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Iranian Jewish Vernaculars

(690 words)

Author(s): Haideh Sahim
The vernaculars of the Jews of Iran can be divided into two major groups: Aramaic (Semitic) dialects and Iranian dialects.The Aramaic dialects, also known as lishna yahudiya (Jewish Language), were spoken in the western parts of Iran, Kurdistan, and western Azerbaijan. They are eastern Neo-Aramaic dialects related to the old Aramaic dialects of the Jews referred to as Babylonian Talmudic. The dialect of the Jews of Urmia is probably the best known and most studied of these dialects. Proximity to Semitic-speaking areas is probably the reas…


(739 words)

Author(s): Haideh Sahim
Mazandaran (Pers. Māzandarān) is an Iranian province, formerly known as Ṭabaristān, located east of Gīlān on the southeastern coast of the Caspian Sea, with Sari as its capital. Not much is known of the Jews in the area in the pre-Islamic period. The earliest reference to Jews comes from Iskandar Beg Munshī’s ʽĀlamārā-yi Ἁbbāsi, which mentions that Shāh ʿAbbās I (r. 1587–1629) relocated a large number of non-Muslim captives from Georgia to Mazandaran and Faraḥabad in 1616 or 1617. In his Kitāb-i Anūsī , Bābāī ben Luṭf mentions Faraḥabad as a city built by the transferred Jews, but Moreen bel…

Lotrâ'ī (Lotorâ'ī )

(438 words)

Author(s): Haideh Sahim
Lotrâ' ī is an interesting linguistic phenomenon among the Jews of Iran. As a generic term, it designates the languages called Luflâ'i in Hamadan and Kashan, Lutrâ'i in Gulpāygān, Lutru'i in Kirmanshāh , and Lotrâ'i, Lutlâ'i, or  Lutarâ'i in other cities, all of which are corrupt forms of the Hebrew lo tora (not the [language of] Torah). In classical Persian texts, where the term first appeared as early as the tenth century in reference to the language of the people of Astarābād, it is referred to as Lotarâ'i or Lutarâ and is defined as a secret language to prevent outsiders from un…

Sabi, Musa

(468 words)

Author(s): Haideh Sahim
Musa Sabi (1914–1987) was a renowned Iranian lawyer, author, and translator.Musa Sabi (Pers. Mūsā Ṣabī), the distinguished Iranian Jewish lawyer, author, and translator, was born in Kerman on March 21, 1914, one of his father’s ten children. Not much is known about his early education, but since secondary education was limited in Kirman, he was sent to Isfahan to attend the Stuart Memorial College, which was run by the British Church Missionary Society, and later became the school’s prefect. In 1938, Sabi…

Hekmat, Shamsi

(629 words)

Author(s): Haideh Sahim
Shamsi Hekmat (1917–1997) was a Jewish activist, educator, author, and women’s advocate in Iran and, after the Islamic Revolution, in the United States. Shamsi Hekmat (Pers. Shamsī Ḥekmat), née Moradpour, was born in Tehran on December 25, 1917. An educator, activist, and humanitarian, she was educated at the American Girls’ School of Tehran and Sage College, both established and run by American Presbyterian missionaries (see Christian Missionaries and Missionary Schools). She graduated from Sage College with a B.A. …

Rahbar, Samuel

(333 words)

Author(s): Haideh Sahim
Samuel (Shelomo) Rahbarwas born in 1929 into an educated family in Hamadan, Iran. Like most Iranian Jews in his time, he received his early education in the Alliance Israélite Universelle school system and then at the Pahlavi High School. Inspired by a brother who was a chemistry teacher, he entered the Faculty of Medicine at Tehran University, graduating in 1953. From then until 1960 he worked in Abadan and Tehran. In 1959 he returned to his alma mater, specializing in immunology, and in 1963, becoming the first Jewish member of Tehran University’s Faculty of Medicine, he was …


(552 words)

