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February 24: Persian Jews

Lawrence Bush
February 24, 2010
nadershahOn this day in 1739, Nadir Quoli, 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 rule (1736-1747) the Jews of Persia were allowed to practice Judaism openly after 150 years of oppression, forced conversion and secretive Jewish observance. After the 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 Isaiah, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles and Esther. Today, Israel is home to about 47,000 Iranian Jews and close to a quarter of a million with Iranian roots, and the U.S. is home to 80,000. In Iran itself there are somewhere between 11,000 and 40,000 Jews — the largest Jewish population among Muslim nations. “If I have found favor in your eyes, O King, and if it please the King, let my life be granted me by my plea, and the life of my people by my request. For my people and I have been sold to be annihilated, killed and destroyed!” —The Megillah of Esther, Ch. 7

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.