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. Demigod Vadik, CA

    I'm surprised that they acknowledged there are Jews in this world...

    September 4, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
    • togirl188

      i am still surprised there are any jews there either.

      September 4, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
  2. John

    It must be Opposite Day in Iran!

    September 4, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
  3. conoclast

    After Herr Amedinejad any input from Iran that isn't chest-beating is SO refreshing!

    September 4, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
  4. kbcoss

    good... but you miss the point....every middle eastern nation that allowed christians and jews to worship and live safely have been destroyed......... Iraq, Libya, Egypt and now Syria....... Iran is in thier sights.... the Wahabbis who work for Elite world power will never allow this........and we back the Wahabbis............GO FIGURE.

    September 4, 2013 at 6:13 pm |

      Godless Vagabond
      Easy on the periods, kbcoss.

      September 4, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
  5. children of Israel

    Who is worshipping in a synagogue, Satan himself. (Revelation 3:9)

    September 4, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      You think that Satan is a man who speaks positively about the jews?

      September 4, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
    • John Sharp

      You are a perfect example of how religion poisons everything. All religions claim to know god's will and all of them are wrong.

      Just plain backwards ignorance to believe any of this drivel.

      September 4, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
      • Casey

        Sorry to hear your thoughts. Religion no matter the domination is about tolerance. Our country is founded on relgious freedom, like it or not it is. We have lost sight of this. I wish we could go back to the time in whivch we could tolerate one another and not impose our belfries or atheist ways upon each other. It is great you believe in nothing, guess what that is a belief too! You believe in nothing and that is your choice. Guess what no one cares. No one cares you believe in nothing, as much as no one shroud are that I do believe in a God. I tired of people telling me I am wrong, I do not matter. I do matter and so do my beliefs in this world. Last I checked I live in a place in which I can have my relgious freedom as much as you can believe in your nothingness. I hope for a better America and you my friend are the type of person that breads ignorance. The idea that you know all without actually knowing or understanding. I do not claim to know all, but I can tell you that I do tolerate those that do not tolerate others and would help anyone despite what they believe or do not believe in because my religion taught me that. God Bless..

        September 4, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
        • Casey

          Sorry for typos autocorrect is a pain to catch.

          September 4, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
        • sam

          I thought 'domination' was actually quite fitting.

          September 4, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
        • RealityCheck

          Back to a time where we could tolerate each other and not impose our beliefs? Can you direct me to that time? I can't seem to find it in any history books...

          September 5, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
    • Doobs

      Be true to your school. – The Beach Boys

      September 4, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
    • Believer in Christ

      No, Child, Satan is not yet in the Temple. But he will be, in his appointed time. And he will deceive many, displaying signs and wonders. It is all in the Scriptures, the Revelations and Daniel specifically.

      September 4, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
    • Believer in Christ

      Child, my comment bellow was in response to yours above. Don't know why it was placed elsewhere.

      September 4, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
    • Believer in Christ

      Placing of comments where they are supposed to go is obviously malfunctioning

      September 4, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
  6. mikebo

    If i go to heaven or hell it won't be how other people lived their life.

    September 4, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
  7. Rev

    And in response, Israel launches another missile into Iran and force evicts another family to build settlements on their land.

    September 4, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
    • Chris

      Um.... you're angry aren't you. Personally I like living on the land that natives lived on here. I have no guilt... where do you live? (Incidentally Jews have lived in that land for thousands of years in lesser or greater #s, even under Ottoman rule)

      September 4, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
    • ME II

      Israel and Iran don't even share a border do they?

      September 4, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
    • Golem

      Neither one has ever happened stupid racist

      September 4, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
    • Colin

      I think u might be confusing Iran with the West Bank (housing) and Gaza Strip (missiles). The USA made a big mistake when we lowed the bar in public schools.

      September 4, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
      • Dippy

        That let in poor spellers, too.

        September 4, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
      • Rev

        I didn't say it was Iranian land they encroached on. Obviously I'm talking about West Bank. They don't do it to spite Iran, they just do it because they can....

        September 4, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
  8. children of Israel

    The God of Jacob rules and the Star of Jacob is Christ.

    September 4, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
  9. ME II

    Great beginning!

    September 4, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
  10. William

    Hope springs eternal.

    September 4, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
  11. sly

    Iran is an extremely westernized nation, where folks drive Mercedes and watch CNN. The Iranians I've met ridicule the extremely small percentage of religious radicals, just as Americans ridicule the extremely small percentage of religious (tea party) radicals.

