The Jewish Community in Shiraz, Iran

Capital of the former province of Fars, south Iran.

 

The existence of a Jewish community in Shiraz is attested by Persian and Arab geographers from the tenth century. The funeral of a great Sufi leader in Shiraz (981) was attended by Muslims, Christians, and Jews. The Jerusalem-born medieval Arab geographer Al-Muqaddasi (tenth century) states that there was a smaller number of Jews than Christians in the province.

 

The Jewish traveller Benjamin of Tudela (c.1162) described Shiraz as a large city with a Jewish population of about 10,000. With the rise in 1288 of Sad al-Dawla, the Jewish physician and vizier of Arghun Khan, the Jews of Shiraz shared in the considerable freedom enjoyed by all the communities in Persia, and likewise were affected by the persecution which swept over Mesopotamian and Persian Jewry after the death of Arghun Khan. Shiraz was the birthplace of Shahin (14th century), the pioneer of Judeo- Persian poetry, and of his successor Imrani (16th century). The persecutions of the Jews in Shiraz under the Safavids are detailed in the Judeo-Persian chronicles of Babay Ibn Lutf and Babay Ibn Farchad.

 

Coja Jacob Aaron, a Jewish banker and broker of the English East India Company of Basra, Iraq, went to Shiraz during the Persian occupation of Basra in 1777.  In the nineteenth century most of the Jews of Shiraz were goldsmiths or storekeepers. Based on reports by European travelers and missioners, the Jewish population was estimated in the early years of the 19th century ar 400 families. In 1830 the number of Jews in Shiraz was estimated at some 3,000, but this number declined to only 500 in 1850 as at least 2,500 Jews converted to Islam because of terrible persecutions. However, the Jews of Shiraz continued to practice Judaism in secret despite a fear of further persecutions. In 1850 there were nine synagogues in Shiraz, and the Chief Rabbi was Mulley Israel.

 

Ya'acov Rahamani (left) and Pergula Aminoff
in traditional costume, Shiraz, Iran, 1930.
Beit Hatfutsot, the Visual Documentation Center.
Courtesy of Mino Hachmi, New York

 

 

Aziz Cohanim at 70, the richest man in Shiraz and

leader of the Shiraz Jewish community. Shiraz,

1973. Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld.

Beit Hatfutsot, the Visual Documentation Center,

the Sonnenfeld collection
 

 

During the 19th century Christian missionary activities and the Bahai movement made inroads in the Jewish community which were countered by the establishment of an Alliance Israelite Universelle school in 1904 (closed in the 1960s). Toward the end of the 19th century, many Jews from Shiraz immigrated to Eretz Israel, including the families of Rachamim Reuven Melamed and Raphael Chaim Ha-Cohen.

 

 

 

Girls working in Azis Cohanim's textile factory,

Shiraz, 1973. Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld.
Beit Hatfutsot, the Visual Documentation Center,

the Sonnenfeld collection
 

 

 

Circumcision Ceremony in Shiraz, Iran, 1940.

Beit Hatfutsot, the Visual Documentation Center. 

Courtesy of the Association of Mashhad Jews

 

During the Constitutional years (1906-1911) the legal status of the Jews and some other religious minorities of Iran improved, even if only to a limited extent, however the persecutions continued for many years into the 20th century. On October 30, 1910, the Jewish quarter of Shiraz was attacked following false accusations that the Jews had ritually killed a Muslim girl. As a result 12 Jews were killed and another 50 were injured, while almost the entire quarter was robbed by the attacking mob.

 

Approximately 12,000-15,000 Jews lived in Shiraz in 1948.

According to the 1956 Iranian census, 8,304 Jews remained in Shiraz, which was then the second largest Jewish community in Iran. Approximately 2,000 Jews left for Israel between 1956 and 1968. Most were artisans and peddlers, but there were also merchants and moneylenders. About half the Jews received financial assistance until they left the city. Those who remained belonged to the middle classes and in the 1960s Jews began to leave their quiarter. A yeshivah with 18 pupils, a teacher's seminary with 20 pupils, and schools were run by Otzar Ha-Torah and by ORT. The former had 1,100 pupils in 1949 and 2,020 in 1961. In 1960 about 1,000 Jewish children attended government schools. The city had a branch of the Iranian Jewish women's association and the young people's association, Kanun Javanan. In 1967 the community numbered 7,000 Jews.

 

 

A Class in Shiraz, Iran, 1966. Photo: Ida Cowen.

Beit Hatfutsot, the Visual Documentation Center.

Courtesy of Ida Cowen, New York

 

 

A child in a Jewish kindergarten, Shiraz, Iran, 1973.
Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld.

Beit Hatfutsot, the Visual Documentation Center,

the Sonnenfeld collection

 

In 1979, on the eve of the Islamic revolution, there were 8,000 Jews living in Shiraz.

On April 2000, 13 Jews were brought to trial in Shiraz on the charge of spying for Israel. Following international outrage and pressure the last of them were eventually released in 2003. In late 2000s the number of Jews in Shiraz was estimated at about 5,000. Although there was no residing rabbi, there were over 15 active synagogues.