A leader of the Jewish community in Tehran says followers of the religion live in peace in Iran as local Muslims respect their customs and the government remains committed to the religious law.
Arash Abaie, a civil engineer and prominent Jewish educator, cantor, Torah reader and scholar, stressed in a recent interview that Jews living in the Islamic Republic have intensified their religious observance over the past four decades.
The interview was conducted by Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter and was sponsored by Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future, where Schacter is a senior scholar.
Abaie said that contrary to a commonly held belief, Iranian Jews find it easier to practice their religion today than they did prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The Islamic Republic, with its deep commitment to the religious law, interacts best with citizens, including Christians and Jews who are themselves observant, he said, adding that Iranian Muslims also respect Jews and understand their rituals.
“They look for commonalities” with Islam, he said, “and this leads to peaceful existence,” the Jewish leader emphasized.
Iran is home to the largest diaspora of Jews in the Middle East outside the occupied Palestinian territories, and recognizes them as a minority with one seat in the Parliament.
The Hebrew Bible has repeatedly praised Persian King Cyrus the Great as the patron and deliverer of the Jews who put an end to their Babylonian captivity some 2,500 years ago.
Abaie said that historically, Jews were protected in Persia despite “periods of conflict” over centuries.
He also spoke with pride of how members of the Jewish community in Iran are permitted to maintain an active and robust religious life, with synagogues, youth organizations, kosher facilities and four Jewish schools.
Jewish students who attend public school are required by the government to spend two to four hours a week on religious studies administered by the Jewish community, he added.
According to Abaie, about 10,000 Jews currently live in Iran, down from 100,000 before the Revolution.
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