September 4th, 2013
04:47 PM ET

Iranian president's surprising message to Jews

By Daniel Burke and Mitra Mobasherat, CNN
[twitter-follow screen_name='BurkeCNN']

(CNN) - Marking a sharp shift from his Holocaust-denying predecessor, new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday appeared to wish "all Jews" a "blessed Rosh Hashanah" on his English-language Twitter account.

Rosh Hashanah, of course, is the Jewish celebration of the new year. As Rouhani mentions, it began Wednesday at sundown. The image in the tweet is reportedly taken from a synagogue in Tehran.

Rouhani, a Shiite Muslim cleric, was elected president in June. He is widely seen as more moderate than former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, though his goodwill gesture on Wednesday stunned even veteran Iran watchers.

“Not even under the monarchy do we remember such a message,” Haleh Esfandiari, a native Iranian and director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, told Al-Monitor.

On Thursday, however, Mohammadreza Sadegh, an adviser to Rouhani, told Iran's Fars News Agency that the Rosh Hashanah tweet did not come from the Iranian president. The tweet came from former campaign aides, rather, who run the Twitter account, Sadegh said.

"All the news regarding the president, after his election, is reflected by his appointed bureau chief and those are the only official reports. Mr. Rouhani does not have a Twitter account," Sadegh told Fars.

A close aide to Rouhani, however, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that while the president does not tweet from his account, people in his office do, so it is semi-official.

Interest in Rouhani's Twitter account was nearly eclipsed on Thursday by extraordinary Tweets from the official account of Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister.

If the name of Zarif's interlocutor looks familiar, it should. @SFPelosi is the Twitter account of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's daughter, Christine Pelosi.

Ahmadinejad isn't as tech savvy nor as pluralistic as Rouhani, but on a few occasions, he would issue positive statements about Christmas or Rosh Hashanah.

The former Iranian president was much more widely known, however, for saying that Israel should be eliminated and calling the Holocaust a myth. Usually, Ahmadinejad would caution that he was criticizing "Zionists," not all Jews.

Fewer than 10,000 Jews remain in Iran, according to the JTA, the Jewish news service, which still makes it the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside of Israel.

Religious minorities are not completely free to participate in Iranian government and often face discrimination, but Jews and Christians are, to some extent, allowed to live and worship openly in Iran.

As Washington Post foreign policy expert Max Fisher points out, it's difficult to extricate Rouhani's tweet from the context of Israeli-Iranian politics.

"It’s not exactly a unilateral declaration of peace – tomorrow, Iran will probably still support Hezbollah – but it’s yet another hint of Rouhani’s efforts to dramatically soften Iranian foreign policy and rhetoric," Fisher writes.

In honor of Rosh Hashanah, here are some other things to know about the Jewish holiday:

According to the Talmud, the world was created on the first day of Tishri, the seventh month of the Jewish calendar. So Rosh Hashanah is considered a birthday of sorts for the world. (Other rabbis teach that it honors the day Adam and Eve were created.)

It is celebrated on the first and second days of the month of Tishri, which generally corresponds to September or October on the Gregorian calendar.

Rosh Hashanah begins the High Holy Days or Ten Days of Penitence, which end 10 days later with Yom Kippur.

One of the most significant rituals during Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the Shofar, or ram's horn. It is used as a call to repentance during the High Holy Days.

During this time, Jewish people attend synagogue services and refrain from working.

Another popular practice is to eat apples dipped in honey, symbolizing the hope for a good year to come. Also, challah bread in round loaves instead of braided loaves is dipped in honey instead of salt.

Pomegranates are eaten because the seeds are symbolic of the many commandments in the Torah that Jews must fulfill.

Another popular ritual is to walk to a river or stream and recite special prayers of penitence. Afterwards, one throws breadcrumbs in the river, to symbolically cast away sins.

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Foreign policy • Holidays • Holocaust • Iran • Iran • Judaism

soundoff (659 Responses)
  1. Timothy C

    I'm pleased to see this. Actions are more important than words, but kind words are good start. Rouhani, you are a inspiration today.

    September 4, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
  2. me

    Classic comments... religious well wishes lead to hate filled comments... the crown jewel of all oxyMORONS...

    September 4, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
  3. LI_Bri

    Now that the pro-war USA has Syria in their cross-hairs we're not hearing much about Iran lately.

    September 4, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
    • me

      Says the pro chemical burned child lover... is that how this game is played?

