The fascinating languages that Jews in Iran spoke

by Leah Rosenberg

Jews in Iran spoke a great variety of dialects. This is analogous to the Yiddish that many Jews spoke in European countries. A Yiddish speaking German Jew spoke a rather different Yiddish than a Polish Jew. The Polish Jew spoke a different Yiddish than the Russian Jews. There were probably around ten different versions of Yiddish. Each group was unique in their own way, but could communicate with the other groups.

Before the Revolution

It is hard to believe but before 1979, there were nearly 100,000 Jews living in Iran.  In 1948, there had been around 150,000 Jews in Iran, but many made Aliyah to Israel.  In 1952, Israel performed a mission titled, Operation Cyrus, and brought around 30,000 Jews from Iran to live in Israel.  Most of the Jews in Iran lived in Tehran, the capital.  The history of Jews in Iran goes back nearly 3,000 years.  Entire books of the Bible cover stories from the Persian Empire.  Today, perhaps there are 10,000 Jews left in Iran.  Most of the Jews left right before, during, or after the 1979 revolution.  Many fled or immigrated to Israel.  Some flew to the United States.

Over the centuries, Jews in Iran did not speak a Jewish language as their mother tongue.  Instead, they spoke Persian as their mother-tongue and coupled it with one of the many dialects featured in this short clip.

The idea of retaining one’s language in a foreign country is an ancient Jewish custom.  Almost no other people retain their identity when they move to a foreign soil.  But the Jewish people are different. In Egypt, they held onto their language and dress.

Iran is no different than other exiles – except perhaps for the number of dialects.


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