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Notes on the Jews of Persia Under Mohammed Shah.

(Continued from p. 48.)

Obtained From One Of Themselves.
By The Rev. Abraham De Sola.

“Singula quaeque locum teneant sortita decentem.”—Hor. Ars. Poet.


Occupations and Intercourse with Mohammedans Under Mahommed Shah and Baba Khan Shah—Fanaticism of the Mullahs—Shah’s Tax and Mode of Collection—Fearful Bigotry and Ignorance of the Mahommedans Exemplified—Their Attempts at Conversion.

A people persecuted with all the relentlessness of which cruel, demi-civilized and powerful masters are capable, can have but few channels in which their spirit of enterprise and industry may find scope,—but few chances of becoming wealthy. The slave, with the sweat of his brow, the wear of his frame, and the risk of his life, may produce, even from the bowels of the earth, riches of incalculable worth; but they will be profitless to him, since, the moment he obtains them, they are seized by the hand more powerful than his own. And so it is with the Christians and Jews in Persia.

Formerly, they were allowed full license from their rulers to engage in any branch of business or profession they chose, and the result of this permission was discoverable in their prosperous and improving state. But just as the beast of prey, by taking for awhile his claws off his victim, sometimes permits it to fancy a possibility of escape, only for the gratification of again seizing it, and witnessing its additional agony, so have the officers, ministers, and creatures of the late Mahommed Shah acted towards those who believed not as they believed. Thus, during the reign of Baba Khan Shah, the predecessor of Mahommed Shah, and indeed at the com­mencement of the reign of the latter also, the Jewish inhabitants being permitted to follow whatever avocation they desired, became the pos<<142>>sessors of great wealth, of which, however, they were soon deprived by various oppressive enactments, as will be shown hereafter.

Baba Khan Shah also allowed them to traffic universally with Mahommedans, and much good feeling was displayed towards them both by the Shah and his subjects. But, shortly after the accession of Mahommed Shah, the Ahudlah or Mullahs represented to him the impropriety of such intercourse existing between Mussulmen and infidels, and he in consequence decreed that henceforth a Jew night buy of a Mahommedan, but should not be allowed to sell to him.

The effects of such a law may be easily imagined. Many had to abandon occupations which they had until then honourably and profitably pursued, and were obliged to seek the means of subsistence from among their own people; and whereas they were formerly found to excel in many scientific and mechanical occupations, some had now to confine themselves almost exclusively to a few trades, such as jewellers, tailors, engravers, and weavers; whilst others were obliged to employ themselves in vending various articles of merchandise in those neighbouring towns where the Khan happened to be less rigid in enforcing the Shah’s decree. In these journeys they generally travel in companies (each person selling a different article) for mutual protection from the insults and violence of the Mahomedans. And here it becomes us to lay before the reader all the particulars we could obtain respecting the nature of the intercourse and relations but very lately, and doubtless even now, existing between the Mahommedan and non-lshmaelite inhabitants of Persia.

As is generally the case with a powerless and persecuted minority, the Jews and Christians in most parts of Persia are considered by all classes of Mahommedans as legitimate objects for oppression and ill-treatment. If any difference at all exist in their enmity to two people alike persecuted, it may be said to be in favour of the Jews. “When you are on a journey,” teach the Mullahs, “and ye are obliged to sleep either in the house of a Jew or a Christian, be careful that you remain not under the roof of the uncircumcised Christian, but lodge with the Jew; nevertheless, eat not of his food.” Again, teach the Mullahs, “At the head of a Jew throw one stone, but at the head of a Christian hurl two.” On the other hand, they teach, “If you see a Jew covered with mud up to his waist, be it your care that he become covered up to his head.”

The Mahommedans and their children will not curse Moses or his law, but they will readily and constantly direct imprecations against Jesus of Nazareth and the Gospel. It is by no means an uncommon sight to see them following a Christian in the street, spitting <<143>>first on a mock cross they hold in their hand, and then at the Christian himself. And yet the Jews suffer more than the Christians; because the latter, for the most, part, are spread abroad in the adjoining villages, while the former are more confined to the city.

Everything that the cruelty of superstition, ignorance, bigotry, and cupidity can devise is resorted to, to make their state truly wretched. Each head of a family or householder is obliged to pay a weekly tax of two dollars to the Shah. From this enormous impost no house is exempt, whether it be rich or poor, Jewish or Christian. Every Friday, the Mahommedan Sabbath, a ferocious kadkoodah or tax-gatherer, pays his unwelcome visit, accompanied by three or four soldiers. He sits himself down in the street and delivers tickets to the soldiers, who proceed to collect the amount written upon them. Arrived at the court-gates, they apply their feet to it in a manner neither gentle nor ceremonious, and generally continue battering at it as if they would break it down, with exclamations at intervals, commonly in this style, “Come forth, dog of a Jew, (or Christian, as the case may be,) and pay your tax.”

