Iranian-Israeli Ethnicity

A look at how Iranian Jews address their ethnicity in Israel.

The paper questions whether the religion or ethnicity of a person has first place in one’s identity. The following answers the above question in the case of Iranian Jews in Israel. It examines how this ethnic group has assimilated itself within Israeli society, and if it has continued to identify in any manner with its Iranian background. It presents a history of Iranian Jewish culture and how it has developed over the years depending on the ruling powers in Iran. Finally, a look at two prominent Israelis of Iranian heritage, Israeli President Moshe Katsav and Israeli Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz, is conducted.
Before examining Iranian Jews within Israel, it is helpful to take a general look at the history of Iranian Jews in order to better understand the circumstances for their departure from Iran. The Jewish community of Persia, modern-day Iran, is one of the oldest in the Diaspora, and its historical roots reach back to the 6th B.C.E., the time of the First Temple. Their history in the pre-Islamic period is intertwined with that of the Jews of neighboring Babylon. Cyrus, the first Achaemid emperor, conquered Babylon in 539 B.C.E. and permitted by special decree the return of the Jewish exiles to the Land of Israel, thus ending the First Exile. The Jewish colonies were scattered from centers in Babylon to Persian provinces and cities such as Hamadan and Susa. The books of Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel give a favorable description of the relationship of the Jews to the court of the Achaemids in Susa.