October 10, 2012
Timeline: A history of Iranian Jews
After Shalmaneser V conquers the kingdom of Israel, a group of captive Jews said to be descendants of the 12 tribes of Israel is sent into exile in Persia.
Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, conquers Judah and Jerusalem and sends a group of Jews into exile in the city of Isfahan in Persia. A Jewish quarter is built in the city for the Jews, which is named Judea (Yahudieh). The city of Isfahan also has been mentioned as being called Judea by some Islamic historians.
Babylonians destroy the First Temple
After the overthrow of Babylon by the Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid Empire, a group of captive Jews, along with the prophet Daniel, is allowed to reside in Iran and practice its religion freely. They settle in the capital city of Susa, southern Iran. The shrine of Daniel is in Susa.
King Cyrus allows the Jewish pilgrims in Persia to return to Israel to rebuild the Second Temple. After his death, the new king of Persia, Darius the Great, orders completion of the construction of the Second Temple.
The third king of the Achaemenid Empire, Ahasuerus, comes to power. Haman and his wife, Zeresh, plot to murder all the Jews of Persia. The plan is foiled by Esther, the Jewish queen of Persia. The Jewish holiday Purim is a remembrance of this event. The tombs of Esther and her cousin Mordecai are in the city of Hamadan, Iran.
After the relocation of the capital city in Persia by the Achaemenid Empire kings, the Jews of Iran start moving to new capital cities. Cities such as Shiraz and Hamadan attract many Jews.
Greeks led by Alexander invade and conquer Iran. Despite the Iranian cultural conflict with Hellenism, historians agree that Alexander treated the Jews respectfully.
247 B.C.E.-224 C.E.
Brothers Arashk and Tirdat come to power. Arashk is to become the first king of the Arsacid (or Parthian) dynasty. Under the reign of Parthians, Iranian Jews live in prosperity.
Religious persecution of Jews in Palestine by the Romans brings many Jewish refugees into the Parthian Empire.
The last Parthian king is overthrown by Ardashir I, and the Sassanid dynasty is founded. For the first time in the history of Iran, Jews suffer occasional persecution.
Arabs invade Iran and suppress all the rebellions. Islamic rules begin to be imposed and conversion to Islam occurs gradually. Jews, along with other religious minorities — Christians and Zoroastrians — are persecuted, and social restrictions and discriminations are imposed.
Mongols capture Persia. The situation for Persian Jews becomes more dangerous when the seventh ruler of the Mongolian Empire, Ghazan Khan, converts to Islam in 1295. Jews are forced to convert to Islam.
Safavid and Qajar dynasties come to power. Shia Islam is proclaimed to be the state religion. Mistreatment of Jews continues occasionally. Because of the persecution, thousands of Persian Jews immigrate to Palestine between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 19th century, Jews in the city of Mashhad are forced to convert to Islam, but many of them keep practicing Judaism in the privacy of their homes.
Pahlavi dynasty comes to power. Modernization and reforms are imposed, and Jewish life starts to improve.
1979 to present
The Islamic Revolution turns the Iranian kingdom into an Islamic republic. Since the revolution, the number of Jews has decreased from 120,000 to fewer than 20,000. Iranian Jews have mostly immigrated to the United States — particularly Los Angeles — and to Israel.
Iranian Jews: The art, culture and history