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Scholars Explore Lasting Judeo-Persian Culture

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Scholars Explore Lasting Judeo-Persian Culture

Religion

Scholars Explore Lasting Judeo-Persian Culture

Scholars Explore Lasting Judeo-Persian Culture

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/96117523/96134148" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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A Judeo-Persian manuscript. i

An illuminated Judeo-Persian manuscript, most likely from the early 20th century, depicts a hunting scene. Courtesy of Dr. Houman Sarshar hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Dr. Houman Sarshar
A Judeo-Persian manuscript.

An illuminated Judeo-Persian manuscript, most likely from the early 20th century, depicts a hunting scene.

Courtesy of Dr. Houman Sarshar
A Judeo-Persian manuscript. i

Some scholars and collectors believe manuscripts like these to be renditions of Persian poetry. Courtesy of Dr. Houman Sarshar hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Dr. Houman Sarshar
A Judeo-Persian manuscript.

Some scholars and collectors believe manuscripts like these to be renditions of Persian poetry.

Courtesy of Dr. Houman Sarshar
A Judeo-Persian manuscript. i

A battle scene, most likely from the late 19th century. Courtesy of Dr. Houman Sarshar hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Dr. Houman Sarshar
A Judeo-Persian manuscript.

A battle scene, most likely from the late 19th century.

Courtesy of Dr. Houman Sarshar

Iran has one of the world's oldest Jewish communities. Centuries ago, when the country was part of Babylonia, rabbis debated legal matters with scholars who practiced Zoroastrianism, the dominant faith of the region. And despite their differences, the two groups nurtured these relationships.

After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, many Iranian Jews emigrated to the United States and Israel. But Iran's Jewish community perseveres. Although they are not permitted to proselytize, Jews are allowed to practice their religion freely, they have an elected deputy in parliament and they're recognized as a religious minority under the country's Islamic Constitution.

Next weekend, scholars will meet to explore the history of these men and women and their ancestors at a conference called "Iranian Jewry: From Past to Present," hosted by the University of Maryland and the Library of Congress.

Ahmad Karimi, director of the University of Maryland's Center for Persian Studies, tells NPR's Scott Simon that while Jews are generally accepted in modern Iran, they do face some forms of discrimination.

"By and large, [Jews are] tolerated, at times consulted on various international affairs, but not as much elevated in the bureaucracy as they used to be," he says.

Karimi says Judaism is sanctioned in the Quran because its practitioners are considered Ahl al-Kitab, or "people of the book," meaning that their beliefs are based on a holy text.

"They have their own holy book, so they are tolerated, but discriminations of all kinds including religious discrimination and ethnic discrimination are there," Karimi says. "But to the extent in their homes and in their synagogues and churches and so on and so forth, they're fairly free."

Hayim Lapin, director of the university's Jewish Studies Program, says he looks forward to breaking new ground at the upcoming conference.

"We hope to both explore standard issues and to develop old ones," he says. "Near and dear to my heart is presentations on the interplay between pre-Islamic Zoroastrian Iran and the Jewish population of Mesopotamia at the time, and that's brand new work. And that's true through much of the material that's going to be presented during the conference."

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