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ʿAbbās I, Shāh

(752 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Shah ʿAbbās I (r. 1587–1629) is considered to have been the greatest monarch of the Ṣafavid dynasty. He ascended the throne of Iran at the age of sixteen during a turbulent political upheaval that included the murder of at least nine family members. Styled “the Great” for having consolidated the Iranian empire, ʿAbbās I enlarged and transformed his realm into one of the seventeenth century’s greatest powers, on a par with the Moghul empire under Akbar (r. 1556–1605), England under Elizabeth I (r. 1558–1603), a…

Maḥmūd, Shah

(297 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Maḥmūd Shah was a Ghilzāy Afghan chieftain who invaded Iran in 1722, and besieged Isfahan, the capital, for seven months (March–October 1722).  The city was subjected to terrible famine and suffering that caused the death of approximately eighty thousand people,  many of starvation. The effect of the siege on the city’s Jewish community is described briefly but movingly in Kitāb-i Sar-Guzasht-i Kāshān dar Bāb-i ʿIbrī va Goyimi-yi Sānī (The Book of Events in Kashan Concerning the Jews; Their Second Conversion), the Judeo-Persian chronicle of Bābāī ibn Far…

Rashīd al-Dīn Ṭabīb

(674 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Rashīd al-Dīn Ṭabīb (Physician) Faḍl Allāh ibn ʿImād al-Dawla, Abūʿl Khayr ibn Ghālī (ca. 1247–1318), was one of medieval Iran’s greatest statesmen and historians. Although once much debated by medieval and modern scholars, it is now accepted that Rashīd al-Dīn was born a Jew in Hamadan. A controversial figure in his lifetime, he was a physician from a family of apothecaries. Nothing is known of the early part of his life and career; he first served at the Īlkhānid court as the physician of Abāqā (r. 1265–1282). Around the age of thirty, and for reasons that were probab…

Sulaymān, Shah

(393 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Shah Sulaymān (r. 1666-1694), the eighth ruler of the Iranian Ṣafavid dynasty, was originally crowned as Ṣafī II. He was the eldest son of Shāh ʿAbbās II (r. 1642-1666) and had been raised in the harem. Unprepared to reign, Sulaymān devoted himself to a life of pleasure that rendered Iran virtually bankrupt by 1668 at a time when the kingdom suffered from Uzbek and Cossack raids, earthquakes, draughts, and famines. He then endeavored to reform himself, becoming highly abstemious, even as his own revenues grew through higher taxes imposed on a suffering population. It was during this rei…


(479 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Faraḥābād (Pers. Abode of Joy) is a town on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea, near the river Tijin. It was built by Shah ʿAbbās I (r. 1587–1629) between 1611 and 1612 on the site of the village Ṭāhān. Its new name reflected the shah's intention of making it a favored winter residence. He spent many winters in Faraḥābād and actually died there. According to various Christian travelers, the town was endowed with spacious roads, a brick mosque, an impressive, fortified palace, and was surrounded by a wall. It also functioned as a port. Shah ʿAbbās populated Faraḥābād with people of seve…


(208 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
The arbitrary nature of the persecution of Jews in Iran during the reign of  Shah Sulṭān Ḥusayn (r. 1694–1722) is vividly described in the Judeo-Persian chronicle Kitāb-i Sar Guzasht-i Kāshān dar Bāb-i ʿĪbrī va Goyimi-yi Sānī (The Book of Events in Kashan Concerning the Jews; Their Second Conversion) by Bābāī ben Farhād. In 1694 the shah issued a decree prohibiting alcoholic beverages. Sometime after this, and possibly on the twenty-first of Ramaḍān (the Shīʿī commemoration of Imam ʿAlī’s martyrdom), a Jew in Kashan named Allahyār gave a feast for his friends that involved musi…

Illuminated manuscripts (Judeo-Persian)

(984 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Iranian Jews strove to emulate the book arts of the Iranian tradition of illuminated manuscripts, which flourished in the Timurid and Ṣafavid eras (ca. 1400–1700) and constitute one of the most magnificent artistic achievements of the Islamic world. Only thirteen Judeo-Persian illuminated manuscripts are known, none earlier than the second half of the seventeenth century ( Mūsā-nāma . SPK or. oct. 2885), and they were clearly inspired by the Muslim Iranian book arts. Most of the surviving Jud…

Bereshit-nāma ('The Book of Genesis')

(407 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
As far as is known, Judeo-Persian belles-lettres began with the works of Mowlānā Shāhīn-i Shīrāzī (Our Master, the Royal Falcon of Shiraz), who flourished in the fourteenth century in Iran. Only the pen name of the poet is known and the fact that he lived during the reign of the Ῑl-khānid ruler Abū Saʿīd (1316-1335), to w…


(443 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Ardashīr-nāma (The Book of Ardashīr/Ahasuerus) by Mowlānā Shāhīn-i Shīrāzī (Jud./Pers. Our Master, the Royal Falcon of Shiraz), the “father” of Judeo-Persian belles-lettres (fl. 14th century), is a versification of the biblical Book of Esther recast as a Persian epic romance that resembles the works of the classical Persian poet Niżāmī (d. 1209). It is a masnavī (epic in rhymed couplets) numbering nine thousand distichs written in the complex hazaj-i musaddas-i akhrab-i maqbuż-i maḥzūf meter. To date only the pen name of the poet has come to light. Shā…

