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. Steven

    I welcome this !!!
    It's about time !

    September 5, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
  2. Peter Beck

    The good people of Iran elected Rouhani because they were tired of being isolated from the world. We need to talk to this guy and to hell with those who want to bomb them.

    September 5, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
  3. Doug

    In any ongoing dispute or "cold war," any move towards moderation by your opponent should, at the very least, not be ignored. Peace must come by small steps in most cases. Therefore, any step, no matter how small, must be recognized as a positive development in some respect or degree.

    September 5, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
  4. Frank

    Total BS. Perfect story for CNN!

    September 5, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
    • Herbygee

      Why is it total BS? Because you say so?

      September 5, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
  5. chuck

    It is surprising to me that so many people have vicious and uncompromising positions on both sides, when this article gives at least a hint of hope for peace.
    Perhaps an oli\ve branch was just past as small as it may have been.
    Take it and build on it instead of criticising for what it is worth.
    Christians,Muslims and Jews all have one thing seemingly in common, other than Abraham and that is an unwillingness to bend and actually make steps toward peace by finding common ground.
    Again please stop arguing and take the article as perhaps a small sign of hope.



    September 5, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
  6. joebob

    Well that's refreshingly different – maybe there's hope for these people yet.

    September 5, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
  7. sly

    Wow – must be a sad existence for many of these folks on here getting all upset over a President's nice statement.

    It's just a President of a country being nice – that really bugs most of you doesn't it?

    And then ... my my my ... what's all this wierd discussion of Jews and Arabs and Christians have to do with a politician?

    Take a load off folks – relax, smell the roses, enjoy life.

    September 5, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  8. fahm

    Happy Rosh Hashanaa to all my Jewish friends from a Muslim!
    We all believe in Abrahamic faiths, with common origins and have a lot in common versus the differences that folks talk about.

    Oh and this article did a great job explaining what Rosh Hashana is about.

    September 5, 2013 at 11:33 am |
  9. Sara

    Thanks Mr. President.
    I'm an Iranian Jew living in Iran and I must say the population of Iranian Jews in Iran is more than 30,000 not less than 10,000 ... get your facts right CNN.

    September 5, 2013 at 11:10 am |
    • Sean

      Sara, work on your reading comprehension. CNN cited the JTA for those numbers, so if they are wrong the JTA needs to get its facts straight, not CNN.

      September 5, 2013 at 11:25 am |
      • Sara

        Ture... but CNN used JTA as a source on purpose, there are more legit sources out there that shows how many Jews are living in Iran. Jews have members in Iran's Parliament and there are official and exact numbers and information about us on their site.

        September 5, 2013 at 11:32 am |
        • Sara(2)

          I was also a bit surprised about the implication that minority groups have no access to government. This is true for some groups such as Bahai, and there are additional restrictions (as I understand it) but the article seems to be trying to exaggerate the situation.

          September 5, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
      • kenny

        its called fact checking.. nuuum nuuuts... if you post a fact from 1 source without checking it... YOU FAIL... as cnn usually does...

        September 5, 2013 at 11:33 am |
        • Sean

          Kenny, if the fact is that the JTA reported that there are 10,000 Jews in Iran, then CNN got the facts, as they stated, right. If the JTA informed CNN that there were 20,000 Jews living in Iran, but CNN reported that the JVA said there 10,000, then CNN would have gotten the fact wrong. The fact that would be in question then is what the JVA reported to CNN which we have no indication CNN got wrong in telling us. I am sure there are different Jewish population totals reported by different sources. I don't think anyone could assert as absolute fact exactly how many Jews live in Iran.

          September 5, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
    • spocksbrain

      I'm guessing but I bet there are more Iranian Jews living in California than Iran these days.

      September 5, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
  10. If I had a penny for every stupid Republican I'd be rich!

    Friendly tweets while preparing to stab them in the back.

    September 5, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • Floridakrakker

      I have that same feeling for just about all democrats AND republicans.

      The Libertarian party is growing – check us out.


      September 5, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
      • Lucifer's Evil Twin


        September 5, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
  11. epenguin

    As long as he understands that his well wishes will not stop the bombs from raining down on his cesspool if he continues to seek nuclear capabilities. His words mean nothing compared to his actions.

    September 5, 2013 at 10:56 am |
  12. Jeff

    For those of you who are not believers in any faith, leave those who are believers alone. When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.

    September 5, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • Dan

      Can those that don't believe get the same treatment? Keep your faith to your self...

      September 5, 2013 at 10:58 am |
      • orangello

        ... but if you truly don't believe... what harm is it to you? why is it so important to see people who do believe be silenced? besides it being annoying...what real harm is it to you personally? (and if you say it starts wars... please go ask your college professor to better explain that to you... because it's a hollow and unoriginal argument)

        September 5, 2013 at 11:20 am |
        • fintastic

          How about blocking stem cell research?......

          September 5, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
        • Roger that

          How about starting wars?

          September 5, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
        • PraiseTheLard

          Religion is nothing more than the forced dissemination of ignorance. If you're content to let the world slide back into the dark ages, that's too bad, but the disease that is Organized Religion must be eliminated.

          September 5, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          What harm to you would it be if we had "In Allah we trust" on the currency. None, so you obviously would support that change.

          September 5, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
        • Sara

          People's beliefs impact their actions and votes. It is perfectly fair and wise to criticize the beliefs of others where they risk influencing society to the harm of others.

          September 5, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
    • geckopelli

      And vica-versa

      Keep you mythology out of my face!

      September 5, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • K-switch

      I've never understood that phrase. Exactly how is person A made an ass of, simply because person B makes an assumption.

      September 5, 2013 at 11:09 am |
      • Canuck

        well you see....
        hence the ASS out of U and ME

        now you know

        September 5, 2013 at 11:19 am |
        • John

          "...and knowing is half the battle." – G.I.Joe

          September 5, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
        • K-switch

          And here is my point. By that logic: Canuck, "I" assume you are a male, therefore "YOU" are an ass. Seems kind of silly, your an ass through no doing of your own.

          September 5, 2013 at 2:15 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.