Iranian Jews bought tomb of Queen Esther and Mordechai, National Library of Israel reveals

Ahead of the Purim holiday, the National Library of Israel has revealed an exchange of historic letters proving that Iranian Jews purchased the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai in the Iranian city of Hamadan in 1971. The purchase marked 2,500 years to the edict of the Persian king Cyrus the Great authorizing the Babylonians to worship the god of their choice.

The letters reveal negotiations between Jewish representatives in the country and officials of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s government regarding the purchase of the land in which, according to tradition, Mordechai and Esther, whose story is read in the Book of Esther on Purim, are buried. The extraordinary exchange was preserved by the organization ORT, kept in the central archives of the Central Zionist Archives of the National Library.

There is no mention of their burial place in Jewish texts, but according to several local traditions dating back to the Middle Ages, both are buried in Hamadan. According to one tradition, after the death of King Ahasuerus, Haman’s followers, who attempted to have all the Jews in the kingdom killed, sought revenge, prompting Esther and Mordechai to flee to Hamadan.

The earliest evidence of the mausoleum’s connections to Jewish figures was provided by the 12th-century medieval Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela, who estimated that Hamadan had around 50,000 Jewish residents and described the tomb as being located in front of the synagogue.

According to Dr. Samuel Thrope, curator of the Middle East and Islam collection at the National Library, the letters testify to the fact that the last shah of Iran considered himself the successor of Cyrus and sought to present this image to the Jews. from his country. The 2,500th anniversary of Cyrus’ edict was precisely the event the shah was looking for, Thrope said.

In a 1968 letter to the representative of Iran’s Jewish community in parliament, Lotfollah Hay, the director general of Iran’s department of archeology and public education, Abdolali Pourmand, specified that the country’s education ministry would help the community Jew from Iran to purchase the tomb and surrounding land from its then owner, Banque Bazargani. The acquisition would be paid for by selling tickets to enter the tomb, they explained.

In their exchange, the regime’s sense of urgency is apparent. Pourmand specifically asks the Jewish community for their response to the proposed initiative because the government has yet to receive a response on the matter.

According to the letters, the land was purchased on January 18, 1970, after which ownership of the land was transferred to the local Jewish community.

Thrope explained, “This story sheds a unique light on the Jewish community’s ties to Iranian authorities over the years and on Cyrus’ special status, both among Jews and Persian audiences.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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