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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. george

    Its a fake!!!!

    September 6, 2013 at 1:13 am |
    • Dippy

      It's, not its.

      September 7, 2013 at 2:45 am |
  2. Reality

    And who funds this muck and stench of terror? The warmongering, Islamic, Shiite terror and torture theocracy of IRAN aka the Third Axis of Evil and the Sunni "Wannabees" of Saudi Arabia. And all in the name of Allah !! The inanity of it all !!!

    September 5, 2013 at 11:57 pm |
  3. craig

    if the comments didn't come from him then how is this even a story?

    September 5, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
    • M

      Practically every politician worldwide is on social media and hardly any politician actually participate, it's the pr team..

      September 5, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
  4. Malaikum

    To all non-muslims, just remember that all muslims are traitors and can't be trusted. It has been proven a billion times. Just don't trust them, ok?

    September 5, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
  5. KEVIN

    Iran is full of good people and their society is very stable and are now profoundly reaching out for positive relations towards us. Let's take advantage of it. Return kind words and avoid demonizing them.

    September 5, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
    • Red

      They will probably start to say nicer and nicer things as the likelihood of their society being flattened increases.

      September 5, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        What "likelihood?" Is Iran being threatened by another world power?

        September 5, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
    • Scott

      Well, as soon as they say Israel has the right to exist I will start treating iranians much nicer.

      September 5, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
  6. Red

    He hasn't had his arms hacked off since the tweet. That is a good sign.

    September 5, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
  7. Eric B

    Why cant a olive branch just be a olive branch why must everything have a hidden meaning

    September 5, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
    • Thinker23

      Wishing someone (in this case, the jews) happy New Year is not an "olive branch" and not "recognition". It's a gesture of politeness at best and a political ploy at worst.

      September 5, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
    • Interesting

      Our brains are structured to crave things like metaphors, analogies, parables–symbols. Symbols help us process and categorize information. We learn using symbols. If you can find it, there was a pretty cool article in the NY Times two or three years ago about how our brains use metaphors.

      September 5, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Blame Freud.

      September 5, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
  8. Reality

    What the new president of Iran should have said:

    Mohammed was an illiterate, womanizing, lust and greed-driven, warmongering, hallucinating Arab, who also had embellishing/hallucinating/plagiarizing scribal biographers who not only added "angels" and flying chariots to the koran but also a militaristic agenda to support the plundering and looting of the lands of non-believers.

    This agenda continues as shown by the ma-ssacre in Mumbai, the as-sas-sinations of Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh, the conduct of the seven Muslim doctors in the UK, the 9/11 terrorists, the 24/7 Sunni suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the 24/7 Shiite suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the Islamic bombers of the trains in the UK and Spain, the Bali crazies, the Kenya crazies, the Pakistani “koranics”, the Palestine suicide bombers/rocketeers, the Lebanese nutcases, the Taliban nut jobs, the Ft. Hood follower of the koran, the Filipino “koranics”and the Boston Marthon bombers.

    And who funds this muck and stench of terror? The warmongering, Islamic, Shiite terror and torture theocracy of IRAN aka the Third Axis of Evil and also the Sunni "Wannabees" of Saudi Arabia.

    September 5, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
    • John Rgood

      Wow! That would have been better to say.

      September 5, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
    • Theresa

      The next tweet should say "The poster 'Reality' needs to write better intros to his tedious copy/paste posts."

      September 5, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
  9. mullahproblems

    Also, if any of you care about the atrocities being carried out in Syria and the rest of the region, I'm sure you've heard what happened over the weekend in Iraq, where 52 people were executed. If you use twitter, tweet at #CampAshraf to show support for their loved ones.

    September 5, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
  10. Joe

    It's touching that a politician who practices one ancient, made-up religion would take the time to make such a gesture to a large group of persons who practice another ancient, made-up religion. It almost reaches the level of actual, rational thought and discussion. But it doesn't.

    September 5, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
    • gregg

      wretch

      September 5, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
      • MajorPayne

        I see... then it goes without saying then, since Jesus was Jewish, he's made up as well. Not to bright are ya?

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

          Too, not to.

          September 5, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
    • Travis

      Calling their religions made-up from the get-go, however, does not even approach rational thought and discussion.

      September 5, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • ced1968

      All religions are made up, what's your point? You mean their belief in a single God? A single deity?

      September 5, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
    • Thinker23

      What is a "made-up religion"? and does a NOT "made-up" religion exist?

      September 5, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
      • Marcus

        A made up religion is Scientology.

        September 5, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
        • Athy

          All religions are made up. They start as cults when their leader is alive and become religions when their leader dies.

          September 5, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
  11. desert voice

    I had myself contacted Mr. Javad Zarif when he was Ambassador to the UN. Do not recall what was the topic, but he was very gracious to send me a one page densely written response through the Pakistani Embassy since there were no relations with the U.S. at the time. I am glad that this more reasonable man is back in power. The only concern I had was his very strong Islamist allegiance. But other than that, now that I recall, our "scholarly" discussion centered on the difference between the Islamist martyrdom and the Christian. He appeared to have accepted my viewpoing that Christian Martyrs do not take women and children with them, but rather let themselves be martyred, which cannot be said of those Moslems who blow up innocent people with bombs.

    September 5, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
  12. The One

    So you people believe everything you read? It was texted so it is honesty? So easy to manipulate, so easy to control, especially where gods are concerned, you make it way too easy. 2013 and gods still rule the hearts and minds of people without doing a damn thing. Now that, IS power.
    BOW!!!!
    YIELD!!!!!
    KNEEL!!!!
    AND GIVE ME YOUR MONEY, ERR UMM, I MEAN DONATIONS!!!!!

    September 5, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
  13. I AM

    It was a nice 'recognition' gesture. I hope there is more dialogue with Iran, The wars in the mid-east needs to stop.

    September 5, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
  14. desert voice

    I had myself contacted Javad Zarif when he was Ambassador to the UN. Do not recall what was the topic, but he was very gracius to send me a one page densely written response through the Pakistani Embassy since there were no relations with the U.S. at the time. I am glad that this more resonable man is back in power. The only concern I had was his very strong Islamist allegiance. But other than that, now that I recall, our "scholarly" discussion centered on the difference between the Islamist martyrdom and the Christian. He appeared to have accepted my viewpoing that Christian Martyrs do not take women and children with them, but rather let themselves be martyred, which cannot be said of those Moslems who blow up innocent people with bombs.

    September 5, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
  15. XanJester

    Rouhani is at least pretending not to hate jewish people. Its a start.

    September 5, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
  16. AllahSpeaking

    Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww .....

    September 5, 2013 at 2:54 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.