|Jews in Persia|
From the Jewish Chronicle (16 September 1872) following famines in Persia:
'The Jewish Intelligencer, a Conversionist Magazine, contains the following extracts from a letter received by Canon Fremantle from Rev. M. Gordon of Ispahan:
As you are a great friend of the Jews, I think it would interest you to hear a lttle about the Jews in Persia. There are about 1,500 here in Ispahan, and about 5,000 in Shiraz, where we went lately. I found that at Shiraz they were supplied with funds by the patriuotic spirit of Sir Moses Montefiore, so that few of them (if any) have died of famine, while thousands of Mussulmans perished. I visited them in one of their synagogues, and conversed with their Moollahs [sic] in Persia. They said they had eight synagogues there, one of which was in ruins, and they wanted money to rebuild it. I asked to see a distribution of the money which Sir Moses Montefiore had sent, and was told to go to the synagogue before breakfast. I sat by the Moollah, while he gave the money; or a small portion of it; but the people made such a noise, and were allowed to press upon us so closely, that he was obliged to stop and send them away.
I went last night with Mr Bruce to Ispahan to help him to distribute the monthly allowance to the Jews there. The contrast was remarkable. We dismounted from our horses at the door of a large courtyard. The Jews were all ranged in rows, seated in the shade according to their "Mahullas," (i.e., the quarter where they live), families, and names. Then we went round with two lists, he taking one Mahulla and I another, reading the names and distributing "krauns," i.e., frane, to each according to the figures on the list, which answered to the number in each family. Each man (or woman) kept his place, and rose and went away as he received his money, and the whole thing was done in less than a quarter of an hour. In this way we are sure that each Jew gets his share, and that it does not go into the pockets of the Moollahs.
I could see a marked improvement in their appearance since former distributions during the late severe winter, and though some have died of famine, in nothing like in the same proportion as among the Mussulmans. Mr Bruce has several times had money from Sir Moses Montefiore for Ispahan through our Mission at Teheran, but he has had such large sums from England and India for the relief of distress that he has been able to help all denominations, Jews, Armenians, and Persians alike. I imagine he cannot have received less than £1,200 or £1,500 from all sources this winter....
There is no doubt that they (the Jews) are a very downtrodden race in Persia, even compared with other lasses in this land of oppressions.
It is very difficult to collect statistics of any sort here, but while I was at Shiraz I made inquiries respecting them, both in English and Persian quarters. I was told that a tax of 50 "tomans" (a toman corresponds to the half-napoleon) was levied upon them by "firman" from the Shah. This is not considerable, but the Governor of Shiraz makes it 1,000 tomans. I was told also that a tax of 1,600 tomans is levied upon them for making wine, which is one of their trades. And that an additional 1,000 tomans was exacted in consideration of their receiving relief from England.
The British agent at Shiraz informed me that he had succeeded in stopping this last tax. Of course the Persian authorities would deny the charge, but bribery and corruption are so prevalent that such a thing might easily be done with or without the governor's cognizance. Everyone thinks himself at liberty to insult a Jew in Persia. In Shiraz, no Jew is allowed to ride in the streets. The women are forbidden to veil, like Persian women, and if any possesses unusual attractions they are appropriated by some Persian for his harem. This is mentioned in H. Martyn's Journal sixty years ago. I myself have seen a boy strike a Jewess as she passed in the street, and she dared not complain. The Jews have a look of settled melancholy, which seems in a measure to identify them in spite of their conformity to Persian dress....'
(A scholarly historical account of the status and socio-economic condition of Iranian Jewry can be found here)