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Meshed

MESHED

MESHED (pronounced and written Mashhad in Persian), a city situated in northeast *Iran, capital of the province *Khurasan. This is one of the few cities in Iran where the beginning of its Jewish settlement is documented. It is also one of the two holy Muslim cities in Iran where Ali-Reza, the eighth Imam of the Shi'ites, is buried (818 c.e.). (The other one is Qomm (the burial place of his sister, Fatimah)). Nāder Shah was unintentionally the cause of Jewish settlement in Meshed. It is well documented that two kings, Shah *'Abbās i and Nāder Shah, transferred people from one region to the other, mostly for economic and security reasons. After his famous war with India, Nāder Shah brought over a large amount of treasures and housed them in Kalāt-e Nāderi (1741), about 100 km. north of Meshed. Being a Sunni, he did not trust the Shi'ites to guard his house of treasures. He ordered that Jews be brought to Kalāt-e Nāderi to guard the house. Consequently, Jews were uprooted from their native towns and villages in *Gilān, Deylamān, and *Kazvin areas to be transferred to Kalāt-e Nāderi. They marched in several groups, one of which reached the Kalāt, while the two others, on their way to Kalāt, arrived in Meshed and the city of Sabzvār. Actually Jews were on the march to Kalāt when Nāder Shah was murdered (June 1747) and they were thus left alone at their temporary stations. Therefore, it is probable that by sheer accident a group of Jews was compelled to settle in Meshed some time before the king's murder. Jews were not allowed to settle inside the holy city; they were given a piece of land outside the wall. The place, which formerly belonged to the Zoroastrians, was called 'Id-gāh. In their new home the Jews prospered, especially in trading with neighboring cities and settlements. Joseph Wolff, a Christian missionary, reported in 1831 that Jews mingled too much with the Muslims and that among them one could also find Jewish Sufis who possessed the *Koran and Sufi books of poetry (pp. 133ff.). Some of the leaders of the Jewish community of Meshed, according to certain official documents, collaborated with the British authorities in the areas of Khurasan, *Afghanistan, and *Bukhara.

On March 27, 1839, Muslims attacked the Jewish quarter where about 2,000 Jews lived. They killed some 35 and wounded many more, insisting that they embrace Islam (see document concerning this event: ms 948 in Netzer, 1985, p. 89; Ben-Zvi, plate 10). Soon afterwards ritual arrangements were made and the Jews performed the necessary procedures for conversion. The converts were known as Jadīd al-Islām (in short: Jadīd) meaning New Muslims. They were ordered to close their synagogues and schools, and to abandon all Jewish practices. They were to change their Jewish names to Muslim ones, attend mosques regularly, participate in all Muslim rituals, and perform the pilgrimage to the holy Muslim sites in Karbala and Mecca. They were also very cautious not to engage in intermarriage. As anusim, almost all of them lived a double life: they continued to keep all the Jewish laws and customs such as kashrut, prayers, observance of the Sabbath, Passover, Day of Atonement, and other Jewish holidays. Some families left Meshed to live as Jews in Herat and other nearby cities. Some found their way to India, the Land of Israel, South Africa, London, and New York. Many of these immigrants prospered and became rich. In *Jerusalem, they settled in the Bukharan Quarter, where they contributed to its construction and also built two synagogues there.

Reporting in 1850 and 1884, respectively, both Benjamin ii and Neumark, tell us about the difficult life of the 400 anusim families of Meshed. From time to time their cryptic life was noticed by the Muslim authorities, which led to pogroms in the Jewish quarter. The severest of these occurred in 1891 and in 1902. Immigration to the Land of Israel increased year by year. Though the *Pahlavi regime (1925–79) brought some degree of peace and freedom to the Jews of Meshed, and officially they were not obliged to remain Muslims, the Muslim inhabitants of Meshed still continued to call them Jadīd al-Islām and expected them to remain loyal to their new religion. However, during the Pahlavi regime, they built their own synagogues in *Teheran and Meshed. They especially benefited from the protection granted them by the Red Army during World War ii, when Meshed and Khurasan were occupied by Russia (1941–46). On Passover 1946, while the Russian army was leaving the city, the Jewish quarter was once again attacked by Muslims, who this time intended not only to kill and injure the Jews but, equipped with fuel, to burn all the Jewish houses. Thanks to the protection they received from the local officials and some Tudeh members of Meshed, the disaster was averted. According to Landshut in 1948 2,500 Jews lived in Meshed. This number was reduced to 30 persons by 1973. The major cities where the Jews of Meshed now conduct community life with their own synagogues are Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Milan, London, and New York.

bibliography:

Benjamin ii, Eight Years in Asia and Africa from 1846 to 1855 (1863); I. Ben-Zvi, Meḥkarim u-Mekorot (1969); S. Landshut, Jewish Communities in the Muslim Countries of the Middle East (1950), 61–66; A. Levi, "Eduyot u-Te'udot le-Toledot Yehudei Mashhad," in: Pe'amim, 6 (1980), 57–73; A. Netzer, "Korot Anusei Mashahd lefi Ya'akov Dilmanian," in: ibid., 42 (1990), 127–156; idem, "Toledot Anusei Mashhad," in: Pèamim, 94–95 (2003), 262–268; E. Neumark, Massa be-Ereẓ ha-Kedem, ed. by A. Ya'ari (1947); R. Patai, Jadid al-Islam: The Jewish New Muslims of Meshhed (1997); J.B. Schechtman, On Wings of Eagles (1961); Y. Benzion and Y. Raz, Mi-Nidḥei Yisrael be-Afganistan le-Anusei Mashhad be-Iran (1992).

[Amnon Netzer (2nd ed.)]

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