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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

The Jews of Isfahan numbered 15


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frivolous but less remunerative forms of recreation, such as cricket, tennis, football, or gymnastic drills,--which invariably accompany Christianity in the East, and develop most parts of a convert's anatomy except his brain,--have not been deemed of sufficient importance among the Jews of Isfahan, who would, moreover, think our best English games or muscle-developers in the highest degree indecorous and unseemly.

On the whole the Society's work among the Jews of Teheran, Hamadan and Isfahan has been most encouraging, and this is to be put down entirely to the tact and personal influence of Mr. Garland, who is greatly respected by Jews and Mahommedans alike. No better testimony to the appreciation of his work could exist than the fact that in his interesting journeys through Persia, he is frequently invited to preach in crowded synagogues.

It seems probable that the Jews of Persia are descendants of the Ten Tribes, and more probable still that Jews have resided in Isfahan from its earliest foundation.

In the tenth century--under the Dilemi dynasty--Isfahan consisted of two cities, Yahoodieh (Jewry) and Shehristan (the City). In the middle of the twelfth century, according to Benjamin of Tudela, the Jews of Isfahan numbered 15,000.

At present they number about 5,000. They are mostly pedlars by profession, or engaged in making silk thread (Abreesham

Kar, Charkhtabee, etc.). There are a few merchants of comparative influence. Jewellers and traders in precious stones, brokers and wine-sellers are frequent, but the majority consists almost entirely of diviners, musicians, dancers--music and dancing are considered low, contemptible occupations in Persia--scavengers, and beggars.

The Jews of Isfahan, like those of all other cities in Persia, have been subjected to a great deal of oppression. There is a story that Timour-i-Lang (Tamerlane--end of 14th century) was riding past a synagogue in Isfahan, where the Mesjid-i-Ali now stands, and that the Jews made such a horrible noise at their prayers (in saying the "Shema, Israel" on the Day of Atonement) that his horse bolted and he was thrown and lamed. Hence his name, and hence also a terrible massacre of the Jews, which reduced their number to about one-third.

Even to this day it is not easy for Jews to obtain justice against Mahommedans. Only as recently as 1901 a Jew was murdered in cold blood a few miles from Isfahan, and his body flung into the river. Although the murder had been witnessed, and the murderer was well known, no punishment was ever inflicted upon him.

[Illustration: Jewish Girls, Isfahan.]

[Illustration: An Isfahan Jew.]

The Jews of Isfahan possess striking features, as can be seen by a characteristic head of a man reproduced in the illustration. The face is generally very much elongated, with aquiline nose of abnormal length and very broad at the nostrils. The brow is heavy, screening deeply-sunken eyes revealing a mixed expression of sadness and slyness, tempered somewhat by probable abuse of animal qualities. Of a quiet and rather sulky nature--corroded by ever-unsatisfied avidity--assumedly courteous, but morose by nature,--with a mighty level head in the matter of business; such is the Jew of Isfahan. He is extremely picturesque, quite biblical in his long loose robe and skull cap, with turban wound tight round his head.


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