Author(s): Haideh Sahim
Mashhad is the capital of the province of Khurasan and the second-largest city in Iran. Its full original name was Mashhad-i Riḍā (the Place of Riḍā’s Martyrdom), indicating that it is the locality where the eighth Shīʿī imam, 'Alī b. Mūsā al-Riḍā, was supposedly poisoned in 818 by al-Ma'mūn (r. 813–833), the Abbasid caliph. 'Alī’s shrine is the most important center of pilgrimage in Iran, and Khurasan is one of the country’s wealthiest provinces. Mashhad gained in importance after the Mongol destruction of Ṭūs and many other major cities in 1220. Gohars…

Sionit, Mojdeh

(251 words)

Author(s): Haideh Sahim
Born in Tehran, Iran, in 1975, Mojdeh Sionit received her primary and secondary education in that city. In 1996 she earned a B.A. in English Translation from Āzād University (The Free University of Tehran). From 1994 to 1998 she also attended the National Language Institute of Iran, where she received a Certificate in French Language and Literature. Her first book, a collection of short stories in Persian, Qahrimān-i Sīyāh (The Black Hero),was published in 1994. From 1990 to 2001 Sionit wrote a column entitled “Dramas in Real Life” in ‘Ittila‘āt, one of Iran’s two major daily newsp…


(1,977 words)

Author(s): Haideh Sahim
Hamadan (Pers. Hamadhān; Ar. and archaic Pers. Hamadhān; ancient Agbatana or Ekbatana) is a city in western Iran situated on the eastern slope of the Alvand massif, and the capital of a province by the same name. One of the oldest cities in Iran and the capital of the ancient Medes, its name appears in inscriptions as Hamgmatāna, meaning “place of gathering.” An ancient Pahlavi text attributes the building of the city to the Jewish queen Shūshāndukht, the daughter of an exilarch, who became the wife of the Sasanian king Yazdigird I (r. 399–420 c.e.) and the mother of Bahrām Gūr (420–438).The Bi…


(1,544 words)

Author(s): Haideh Sahim
Located south of Teheran and north of Isfahan, Kashan (Pers. Kāshān) in central Iran is one of the country’s oldest cities. The origin of its Jewish population is unknown, but its dialect, Central or Median, points to its antiquity. Little is known about the history of Kashan’s Jews until the Safavid period (1501–1736). Kashan was a flourishing city before the Mongol invasion in the early part of the thirteenth century, which wreaked harm on Jews and non-Jews more or less indiscriminately. Because Kashan’s Muslim inhabitants were already mostly Shī‛ī, t…


(553 words)

Author(s): Haideh Sahim
Khunsar (Pers. Khwānsār) is an Iranian town northwest of Isfahan. The oldest historical references to Khunsar mention Jews moving there during the Achaemenid period (550–330 B.C.E.). During the Safavid period the Jews of Khunsar, like the Jews in other Iranian cities, were subject to persecutions mostly instigated by Muḥammad Beg, the vizier of Shāh ‘Abbās II (r. 1642–1666), including a series of forced conversions to Islam and returns to Judaism. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the town’s Jews lived in an area known as Kūy-i Juhūdā or Kūy-i Jūdā/Jīdā (Pers. street of th…

Mīrzā Menahem

(331 words)

Author(s): Haideh Sahim
Rabbi Menahem Samuel Halevy, known as Mīrzā Menahem (an honorific roughly equivalent to Mr. Menahem) in the Jewish communities of Iran, was born in Hamadan in 1884. He began his education in his father’s yeshiva and continued it at the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) school and the public schools in Hamadan. At the age of twenty he became a Hebrew teacher at the AIU school. From 1912 through 1922 he was its principal, and also taught French in the public schools and to the children of elite families. In 1921 some of Mīrzā Menahem’s Hebrew poetry was published in Hamadan (with Judeo-…


(733 words)

Author(s): Haideh Sahim
Gilan (Pers. Gīlān) is a province of Iran located on the southwestern shore of the Caspian Sea, with Rasht as its capital. It is the most densely populated province after Tehran. There are indications that Jews lived in a number of cities in Gilan in the past, but it is not known when Jews first settled there. The earliest reference to Jews comes from the mid-fifteenth century, specifically to a community near present-day Lāhījān. In the late Middle Ages, Jews from Gilan settled in Oguz, Russian Azerbaijan. From the fifteenth to the early sixteenth century, Rasht was ruled by Amīra Dubbāj…


