Worshipers pack Tehran synagogue for Selichot service ahead of Rosh Hashanah

Prayers also held for Jewish New Year at Cairo synagogue for first time in 70 years

Screenshot of video said to show service at Tehran synagogue, September 2023 (Kan, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screenshot of video said to show service at Tehran synagogue, September 2023 (Kan, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Some two hundred worshipers attended a Selichot service this this week in the Iranian capital Iran, according to footage broadcast by the Kan public broadcaster on Friday.

The nightly Selichot prayers — a litany of penitential and supplicant prayers — are held in the run-up to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which began on Friday night.

The service was led by Iran’s Chief Rabbi Yehuda Gerami.

Prior to the Islamic Revolution in 1979, there were some 100,000 Jews in Iran; by 2016, according to an Iranian census, that number had fallen to below 10,000.

This year, Rosh Hashanah coincides with the first anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iranian police, which sparked weeks of widespread protests. Security forces were deployed across Iran on Saturday, amid regime fears of renewed unrest.

A number of members of the Tehran Jewish community were detained amid the protests last year. At the time, the Tehran Central Jewish Committee issued a letter, in which it said it was standing by the Iranian regime amid its deadly crackdown on protesters.

The Jewish community in Iran has previously taken other precautionary measures to protect members, with Gerami saying in 2021 that he condemned the US killing of top Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Gen. Qassem Soleimani in 2020, amid fears Jews could be physically attacked by some Muslim neighbors.

Prominent figures in the Jewish community of Iran intermittently issue anti-Israel statements that match the regime’s agenda.

Iran is openly sworn to Israel’s destruction and financially supports terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas that are also committed to this aim.

Meanwhile in Egypt, prayers were held at a Cairo synagogue on Friday night for the first time in 70 years, Kan reported.

A number of members of Cairo’s small remaining Jewish community attended the service at the 100-year-old Vitali Madjar Synagogue, alongside foreign diplomats.

Egypt’s Jewish community, which dates back millennia, numbered around 80,000 in the 1940s, but today is thought to stand at fewer than 20 people. The departure of Egypt’s Jews was fueled by rising nationalist sentiment during the Arab-Israeli wars, harassment, and some direct expulsions by then-Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Egypt and Israel signed a landmark peace treaty in 1979 and have since maintained formal diplomatic relations. But public opinion in Egypt has largely remained hostile to the Jewish state.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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