In an interview to the Al-Monitor media site, the spiritual leader of Iran’s Jewish community, Rabbi Yehuda Gerami, praised Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, whose home he visited after he was killed in a US airstrike a few months ago, Israeli media reported.
Gerami said that Soleimani “demonstrated extraordinary bravery” and attacked Zionism: “The government in Israel doesn’t care about Judaism.”
Gerami gave the rare interview to Mordechai Goldman, a journalist from the Al-Monitor media site, after being criticized by many in Israel and throughout the world, following his visit to Soleimani’s house in January following his death in a US airstrike, and addressed Israel-Iran relations.
“The Western world isn’t aware of the fact that Soleimani is an Iranian national hero and very admired in the country,” he said. “He participated in the Iran-Iraq war and demonstrated extraordinary bravery. In Syria, he defeated ISIS, something that meant a great deal to the people in Iran. Our visit, of all religious representatives, was meant to honor his memory for all that he did for Iran.”
He noted that “we always emphasize the fact that we don’t like getting into wars, conflicts and politics between nations. The political disagreements have nothing to do with religion.”
He continued, “people tend to mix between the two, but there is a big difference between Judaism and Zionism. Judaism is a 3,300-year-old religion, while Zionism is a 100-year-old national-political movement. The State of Israel as a state has nothing to do with religion and Judaism, and the war is not between religions. All of Iran’s Jews think this way. The worst thing that can happen is if we give the impression that there’s a religious war going on here.”
Gerami didn’t hold back his criticism of the current Israeli government, perhaps because of tense relations between Israel and Iran. “It [the government] doesn’t care about Jewish matters at all. Everything they give the haredim is part of political deals and not a religious approach. The government is a political one, not a religious one. Israel holds pride parades every year, and not only that no one objects, but the state itself sponsors it, respects it and encourages it,” Gerami told Goldman in the interview.
The Jewish community in Iran includes approximately 9,000 Jewish people who live in several cities across the country. There are more than 50 synagogues, some of which are only active on Saturdays while others remain open throughout the week. Gerami claimed that the numbers are higher, saying that “Iran has around 20-25 thousands Jews. We have complete religious freedom. All synagogues remain open and offer Torah lessons, and we have various educational institutes.”
According to Gerami, Jewish-religious activity is openly practiced with no restrictions, although many prefer to roam the streets without clear Jewish characteristics like kippahs.
Gerami also told Goldman that his community hasn’t been affected by the coronavirus. “I realized where this was heading right away and ordered that all synagogues in the country close and that prayers take place separately and not in groups of 10. I kept giving lessons through Instagram and Skype, and I’m positive that the situation is relatively good because of the cautionary measures that we’ve taken,” he concluded.