Judaism is among the oldest religions practiced in Iran and the Biblical Book of Esther contains references to the experiences of the Jews in Persia. The history of immigrant Jews to Iran goes back to more than 3000 years ago, during which they were part of a society which included adherents of many other religions such as Zoroastrians, etc.
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 century 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 of the Archemid dynasty, conquered Babylon in 539 B.C.E. and permitted the Jewish exiles to return to the Land of Israel, bringing the First Exile to an end. 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 at Susa.
Under the Sassanid dynasty (226-642 C.E.), the Jewish population in Persia grew considerably and spread throughout the region; nevertheless, Jews suffered intermittent oppression and persecution. The invasion by Arab Muslims in 642 C.E. terminated the independence of Persia, installed Islam as the state religion, and made a deep impact on the Jews by changing their sociopolitical status.
The Sasanian Empire conquered Jerusalem after a brief siege in 614, during the Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628. The Persian Shah Khosrau II appointed his general Shahrbaraz to conquer the Byzantine controlled areas of the Near East. Some 20,000 Jewish rebels joined the war against the Byzantine Christians. Depending on the chronicler figures of either 20,000 or 26,000 are given. The Persian army reinforced by Jewish forces lead by Nehemiah ben Hushiel and Benjamin of Tiberias would capture Jerusalem without resistance.
Following the unopposed capture of Jerusalem, control of the city was handed to Nehemiah ben Hushiel and Benjamin of Tiberias. Nehemiah was then appointed the ruler of Jerusalem. He began making arrangements for the building of the Third Temple, and sorting out genealogies to establish a new High Priesthood. After only a few months a Christian revolt occurred. Nehemiah ben Hushiel and his council of sixteen righteous were killed along with many other Jews, some throwing themselves off the city walls.
The Jews had hoped that Khosrau II would give them all of the Land of Israel in exchange for their support. However they were too few to make this a reality. For a time they are said to have enjoyed relative dominance in Jerusalem.
The fall of Palaestina Prima to the Persians was mentioned as a contemporary event in the thirtieth sūrah of the Qur’an, Sūrat al-Rūm. It went on to predict the imminent defeat of the Persians by the Byzantines: “The Roman Empire has been defeated in a lowest land on earth by, but after this defeat of theirs they will soon be victorious, within a few years” (Qur’an 30:2-4).
Under the Phalevi Dynasty, established in 1925, the country was secularized and oriented toward the West. This greatly benefited the Jews, who were emancipated and played an important role in the economy and in cultural life. On the eve of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, 80,000 Jews lived in Iran. In the wake of the upheaval, tens of thousands of Jews, especially the wealthy, left the country, leaving behind vast amounts of property.
The Council of the Jewish Community, which was established after World War II, is the representative body of the community. The Jews also have a representative in parliament who is obligated by law to support Iranian foreign policy and its Anti-Zionist position.
After the Iranian revolution in early 1979 members of the Jewish community feared for their lives, afraid that they would be murdered or expelled by the new Iranian regime. After the execution of prominent Jewish businessman Habib Elghanian on May 9, 1979 was publicized in local news outlets, the leaders of the Jewish community in Iran knew that they had to act fast in order to guarantee the safety of all Iranian Jews. The community leaders quickly assembled a group of two rabbis and four prominent young intellectuals and set off to meet with Ayatollah Khomeini in the Iranian city of Qom. After the group congratulated the Ayatollah on his victory over the Shah in the recent revolution, the Ayatollah gave a long monologue concluding by comparing Christianity, Islam and Judaism and saying that they are the only religions that are truly descended from heaven. The Ayatollah stated that in the Qur’an Moses’s name is mentioned more times than the name of any other Prophet. This was the answer that the Jewish community leaders had been looking for, and the Iranian government has kept their word and kept the Jews physically safe ever since this moment.
Israel holding over $250m it owes Iran for oil in secret account. A secret government bank account holds funds Israel owes Iran for oil it received before the 1979 revolution. Israel refuses to reveal who has been depositing money into and withdrawing money from the account.
The funds are under the control of the accountant general in the Israeli Finance Ministry, Michal Abadi-Boiangiu. The Bank of Israel’s most recent financial report, from the end of 2013, shows the account balance is $256 million – about 1 billion shekels.
The Finance Ministry calls this a “special foreign-currency account,” while the Bank of Israel refers to it in its report as “a different deposit of the government in foreign currency.” But it is the same amount, whose annual balances are mentioned in the official reports of the accountant general, the State Comptroller and the Bank of Israel.
Fifteen years ago the government withdrew most of the funds from the account. It then was refilled with money whose source is not clear.
The most recent transactions in the account were recorded over the past three years, during Benjamin Netanyahu’s term as prime minister and while Abadi- Boiangiu has served as accountant general.
In 2012, $71 million was withdrawn from the account, and in 2013 $60 million was deposited. The Bank of Israel’s financial reports, which present the changes in the balances, do not explain the transactions.
The Finance Ministry declines to comment on questions about the debts to Iran or about the arbitration process NIOC is conducting against Israel. The ministry relates to the entire matter as a state secret.