September 4th, 2013
04:47 PM ET

Iranian president's surprising message to Jews

By Daniel Burke and Mitra Mobasherat, CNN
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(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. Nina

    Really? I thought all Muslims think anyone who is not Muslim is an infidel and must be eliminated. Hmmm.....I must be getting cynical in my old age, but I don't trust this fellow.

    September 23, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • Abrar

      go visit , read this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achtiname_of_Muhammad

      September 24, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
  2. Jeff

    I think it can be a positive thing when people are attempting to make gains for fellowship between races cultures.
    There are so many feats that society should work on together, cures for diseases, moral and ethical values, that it is a shame that people can not understand and live for the greater good of human.
    That being said the importance of money contributes to everything and it is disappointing, perhaps society has to threaten the rich only by believing that money is only paper. The treat this would create would be enormous

    September 20, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
  3. vlad tepes

    Hi Jews? its me, President of Iran. How's it going?

    September 18, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • Tomi Roshi

      Good one, absurdly simple phrases create vividly funny pictures. Makes me wonder, what if?

      September 18, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
  4. mark

    Notice that it was tweeted in English. If he didn't say it in Arabic, it's like it was never said. That's how Yasser Arafat would get away with calling for peace. He always said it in either English, Yiddish or Hebrew. Never in Arabic

    September 18, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • manzur

      Did Ahmadinejad not call for Israel's elimination in Arabic?

      September 30, 2013 at 10:22 am |
  5. Ehsan

    The Western world is ignoring the Holocaust that is ongoing against Palestinians NOW.. and want to argue for days and months and years about a Holocaust that took place 60 years ago and it is OVER NOW... NICE CHERRY PICKING!!!!

    September 17, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • EnuffAlready

      The entire world is ignoring what is going on in Syria. Why is it just the US's fault.

      September 17, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • Mike in Wa

      Why aren't you also blaming Egypt for the "Holocaust" going on in Palestine. Egypt controls the southern border with Gaza Strip and could have set it up to survive on its own during its 30 year rule over Gaza. In fact they just closed the crossing again and are now patrolling the area with tanks and closing smuggling tunnels used to get supplies in. But I guess that doesn't fit with your agenda of blame Israel.

      September 18, 2013 at 3:06 am |
  6. Grafted Olive Branch

    "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."

    My dear Jewish brethren, believing that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins will take away your sins for real and for good.

    September 16, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
    • Lindsey


      September 16, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
    • DDM

      Pretending is fun!

      September 20, 2013 at 11:51 pm |
  7. alan

    Now stop with the nuke weapons and become friends.

    September 16, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
    • jg

      The largest jews community is in NY. 10000000 +

      September 16, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
  8. Circus Circus

    Iranian leadership never had issues with jews. With racist, belligerent zionists and their supporters, yes.

    September 16, 2013 at 9:08 am |
  9. William Bellah

    How ashamed and ignorant I am, a Christian and don't even know the meaning or significance of Rosh Hoshanah. I do remember Ahmadinejad used to take a lot of heat for saying things like the U.S. was once involved in overthrowing Iran's democratically elected government and installing the "shaw" which we now find out was an accurate claim. Also the U.S. was involved with Iraq using chemical weapons against Iran. For these reasons and more, Iran has had a reason to be worried about U.S. intentions in the region. If Rosh Hoshanah means anything like can't we all just get along, I'm all for it.

    September 15, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
    • thom

      the LOVE SHACK is a little ol' place where we can get together.
      Bang!! BANG!!!

      September 15, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
  10. Jorge washinsen

    These are words that can change history if both sides practice it.

    September 15, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
  11. bigpeteinoz

    Ahmadinejad merely questioning' the reliability of the historical evidence. Norman Finkelstein does the same. Why can't we debate history?

    September 15, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  12. bigpeteinoz

    Ahmadinejad merely questioning' the reliability of the historical evidence. Why can't we debate history?

    September 15, 2013 at 9:29 am |
  13. JD

    The best, happiest sentence I've read in 6 months.

    It only takes being compassionate to solve so many problems.

    September 14, 2013 at 3:43 am |
    • Anna

      Praise God 🙂

      September 14, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
  14. Grouch

    Atheists complain about the zealot nature of believers and they use zealot ideals to push that agenda.

    September 13, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
  15. FU9L


    September 13, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
    • Grouch

      They are holding them so they may be used in Iran's first nuclear bomb tests. Iran's nukes program should have been blown out of existance 6-7 years ago. Shame on Bush, Shame on Obama.

      September 13, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
  16. V. Littrell

    When he well wishes Iran's Baha'i community that will be signs of real change in Iran's government. The Baha'is being the most systematically persecuted non-Muslim community in the Muslim world.

    September 13, 2013 at 1:13 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.