shari’a, first and foremost, the blood ransom jizya, a poll-tax, based on Koran 9:29. He then enumerates six other restrictions relating to worship, housing, dress, transportation, and weapons (specifically, i.e., to render the dhimmis defenseless), before outlining the unique Shi’ite impurity or “najis” regulations. It is these latter najis prohibitions which lead Anthropology Professor Laurence Loeb (who studied and lived within the Jewish community of Southern Iran in the early 1970s) to observe, “Fear of pollution by Jews led to great excesses and peculiar behavior by Muslims.” According to Al-Majlisi,
And, that they should not enter the pool while a Muslim is bathing at the public baths…It is also incumbent upon Muslims that they should not accept from them victuals with which they had come into contact, such as distillates , which cannot be purified. In something can be purified, such as clothes, if they are dry, they can be accepted, they are clean. But if they [the dhimmis] had come into contact with those cloths in moisture they should be rinsed with water after being obtained. As for hide, or that which has been made of hide such as shoes and boots, and meat, whose religious cleanliness and lawfulness are conditional on the animal’s being slaughtered [according to the Shari’a], these may not be taken from them. Similarly, liquids that have been preserved in skins, such as oils, grape syrup, [fruit] juices, myrobalan [an astringent fruit extract used in tanning], and the like, if they have been put in skin containers or water skins, these should [also] not be accepted from them…It would also be better if the ruler of the Muslims would establish that all infidels could not move out of their homes on days when it rains or snows because they would make Muslims impure. [emphasis added]
“Far worse, the dehumanizing character of these popularized “impurity” regulations appears to have fomented recurring Muslim anti-Jewish violence, including pogroms and forced conversions, throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, as opposed to merely unpleasant, “odd behaviors” by individual Muslims towards Jews. Indeed, the oppression of Persian Jewry continued unabated, perhaps even intensifying, during both Safavid successors of Shah Abbas II, Shah Sulayman (1666-1694), and Shah Husayn (1694-1722).
The overthrow of the Safavid dynasty was accompanied by an initial period of anarchy and rebellion. A contemporary Jewish chronicler of these struggles, Babai ibn Farhad, lamented, “At a time when the Muhammadans fight amongst each other, how much less safe were the Jews.” However, beyond this early stage of instability, Fischel maintains,
Only the downfall of the Safavid dynasty, through the successful invasion of the Afghans and the subsequent rise of a new tolerant ruler, Nadir Shah (1734-1747), saved the Jews of Isfahan and the Jews of Persia as a whole from complete annihilation.
“The advent of the Qajar dynasty in 1795 marked a return to Shi’ite theocratic orthodoxy. Thus, according to Fischel,
Since the religious and political foundations of the Qajar dynasty were but a continuation of those of the Safavids, the ‘law of apostasy’ and the notion of the ritual uncleanliness of the Jews remained the basis of the attitude toward the Jews.
The Jew being ritually unclean, had to be differentiated from the believer externally in every possible way. This became the decisive factor making the life of the Jews in the 19th century an uninterrupted sequence of persecution and oppression. They could not appear in public, much less perform their religious ceremonies, without being treated with scorn and contempt by the Muslim inhabitants of Persia.
“Fischel provides these observations based on the 19th century narrative of Rabbi David d’Beth Hillel, and additional eyewitness accounts, which describe the rendering of Tabriz, Judenrein, and the forced conversion of the Jews of Meshed to Islam:
Due to the persecution of their Moslem neighbors, many once flourishing communities entirely disappeared. Maragha, for example, ceased to be the seat of a Jewish community around 1800, when the Jews were driven out on account of a blood libel. Similarly, Tabriz, where over 50 Jewish families are supposed to have lived, became Judenrein towards the end of the 18th century through similar circumstances.
The peak of the forced elimination of Jewish communities occurred under Shah Mahmud (1834-48), during whose rule the Jewish population in Meshed, in eastern Persia, was forcibly converted, an event which not only remained unchallenged by Persian authorities, but also remained unknown and unnoticed by European Jews. (…)
“The Pahlavi Reforms: Reza Pahlavi’s spectacular rise to power in 1925 was accompanied by dramatic reforms, including secularization and westernization efforts, as well as a revitalization of Iran’s pre-Islamic spiritual and cultural heritage. This profound sociopolitical transformation had very positive consequences for Iranian Jewry. Walter Fischel’s analysis from the late 1940s (published in 1950), along with Laurence Loeb’s complementary insights three decades later, underscore the impact of the Pahlavis’ (i.e., Reza Shah and Mohammad Reza Shah) reforms:
(Fischel) In breaking the power of the Shia clergy, which for centuries had stood in the way of progress, he [Reza Shah] shaped a modernized and secularized state, freed almost entirely from the fetters of a once fanatical and powerful clergy…The rebirth of the Persian state and the manifold reforms implied therein tended also to create conditions more favorable to Jews. It enabled them to enjoy, along with the other citizens of Persia, that freedom and liberty which they had long been denied.
(Loeb) The Pahlavi period…has been the most favorable era for Persian Jews since Parthian rule [175 B.C. to 226 C.E.]…the ‘Law of Apostasy’ was abrogated about 1930. While Reza Shah did prohibit political Zionism and condoned the execution of the popular liberal Jewish reformer Hayyim Effendi, his rule was on the whole, an era of new opportunities for the Persian Jew. Hostile outbreaks against the Jews have been prevented by the government. Jews are no longer legally barred from any profession. They are required to serve in the army and pay the same taxes as Muslims. The elimination of the face-veil removed a source of insult to Jewish women, who had been previously required have their faces uncovered; now all women are supposed to appear unveiled in public…Secular educations were available to Jewish girls as well as to boys, and, for the first time, Jews could become government-licensed teachers…Since the ascendance of Mohammad Reza Shah (Aryamehr) in 1941, the situation has further improved…Not only has the number of poor been reduced, but a new bourgeoisie is emerging…For the first time Jews are spending their money on cars, carpets, houses, travel, and clothing. Teheran has attracted provincial Jews in large numbers and has become the center of Iranian Jewish life…The Pahlavi era has seen vastly improved communications between Iranian Jewry and the rest of the world. Hundreds of boys and girls attend college and boarding school in the United States and Europe. Israeli emissaries come for periods of two years to teach in the Jewish schools…A small Jewish publication industry has arisen since 1925…Books on Jewish history, Zionism, the Hebrew language and classroom texts have since been published…On March 15, 1950, Iran extended de facto recognition to Israel. Relations with Israel are good and trade is growing.
“But Loeb, who finished his anthropological field work in southern Iran during the waning years of Pahlavi rule, concluded on this cautionary, prescient note, in 1976, emphasizing the Jews’ tenuous status:
Despite the favorable attitude of the government and the relative prosperity of the Jewish community, all Iranian Jews acknowledge the precarious nature of the present situation. There are still sporadic outbreaks against them because the Muslim clergy constantly berates Jews, inciting the masses who make no effort to hide their animosity towards the Jew. [emphasis added] Most Jews express the belief that it is only the personal strength and goodwill of the Shah that protects them: that plus God’s intervention! If either should fail… [emphasis added].
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