      September 4, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
    • mullahproblems

      That's because Iran is knee deep in the conflict over Syria, and has been there from the get go. Don't let some kind words from one man fool you into thinking that the row between Iran, Israel and the US is over.

      September 5, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
  4. RainMaker

    Why is it surprisinng? CNN you ignorant fools. Iran supports Orthodox jews and openly condemns the zzionnistss. get your facts together.

    September 4, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
    • john

      You are so off. They have always had to practice their religion in fear.

      September 4, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
    • LDR

      At least we can spell.

      September 4, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
    • mullahproblems

      Really? Then why are Jews ostracized in public? Why are they jailed for practicing their faith publicly? Riddle me that.

      September 5, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
  5. Yuphah Kingkhuntz


    September 4, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
    • John

      Wow.. This just blew my mind

      September 4, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
  6. longtooth

    Happy New Year to our Jewish friends! I hope each year is better than the previous one!

    September 4, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
  7. anti-propaganda

    In other news, there are still jews alive in Iran. Who knew?

    September 4, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
    • Tamago chen

      There is a Jewish community in Iran. It's smaller than it was pre-1979 war.

      September 4, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
      • mullahproblems

        Wonder why, I'm sure it wasn't religious intolerance.

        September 5, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • Chimera

      Who knew? Everyone who pays attention to the real world and not the one they orbit inside their own heads.

      September 5, 2013 at 7:58 am |
  8. There. Are. No. Gods!

    Who cares, religion is the problem education is the answer. There. Are. No. Gods! No jewish gods, no iranian gods, and no american gods. And you know this.

    September 4, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
    • Glen Ames

      What I do know is that God DOES exist and that he is our Father in Heaven. Sorry to disappoint you.

      September 4, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
      • Chico

        Hehe. Hilarious. Please tell us more about your invisible superhero in the sky!! Testify!!

        September 4, 2013 at 5:40 pm |

        Godless Vagabond
        How do you know, Glen? The bible tells you?

        September 4, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
        • Amir

          There is only one GOD , he does not begot and he is not begotten . He created this world and everything inside it .
          Nor is there to Him any equivalent. The order in creation is so complex that even Darwinist like Richard Dawkings say they don't know how life started .

          September 5, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
      • Bobpitt

        Does God exist? And what god do you talk about? Iranian God, Indian God, Christian God? What is the difference?
        Prove god exist..!! can you ?

        Religion is for the ignorant, the weak and gullible.

        September 4, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
        • John Z

          BoB Pitt is a real smart guy... He has life all figured out... Some people have not found your path so don't bash on others dude.

          September 4, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
        • Grouch

          Bob is finite. The universe is Infinite. Simple math shows there is no Bob. Prove he exists. I just proved he doesn't.

          September 13, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
    • MarcNJ

      Keep telling yourself that. Eventually you might even believe it.

      September 4, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
    • james

      I wish you had told us all earlier so we could have done something else.

      September 4, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
    • Radgast

      Historically speaking, gods evolved as civilization developed, In ancient times as cities grew and cultures flourished, questions could best be answered with pagan gods and celestial guesswork. Over time the thoughts evolved as more answers were required for better questions, science casted doubt but religious ruled over the masses with the fear of death which spread in various part of the world, The universe today still hold bottomless mysteries and there is high probability that there is much unknown all around us, but religious gods and the individual monotheistic rules are and have been ever manmade.

      September 4, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
      • Bob in Tel Aviv

        Slight correction. It was organized religious practice that began as civilation developed. People as individuals likely had thoughts of the existence of divine beings before they gathered in groups but could not discuss it before others were around. Even the earliest gatherings show evidence of some recognition of powers outside of the 3D-forward time existence. One could thus conclude that the idea of a god or gods was already present when folks started to form social groups. Only then could any recording of such take place. To speak with such certainty as you do, however, displays some desire to not engage in much scholarship on the subject. If you are going to delve into archaeology to justify your denial of a divinity then I suggest you realize we are not talking of something can either be proved OR DISPROVED. It is thus a matter of faith whether you believe God exists or does not. But given that there may be an afterlife (and a pretty long one at that if it is) would not prudence suggest to at least perform a simple experiment. Simply find a quiet time to sit down and meditate or pray or whatever way you have of listening to your thoughts and send out a quiet request to God, if He is there, to reveal Himself to you. It is unlikely you will have any earth shattering experience, but wait a few days and be watching and open to what you see, dream, observe. If nothing ever happens, you will have your answer. But I am convinced that for those who are scrupulously honest with themselves and open to a life larger than this one, you will have an answer you could never have dreamed. On the other hand it will be intensely personal as I believe any interaction with God should be. And personal means individual. None can require anyone else to believe in the same way as he does. To do otherwise makes presumptions for God which leads to arrogance and war.

