The Jewish community of Mashhad, Iran formed in the 1740s, when Nadir
Shah Afshar called for the relocation of forty Jewish families from
Qazvin and Dilaman to Kalat. Circumstances ultimately led these
families to settle in Mashhad. Known for their integrity and loyalty,
these trusted Jewish families were selected to protect Nadir Shah’s
treasures and jewels, spoils which he had taken from his Indian
invasion. He did not live long enough to witness the implementation of
3 Timeline of Jews of Mashhad
4 See also
Mashhadi Jews living in the current Iranian diaspora remain steadfast
in their community ties. Religion, community, and nationality are key
components forming the identity of the Mashhadi Jewish community.
Similar to many of their Jewish brethren, the Jews of Mashhad
gravitated towards professions that allowed their trade skills to
flourish. They were avid merchants, navigating the ancient Silk Road.
Mashhadi Jews were held with the highest regard by
Sunni Turkmen and
Shiite Mashhadi tradesmen, because of their reputation for honorable
and ethical business practices. The perils of travel subjected
Mashhadi traders to freezing temperatures, murderous bandits, and
limited means of transportation.
Due to their occupations and the arduous conditions involved in their
travels, Mashhadi men adopted a lifestyle which required spending
several months to years on the road without their families. Modern
Mashhadi men continue their forefathers’ unique tradition of working
as traveling merchants to support their families. Mashhadi women have
likewise upheld their matriarchal tradition of creating family and
community cohesiveness by nurturing home, family, and community
relationships. Unlike their female predecessors, modern Mashhadi women
are exemplary businesswomen, who are heirs to the savvy trade skills
of their ancestors.
The pivotal historic event that transformed an undefined group of
Iranian Jews into an unfaltering community was the
“God’s Justice”) of 1839. Building social tensions and
resentment and suspicion by
Shiite Muslims of the Jewish inhabitants
of Mashhad's Eydgah ghetto, culminated in an explosive event. A blood
libel on the commemoration day of a holy Muslim Imam led to a
devastating pogrom. On the eve of Mashhad's
Allahdad (March 27, 1839),
an estimated thirty-six Jews were killed and approximately seven
Jewish girls were abducted to become Muslim child brides. Within the
next twenty-four hours, under the risk of death, approximately three
hundred Jewish families made the pretense of converting to Islam,
under the advisement of their community leaders. The term
coined by the forced converts to relate their past sins with the
calamity they were enduring.
Following the forced conversions, a number of Jewish families, unable
to sustain the facade of Muslim faith, escaped to Herat, Afghanistan.
Later on, from Afghanistan to Sub-Continent (Pakistan). Very few
Mashhadi converts permanently assimilated to Islam. It is estimated
that the remaining community members proceeded to live dual lives as
crypto-Jews through the 1920s. During this time, the Jadid-al-Islam (a
term meaning “New Muslims”) boasted of two known Sheikhs,
fifty-seven known Hajjis, and twenty-one known Karbalais while
preserving their secret Jewish identities. Their ties to the Islamic
religion were complex at times.
Mashhadi families gradually migrated to Marv and surrounding areas of
Czarist Turkmenistan, in an effort to escape persecution in Mashhad
and look for better business opportunities in pre-communist Russia.
The seemingly stable social and trade environment of Russia did not
benefit them for long. In the fall of 1917, the Russian revolution
caused the first return of Mashhadi Jews, from Marv to Mashhad.
Mashhadis who remained in Russia, fell prey to Stalin's “purge of
petit bourgeoisie” and some members of the community were
imprisoned. In 1925, Reza Shah made an agreement with Stalin to
exchange Iranian and Russian nationals. The imprisoned Mashhadis were
released to return home, once again. A second blood libel in 1946 led
the disenchanted community's gradual relocation to the tolerant cities
of Tehran and Jerusalem, joining the few Mashhadi families who already
Within an eighty-year span, the Mashhadi community migrated at least
five times to avoid persecution. Throughout this short period they
Mashhad to Herat,
Mashhad to Russia and back,
Jerusalem and Tehran, ultimately fleeing during the Iranian Revolution
of 1979. Mashhadi communities now exist in Israel, New York, Milan,
Hamburg, London and Pakistan. In Pakistan, Mashhadi families are
Muslims. Some of them are Shia and some of them are Sunnis.
Mashhadi youth have assumed their predecessors' ethos of primarily
socializing and marrying within their community. This once necessary
survival mechanism has transitioned to a comfortable modus operandi
for today's Mashhadis. Many praise the modern Mashhadi community for
their sense of unity, while some question their insular lifestyle. All
perspectives undeniably credit the Mashhadi community for their fervor
in upholding their Jewish heritage and traditions.
The resounding conclusion of the Mashhadi story is one that reflects
their ability to protect their inherent Jewish religion. The unusual
survival method of the Mashhadi crypto-Jews laid the foundation for a
modern Mashhadi community who now safely and proudly practice Judaism.
Timeline of Jews of Mashhad
Iranian Jews are considered to be the descendants of the Assyrian 722
B.C. and Babylonian Exiles 586 B.C. Within this diaspora, a smaller
tribe of Jews evolved, due to their geographic setting in the city of
Mashhad, and their robust community ties.
1650 – Safavid dynasty ruling in Iran calls to convert or kill all
1739 – Nadir Shah of the Afsharid dynasty invades India.
1740 – Nadir Shah brings spoils back from his Indian invasion, in
the form of treasures and jewels.
1746 – Nadir Shah orders the relocation of forty Jewish families
Qazvin to Khorasan province, for the purpose of guarding his
acquired treasures and jewels. Nadir Shah holds a favorable
disposition towards Jews.
1747 – Nadir Shah is assassinated. Persecution of Iranian Jews
resumes. Seventeen of the forty original families move to Eydgah
1750 – Seven of the original forty families proceed from Sabzavar
and settle in Mashhad.
1755 – Sixteen of the original forty families proceed from Kalat and
settle in Mashhad.
1839 – The
Allahdad - the forced conversion of
Mashhadi Jews to
Islam - March 27, 1839 (12 Nissan 5599/11 Muharram 1255). Mashhadi
(Anusim) live dual lives as crypto-Jews, through 1925
1840 – A number of Jewish families, unable to sustain the facade of
Muslim faith, escaped to Herat, Afghanistan
1886 – Some Mashhadi Jewish families immigrate to Turkmenistan,
Russia, through 1917.
1890 – Muslim Mashhadi attempts to expose secret Jewish burial
proceedings of crypto-Jews. A potential pogrom is averted.
1890s – After completing the Hajj, some Mashhadi families make Aliya
to Jerusalem, instead of returning from Mecca to Mashhad.
1901 – Haji Adonya HaCohen builds the first Mashhadi Jewish
synagogue in Jerusalem, followed by Haji Yehezkel‘s synagogue, built
1910s – Some
Mashhadi Jews move to London
1918 – Russian Revolution and start of communism prompts the first
Mashhadi Jews to return from Marv to Mashhad.
1925 – Reza Shah permits freedom of religious practice in Iran.
Mashhadis begin to practice their Jewish faith openly
1946 – Second notable Blood Libel in
Mashhad forces the now openly
Jewish Mashhadi community to begin a decade-long migration to Tehran
1940s – Some
Mashhadi Jews move to United States, well through 1980s
1950s – Some
Mashhadi Jews move to Germany and Italy.
1979 – Iranian revolution impels Iranian Jews to flee Iran
2010 – Over twenty-thousand
Mashhadi Jews now reside in Israel, New
York, Milan, Germany, and London.