Iran’s top rabbi: no 'religious war' between Iran and Israel, respect from Muslims

For Yehuda Garami, Zionism and Judaism are confused, but there is a big difference between the two. The conflict is political and “has nothing to do with religion”. For Jews, there is religious freedom and security in Iran; “we do not have guards outside our synagogues and schools”.

Tehran (AsiaNews) – Iran and Israel are involved in a diplomatic and military confrontation that could lead to open conflict. However, the “worst thing that could happen would be to give the impression that this is a war of religion,” said Yehuda Garami, Iran’s top rabbi, in an interview with Al-Monitor, a US-based media site.

For him, “this is not a war of religion, and no one should think that” it is. In his view, “there is a big difference between Zionism and Judaism”. The latter “is a religion that is 3,300 years old, while Zionism is a national and political movement that is just 100 years old. As a country, the State of Israel has nothing to do with religion in general and Judaism in particular.”

For this reason, “We are always emphasizing that we do not like getting involved in all the disputes, wars and politics between the two countries. It is a debate between politicians and has nothing to do with religion”.

The COVID-19 pandemic and international sanctions against Iran have had serious repercussions on Iran’s economy, equally affecting the Jewish community which is mostly middle class.

“Most Jews in the country are business owners, particularly clothing store owners, and they are part of the middle class” and most “really do feel the pressure”.

Still, relations with Muslims are good, according to the rabbi. “Muslims have a lot of respect for us as Jews living in Iran,” he explains. In fact, “Unlike in Europe, for example, we do not have guards outside our synagogues and schools, and our personal safety is excellent.”

“Of course, we sometimes encounter people who are anti-Semitic, but that happens everywhere. Most of the population respects us and lives in peace with us. What is important is that in Iran there is no such concept as organized attacks on Jews.”

Tensions between Iran and Israel have intensified in recent years, especially over Syria where Israeli planes have struck Iranian assets. This has raised fears that Jews might suffer retaliations, but they never actually came.

Officially, Iranian Jews number around 8,000 but, for Garami, the number is much higher, “between 20,000 and 25,000,” mostly “in Tehran, Shiraz, Esfahan and Karmanshah”.

“We have total freedom of religion,” he notes. “All the synagogues are open, and Torah classes take place there. We have all sorts of educational institutions too, including elementary and middle schools.”

The religious leader ended his interview on a positive note: “We sincerely hope that there will finally be peace in the world, that all war will disappear”.