Page 15 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 27

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F
ischel
— L
iterary
H
eritage
of
P
ersian
J
ews
9
and Shirin and Haft Paikar (The Seven Images) by Nizami
(d. 1201) ; some poems of the Mathnawi by Jalal ad-Din Rumi
(d. 1273); some parts of the Gulistan by Sa'di (d.1291); the
Divan of Hafiz (d.1390); Yusuf and Zuleika of Jami (d.1414);
portions of the Divan of Sa'ib of Isfahan (d.1678) and of some
others, and were made accessible in Hebrew transliteration.
Persian Jews evinced a lively interest also in the pictorial art
and miniatures of their neighbors. In some of the Shahin and
Imrani manuscripts and in those of the classical poetry in Hebrew
transliteration, large colored miniatures and illuminations of
exceptional beauty have been incorporated. They could well be
regarded as typical Persian pictorial art were it not for the Hebrew
lines on each miniature, which lends it a distinct Jewish character.
Whether this pictorial art was cultivated by Jewish artists, or
whether the Hebrew written explanations alone were the work of
Jews, cannot be established. Nor can it be ascertained whether
there existed a school of such Jewish artists.
Literary Productivity in the 17th and 18th Centuries
While the cultural climate of the 14th century Il-Khan dynasty
enabled the Jews to indulge in the “luxury” of Bible studies and
Judeo-Persian poetry of their own, their literary productivity in
the 17th and 18th centuries was of a different genre. In a hostile
atmosphere of hatred and persecution that swept over Persian
Jewry under the Safavid dynasty, all their energies had to be
concentrated on sheer physical survival. The literary output of that
lamentable period mirrors the stark tragedy of Jewish existence.
The torch of literary activity was kept aglow by a Babai b. Lutf
of Kashan, who wrote Kitab-i Anusi: The Book of the Events of
the Forced Conversions of Persian Jewry to Islam. This chronicle,
composed in Persian but written in Hebrew characters, gives poetic
expression to the martyrdom of the Jews in the times of Shah
‘Abbas I (d.1629). This Judeo-Persian chronicle was supplemented
by Babai b. Farhad who led the events up to the time of Shah
‘Abbas II (d.1666) and his successors.
These chronicles constitute one of the most significant historical
sources we possess for this or any other period in the long history
of the Persian Jews. No other source reveals so vividly the inner
life of the Jewish communities in Persia during the 17th century.
They are a mine of information regarding their geographical
distribution and economic structure, their religious customs and
superstitions, their names, and above all their trials, sorrows and
sufferings while subsisting as Maranos, Anusim. By virtue of its
main theme, Kitab-i Anusi could well be called the “Emek Ha-
Bakha” or the “Shebet Yehuda” of Persian Jewry, a martyriolo-