Posts tagged Iran
Posts tagged Iran
In this picture taken on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, an Iranian Jewish man, prays at the tomb of biblical prophet Daniel, in the city of Susa, some 450 miles ( 750 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran. All but lost amid the heated talk about a possible Israeli attack on Iran’s suspect nuclear program are the thousands of Jews who live in the Islamic Republic and could be caught in the middle.
Aside from Israel, Iran is home to the largest population of Jews in the Middle East, with over 25,000 Jews residing in the country.
Jewish dervishes Agha-Jaan Darvish and his brother, patriarchs of the Darvish family. Tehran, Iran, c.1922.
“Because of its specific association with Sufism and its ensuing identification with Islam, dervishhood is an order comprised almost exclusively of Muslim practicioners. The two Jewish dervishes pictured here in this rare photograph are among the very few who had successfully been integrated into the order without converting to Islam. Like the Jewish practitioners of a traditional Iranian sport in the houses of strength (zurkhaneh) — a sport that is profoundly intertwined with Islamic ritual — these dervishes represent a uniquely Iranian hybrid of Judaism and Islam.
Each of the Jewish dervishes seen here is displaying emblematic accoutrements of dervishhood: 1) The cloak, an outward sign of his state. 2) A kashkul (begging bowl) often made of such materials as mother-of-pearl. 3) A gourd, a coconut shell, or carved wood suspended from the wrist by a chain. 4) A tabarzin (short axe or hatchet) carried in the right hand and intended to fend off wild animals or highway robbers. 5) A chanta (patched bag) slung over the shoulder to carry essential items. 6) Takht-e pust (skin bed), a small mat made of animal skin that served as his bed while traveling. 7) A long rosary.”
Photograph and caption from Esther’s Children: A Portrait of Iranian Jews, edited by Houman Sarshar.
[Jewish village girl shortly after her wedding, Iran, ca. 1875]
The Jewish community in Central Asia is very ancient: by the middle of the first millenium BCE there was already a substantial settlement of Jews in the Persian Empire. Several communities, speaking a variety of Judeo-Persian languages, were established in what is today Iran and Afghanistan; others spread to the north into Bukhara (today Uzbekistan and Tajikistan) and to the west into the Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan). These communities share some common cultural and linguistic markers with each other, but also differ in significant ways.
The henna customs of Kurdish Jewish communities living in Persia are discussed, together with other Kurdish Jews, here.
In Persian Jewish communities, henna was an important cosmetic, forming one of the haft qalam arayesh [‘seven items of beautification’]. It was commonly used by men and women to colour hair, and especially to cover greying hair. Women also used it to colour fingernails and toenails in lieu of nail polish.
Hands and feet were dyed with henna, either solidly or with patterns. The patterns, applied with a stick or even one’s fingertips, depended on what each person wanted: common simple designs included dots, stars and moons, and those more artistically inclined would depict flowers, birds, and even people. Among Persian Jews, the henna was applied by women of the community, rather than professional artists. Henna was generally applied in the hammam [public baths]: women would usually go to the hammam to be hennaed around once a month, generally on a Friday morning before preparing for Shabbat. Women and their children would spend three to four hours in the hammam, which was an important social institution: besides bathing, and being hennaed or massaged, they would socialize, gossip, tell jokes, and catch up on community news.
Aside from the general use of henna, women would also apply henna before holidays and celebrations as a sign of joy and beauty. As a symbol of celebration, henna was not used during periods of mourning, both personal and communal; henna was not used, for example, during the month of Av [a month mourning the destruction of the Temple].
The crypto-Jews of Mashhad (who had been forced to convert to Islam in the mid-19th century, but continued to practice Judaism in secret) also refrained from using henna during the two months of Muslim mourning [i.e. Ramadan, a month of repentance, and Muharram, a month of Shi’i mourning for the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali] when henna is traditionally not done in Muslim communities, as to not draw attention to themselves.
In some Iranian Jewish communities, after someone died, their family would refrain from henna for a full year. At the end of the year, the mourners would be symbolically brought out of their grief: friends and family members would bring gifts of new clothing and jewelry and place them on the mourners; they would then be taken to the hammam and hennaed, which symbolized their return to the cycle of life and sociality. This ceremony was called sal dar overi [literally, ‘to leave the year’, i.e. to end the year of mourning].
What a fascinating read.
A Jewish “Ketubah” from Isfahan, Iran (Circa 1879)
گله سنگم - ریتا
Goleh Sangam by Rita
Kāhen family. The mahalleh in Golpaygan, 1941. Rabbi Shemu’il Kāhen (third person from left) was educated in Iraq. He was the head rabbi in Golpaygan. The photograph was taken in his personal library, which is only partially visible here. The books, all in Hebrew, were brought to Iran from Iraq on camel back. The men’s hand gesture — a gesture used by the Cohanim during the priestly benediction in the synagogue in front of the arc — signifies their status as Cohanim. The men on either side of Rabbi Shemu’il are his sons. The child is his grandson.
Photograph from Esther’s Children: A Portrait of Iranian Jews, edited by Houman Sarshar.
Iranian Jews Celebrating The Iranian new year ( Norouz ) in Israel
שאה דומאד - ריטה - Shah Dumad - Rita
Sha’a Dumad is a traditional Persian wedding song. In the song the guests bless the groom, for his wife agreed to take his hand. The exhales her beauty and persona, and compares the groom to a king, a Sha’a.
Zerubbabel displays a plan of Jerusalem to Cyrus the Great. Painting By Jacob Van Loo (Circa between 1640 and 1670)
Cyrus the Great liberated the Hebrew exiles to resettle and rebuild Jerusalem, earning him an honored place in Judaism.
Iranian Jewish men pray during Hanukkah celebrations at the Yousefabad Synagogue, in Tehran, Iran on Dec. 27, 2011.