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Notable Jews of Persia & the Arabian Peninsula

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  • Rav Yoseph Haim "Ben Ish Chai" - בן איש חי (1834 - 1909)
    Wikepedia Bio Hacham Yosef Chaim - Ben Ish Hai Hillula Ben Ish Chai - Halacha Chacham (Sephardic equivalent of “Rabbi”) Yosef Chaim , known as the “ Ben Ish Chai ,” ...
  • Maurice Saatchi, Baron Saatchi
    Maurice Nathan Saatchi , Baron Saatchi (born 21 June 1946) is the co-founder, with his brother Charles, of the advertising agencies Saatchi and Saatchi and M&C Saatchi, where he currently serves as Exe...
  • Ofra Haza / עפרה חזה (1957 - 2000)
    עפרה חזה (נו' 19 בנובמבר 1957 - נפ' 23 בפבר�...
  • Dr. Nouriel Roubini
    Nouriel Roubini is probably the most prominent and prescient economist who predicted the current economic crisis. As early as 2006, Roubini predicted that the United States “was likely to face a...
  • נחמיה Nechemya ben Nathan, 14th Exilarch Nehemiah I (c.250 - 313)
    Exilarque Néhémie ben Nathan beni David était Exilarque (Exilarque [en hébreu: ראש גלות Rosh Galout, l'araméen: ...

Persian Jews یهودیان ایرانی‎ יהודי פרס‎

Persian Jewry

Persian Jews (Hebrew: יהודי פרס‎, Persian: یهودیان ایرانی‎) are Jews historically associated with Iran, traditionally known as Persia in Western sources. The beginnings of Jewish history in the area of present-day Iran date back to late biblical times. The biblical books of Isaiah, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles, and Esther contain references to the life and experiences of Jews in Persia.

In the book of Ezra, the Persian kings are credited with permitting and enabling the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their Temple; its reconstruction was affected "according to the decree of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia" (Ezra 6:14). This great event in Jewish history took place in the late sixth century BCE, by which time there was a well-established and influential Jewish community in Persia. Jews in ancient Persia mostly lived in their own communities. Persian Jews lived in the ancient (and until the mid-20th century still extant) communities not only of Iran, but of present-day Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan.

Today, only 8,756 Persian Jews remain in Iran, with much larger diaspora populations living in Israel and the United States. An estimated 300,000–350,000 Jews of full or partial Persian ancestry living predominantly in Israel, with significant communities in the United States.

Biblical

  • Daniel
  • Esther
  • Habakkuk
  • Mordechai
  • Ezra
  • Nehemiah
  • Haggai

Pre-modern era

  • Benjamin Nahawandi – Karaite scholar of the early Middle Ages
  • Mashallah ibn Athari – Persian astrologer and astronomer
  • Meulana Shahin Shirazi – Early Persian poet
  • Rashid al-Din – Doctor, writer, and historian
  • Sa'ad al-Dawla – Physician and statesman

Politics

  • Abie Nathan – Humanitarian and peace activist
  • Ciamak Moresadegh – Jewish member of the Majlis of Iran
  • David Alliance, Baron Alliance – Iranian born British businessman and a Liberal Democrat politician
  • David Nahai – Former head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
  • Eitan Ben Eliyahu – Former Major General in the Israeli Defence Forces
  • Habibollah Asgaroladi – Conservative Iranian politician, leader of the Islamic Coalition Party (convert to Islam)
  • Haroun Yashayaei – Chairman of the board of the Tehran Jewish Committee and leader of Iran's Jewish Community
  • Jimmy Delshad – Former two-term mayor of Beverly Hills
  • Manuchehr Eliasi – Former Jewish member of the Majlis
  • Maurice Motamed – Former Jewish member of the Majlis of Iran
  • Michael Ben-Ari – Israeli politician and current member of the Knesset
  • Mordechai Zar – Israeli politician and former member of the Knesset
  • Moshe Katsav – Former President of Israel
  • Shaul Mofaz – Former Israeli Minister of Defense, currently the chairman of the Kadima Party in the Knesset