The proprietor of the house has been prepared for him, and he immediately runs forth, showing the money in his hand, as they would otherwise not wait for explanation, but drag him forth to punishment. He presents the money, exclaiming, “Why is my lord thus angry? Here is what you require.” If he is unfortunate enough not to possess the required sum, he is carried before the kadkoodah, who gives immediate orders to apply the bastinado. He is then led to a tree, and receives what sometimes proves his death-stroke.

We have said that poor and rich are alike bound to pay the tax. This injustice appears almost incredible, but it exists nevertheless, and their brethren are obliged to assist them by contributions, sometimes even of shachi. This tax must be paid eight months in the year. The four excepted are those generally corresponding with February, March, April, and May. In the first they are exempt, in honour of the month in which Mahommed was born; in the second, because the prophetic spirit then first attached itself to him; in the third, because many disciples then gathered themselves to him; and in the fourth, because the prophet then died. “These four months’ respite,” exclaim the oppressed, “are from the Almighty. Were it not for these, how could we find bread to eat and raiment to put on?”

This exemption from payment, it will be perceived, the Mahommedans grant from respect to their religion; there are other favours which they show these unfortunates, from respect to their country. Let but the Mussulman inhabitant of Persia find himself traveling <<144>>in company with a Jew or Christian without the Persian boundaries, and he will show the greatest fondness for them. If any attempt to insult or rob them, the Mussulman will defend them; and even lay down his life for them. They say, “We are alike strangers here. We have all been born on Persian ground, and we must show respect to that ground by defending its children, when they are no longer on it.”

Thus it is the ground they respect, and not the life of the Christian or Jew. For the same reason they will also give them to eat or drink, should they so require, but they will not allow the unbeliever to contaminate their stock of provision by touching it. Should they require water, for instance, the Jew or Christian would not be allowed to introduce a vessel of his own into their water-skins, but they will pour it out for him. As in many parts of the East, they show great respect to the beard; if even a man is condemned to be executed they respect his beard, and will show the same respect to it after death.

If a Mahommedan and  Israelite strive together, and the latter puts forth his hand to the beard of the other, and draws forth even one hair therefrom, he is immediately taken to the Khan, obliged to pay a fine of fifty tomaun and upwards, or receive a most severe application of the bastinado. In the rainy weather, both in Hamadan and Oroomiah, neither Christians nor Jews are allowed to approach a Mussulman under penalty of castigation. This law was instituted so that the impurity of the unbelievers should not attach itself to the Mahommedans;—perhaps the wet garments of the unsanctified might touch theirs. Again, if an Israelite desire to make a purchase from a Mussulman in the market, say of fruit, the buyer may not put forth his hand and touch the fruit, or all would be unclean. He stands at some distance, and pointing to any kind of fruit he may require, asks with downcast look, “Hadji Agah,” (a term of respect,) “what is the price?” This having been surlily told, the purchaser then spreads a cloth on the ground, that the Mahommedan may throw in what is required. He then approaches the stall, and drops the price in a basin of water always standing near, that the money may become purified before it enters the Mahommedan’s purse. If they look in the face of the shop-keeper, he will sometimes construe it into an offence, and spit at his customer. If the price asked prove more than he is willing to give, and he goes away without making some purchase, wo to him! The Mahommedan runs after him, and. beats him most severely. To resist is out of the question. The same system is pursued on almost every occasion of traffic with Jews or Christians.

This home of misery and oppression they are unable <<144>>to leave; emigration of families being strictly prohibited. Forced conversion is the main cause of all their afflictions. To procure their conversion, the greatest efforts are made to render their state as miserable as possible, and to display in the most tempting light the happiness of Mussulmen. For the same reason they are not permitted slaughtering places, that they may find every difficulty to observe their religious rites as they desire. This enmity towards them extends even to the dead; for neither Christians nor Jews are allowed to inscribe on their tombs the names of the departed; but, to use the highly expressive and pathetic language of our informant, “If one should speak for a year of their acts of cruelty, he could not recount them all. There is, there can be no happiness for us, until the Holy One, blessed be He, shall please to call us to Him; for if we even open our lips, it is death to us. Therefore do we say in the morning, Would it were evening! and in the evening, Oh, would it were morning. Unhappy we! unhappy we and our families!”

(To be continued.)