Rouhani accommodates Iran’s Jewish students

Homayoun Sameyah Najaf Abadi, head of Iran's 8,500-strong Jewish community, poses in front of a new memorial for Iran's Jewish people at the Beheshtieh Jewish cemetery in southern Tehran, Jan. 9, 2015. (photo by Getty Images/Behrouz Mehri)

Homayoun Sameyah Najaf Abadi, head of Iran’s 8,500-strong Jewish community, poses in front of a new memorial for Iran’s Jewish people at the Beheshtieh Jewish cemetery in southern Tehran, Jan. 9, 2015. (photo by Getty Images/Behrouz Mehri)

Thanks to the government of President Hassan Rouhani, as of Feb. 4, Jewish students officially no longer have to attend school on the Sabbath. This is an important step by the Rouhani administration to welcome Iranian Jews.

There are numerous reasons why my family left Iran in 1987, but an important one was the decision by the Iranian government that year not to officially recognize the holy Sabbath as a religious day off for Jewish students. There was no choice: The Iranian school week ran from Saturday to Thursday so we either attended school on the Sabbath or we were failed and had to repeat the year.

Soon after the 1979 revolution, Jewish students were given Saturdays off as a day of rest. This was an unofficial decision, but one that was respected. This applied to all Jewish schools. Meanwhile, Jewish students attending Muslim schools in Iran could also ask to not attend schools on Saturdays, although some students chose to as they did not want to miss important classes. But it was up to them.

To add salt to the wound, once Jewish students were forced to attend school on the Sabbath, in some Jewish schools vocational training classes (referred to in Persian as Herf-e va Fan) were also moved to Saturdays. So not only were Jewish students forced to sin by turning up to school on the Sabbath, they were forced to sin even more, as such classes included activities using electronic equipment or carpentry, which are also banned on the Sabbath. This made the experience of attending school on the Sabbath even more painful, and in some cases humiliating, for Jewish students.

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