Monday, September 20, 2004

Esther’s Legacy

Via, the news of the publication of the much anticipated and long overdue, Esther’s Children: A Portrait of Iranian Jews. With Rosh Hashanah just behind us, this book makes for a potentially wonderful belated gift for the procrastinators everywhere.

Some photographs here.

One of the oldest communities in this Plateau with a rich history and considerable contribution to our civilization. Unfortunately, a community that, akin to the other ancient inhabitants of this land-- the beloved and highly respected Zoroastrians, has been dwindling in number for years.

Their history goes back to the 6th century B.C.E. Life hasn’t always been all that easy. Along with the usual joys; there have been the customary shares of sorrows, pogroms, forced conversions and such. Still worth to remember: the largest community in this area outside of Israel.

There is a magnificent tradition of Judeo Persian literature which has been much neglected. The English speakers can get a sense for the rich heritage through another recently published book (2000), In Queen Esther’s Garden: An Anthology of Judeo-Persian Literature

Some years ago, there was an attempt to explore the considerable mutual influence between the larger Jewish and Persian communities. We had some remarkably valuable scholarship published in the first volume of Irano-Judaica: Studies Relating to the Jewish Contacts with Persian Culture throughout the Ages.

Then a period of unabashed antipathy and mistrust along with far less flattering scholarship with each volume, I suppose. (I have only examined the first volume in any detail. There are now four I think) Much work remains to be done, both in defusing the tensions, re-establishing trust/ties and continuing the line of inquiry into the heritage of Persian Jews which would enrich our understanding of the past considerably.

In the meanwhile, it remains a puzzle why despite the existence of so many manuscripts, records, and texts, this area of considerable importance continues to remain unexplored and neglected by the broader academic community.

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