The Mission among Jews--Schools for boys and girls--A practical
institution--The Jews of Persia--Persecution by
Jews--Girls--Occupations--Taxation--The social level of Jews.
From October, 1889, to December, 1891, a Christianised Jew of Teheran, named Mirza Korollah, worked in Isfahan as the representative of the Society for promoting Christianity among the Jews. A Bible depôt was opened, and a school started at the request of the Jews themselves. In December, 1891, however, Mirza Korollah was banished from the city, and the work was again interrupted.
In 1897, Mr. Garland volunteered to undertake the work in Persia, and his offer was gladly accepted. On his arrival in Isfahan he found, he told me, a prosperous boys' school, that had been re-opened in 1894 by a native Jewish Christian, who rejoiced in the name of Joseph Hakim, and who carried on the educational work under the supervision of members of the Church Missionary Society resident in Julfa. It was deemed advisable to commence a night-school, as many of the boys were unable to attend day classes. The scheme answered very well, and has been steadily continued.
As many as 200 boys attended the school daily in February, 1898, a fact that shows the success of the new enterprise from the very beginning.
At the invitation of a number of Jewesses, Miss Stuart, the Bishop of Waiapu's daughter, kindly consented to go over twice a week to the Jewish quarter to instruct them in the Holy Scriptures. This led to the commencement of a girls' school with twelve pupils, at a time of great turmoil and anxiety. However, the experiment had the happiest results.
It was not, nevertheless, till 1899 that Mr. Garland was able to take up his abode in the Jewish quarter. He met with no opposition whatever from Mahommedans or Jews. The usual Sunday service, attended by converts and inquirers, and a Saturday afternoon class were commenced in 1899, and have uninterruptedly continued to the present time.
To me, personally, the most important part of the Mission, and one to which more time is devoted than to praying, was the excellent carpentry class for boys, begun in 1900, and the carpet-weaving apparatus set up on the premises for the girls. The former has been a great success, even financially, and is paying its way. The latter, although financially not yet a success, is of great value in teaching the girls how to weave. Necessarily, so many hands have to be employed in the manufacture of a large carpet, and the time spent in the manufacture is so long, that it is hardly possible to expect financial prosperity from mere beginners; but the class teaches the girls a way to earn money for themselves in future years.
Both trades were selected by Mr. Garland, particularly because they were the most suitable in a country where Jews are excluded from the more honest and manly trades, and Jewesses often grow up to be more of a hindrance than a help to their husbands. Worse still is the case of Jews who become Christians; they have the greatest difficulty in earning their living at all.
These industrial occupations are a great practical help to the studies of the pupils, who are taught, besides their own language, Persian and Hebrew, and, if they wish, English, geography, etc.
More frivolous but less remunerative forms of recreation, such as cricket, tennis, football, or gymnastic drills,--which invariably accompany Christianity in the East, and develop most parts of a convert's anatomy except his brain,--have not been deemed of sufficient importance among the Jews of Isfahan, who would, moreover, think our best English games or muscle-developers in the highest degree indecorous and unseemly.
On the whole the Society's work among the Jews of Teheran, Hamadan and Isfahan has been most encouraging, and this is to be put down entirely to the tact and personal influence of Mr. Garland, who is greatly respected by Jews and Mahommedans alike. No better testimony to the appreciation of his work could exist than the fact that in his interesting journeys through Persia, he is frequently invited to preach in crowded synagogues.
It seems probable that the Jews of Persia are descendants of the Ten Tribes, and more probable still that Jews have resided in Isfahan from its earliest foundation.
In the tenth century--under the Dilemi dynasty--Isfahan consisted of two cities, Yahoodieh (Jewry) and Shehristan (the City). In the middle of the twelfth century, according to Benjamin of Tudela, the Jews of Isfahan numbered 15,000.
At present they number about 5,000. They are mostly pedlars by profession, or engaged in making silk thread (Abreesham Kâr, Charkhtâbee, etc.). There are a few merchants of comparative influence. Jewellers and traders in precious stones, brokers and wine-sellers are frequent, but the majority consists almost entirely of diviners, musicians, dancers--music and dancing are considered low, contemptible occupations in Persia--scavengers, and beggars.
The Jews of Isfahan, like those of all other cities in Persia, have been subjected to a great deal of oppression. There is a story that Timour-i-Lang (Tamerlane--end of 14th century) was riding past a synagogue in Isfahan, where the Mesjid-i-Ali now stands, and that the Jews made such a horrible noise at their prayers (in saying the "Shema, Israel" on the Day of Atonement) that his horse bolted and he was thrown and lamed. Hence his name, and hence also a terrible massacre of the Jews, which reduced their number to about one-third.
