Jews of Iran - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs and Practices. Iranian Jews follow the mizrahi, or oriental tradition of Jewish observance. Sephardic influence has affected the ritual tradition over the past 200 years, but practices remain locally and regionally distinctive from the Great Tradition. Judaism is very important for most Iranian Jews, although piety and observance varies inversely with assimilation. The knisa, "synagogue," is not only the most important community religious institution, but remains its primary social institution even in the current Iranian Jewish diaspora. Many men attend synagogue daily, and almost all do so on the Sabbath—Friday night to Saturday night. Holyday attendance is likewise high. Women participate less regularly. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the most important holy days and are occasion for ziyarat ("pilgrimage") to the shrine of Serah bat Asher in the village of Lenjan, near Esfahān. The other holy days are more specifically family- and home-oriented. Each community has numerous ritual functionaries, but few of them, aside from religious teachers, earn their primary income from this service. Observance of the kashrut, the dietary laws, and separation of spouses during and after menses, are the norm.

Arts. Jews have long been among the leading musical performers, dancers, and instrument makers. There are specialized ritual-art forms for local use and the tourist trade.

Medicine. Jews have been fortune-tellers, herbalists, bonemenders, midwives, and doctors. Some continue these traditional practices. Since the 1960s, many have become Westerntrained doctors, dentists, nurses, and medical technicians.

Death and Afterlife. Death is an expected conclusion of life and an occasion for family solidarity. Burial takes place within twenty-four hours of death, and formalized wailing by females is ceremonially appropriate. Customary Jewish mourning rituals continue for a full year. Prayers are recited weekly on the day of the parent's death, special study occurs in the house of the deceased every Sabbath, and yeshuva ("sitting") is held, with study, prayer, and feasting in the house of the deceased on new moons and certain holy days. Death is thought to revisit susceptible households, so amulets are used to keep it away. Belief in spirits is common and similar to that among non-Jewish Iranians.


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