Jewish Sufis in Iran

Siman Tov Melammed: (before 1793- 1823 or 1828, nom de plume Tuvyah)  was an Iranian Jewish rabbi, poet and polemicist. He was the hakham, the spiritual leader of the community of Mashad and had to deal with a variety of religious tension of the era including forced disputations with Shii Imams. In 1839, the entire community was forced to convert to Islam. They lived as relatively secret Jews until the 20th century. Raphael Patai wrote a book on them Jadid al-Islam.

We usually associate Jewish-Sufism with Bahye ibn Pakuda, Avraham ben haRambam, and other Egyptian descendents of Maimonides such as David Maimuni or Joshua Maimuni. (These have been published by Paul Fenton with French translation and have not attained a wide readership.) Melammed’s writings are the tip of a much larger world of Jewish Sufi thought in Persia and Central Asia. Melammed wrote, in Persian, a philosophic and mystical poetic commentary on Maimonides thirteen principles called Hayat al Ruh; a sufi commentary on the Guide for the Perplexed. Within the large treatise, he wrote a poem in praise of Sufis.  Vera Moreen translated selections in 2000, (Queen Esther’s Garden, Yale UP , 2000) Below are 6 stanzas out of 30 (not to run a foul of fair usage laws.).

Melammed praises the Sufis for transcending their physical bodies and the habits of ordinary life to become servants of God. They are radiant and contented from their devotion to God and they lead other back through a straight path to God.

Description of the Pious Sufis Roused from the Sleep of Neglect

Godly and radiant like roses

The Sufis are, the Sufis,

Whose carnal soul is dead,

Doused their desires, the Sufis.

Firmly they grasp the straight path,

Leaders benevolent, guides

Of those who strayed are the Sufis.

Drunk with the cup and soul’s sweets,

With love of seeing the Unseen;

Without reins in both hands are the Sufis.

Dead to the world of the moment,

Alive to the hear after;

Full of merit and kindness are the Sufis.

God’s love is their beloved,

God’s affection their decoration,

And that which veils Him from the Sufis.

The most contented of beggars,

Avoiding rancor and dispute;

Freed from the Day of Punishment are the Sufis.

The issue must have been seriously debated because there is also a poem by an unknown Jacob against Jews becoming Sufis. The poem says to follow Moses, and his father Imran and to avoid the path of the famous Sufi Majnun. One should not relinquish one’s status as the chosen people for a universal faith.

Jacob: Against Sufis

O people of “Imran’s son”

Let not Satan deceive you,

Lest you forfeit religion and faiths;

My life for Moses’ life;

Whoever abandons his faith

Becomes a sage like Majnun,

Roaming about, confused;

My life for Moses’ life.

Bravely he is called a friend.”

But he turns common instead of chosen,

[Now] what religion can he call his own?

My life for Moses’ life.

3 responses to “Jewish Sufis in Iran

  1. Majnun in Arabic means crazy and that’s how Jews named Muhammad while Moslems called him prophet.

  2. eliyahu,
    On first read that is what I thought, but the footnote provided say that in the Persian context it was a reference to Majnun and Layla

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Layla_and_Majnun

  3. Presumably the reason why scholars and mystics play up Rabbeinu Bahye ibn Pakuda and the descendants of Maimonides is because they had a stronger impact on Judaism than Chacham Siman Tov Melammed.

    Several years ago, Prof. Marc Shapiro was playing up 20th century Moroccan Halakha as a way of entering Modernity without the polemical aspects of 20th century European and American Psak.

    I wonder if North Africa could become the next Italy as an alternative Judaism to the status quos.

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