Science and academia

  • Amnon Netzer – Professor of the history and culture of Iranian Jews
  • Avshalom Elitzur – Physicist and philosopher
  • David B. Samadi – Expert in robotic oncology[99]
  • Samuel Rahbar – Discoverer of HbA1C
  • Shaul Bakhash – Professor of Iranian studies at George Mason University
  • Soleiman Haim – Compiled an early and influential Persian language dictionary

Business and economics

  • J. Darius Bikoff
  • David Merage – Co-founder of Hot Pockets snack food company
  • Ghermezian family – Billionaire shopping mall developers
  • Habib Elghanian – Prominent businessman executed by the Islamic Republic
  • Isaac Larian – Chief Executive Officer of MGA Entertainment
  • Joseph Parnes – Investment Advisor
  • Nasser David Khalili – Billionaire property developer and art collector
  • Neil Kadisha – Businessman
  • Nouriel Roubini – Economist
  • Paul Merage – Co-founder of Hot Pockets snack food company
  • Robert and Vincent Tchenguiz – Property developers
  • Nazarian family

Art and entertainment

  • Adi Nes – Photographer
  • Bahar Soomekh – Actress
  • Bob Yari – Film producer
  • Dalia Sofer – Writer
  • Dan Ahdoot – Stand-up comedian
  • Elie Tahari – High-end fashion designer
  • Gina Nahai – Writer
  • Jonathan Ahdout – Actor
  • Mor Karbasi – Singer
  • Richard Danielpour – Composer
  • Rita – Israeli pop-star
  • Roya Hakakian – Writer
  • Shaun Toub – Actor
  • Subliminal (rapper) – Israeli hip-hop singer
  • Tami Stronach – Choreographer
  • Yossi Banai – Israeli performer, singer, and actor

Religion

  • Shmuley Boteach – Famous American Rabbi
  • Uriel Davidi – Former chief rabbi of Iran
  • Yedidia Shofet – Former chief rabbi of Iran
  • Yousef Hamadani Cohen – Current chief rabbi of Iran

Miscellaneous

  • Dan Halutz – Former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces
  • Eitan Ben Eliyahu – Former commander of the Israeli Air Force
  • Janet Kohan-Sedq – Track and field athlete
  • Menashe Amir – Persian-language broadcaster in Israel
  • Soleyman Binafard – Wrestler
  • Michel Abdollahi, German writer
  • Moses ben Hanoch, rabbi
  • Yossi Banai, performer
  • Jimmy Delshad, Californian politician
  • Roya Hakakian, writer
  • Rita Kleinstein, Israeli singer/actress, known popularly as "Rita"
  • Masarjawaih
  • Mashallah ibn Athari, astrologer and astronomer
  • Bahar Soomekh, American actress

Jewish attractions of Iran

Almost every city of Iran has a Jewish attraction, shrine, or historical site which are also visited by Muslim pilgrims Prominent among these are the

  • Esther and Mordechai and Habakkuk shrines of Hamedan,
  • The tomb of Daniel in Susa, and the "Peighambariyeh" mausoleum in Qazvin
  • Harav Ohr Shraga in Yazd, outstanding scholar
  • Hakham Mullah Moshe Halevi (Moshe-Ha-Lavi) in Kashan

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The Arabian Peninsula

The History of Jews in the Arabian Peninsula reaches back to Biblical times. The Arabian Peninsula is here defined as including parts of Iraq and Jordan geographically, as well as Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Jews of Iraq

The history of the Jews in Iraq is documented from the time of the Babylonian captivity c. 586 BCE. Iraqi Jews constitute one of the world's oldest and most historically significant Jewish communities.

The Jewish community of Babylon included Ezra the scribe, whose return to Judea in the late 6th century BCE is associated with significant changes in Jewish ritual observance and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Talmud was compiled in Babylonia, identified with modern Iraq. The descendants of the Davidic house occupied an exalted position among their brethren in Babylonia, as they did at that period in Judea. During the Maccabean revolt, these Judean descendants of the royal house had emigrated to Babylonia.

After the fall of Jerusalem, Babylon became the focus of Judaism for more than a thousand years. The rabbi Abba Arika, afterward called simply Rab, was a key figure in maintaining Judaism after the destruction of Jerusalem.