(1,393 words)

Author(s): Haideh Sahim
Situated at the foot of the Zagros Mountains, Shiraz (Pers. Shīrāz) is the capital of the Iranian province of Fars. References in the Bible and the Apocrypha suggest the possibility that Jews were present in the Achaemenid capitals, Persepolis and Pasargadae, both situated near present-day Shiraz.During the early Islamic period, when Shiraz became a provincial capital, the Jews of Fars were more numerous than any other minority except the Zoroastrians. This may have been because at that time Shiraz was the hub of several important trade routes, and the Jews were engaged in inter…

Burujirdī, Ākhund Mullāh ʽAbdullāh

(542 words)

Author(s): Haideh Sahim
ʽAbdullāh Burujirdī, known as Ākhūnd (Pers. teacher, preacher) Mullāh ʽAbdullāh (d. 1900), was the son of Mullāh Muḥammad Burūjirdī, known as Muqaddas (Ar./Pers. the holy). A popular preacher and rabble-rouser who stirred up persecutions of the Jews in the Iranian town of Hamadan in the late nineteenth century, Burujirdī studied at the Shīʽī shrines in Karbala and Najaf for four or five years, and cultivated a “holy” demeanor that impressed the masses.Sources indicate that Burujirdī was brought to Hamadan by opponents of the Shaykhīs (a nineteenth-century Iranian r…

Abraham ben Mullāh Āghā Bābā

(476 words)

Author(s): Haideh Sahim
Mullāh Abraham ben Mullāh Āghā Bābā Shīrāzī (d. 1910), also known as Mullāh Abram, was one of the last important rabbis in Iran. It is not known exactly when he became a rabbi or moved to Tehran, reportedly with a group of Jews from Shiraz. However, as early as 1870, he was living in the Jewish quarter of Tehran and was addressed as mullāh, a title borrowed from the Shīʿī Muslim milieu that indicates knowledge, particularly of religious matters.In 1875, after the death of Mullāh Bākhāj, whose precise dates are unknown, Mullāh Abram became the chief rabbi of Iran. He also…

Moreh, Esther

(400 words)

Author(s): Haideh Sahim
Esther Moreh (née Moradoff) was born on March 5, 1930, to an Iranian family in London, England, that returned to Iran when she was two. She first engaged in Zionist activities at the age of twelve when she became a member of the Ḥalutz Youth Organization. In 1947, at seventeen, she joined her mother and eight other Jewish women in Tehran in founding the Sāzmān-i Bānovān-i Yahūd-i Īrān (Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization), which became the country’s most active Jewish organization after Anjuman-…

Tuyserkan: Shrine of Habakkuk

(786 words)

Author(s): Haideh Sahim
A tomb traditionally associated with the biblical prophet Habakkuk (also Ḥabaquq and Ḥayaquq in Persian) is one of three Jewish shrines in the city of Tuyserkan, 100 km (62 miles) south of Hamadan in Iran (the other two are the tombs of Esther and Mordechai, and of Daniel). Although often held to have been active in the first decades of the seventh century B.C.E., Habbakuk is also said to have been a contemporary of Daniel, who according to Jewish tradition lived in the time of Darius the Great …

Ittifāgh (Ettefagh) Schools

(2,104 words)

Author(s): Haideh Sahim
Ittifāq (Ettefagh), a Jewish school in Tehran, was established by and for the many Iraqi Jews who settled in Iran following the First World War, after the Farhūd pogroms in Iraq in 1941, and particularly between 1948 and 1951.  Its key initiator was Māyir ʿAbd-Allāh Baṣṣūn (1903–1978), a prominent Iraqi Jew with close business ties to the American and British armies, who traveled to Iran in 1946 and was soon involved in contracts for building the American embassy and with the Tehran municipali…