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Pahlavi, Reza Shah°


PAHLAVI, REZA SHAH ° (1878–1944), shah of Iran. Reza Shah was born to a rather poor family in the village of Ālasht in the province of Māzandarān and died in exile in Johannesburg, South Africa. His father died when Reza was about six months old. Pressed by poverty, his mother took Reza to Teheran where at the age of 15 he joined the Russian-trained Cossack Brigade. His proficiency in handling machine guns elevated him to the rank equivalent to captain in 1912. He participated bravely in many military expeditions and within a few years was promoted to the rank of brigadier general (1918).

In 1921 he headed a British-orchestrated coup and occupied Teheran; soon after he became war minister (Wright, chapter 12). Three years later, he became prime minister (1924). His intrigues and fame caused the deposition of the last Qājār king, Ahmad Shah, and thus in 1925 he was proclaimed shah of Iran by the Parliament (Majles). He chose the pre-Islamic family name of Pahlavi, to show his strong nationalistic leanings towards ancient Iran as well as his intention of keeping his distance from Islam and its influence on Iran and of working to modernize the country (see Banani). These tendencies, to a large extent, also benefited the Jews of Iran.

Though Jews according to the constitution were still regarded as a religious minority with the right to send one Jewish representative to the Majles, their socio-economic situation improved beyond recognition. They were called to serve in the army in which some reached the rank of colonel. More than in previous decades, Jews were eager to leave the ghettos and live whereever they chose. They stopped paying jizyah (special non-Muslim poll tax); they were accepted in state schools and colleges. Another important factor concerning the Jews of Iran was their rapid acculturation: they, too, demonstrated nationalistic tendencies, participating on all Iranian national holidays, changing their Jewish names to Iranian names, and hailing Reza Shah as the Cyrus the Great of their time (Netzer, 1979).

It appeared that Reza Shah's pro-German inclinations had nothing to do with the anti-Jewish policy of Germany. He actually was looking for a strong foreign European protector to neutralize the Iranian long-time "foes," namely Russia and England (Ramazani, pp. 171ff.). Nevertheless, those tendencies created an anti-Jewish atmosphere in many cities in Iran (Netzer, 1986). For this policy, and other geopolitical reasons, his country was occupied by Russia and England (end of August 1941) and in September he lost his throne and was exiled to South Africa. He was replaced by his 22-year-old son, Mohammad Reza Shah (see previous entry).


E. Abrahamian, Iran Between the Two Revolutions (1982); A. Banani, The Modernization of Iran: 19211941 (1961); A. Netzer, "Anti-Semitism be-Iran, 1925–1950," in: Pe'amim, 29 (1986), 5–31; idem, "Ba'ayot ha-Integraẓya ha-Tarbutit, ha-Ḥevratit ve-ha-Politit shel Yehudei Iran," in: Gesher, 25:1–2 (1979), 69–83; R.K. Ramazani, The Foreign Policy of Iran: 15001941 (1966); D.N. Wilbur, Iran, Past and Present (1948); D. Wright, The English amongst the Persians (1977).

[Amnon Netzer (2nd ed.)]

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