The Image of the Iranian Jews in the Writings of Three Secular Modern Writers

Jaleh Pirnazar

The Iranian Jews, one of Iran's oldest religious minorities, have been either neglected, or generally portrayed as outcasts and misfits, in both classical and modern Persian literature. They have been otherwise depicted as the "other" in the process of defining the Iranian "self" image. The stereotyping of members of religious minorities, characteristic of the religious prejudices of the Iranian society informed works of a numbers of Iranian classical poets. In fact the image of the Jew in the traditional Persian literature was as a whole consistent with the social status of the Jewish minority in Islamic Iran. With the establishment of the Safavid dynasty, when Shi'ism became the official religion of the state, the non-muslim members of the society were regarded with greater contempt than ever before.

By the end of the 19th century, an new ideological tendency, that of nationalism tinged with an ethnic awareness of the pre-Islamic history of Iran, heightened the anti-Arab and indeed anti-semitic sentiments in Iran. Mirza Agha Khan Kirmani was the first secular and modernist Iranian writer to echo such sentiments. A generation later, Sadeq Hedayat expressed similar anti-semitic views in a number of his works where the Jews are stereotyped as the miser, the ugly, the non-Iranians forever engaged in conspiring against the Aryans. Similar portrayals are found in the works of Sadeq Chubak where the Jew, although no longer viewed in religious or racial terms, is nonetheless entitled no more than a negative image.

Thus, while the "self" and the "other" have been continuously reconstructed, redefined and re-examined, in Iranian society, the Iranian Jew has remained the subject of popular and literary contempt, and has been denied recognition as a fellow Iranian. Even in modern Persian literature, where the ideas of tolerance and human diversity seem to have taken root, the portrayal of the Jew has not gone beyond old stereotypes.