Enters on American passport; tours Tehran in his haredi garb

Israeli rabbi visits Iran, meets with local leaders and documents his trip

Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Jacob Yisrael Herzog, who previously attempted to establish Jewish community in Saudi Arabia, tours Iran’s Jewish sites, meets religious leaders

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Jacob Yisrael Herzog praying in his Riyadh hotel room, November 29, 2021. (Courtesy)
Jacob Yisrael Herzog praying in his Riyadh hotel room, November 29, 2021. (Courtesy)

An ultra-Orthodox rabbi from Israel, who had previously made headlines for trying to establish a Jewish community in Saudi Arabia, recently traveled to Iran, meeting members of the local Jewish community and visiting Jewish sites across the country.

Rabbi Jacob Yisrael Herzog currently lives in Jerusalem with his wife Deborah Lea and their eight children. But that did not stop him from boarding a plane to the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose leadership seeks Israel’s elimination.

Following the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Iran ceased all diplomatic relations with Israel, meaning that travelers with an Israeli passport are unable to enter the country.

Herzog, who holds dual US and Israeli citizenship, was able to enter the country using his American passport under his legal name, Jacob Levkoff Herzog.

Once there, he did not hide his Jewish identity, roaming around Tehran while wearing distinctive Jewish religious clothing.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, Herzog’s trip included visits to Tehran’s Grand Bazaar and a site believed to be the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai, located in Hamadan in northern Iran. He also met with members of the Jewish community in Tehran and with a number of Iranian religious leaders, according to pictures posted on his Twitter account.

However, it seemed like Tehran’s Jewish community and Herzog were at odds regarding the purpose of the visit, with an unnamed source telling Kan that the rabbi did not have a specific objective. Herzog’s close associates, however, have said that the visit was meant to advance issues relating to the local Jewish community.

Herzog himself has refused to speak publicly about the trip due to its sensitive nature, according to Kan.

The Jewish community in Iran numbers roughly 9,000 people, according to a US State Department report published last May.

In a rare public speech that took place in the United States last November, Iran’s Chief Rabbi Yehuda Gerami depicted positive aspects, as well as challenges the Jewish community faces, mentioning fears of physical attacks from some Muslim neighbors in the wake of the January 2020 killing of Iranian al-Quds Force commander General Qassem Soleimani by the US.

“The situation was very sensitive,” said Rabbi Yehuda Gerami, speaking at Chabad of Northern Virginia in Fairfax, Virginia. “We felt that sensitivity, not from the government, from the people. They talked about revenge.”

Herzog has made five trips to Saudi Arabia since last summer in an attempt to establish a recognized Jewish presence in the kingdom, which may shed some light on the purpose of his recent trip to Iran.

While the tangible impact of his efforts has seemingly been limited thus far, he is not shy about sharing his ambitious goals for the future, which run the gamut from drawing attention to kosher food in supermarkets via Instagram to opening Jewish community centers and a religious day school.

Carrie Keller-Lynn and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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