        September 5, 2013 at 5:52 am |
  9. MrHighMighty

    Muslims sending good wishes to Jews is like people stranded on an island sending good wishes to people lost in the woods.

    September 4, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
    • MrNotHighMighty

      As opposed to drowning people breathing-water-but-think-it's-air Christians?

      September 4, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
      • MrHighMighty

        MrNot, much to the temporary delight of Satan, your analogy is true for some people who call themselves Christian. Prosperity preachers, Mormons, and most politicians are the first that come to mind.

        September 5, 2013 at 11:49 pm |
  10. Captain

    Meanwhile – its Israel's Neten-yahoo, Kissinger, et al pushing to invade Syria – so they can invade Iran. See veterans today.
    btw: It was Israeli Mossad faction, Silverstein, and Bush WH that did 9/11 attacks. CIA confrims. See CIA Asset Susan Lindauer pdx 911 Truth – on youtube or her reporst on veterans today.

    September 4, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
    • AlienDave

      Ain't the human mind special? Einstein had one, ... and this dude has one. ... special.

      September 4, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
      • me

        @Alien Dave... It was proved Einstein did, but, um... I guess the Theory of Relativity might prove that "Captain" has some semblance of what humans know to be a brain... but even Einstein had his limits

        September 4, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
    • OwMySkull

      YES !!! Please cite MORE sources that will do my thinking for me, too !!!

      September 4, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
  11. Neil

    More proof Obama loves Israel and the Jews!

    September 4, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
    • me

      @Neil... please tell me that you were joking... not even a toothless, right winger with a sub 70 IQ could somehow make the connection you did... or are you proof that my comment is wrong?

      September 4, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
    • Paul Price

      What exactly is your problem with Jews, Neil? Aside from being a bigot, of course.

      September 4, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
      • GoTerps1982

        Neil is an embarrassment to my first name.

        September 4, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
  12. Amanda

    This isn't surprising if you aren't an idiot. No matter how much USA tries to paint Iran has this insane, jew hating dictatorship. They have one of the largest synagogues in the middle east (excluding Israel, of course). There are even Jewish butchers in many of the major cities.

    September 4, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
    • me

      @Amanda... um... USA doesn't paint with a broad stroke, they paint with a fine stroke... it's those in power in Iran that seem to do well making that fine stroke look like a broad one... sometimes when you think the finger is pointed at others, you find yourself in front of a mirror...

      September 4, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
      • Amanda

        "I know you are but what I am" is pretty much what your comment is trying to tell me, "me". Go away fool.

        September 4, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
        • me

          If you were as smart as you tell yourself, you would have been able to understand my point... but, hey, at least you now have some sense of satisfaction that you called me fool... live life to the fullest, mkay?

          September 4, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
    • Rev

      I always thought the rhetoric came from Iran trying to become a nuclear power, or nuclear powered depending on who you believe.

      September 4, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
  13. good one..

    he's trolling

    September 4, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
  14. Admiral Ackbar

    Don't accept his good wishes! It's a trap!

    September 4, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
  15. Keksi

    Why is it surprising??

    Jews lived in Iran for hundreds of years and they have been respected as religious minority.

    Don't mix Z10nists and Jews,those are two different things.

    September 4, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
    • mullahproblems

      Really? There's only 9,000 left and they still are arrested for no reason on occasion due to their faith. Don't try to paint a rosy picture of a regime that hangs first time drug offenders in the streets.

      September 5, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
      • Amir

        As an Iranian I can assure you Jews are respected here . They have their own parliament member . We had a Jew in our school and he was taught a Jewish theology book .

        September 5, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
  16. Jason

    Apparently Mossad hacked his twitter account

    September 4, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
    • Tim


      September 4, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
    • mullahproblems

      Only way it could have happened! He's as moderate as the Ayatollah is sane.

      September 5, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  17. Kenosis

    Well, something nice for once.

    September 4, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
  18. Scott

    I think that any signs of tolerance from any leader is something to be applauded. There is too much intolerance in this world and it is the cause of much pain and suffering.

    September 4, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
  19. David

    Wish you all a blessed Rosh Hashanah!

    September 4, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.