The Jewish community of Iran is mourning the passing of its chief rabbi, Yosef Hamadani, who died Saturday, according to sources in Iran. Hamadani served as chief rabbi of the Iranian community since 1994.
Iran has been home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world. Current estimates put the population of Jews in the Islamic Republic between 8,000-25,000.
While the government openly expresses its hostility toward Israel and is a patron of several Palestinian terror factions, the remaining Jews in Iran say they are permitted to practice their religion freely.
During an interview last year with CNN, Iranian-Jewish legislator Ciamak Morsadegh said “there [are] no specific concern[s] for Iranian Jew[s].”
The lot of Iranian Jews has improved over the years, Morsadegh said. “For religious freedom, Iran is one of the most free countries.”
“You can go to synagogue. We can have our ceremonies. We have a kosher butcher. In Tehran, there are more than 10 kosher butchers, five kosher restaurants. We have our specific school. There are today more than five Jewish schools in Tehran and our children are completely free to go to Jewish school or public school,” the lawmaker told CNN.
However, critics say Iranian Jews are unable to publicly disclose the state of their community out of fear of the ruling regime.
“While Iran does have a sizable Jewish community, it is but a shadow of its pre-revolutionary self,” Michael Rubin wrote in Commentary Magazine last year. “To brag that ‘Iranian Jews have it so good’ because they’ve only lost 80 percent of their population isn’t something that any academic, analyst, or journalist should claim with a straight face.”
According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, “Between 1994 and 1997, 11 Jews, at the time ranging from 15 years of age to 57, were detained while attempting to cross the border from Iran into Pakistan.”
The Prime Minister’s Office recently announced the Mossad had determined that eight out of the 11 had been murdered during an attempt to reach Israel.
The Iranian regime has come under censure worldwide for its Holocaust denial and for what many in the West believe to be its pursuit of nuclear weapons.