MĀZANDARĀN , region called Tabaristān in the early Islamic period, situated in the southern part of the Caspian Sea, north of Alborz Mountains and east of Gilān. Its length extends to a maximum of 320 km. and its width to 96 km. The oldest reference to the existence of Jews in Māzandarān is in the Persian Chronicle of Eskandar Beg (vol. 2, pp. 900–1) which points to the transfer by Shah *'Abbās I of 100,000 non-Muslim captives of Georgia to Māzandarān and Farah-Ābād south of Caspian Sea, most probably around 1616/17. Farah-Ābād is also mentioned in the Chronicle of *Bābāi ben Lutf (17th century), as if it was built by the transferred Jews of Georgia. There is no mention of Jews in Farah-Ābād during the 19th century. The cause of their disappearance is not known.
Another important city in Māzandarān is Bārforush, whose name was changed by the Iranian Majles to Bābol around 1935. According to Fraser (1826), Farah-Ābād was a large, prosperous city of 200,000 inhabitants. On his second trip (1838), he was not impressed by the city which was populated by only 30,000 inhabitants. No reason was given for this drastic change, but it is possible that the main reason was the deviation in trade routes to Europe from Bārforush to Rasht. H.A. Stern, a Christian missionary who visited the Jewish community of Bārforush in 1852, gives us the following information: "150 Jewish families live among 20,000 inhabitants. They have six synagogues. In the past they suffered bitter persecutions. They constantly quarrel among themselves and for this reason some of them have willingly embraced Islam." Stern also writes, "The sorrows and sufferings of the living [the Jews of Bārforush] being, however, insupportable and overwhelming enough, their enemies to satiate their intense and inhuman hate, with an invective cruelty which makes the heart recoil, and the soul shudder, exhume ten, fifteen, or even twenty, recently deceased Israelites, and these amidst wild shouts and pious ejaculations they consume on a lofty funeral pyre." Stern calls this "a savage exhibition of bigotry and fanaticism." About 14 years after Stern's visit, the Muslims of the city attacked the Jews in their Mahalleh, killed 18 men and 6 women, and wounded many of them. Two of the 18 were burned to death with inflammable material. The rest of the Jews fled to find shelter in the jungles around the city. The horrible news reached the British consul, A.H. Mounsey, who complained to Nāser al-Din Shah. The shah simply announced he could do nothing against the fanatical Muslim clergy. The massacre of Bārforush Jews also drew the attention of the Jewish leaders in Paris.
There were in Māzandarān other towns where Jews lived, such as Sāri, Āmol, and a few other small settlements. During the first half of the 20th century many Jews left Bārforush and other towns of the province and went to live in Tehran. After 1948, a majority immigrated to Israel. There is no mention of Jewish communities in Bārforush or in any other places in Māzandarān after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran.
Bulletin de l'Alliance Israélite Universelle (baiu); E. Beg, Ālam-Ārā-ye 'Abbāsi, 2 vols. (1971); J.B. Fraser, Travelsand Adventures in the Persian Provinces on the Southern Bank of the Caspian Sea (1826); idem, A Winter's Journey from Constantinople to Tehrani2 (1838); A. Netzer, "Yehudim ba-Meḥozot ha-Deromiyyim shel ha-Yam ha-Kaspi: Māzandarān," in: Ḥevra u-Kehillah (1991), 85–98; H.L. Rabino, Mazandaran and Astarabad (1928); idem, Les Provinces caspiennes de la Perse (1917); H.A. Stern, Dawning of Light in the East (1854); A.H. Mounsey, A Journey Through the Caucasus and the Interior of Persia (1872).
[Amnon Netzer (2nd ed.)]