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Teheran

TEHERAN

TEHERAN , capital of *Iran. Situated near the ancient biblical site of Rages (mentioned in the Book of Tobit), Teheran did not rise to prominence until the Kajar dynasty established its capital there about 1788. It soon attracted Jews from many provincial villages and towns, and according to the Jewish traveler *David d'Beth Hillel the Jewish population in Teheran amounted to about 100 families in 1828. Travelers, sheliḥim, missionaries, and other European visitors (including J. *Wolff, *Benjamin II, E. *Neumark, and G.K. Curzon) who came throughout the course of the 19th century, all indicate the growth of the Jewish community in Teheran. At first the Jews lived in a very poor, unsanitary quarter (mahallah), where they established synagogues and other religious and social institutions. The development of their economic life was greatly hampered by the concept of the ritual uncleanliness of non-believers (Jews and Christians alike) held by Shiʿite Islam, the religious basis of the dynasty. The Jews engaged in handicrafts and small businesses, and were itinerant peddlers dealing in carpets, textiles, antiquities, and luxury articles; very few of them were able to reach positions of economic importance. Some native Jewish physicians in Teheran in the time of Shah Nasr-ed-Din achieved a measure of prominence even before the shah appointed the Austrian Jew J.E. *Polak as professor at the Teheran Medical College, and his personal medical adviser (1851–56).

The political and legal status of the Jews improved in the second half of the 19th century thanks to the intervention of European Jewry under the leadership of Sir Moses *Montefiore and A. *Crémieux, who during the shah's visits to Europe in 1873 and 1889 presented petitions and demands for the amelioration of the life of their coreligionists. This intervention led to the establishment of Jewish schools by the *Alliance Israélite Universelle; the first Alliance school in Teheran was opened in 1898 with J. Cazès as director. As a result of the constitutional reforms under Shah Muzaffar-ed-Din in the early decades of the 20th century, the Jews were granted citizenship in 1906, though they were not permitted to elect their own representative to the Persian parliament until a few years later. Under the Pahlevi dynasty (1925–1979), the position of the Jews throughout Iran improved considerably. In Teheran they were assisted not only by the Alliance, but also by *ort, *Oẓar ha-Torah, and above all by the American Jewish *Joint Distribution Committee, which in 1947 laid the foundation for all social, medical, and educational activities of the Jews of Teheran and Iran as a whole. A Zionist organization was established in Teheran a year after the Balfour Declaration (1917). A cultural and spiritual revival also led to a considerable aliyah to Ereẓ Israel in the early decades of the 20th century. Among Teheran's prominent leaders were Solomon Kohen Ẓedek, author of the first Hebrew grammar for Persian Jews (1918); Mullah Elijah Ḥayyim Moreh, author of three *Judeo-Persian books on Jewish tradition and history (1924–27); Shmuel Ḥayyim, editor of a Jewish newspaper in the Persian language and an ardent Zionist; Aziz Naim, author of the first history of the Zionist movement in Persian; Kermanyan, translator into Persian of A. Bein's biography of Theodor Herzl; and Soliman Hayyim, a great Jewish-Iranian lexicographer and author of several Persian dictionaries. One of the earliest immigrants to Ereẓ Israel was Mullah Ḥayyim Elijah Mizraḥi, whose son, Ḥanina Mizraḥi, wrote several books on Persian Jews in Ereẓ Israel and other monographs.

[Walter Joseph Fischel]

Contemporary Period

The Jewish population of Teheran in 1948 consisted of approximately 35,000 persons and constituted 37% of the total Jewish population of Iran. Although there was considerable emigration to Israel, the number remained stable, as Jews from the provinces migrated to the capital. Much poverty continued to exist in the Jewish quarter (mahallah), although with the economic development of the country generally improved, the economic situation of Jews there improved. Teheran had a network of schools run by the Alliance Israélite Universelle; 15 elementary and two high schools, as well as schools run by Oẓar ha-Torah and ort. In 1961, 7,100 pupils attended the Alliance Israélite Universelle and Oẓar ha-Torah schools. Hundreds of Jews (700–800 in 1949) studied also in Protestant mission schools, and approximately another 2,000 in government schools. In 1961 the number of Jewish students at Teheran University was estimated at 300; however, in 1957 it was estimated that about 3,000 Jewish children in Teheran were receiving no education, although this number probably dropped in the 1960s. The community ran the Kanun Kheir Khah Hospital for the needy (founded in 1958), and a Jewish soup kitchen financed by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The headquarters both of the youth organization, Kanun Javanan, which extended aid and sponsored lectures to poor children, and of the Jewish women's organization were located in Teheran. Community affairs were run by a council, elected by prominent members of the community, which was headed by Enayatollah Montakhab in 1951 and by Arieh Murad in 1959. The head of the rabbinical court in 1959 was Rabbi Jedidiah Shofet. His judge's salary was paid by the government, and his judgments put into effect by government law courts.

Under the Pahlevi dynasty, the Jews in Teheran enjoyed complete freedom and equality, and many rose to positions of influence in the social and economic spheres. In 1957 the first Iranian-Jewish Congress was organized in Teheran and branches of the World Jewish Congress were established. In 1970, 40,000 Jews (55% of the total Jewish population of Iran) lived in Teheran, and the community was composed of Jews from various Iranian provinces including *Meshed, and from *Bukhara, *Baghdad, and other Oriental communities, as well as of Ashkenazim from Russia, Poland, and Germany. In the early 21st century a large proportion of Iran's estimated 11,000 or so Jews lived in Teheran.

[Hayyim J. Cohen /

Walter Joseph Fischel]

bibliography:

M. Abeshus, in: mjv, 20 (1906), 121–54; W.J. Fischel, in: jsos, 12 (1950), 119–60; H. Mizraḥi, Yehudei Paras (1959), passim; J.B. Schechtman, On Wings of Eagles (1961); I. Ben-Zvi, Meḥkarim u-Mekorot (1966), index; E. Spicehandler, Yahadut Iran, Kiyyumah u-Ve'ayoteha (1970; incl. bibl.). add bibliography: A. Netzer, "Ha-Kehillah ha-Yehudit be-Tehran mi-Reishitah ad ha-Mahapekhah ha-Ḥukatit 1906," in: Shevet va-Am (1980), 248–82; idem, "Jews of Teheran," in: Padyavand: Judeo-Iranian and Jewish Studies (in Persian), 3 (1999), 145–204.

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