    Our best bet for peace in the middle east is to work closely with Iran.

    September 4, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • ME II

      Very effective analogy

      September 4, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
    • jackola

      Roger that.

      September 4, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
    • modocer

      You wrote: " just as Americans ridicule the extremely small percentage of religious (tea party) radicals."
      Most Americans do not ridicule people for their religious beliefs. Only "compassionate liberals" are that hateful.

      September 4, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
      • Missing The Point

        Yes, actually. Most Americans DO ridicule people with overzealous religious beliefs, especially those who attempt to impose their morality on others.

        September 4, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
    • MoodyFoodie

      It's too bad that minority and their enforcers have all the power. Still maybe this is a little step in the right direction ...if we & Israel would give them half a chance!

      September 4, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
    • Golem

      Except that Iran's radicals run the Country.

      September 4, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
  12. Next

    Free Pastor Abedini!!!

    September 4, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • Free Pastor Abedini


      September 4, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
      • Doobs

        LOL, LOL!

        September 4, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
  13. TomGI

    Unbeknown to most Americans, Obama (State Dept) has been secretly talking to Iran and try to smooth things out. It's a negotiated path instead of the Romney/Israel blood oath plan to get to war as soon as possible. This might be something of an olive branch that came from those discussions.

    September 4, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
    • Dirk the Daring

      Well I certainly hope it works better than his "reset" button with Russia. Didn't Senator Obama also call President Bashar Al Assad a reformer he can work with?

      September 4, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
      • TomGI

        In reality Assad is more stable than the Saudi financed rejects that want to take over Syria. This is why so many Syrians stay loyal to Assad because they know what is coming if he is ousted.

        September 4, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
  14. patrick9922

    ...picking myself up off the floor. Let's hope this is a sign of moderation and less rhetoric...

    September 4, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  15. Frank

    Religion is filth.

    September 4, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  16. samuel

    they are some people on earth who never want love, peace and human harmony they look for every opportunity to criticize and spread hatred and war like those clamouring for war in iran. its a good thing he wished all jewish people a good rush hashana. let people understand one another peace and love shalom.

    September 4, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
  17. cheesegrits

    I was born in Iran, now living in the U.S. It is great to see my homeland take a keen eye to restoring it's tattered image against the West. Bravo, and I further hope those words are heartfelt.

    September 4, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
    • Dippy

      Its, not it's.

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

        what would the world do without you guys. Thanks so much for fixing this rather significant error!!!!

        September 4, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
      • Kormallain

        Noooobody escapes the American Grammar Inquisition.

        September 4, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
        • Rev

          Be careful. They tase you for getting their, there, and they're wrong.

          September 4, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
  18. JOSH P.

    There is a big difference between Khazar pigs from eastern Europe and real Jews,who are living in peace in Iran.

    September 4, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • Doobs

      You're a very poor troll.

      September 4, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
    • Kormallain

      No! Tell us how you really feel!

      September 4, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
  19. KJ

    "Religious minorities are not completely free to participate in Iranian government and often face discrimination, but Jews and Christians are, for the most part, allowed to live and worship openly in Iran." This is because most Muslims consider Jews and Christians brothers in faith and believe that we all worship the same God. Some countries are tolerant of other religions, Iran has historically not been one of them.

    September 4, 2013 at 5:42 pm |

      Godless Vagabond
      They all worship the same non-god. That makes them all equally foolish.

      September 4, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
      • john

        you are a moron.

        September 4, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Why should I care about your judgment delivered without evidence of reasoning?

          September 4, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
      • patrick9922

        Why are your beliefs any less foolish than the billions of people that do believe in a god?

        September 4, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
        • Ann

          Why are you pulling hard on the ad populum fallacy?

          September 4, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
      • Dan


        September 4, 2013 at 6:01 pm |

        Godless Vagabond
        Do you fools think truth is decided by popular vote?

        September 4, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
        • Doobs

          Home schooled kids usually don't have much civics education.

          September 4, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
        • Wootings


          September 4, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
    • Golem

      The difference is that the Iran is persian, not Arab. Persian are more civilized.

      September 4, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • togirl188

      they also consider themselves better than others, and others are vermin.

      September 4, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
  20. John

    Mind.. Blown..

    September 4, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
    • ME II

      Does that make you a 'suicide blogger'?

      September 4, 2013 at 6:05 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.