Rabbi Yousef Hamadani Cohen, chief rabbi of Iran since 1994, passed away over the weekend and was laid to rest on Sunday.
Hamadani Cohen was known for his ties with the political leadership, and made headlines in February 2003 when he hosted then-Iranian President Mohammad Khatami in his Tehran Yusef Abad Synagogue. That visit marked the first presidential visit to a Jewish center since the 1979 revolution.
Three years earlier, Hamadani Cohen met Khatami along with other Jewish leaders. Hamadani Cohen is also said to have met with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“He didn’t suffer from the Iranian people, they respected him,” Hamadani Cohen’s nephew, residing in Israel, told the ultra-Orthodox Kikar HaShabat website.
According to the late chief rabbi’s nephew, who shares a name with his uncle, Rabbi Yousef Hamadani Cohen was ill for the past few years. “He suffered, he didn’t leave the house, until sadly, he died,” he said.
Regarding the future of Iranian Jewry, now that they have lost their spiritual leader, the young Hamadani Cohen said: “I don’t believe the community will fall apart because of his death. There are young men there who learn Torah. They are receiving assistance, but there are problems.”
Iran is home to the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside Israel — estimated at under 9,000, according to a 2012 census. There were some 150,000 Jews in the country in 1948, when Israel was established, and while some 70,000 immigrated to Israel in the next 30 years, some 80,000 remained at the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. That number collapsed in the years since, with some 20,000 leaving within months of the rise of the Islamic Republic in the wake of the revolution.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.