Thus, there existed in Babylonia two contemporary Talmudic academies Sura and Pumbedita: their heads and sages were the undisputed authorities, whose decisions were sought from all sides and were accepted wherever Jewish communal life existed. The two academies lasted until the middle of the 11th century.

  • Abba Arika, "Rabh", amora
  • Shmuel Yarchina'ah, "Mar Samuel", or Samuel of Nehardea, amora
  • Rav Huna
  • Rav Chisda
  • Abaye, amora
  • Rav Papa, amora
  • Saleh and Daoud Al-Kuwaity, Famous singers
  • Rav Ashi (Abana), rav, amora
  • Anan ben David, founder of Qara'ism
  • Ari Ben-Menashe
  • Dodai ben Nahman
  • Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, politician
  • Ya'qub Bilbul, poet
  • Sir Sassoon Eskell, Iraqi statesman and financier
  • Naeim Giladi, writer
  • Hakham Yosef Chayyim of Baghdad, "Ben Ish Chai"
  • Yitzchak Kadouri, rabbi and kabbalist
  • Elie Kedourie, historian
  • Sami Michael*, Israeli writer
  • Shafiq Ades, wealthy businessman
  • Samir Naqqash, novelist
  • Maurice & Charles Saatchi, advertising executives
  • David Sassoon, Anglo-Indian merchant, and Sassoon family
  • Avi Shlaim, Oxford Professor born in Iraq
  • Yaakov Chaim Sofer, rabbi
  • Dahlia Wasfi, activist
  • Ovadia Yosef, rabbi
  • Adiabene people

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Yemenite Jews

Local Yemenite Jewish traditions have traced the earliest settlement of Jews in this region back to the time of King Solomon. One explanation is that King Solomon sent Jewish merchant marines to Yemen to prospect for gold and silver with which to adorn the Temple in Jerusalem. Another legend places Jewish craftsmen in the region as requested by Bilqis, the Queen of Saba (Sheba).

The immigration of the majority of Jews into Yemen appears to have taken place about the beginning of the 2nd century CE, although the province is mentioned neither by Josephus nor by the main books of the Jewish oral law, the Mishnah and Talmud.

In 500 CE, at a time when the kingdom of Yemen extended into far into northern Arabia and included Mecca and Medina, the king Abu-Kariba Assad (of the Tobban tribe) converted to Judaism, as did several tribal leaders under him and probably a significant portion of the population.

Maimonides, the great rabbi and thinker of the 12th century, leader of Egyptian Jewry, wrote his famous Letter to Yemen in response to desperate appeals from Jewish elders there about how to handle a madman who claimed to be the messiah and was wreaking serious harm on the community. Just within the nineteenth century there were three pseudo-messiahs: Shukr Kuhayl I (1861–65), Shukr Kuhayl II (1868–75), Joseph Abdallah (1888–93).

  • Nethanel ben Isaiah
  • Jacob ben Nathanael
  • Ofra Haza, famous Israeli singer
  • Yosef Qafih rabbi and leader of Baladi Yemenite Jewish community
  • Abdullah ibn Saba, converted to Islam (born Jewish)
  • Makeda Queen of Sheba (converted)
  • Rabiah ibn Mudhar & Dhu Nuwas, kings of Himyarite
  • Wahb bin Munabbih (?-732), converted to Islam (born Persian Jew)
  • Shalom Shabazi, poet

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Saudi Jews

The first mention of Jews in the area of what is today Saudi Arabia dates back, by some accounts, to the time of the First Temple. By the 6th and 7th centuries there was a considerable Jewish population in Hejaz, mostly in and around Medina (or Yathrib as it called by the time), Khaybar, and Tayma.

  • Samaw'al ibn 'Adiya (Samuel ibn 'Adiya), poet, warrior
  • David Reubeni, false messiah

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Bahraini Jews

The history of the Jews in Bahrain goes back many centuries. Now mostly the descendants of immigrants who entered the country in the early 1900s from Iraq, Iran and India, numbered 600 families in 1948.

Relations between Bahraini Jews and Bahraini Muslims are highly respected, with Bahrain being the only state on the Arabian peninsula where there is a specific Jewish community. Bahrain is the only Gulf state with two synagogues and two cemetery's next to each other. Members play a prominent role in civil society.

