One of the central interests of this blog is the relatively recent scholarly trend of ‘Reading the Talmud in Iran’ – that is, the practice of locating the Talmud in its Iranian context by highlighting connections between it and the Late Antique Iranian world from which it emerged. But we are also interested in the way the Talmud is read today – from Northern California to Korea. With all the excitement of recovering the composition of an ‘Iranian’-Babylonian Talmud, we must not ignore the experience of reading the Talmud in the Islamic Republic of Iran today.
The Vice President of Iran, Mohammad Reza Rahimi’s recent remarks that “the prevalence of narcotics and drug-addition throughout the world finds its roots in the wrong teachings of the Zionists’ religious book, Talmud (paraphrased by Farsnews)” was particularly troubling for us. Not only are his comments (and ‘retraction’) offensive in the extreme, they are entirely ignorant of the role that Iran played in producing the Talmud.
It is no secret that Iranian Jews, along with other non-Muslim minorities in Iran, frequently find themselves in precarious positions in the Islamic Republic. For Jews, one of the most disquieting matters concerns the Islamic Republic’s alleged contrast between Jews and Zionists – a distinction made by Khomeini to a delegation of frightened Jews sent to Qom on May 14, 1979, which is frequently transgressed by both the non-Jewish Iranian public and, as we recently saw, government officials. That said, the experience of Jews in Iran today is by no means black-and-white, and Iranian Jewry’s complicated and fraught relationship with Zionism and the State of Israel must be parsed with the utmost care.
Notwithstanding the media coverage of Rahimi’s comments, there remains an extreme dearth of information regarding the state of Iranian Jewry today. We thought that it would be useful to provide our readers with two documents culled from the recent affair – a pair of letters sent by and to the Jewish community in Tehran concerning the Vice President’s offensive statements about the Talmud. The letters were posted to the Tehran Jewish community’s website and were kindly translated from the Persian by our friend and colleague Dr. Thamar E. Gindin. Needless to say, the appearance of the documents here is by no means an endorsement of their contents. Instead, we post them for posterity and discussion:
Dr Homayun Same-yah
Tir 91 (June 2012)
Mr. Mohammad Reza Rahimi
Honorable First Vice-President of the Islamic Republic of Iran
With greetings and honor,
Following the speech delivered by his honor, as quoted by the Persian news agency, on the international day against drug abuse, and his expressing an opinion about the holy book of the Talmud, I hereby state: The valuable treasure of the Talmud of the Jews includes manners of carrying out the verdicts and laws of the holy Torah. Its composition began about 1800 years ago by the Jewish sages, and took about 300 years to complete. This collection, besides discussing matters of religious law, also describes the lives of the sages and prophets, aspects of proper moral and behavior, and matters of health and medicine, within the limits of that time’s science.
The Talmud, compiled in 37 volumes, holds a very detailed, specialized, and massive text and content, which, regrettably, has not been translated to Persian to this day.
What is certain is that at the times of the Talmud, drugs for abuse were practically unknown, and had no use. Moreover, in the centuries that follow, no Jew has been known or arrested as a drug smuggler.
Since exact research and correct and valid description of affairs is every speaker’s duty and every listener’s right, when the matter is discussed by a high official authority, it especially raises the expectations in this arena. Additionally, the confusion and lack of distinction between the two matters – Judaism as a divine, monotheistic religion, and Zionism as a political party, is a big mistake, standing in contrast to the saying of the great leader of the revolution, his holiness Imam Khomeini (BM), who said “Judaism counts separately from Zionism”. Especially in this sensitive time, when the foreigners and the enemies sit in ambush to defame and create a hostile propagandistic atmosphere toward our beloved country. Therefore, the community of Jewish Iranians demands its right – the rectification of words said.
His honor Mr. Rahimi, because the Tehran Jewish Committee is certain that your honor’s sayings have been based on views of people unaware and unknowledgeable of the holy treasure of the Talmud, the Committee expresses its readiness to explain to his honor the very valuable doctrines of this book, especially doctrines dealing with love for others.
Moreover, the Committee announces that it has always kept in mind the administrations of his holiness the late Imam (Khomeini – ThEG), and likewise the valuable words of the leader of the Islamic republic of Iran regarding unity of speech (i.e. complete compliance with the supreme leader’s words – ThEG) and harmony in the great and powerful country of Iran, and expects each and every Iranian to also respect this right.
