Judeo-Persian’s Rich Literary History

Aug. 21 2015

To this day, many Iranian Jews speak a centuries-old, uniquely Jewish dialect in which an extensive and varied literature exists, usually written in Hebrew characters. Adam McCollum provides an introduction:

There exist both translated literature and original compositions in Judeo-Persian. In the former group are [translations of] parts of the Hebrew Bible and other Hebrew or Aramaic texts studied in Jewish communities, such as Pirkei Avot [“Ethics of the Fathers”]. In the latter group are inscriptions, commentaries, poems on biblical, [pedagogical], and historical subjects, and occasional compositions such as letters, colophons [containing publication data], and legal documents.

These texts were translated or composed in and around what is now Iran, Afghanistan, and parts of Central Asia. Much further east, the Chinese Jewish community of Kaifeng came from Persia and its books contain some passages and colophons in Judeo-Persian. There are [also] Judeo-Persian documents from the Cairo Geniza and the recently discovered Afghan genizah; Judeo-Persian [was also used by] Jewish communities in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in earlier and more recent periods.

The earliest Judeo-Persian texts—actually the earliest witness to New (i.e. not Old or Middle) Persian of any kind—are three short inscriptions on rock at Tang-e Azao (Afghanistan, Herat province) dated 752/3 CE and a contemporaneous or slightly later letter (on paper) found by Aurel Stein near the Buddhist Temple of Dandān Öiliq in Khotan (in Chinese Turkestan).

Read more at Ancient Jew Review

More about: Afghanistan, Archaeology, Bukharan Jews, History & Ideas, Kaifeng, Language, Persian Jewry


The Future of a Free Iran May Lie with a Restoration of the Shah

June 25 2018

Examining the recent waves of protest and political unrest in the Islamic Republic—from women shunning the hijab to truckers going out on strike—Sohrab Ahmari considers what would happen in the event of an actual collapse of the regime. Through an analysis of Iranian history, he concludes that the country would best be served by placing Reza Pahlavi, the son and heir of its last shah, at the head of a constitutional monarchy:

The end of Islamist rule in Iran would be a world-historical event and an unalloyed good for the country and its neighbors, marking a return to normalcy four decades after the Ayatollah Khomeini founded his regime. . . . But what exactly is that normalcy? . . .

First, Iranian political culture demands a living source of authority to embody the will of the nation and stand above a fractious and ethnically heterogenous society. Put another way, Iranians need a “shah” of some sort. They have never lived collectively without one, and their political imagination has always been directed toward a throne. The constitutionalist experiment of the early 20th century coexisted (badly) with monarchic authority, and the current Islamic Republic has a supreme leader—which is to say, a shah by another name. It is the height of utopianism to imagine that a 2,500-year-old tradition can be wiped away. The presence of a shah, [however], needn’t mean the absence of rule of law, deliberative politics, or any of the other elements of ordered liberty that the West cherishes in its own systems. . . .

Second, Iranian political culture demands a source of continuity with Persian history. The anxieties associated with modernity and centuries of historical discontinuity drove Iranians into the arms of Khomeini and his bearded minions, who promised a connection to Shiite tradition. Khomeinism turned out to be a bloody failure, but there is scant reason to imagine the thirst for continuity has been quenched. . . . Iranian nationalism . . . could be the answer, and, to judge by the nationalist tone of the current upheaval, it is the one the people have already hit upon.

When protestors chant “We Will Die to Get Iran Back,” “Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, My Life Only for Iran,” and “Let Syria Be, Do Something for Me,” they are expressing a positive vision of Iranian nationhood: no longer do they wish to pay the price for the regime’s Shiite hegemonic ambitions. Iranian blood should be spilled for Iran, not Gaza, which for most Iranians is little more than a geographical abstraction. It is precisely its nationalist dimension that makes the current revolt the most potent the mullahs have yet faced. Nationalism, after all, is a much stronger force and in Iran the longing for historical continuity runs much deeper than liberal-democratic aspiration. Westerners who wish to see a replay of Central and Eastern Europe in 1989 in today’s Iran will find the lessons of Iranian history hard and distasteful, but Iranians and their friends who wish to see past the Islamic Republic must pay heed.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Iran, Nationalism, Politics & Current Affairs, Shah