This book tells the little-known story of a fascinating crypto-Jewish community through two centuries and three continents. Beginning as a precarious settlement of a few families in mid-eighteenth-century Mashhad, an Islamic holy city in northern Iran, the community grew into a closely-knit group in response to their forced conversion to Islam in 1839. Muslim hostility and a culture of memory sustained by intra-communal marriages reinforced their separate religious identity, vesting it in strong family and communal loyalty. Mashhadi women became the main agents of the cultural transmission of communal identity and achieved social roles and high status uncharacteristic for contemporary Jewish and Muslim communities. The Mashhadis maintained a double identity -- upholding Islam in public while tenaciously holding onto their Jewish identity in secret. The exodus from Mashhad after 1946 relocated the communal centre to Tehran, and later to Israel and after the Khomeini revolution to New York.
The relationship between the formation and retention of communal identity and memory practices -- with interconnected issues of religion and gender -- draws upon existing research on other crypto-faith communities, such as the Judeoconversos, the Moriscos, and the French Protestants, who through the special blend of memory-faith and ethnicity emerged strengthened from their underground period. For the immigration period, the author challenges the old paradigm that modernity and religion are mutually exclusive. The book also explores the sometimes uncomfortable yet intimate relationships that exist between seemingly incompatible ways of seeing the past, both secular and religious.
Hilda Nissimi is lecturer of General History at Bar Ilan University, Israel. She has published Rebellion and Tradition in Palestine during the Mandate (Ramat-Gan, 1985). Her current interests include crypto-faith communities, especially the Mashhadi Jewish community.
The Emergence of Crypto-Faith; Communities of Memory-Faith; Living within Two Faiths, Two Cultures; Creating a Cohesive Community: Family Ethnicity and Gender; The Mashhadi Way: Memory of Sacred History; Memory and History: The Cultural Boundary; Women and Family: The Social Boundary; What is Mashhadi? American, Zionist, Persian; Conclusion: From Descent to Consent; Index.