  • Ebrahim Daoud Nonoo, former member of parliament
  • Houda Ezra Nonoo, former member of parliament and current Ambassador of Bahrain to the USA

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Jews of Jordan

The history of the Jews in Jordan can be traced back to Biblical times. According to the Hebrew Bible three of the Israelites' ancient tribes lived on the territory that is today known as Jordan: The Tribe of Reuben, the Tribe of Gad and the Tribe of Manasseh.

A nation related to the Jews, the Edomites or Idumaeans resided in the geographic area or present-day southern Jordan, between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. Following the restoration of Jewish independence under the Hasmoneans, the land of Edom was annexed to the Jewish kingdom known as Iudaea Province.

Judas Maccabeus conquered their territory for a time around 163 BC. The Edomites were again subdued by John Hyrcanus (c. 125 BC), and were then incorporated with the Jewish nation. The Hasmonean official Antipater the Idumaean was of Edomite origin. He was the progenitor of the Herodian Dynasty that ruled Judea after the Roman conquest. After the Jewish-Roman wars the Idumaean people are no longer mentioned in history.

Roman rule in the region began in 63 BCE, when the general Pompey declared Judea a Roman protectorate. Over the years, the amount of Roman power over the Judean kingdom increased. Among the voices of opposition were John the Baptist, whose severed head was allegedly presented at the fortress of Machaerus to Herod. In 66 CE, the forces behind the First Jewish Revolt took control of Machaerus, and held it until 72 CE, when a siege ensured the defeat of the local Jewish forces.

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Kuwaiti Jewish Community

The history of the Jews in Kuwait is connected to the history of the Jews in Iraq. In 1776 Sadeq Khan captured Basra, many of the inhabitants left the country and among them were Jews who went to Kuwait. With the Jews' efforts, the country flourished with its buildings and trades. Around 1860, their number increased and their trade flourished. The Jews had a market called "The Jews' market ", which was next to the market Mosque.


The Jews were known to be very careful with trading. They were mostly wholesalers and worked with India - Baghdad and Aleppo. They even exported to Europe and China.

Professor Faisal Abdulla Alkanderi of Kuwait cooroborates the above in his essay in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, 2006, as summarized:

"These Jews belonged to the 'Babylonian' Jews who had lived in Mesopotamia for millennia. Their language was Arabic, and they had traded between Baghdad and India for centuries. The majority were involved in textiles, and they had their own market where people of all origins came to buy the cloth they imported. They usually educated their children in their synagogue. It was a community in flux, with constant comings and goings, rather than a stable group who arrived together and left together, and it was made up of diverse individuals."

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Omani Jewish Community

The history of the Jews in Oman goes back many centuries. Some of the earliest Jewish history in what is now Oman is associated with the Biblical/Quranic figure Job/Ayyoub. The Tomb of Job is located in Jabal Dohfar 45 miles from the port city of Salalah.

The documented Omani Jewish community was made famous by Ishaq bin Yahuda, a merchant who lived in the 9th century. Bin Yahuda lived in Sohar, and sailed for China between the years of 882 and 912 after an argument with a Jewish colleague, where he made a great fortune. He returned to Shoar and sailed for China again, but his ship was seized and bin Yahuda was murdered at the port of Sumatra.

A historical journey to visit far-flung Jewish communities was undertaken by Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela from 1165 to 1173 that crossed and tracked some of the areas that are today in the geographic area of Oman. One of the known towns that Benjamin of Tudela reported as having a Jewish community was Muscat located in the area of Oman in the northern part of the Arabian Peninsula.

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Jews in the United Arab Emirates

The first mention of Jews in the areas of modern-day Saudi Arabia dates back, by some accounts, to the time of the First Temple. Immigration to the Arabian Peninsula began in earnest in the 2nd century CE, and by the 6th and 7th centuries there was a considerable Jewish population in Hejaz, mostly in and around Medina.

Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela from 1165 to 1173 that crossed and tracked some of the areas that are today in the geographic area of Saudi Arabia. One map of his travels in the areas of present-day Saudi Arabia shows that he stopped at Jewish communities living in Tayma and Khaybar.

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