Vandals attacked a central shul in the Iranian city of Shiraz, destroying two sifrei Torah and damaging three others, as well as many other items, in an assault that has left the isolated community shocked and unnerved.
The incident is being investigated by Iranian authorities, but so far little is known about the perpetrators or their motivation.
“This was clearly not a robbery,” a Rabbi of Iranian origin living in the United States, who is in close contact with the Shiraz community, told Hamodia. “The question is who was behind it, what message they were trying to send, and who the sender of that message is.”
The Rabbi requested anonymity out of concern that publicity could jeopardize his contacts living in Iran. He added that he had confirmed the details of the incident with Jews living presently in Shiraz.
The attack was discovered as congregants gathered for a daily 2:00 p.m. Minchah at the shul known as the Hadash. The last known person to leave the premises did so three hours earlier, narrowing down the time frame of the attack.
Those present found that two sifrei Torah had been ripped to pieces and placed inside the restrooms, R”l. Three other scrolls were damaged. Vandals also destroyed siddurim and broke lighting fixtures and glass windows.
The incident occurred this past Monday, but was not widely reported or confirmed by western media until later in the week.
“People are definitely scared,” said the American-based Iranian Rabbi. “This is a new type of attack. A sefer Torah is considered holy by Muslims as well, and destroying it is something that they would never normally do. It’s the first time since the Revolution that such a thing has happened.”
Local police were called to the scene and responded immediately. The Rabbi said that the authorities are taking the incident “very seriously.”
The Hadash shul is located in Shiraz’s old Jewish ghetto, known as the Maaleh neighborhood. The shul is heavily used and is the site of several daily minyanim. The city, located in the south of Iran, is still home to some 5,000 Jews and maintains several shuls and a vibrant Talmud Torah-style school.
In 2000, Shiraz was the site of the arrest and trial of 13 Jews who were accused of being spies for the State of Israel.
Before the 1979 “Islamic Revolution” brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power and implemented a regime based on a strict enforcement of Shiite Islam, Iran was home to some 100,000 Jews. However, a combination of fear, discrimination, and economic decline led the vast majority to emigrate. The present Jewish population is estimated to be somewhere between 8,700 and 12,000. In addition to Shiraz, significant communities remain in the capitol city of Tehran as well as in Isfahan.
Though largely isolated from the rest of world Jewry, Iran’s Jewish community maintains most of the basics of Jewish life, including shuls, schools, and the availability of kosher food. As one of four officially recognized religious minorities, their right to worship is protected by the government and they are represented by one member in the nation’s parliament.
The Rabbi said that he and other Iranian Jews around the world were reserving judgement until more facts about the incident became clear.
“We are watching closely and need to wait and see if it is anything more than regular vandalism, which unfortunately is not unique to any country,” he said. “We want to be fair and hope that the proper measures are being taken. We need to be careful not to react too early, or too late.”