The small Jewish community in Tehran on Thursday issued an apparently unprecedented letter warning members to avoid synagogues, amid deadly protests rocking Iran following the death of a young woman held for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.
In a letter whose authenticity was confirmed by The Times of Israel, the Tehran Jewish Committee warned against visiting synagogues, citing a need to protect life amid the “current circumstances,” without elaborating.
The committee, which is Iran’s leading Jewish organization, said all synagogues should also close daily at 5 p.m.
The letter was signed by Homayoun Sameyah Najaf Abadi, who heads the committee and serves as a representative of the Jewish community in Iran’s parliament.
A source familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel that some of the widespread demonstrations have taken place near synagogues and that a pair of worshipers were caught up in the protests, while two Jewish youths were also arrested but have since been released.
Fearing clashes, the committee decided to curtail synagogue services for now, according to the source.
The letter appeared to mark the first time that synagogues in Iran were told to close their doors amid major civil unrest, with concerns that such a call could draw increased scrutiny or worse to the country’s Jewish community.
The letter came days before the start of the Jewish High Holidays, beginning with Rosh Hashanah on Sunday evening.
Prior to the Islamic Revolution in 1979, there were some 100,000 Jews in Iran; by 2016, according to an Iranian census, that number had fallen to below 10,000.
The Jewish community in Iran has previously taken other precautionary measures to protect members, with the country’s chief rabbi saying last year that he condemned the US killing of top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in 2020 over fears Jews could be physically attacked by some Muslim neighbors.
Rabbi Yehuda Gerami insisted at the time that talk of “revenge” was coming from Iranian citizens and not the government, while claiming Iran was the only country in the world where synagogues do not require security.
The Islamic Republic is openly sworn to bring about Israel’s destruction and financially supports terrorist groups, like Hezbollah and Hamas, committed to this aim.
Iranians prepare to set an Israeli flag on fire next to a picture of late Iranian general Qasem Soleimani during a rally marking al-Quds (Jerusalem) day in Tehran, on April 29, 2022. (AFP)
Iran’s ongoing unrest, the worst in several years, began as an emotional outpouring over the death of Mahsa Amini, a young woman held by the country’s morality police for allegedly violating its strictly enforced dress code. Her death, and the ensuing crackdown on protesters, has sparked sharp condemnation from the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.
The protests first erupted over the weekend in the northern province of Kurdistan, from where Amini originated, but have now spread across the country.
The scope of the unrest still remains unclear as protesters in at least a dozen cities — venting anger over social repression and the country’s mounting crises — continue to encounter security and paramilitary forces.
A picture obtained by AFP outside Iran on September 21, 2022, shows Iranian demonstrators burning a rubbish bin in the capital Tehran during a protest for Mahsa Amini, days after she died in police custody. (AFP)
An anchor on Iran’s state television suggested Friday that the death toll from the mass protests could be as high as 26, but did not elaborate or say how he reached that figure. “Unfortunately, 26 people and police officers present at the scene of these events lost their lives,” the anchor said, adding official statistics would be released later.
Iran Human Rights, an Oslo-based group, said Thursday at least 31 civilians have been killed in the crackdown by Iranian security forces.
Iranian authorities blocked access to WhatsApp and Instagram, which protesters use to share information about the government’s rolling crackdown on dissent. They also appeared to disrupt internet access to the outside world, a tactic that rights activists say the government often employs in times of unrest.
Agencies contributed to this report.