Even to this day it is not easy for Jews to obtain justice against Mahommedans. Only as recently as 1901 a Jew was murdered in cold blood a few miles from Isfahan, and his body flung into the river. Although the murder had been witnessed, and the murderer was well known, no punishment was ever inflicted upon him.
The Jews of Isfahan possess striking features, as can be seen by a characteristic head of a man reproduced in the illustration. The face is generally very much elongated, with aquiline nose of abnormal length and very broad at the nostrils. The brow is heavy, screening deeply-sunken eyes revealing a mixed expression of sadness and slyness, tempered somewhat by probable abuse of animal qualities. Of a quiet and rather sulky nature--corroded by ever-unsatisfied avidity--assumedly courteous, but morose by nature,--with a mighty level head in the matter of business; such is the Jew of Isfahan. He is extremely picturesque, quite biblical in his long loose robe and skull cap, with turban wound tight round his head.
Jewish girls when very young are nice-looking without being beautiful, very supple and pensive, and with expressive eyes. They lack the unsteady, insincere countenance of the men, and have reposeful, placid faces, with occasional good features. There is a good deal of character in their firmly closed lips, the upper lip being slightly heavy but well-shaped. The inside of the mouth is adorned with most regular, firm, and beautiful teeth. Curiously enough, the typical Jewish nose--so characteristic in men--is seldom markedly noticeable in women. I have even seen Jewish girls with turned-up noses. Their arms are beautifully modelled, and the hands as a whole extremely graceful, with unusually long and supple fingers, but with badly-shaped nails of an unwholesome colour.
Jewesses in Persia are not kept in seclusion and go about with uncovered faces, which exposes them to constant and unpleasant insult from the Mahommedans. They dress differently from Persian women, with a long skirt of either black, blue, or coloured cotton. The head is framed in a white kerchief, leaving exposed the jet black hair parted in the middle and covering the temples. Over that is worn a long cloak, either black or white, almost identical with the Persian "chudder."
Jewesses are said to be most affectionate and devoted to their husbands and their families. They are extremely amenable to reason--except in cases of jealousy, which is one of the leading characteristics of the race in general and of Jewish women in particular. They are hard-working, intelligent, thrifty. They take life seriously: are endowed with no sense of humour to speak of--it would be difficult to have any under their circumstances--and whether owing to severe anæmia, caused by wretched and insufficient food, or to some external influence, are often affected by melancholia.
Soft and shy in manner and speech, under normal circumstances, pale and silent, the Jewish woman is not unattractive.
One of the few occupations open to Jewesses is the practice of midwifery.
Hunted as the Jews are by everybody in the streets, and in the bazaar, insulted, spat upon, the women often compelled to prostitution, it is to be marvelled that any honesty at all is left in them.
The higher Persian schools and colleges do not admit Jews as students, nor is education permitted to them even in the lower Persian schools. Therefore, the welcome work of Mr. Garland is much needed and appreciated. A special quarter is reserved in which the Jews must live, huddled together, the majority of them in abject poverty. Until of late no peace was given them. Their customs were interfered with in every way by vagabond Persians, and the little money they made by industrious habits was extorted from them by officials or by the enterprising Persian to whom the Jewish community was farmed out.
The Jews of a city are taxed a certain sum, usually beyond what they can afford to pay. Some speculator undertakes to pay the amount for them to the local Governor and receives authority to compensate himself from the Jewish community as best he can, either by making them work, or trade, or by selling their clothes or depriving them of the few articles of furniture they may possess.
Until quite lately, at public festivities the meek and resigned Jews were driven before an insulting mob who held them in derision, and exposed them to most abject treatment; some of their number ending by being pitched into the water-tank which adorns the courtyard or garden of most residences. Little by little, however, with the spread of civilisation, Jews have been spared the torture of these baths.
The Jew is looked upon as unclean and untrustworthy by the Persian, who refuses to use him as a soldier, but who gladly employs him to do all sorts of dirty jobs which Persian pride would not allow him to do himself. His social level therefore stands even lower than that of the Shotri of India, the outcast who does not stop at the basest occupations.
The majority of the older Jews are illiterate, but not unintelligent. Each city has one or more Rabbis or priests, but they have no power and receive a good share of the insults in the Persian bazaars.
Whatever feeling of repulsion towards the race one may have, the position of the Jews in Persia--although infinitely better than it was before--is still a most pathetic one.