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A Respite for the Jews of Persia

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February 24, 2018

[caption id="attachment_68912" align="alignleft" width="219"] Nadir Shah at the sack of Delhi, following the Battle of Karnal[/caption]

On this date in 1739, Nadir Quli, a former slave who had become the shah of Iran, consolidated his empire in the Battle of Karnal, defeating the Mughal emperor of India and seizing his Peacock Throne and the Koh-i-noor Diamond, among other treasures. Nadir Shah was a murderer and a despot, but under his brief reign (1736-1747), the Jews of Persia were allowed to practice Judaism openly after 150 years of oppression, forced conversion, and secretive Jewish observance. After Nadir Shah's assassination, however, some forty Jews were massacred in the holy Shi’ite city of Mashhad, and the forced conversion of Jews resumed. Iranian Jewish history dates back to biblical times, with references to Persian Jews in the books of Isaiah, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles, and Esther. Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Iran's Jewish population has declined sharply due to emigration to Israel, the United States, and Western Europe. It currently numbers somewhere between 10,000 and 40,000 — still the largest Jewish population among predominantly-Muslim nations.

“At nights, in the royal assembly, the Chief Mulla of the Kingdom would read and interpret for [Nadir Shah], sometimes from the Torah and sometimes from the Psalms, and [Nadir Shah] enjoyed this greatly. He had sworn saying: '. . .  I will rebuild Jerusalem, and I will gather all the Children of Israel together.' However, death overtook him and did not allow him to do so.” —18th Century Judeo-Persian document cited in David Yeroushalmi's The Jews of Iran in the Nineteenth Century