Rabbi Yosef Hamadani Cohen, the Chief Rabbi of Iran, passed away this weekend at the age of 98, JTA reports. His death was announced by Siamak Moreh Sedgh, the representative of the Iranian Jews in parliament, and marked informally by Iranian Jews via their Facebook statuses.
Hamadani, who had led Iran’s Jewish community since 1994, had been ill for many years. He reportedly had close ties with Iranian political leadership, and met Iranian President Mohammah Khatami in 2000, lating hosted him at his Yusef Abad Synagogue in 2003—the first-ever synagogue visit by an Iranian president since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iran today has a Jewish population of nearly 25,000 people, the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside of Israel. Earlier this month Iranian Jews celebrated Purim, the story of the Jews of Persia, with more fanfare than you might expect in the Islamic Republic. According to Shai Secunda, “Recent fieldwork done in Tehran’s Jewish community shows Jews publicly practicing their religion and living relatively full lives. Occasional anti-Semitic flare-ups notwithstanding, based on conversations I’ve had with people from the community, the Iranian Jewish experience, including Persian Purim celebrations, looks much the same as it did four decades ago under the shah.”