Mosque in Mashhad, a major Shi'a pilgrimage destination
March 19, 1839, is the date that the Jews of Mashhad, Persia, were
given the choice of converting to Islam or dying, in an event that came
to be known as the “Allahdad,” meaning “God’s Justice.”David B Green of Haaretz records the terrible events of that day:
ultimatum was preceded by an attack by an angry crowd on the
neighborhood where the city’s Jews resided, during which nearly 40
Mashhadi Jews were killed. Following that, the rest of their 2,400 or so
brethren publicly accepted Islam – although most continued to practice
their Judaism surreptitiously.
had only resided in Mashhad -- in the far northeastern corner of
Persia, and today Iran’s second-largest city -- since 1746, when Nader
Shah, the empire’s king, moved his capital there and ordered 40 Jewish
families to accompany him.
was already a major object of Shi’ite pilgrimage and was known for the
piety of its population, which did not welcome their new Jewish
neighbors. Nonetheless, those Jews, who were confined to a ghetto-like
neighborhood on the city's outskirts, created a community, developed
trading ties with other towns in the region and eventually with their
immediate neighbors too, and grew to some 200 families.
Allahdad began, as such events usually do, when rumors began to spread
that the city’s Jews were mocking the Muslim religion, and on a holy
day, no less.
public appealed to their religious leaders, who turned to the town’s
political leader, who granted the crowd permission to vent their wrath
on the Jews. They invaded the Jewish quarter, attacked homes and
businesses, burnt books and destroyed the synagogue. Thirty-six Jews
lost their lives that day.
physical violence was followed by the demand that the surviving Jews
convert. The community capitulated to the demand and its members became
“Jadid al-Islam” – new Muslims. They took on Arabic names, began to
publicly embrace the rituals of Islam, including making the Hajj
pilgrimage to Mecca.
the same time, in a manner very similar to that of the crypto-Jews
during the Spanish Inquisition, they also secretly continued to live as
Jews. They gave their children second, Hebrew names, they fed the
unkosher meat they openly bought to their animals, and carried out
shehita (kosher slaughter) surreptitiously. They also established
clandestine synagogues in their basements.
reproduced by hand the sacred Hebrew books that had been destroyed
during the Allahdad, and used them to continue teaching their children
Torah. They even found a way to avoid having their children intermarry
with non-Jews, by marrying them off to other members of the community
while they were still very young, age 9 or 10, so that when inquiries
came from the city’s Muslims, they could say their children were already
after the ascent of Reza Pahlavi, the father of the last shah, to
power, in 1925, and the start of a period of social liberalization,
which included freedom of religion, did the crypto-Jews who still lived
in Mashhad return to openly practicing their faith. That period lasted
until 1946, when anti-Jewish riots erupted in Mashhad yet again. At that
point, the city’s Jews began to leave en masse. They went either to
Tehran, where they constituted a distinct community, served by 10
“Mashhadi” synagogues, or left Iran altogether.
all the descendants of the Jews of in Mashhad are outside their native
land. Most can be found in Israel, and there's a large contingent in New
York - in Kew Gardens, Queens, and in Great Neck.
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