ʿĀmilī, Muḥammad ibn Bahāʾ al-Dīn Ḥusayn al-

(333 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Muḥammad ibn Ḥusayn Bahāʾ al-Dīn al-ʿĀmilī (ca. 1547–1621), also known as Shaykh Bahāʾī, was one of the most respected Imāmī (Twelver Shīʿī) Ṣafavid theologians during the reign of Shah ʿAbbās I (1581–1629). Originally from Jabal ʿĀmila, Syria, he migrated to Iran in his youth. Thoroughly educated in medicine, mathematics, and literature in addition to Islamic law and theology, and imbued with Ṣūfī leanings, al-ʿĀmilī became shaykh al-Islām (supreme religious judge) of Isfahan for a while. He traveled extensively throughout Iraq, Egypt, and Palestine on his way to perform the ḥājj.

Muḥsin-i Fayḍ-i Kāshānī, Muḥammad b. Murtaḍā

(387 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Mullāh Muḥammad b. Murtaḍā Muḥsin-i Fayḍ-i Kāshānī, better known as Mullāh Muḥsin, was born in …

Nasi, David

(313 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
In the period from 1721 to 1731, Iran was invaded by Afghans and Russians, and the Ṣafavid dynasty collapsed. During this turbulent decade the Jewish community of Kashan was internally divided and headed by weak leaders, foremost among them was David Nasi. In 1729, Ṭahmāsp Khān, fighting against the Afghans and attempting to install Ṭahmāsp II on the Ṣafavid throne, demanded money from the Jews of Kashan. They were willing to pay at first, but when th…

Yazdī, Abraham

(258 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
In 1729, as reported in chapter 12 of Kitāb-i Sar-Guzasht-i Kāshān dar Bāb-i ʿIbrī va Goyimi-yi Sānī (Jud.-Pers. The Book of Events in Kashan Concerning the Jews; Their Second Conversion), the Jews of Kāshān came under great pressure to pay a huge sum of money to the rapacious Ṭahmāsp Khān,  the future Nādir Shāh(r. 1736–1747). The commu…

Ashraf, Shah

(375 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
In 1725 Ashraf, a Ghilzāy Afghan warrior, deposed and probably assassinated his cousin, Shah Maḥmūd, after the latter’s madness led to increased unrest in partially conquered Iran. Maḥmūd had invaded Iran in 1722. During his seven-month siege of Isfahan, the capital, approximately eighty thousand people perished from disease and famine. After eliminating his Afghan enemies, Ashraf endeavored to consolidate his hold on the Afghan-controlled parts of Iran, which at the time was also beset, almost simultaneously, by the Ottomans in the west and the Russians in the north. In 1729 Ashraf was defeated by …

Sulṭān Ḥusayn, Shah

(429 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Shāh Sulṭān Ḥusayn (r. 1694–1722), the ninth monarch of the Ṣafavid dynasty of Iran, succeeded his father, Shāh Sulaymān (r. 1666-1694), and like him was unprepared to rule, having been raised in the harem. Under the influence of Shīʿī clerics like Muḥammad Bāqir al-Majlisī (d. 1698), the new shah, in an effort to become devout, prohibited the production and drinking of wine along with gambling and pigeon flying. These prohibitions soon fell out of use, not least because of the debauched practices of the …

Ḥayāt al-Rūḥ

(431 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Ḥayāt al-rūḥ (The Life of the Soul) was Siman Ṭov Melammed’s most important contribution to Judeo-Persian literature. A learned dayyan ( judge), communal leader, poet, mystic, and philosopher, Melammed died in either 1800, 1823, or 1828. His works have not yet been thoroughly studied.              The exact date of composition of Ḥayāt al-rūḥ is unknown, but 1778 is suggested by the fact that the printed edition (Je…

Shīrvānī, Moses (Mūsā) ben Aaron ben Sheʾerit

(195 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
Moses (Mūsā) ben Aaron ben Sheʾerit Shīrvānī compiled a Hebrew/Aramaic–Persian dictionary in 1459 in Shirvan (today in Azerbaijan). Shīrvānī’s dictionary is known as the Agron (Heb. glossary, lexicon), a title undoubtedly derived from Saʿadya Gaon’s (d. 942) famous double-dictionary of the same name. Intended as an aid to Bible study, the Agron includes vocabulary from the Bible and is largely organized according to Hebrew roots and nouns. It is known only from manuscripts, but all of the existing ones are incomplete, covering only the entries from the letter yod (tenth in the Hebr…

Mysticism/Sufism (Iran)

(918 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
In addition to the creation of a Judeo-Persian literary tradition that recast Jewish themes in a classical Persian mold and illuminated manuscripts with Judeo-Persian miniature paintings in the Persian style, the acculturation of Iranian Jewry in the Middle Ages and the premodern era included an attraction to Ṣūfism, Islam’s most transcendental expression. This attraction manifested itself in literary topoi, explicit polemics, and occasional adherence of Jews to Ṣūfīsm.       Literary topoi. As is well known, …
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