Head of the Tehran Jewish Committee
Dr. Homayun Same-yah
The Vice-President’s office reply July 16, 2012
Dear Mr. Dr. Homayun Same-yah,
Honorable head of the Tehran Jewish Committee,
With honor, with peace and greetings to all the divine prophets, especially the prophet of Islam, of great dignity, and his holiness Moses who spoke with God.
In reply to your honor’s letter nr. 17326 dated 3/4/1391 (23/6/2012; sic), I hereby say:
Following the speech of the honorable first vice-president at the “international day against drug abuse” ceremony (6/4/1391 [26/6/2012; sic]), the foreign media, especially media linked to the world-arrogance (the West – ThEG) and to the Zionist regime, have selected and distorted parts of his speech, launched a propagandistic tumult, and with this excuse, put the high officials of the sacred regime yet again to under attack.
As your honor rightfully mentioned in your letter, according to the doctrinal principles of the Islamic Republic regime and the commands of the Deceased Imam (Khomeini – ThEG) and the supreme leader, “Zionism” and “Judaism” are two completely different matters. The leaders of the regime have from the very beginning of victory of the Islamic Revolution, always differentiated between the true followers of his Holiness Moses (BM) as a divine monotheistic religion, and the current of “World Zionism”. Today, the Muslim nations of the world hold the Jewish religion and its followers in great respect, but know that Zionism is a satanic doctrine, characterized by traits such as occupation and proliferation-ambitions, and strives to achieve its goals and control the world’s sources. In the past 32 years, World Zionism and its agents have never let go of their misconception against the Islamic Republic regime. They have always strived, by means of the media related to them, to distort the facts, divert the world public opinion, and attribute to Iran and to Muslims faults such as support of international terrorism, fundamentalism, deprivation of human rights, proliferation ambitions etc.
The last hustle and bustle about the words of the honorable First Vice-President are also – like dozens of the previous false clamors, from the fatwa issued by the Holy Imam (BM) (Khomeini – ThEG) against Salman Rushdie, to the studious question of the honorable president about the Holocaust – based on distortion and lie. Regretfully, the leaders of the ruling regime, who are themselves of the main architects of racism and genocide in the world, have titled this speech “anti-Jewish and racist”. The first Vice-President, in the aforementioned ceremony, has elaborated on some matters as an opinion holder in an academic and logical discussion, regarding Zionism and their misuse of some of the sanctities of Judaism. He is the author of the book “Land Wound”, which describes the history of the formation of Zionism, the genealogy of the Islamic Resistance Movement etc. The book was published by the Center for Scientific Research and Middle East Strategic Studies in 1388 (2009-10), and for authoring this book, he has been hailed by Palestinian and Syrian elites and academics. Reviewing the text of the First Vice-President’s speech, it can be seen that he has announced “Zionism” as an agent of proliferating drugs and other corruptions in the world, and explicitly distinguished between “authentic Jews” , who are followers of Holy Moses (BM), and “the Zionists”. But agents of the Arrogance, who are terrified that the hands of World Zionism behind the curtains may be exposed, immediately tried, by distortion and partial quotations of some of the parts, to launch another propagandistic turmoil against the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran. We appreciate the consciousness of the Tehran Jewish Committee in recognizing the political atmosphere of the country and the world in the present situation, and thank this committee for its perseverance in observing the administrations of his Holiness the Deceased Imam, and the statements of the supreme leader of the Islamic Revolution regarding unity of speech and harmony in our beloved country. It should be noted that in reply to the demand of the community of Jewish Iranians and in order to rectify the misconceptions arising from the speech delivered by Dr. Mohammad Reza Rahimi, First Vice President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a statement has been put at the disposal of internal and foreign media. At the end, we ask the Lord Almighty for the success of our Jewish compatriots.
Thamar E. Gindin is an Iranian linguist. She’s a research fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies in Haifa university, teaches Persian to private groups and in Tel Aviv University, lectures about present day and ancient Iran in various settings, and is the author of “The Good, the Bad and the Universe – a Journey to Pre-Islamic Iran. She intends to be Israel’s first cultural attaché to a friendly Iran.