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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. Babak from LA

    Iran and Israel and the only non-Arabs in that region. They have always gotten along well. Iran helped rebuild Babylon and Jews have made many contributions to history and culture of Iran in arts and sciences ... I hope this is a sign of more good things to come.

    September 4, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
    • Bender Rodriguez

      Turkey is non-arab genius.

      September 4, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
    • Major Tom

      Wrong. Turks, Kurds and Armenians are also non-Arab, and in that region.

      September 4, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
  2. Stephan

    I just cannot help thinking of the TROJAN HORSE in this situation!

    September 4, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
  3. Babak from LA

    That was a kinda nice ....

    September 4, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
  4. Conscience of a Conservative

    It's well known that in this part of the world the messages delivered in English differ both in tone and content from those delivered in the native language.

    September 4, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
  5. Gobsmacked

    Well, at least that is one thing to smile about today. Hope it is for real.

    September 4, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
  6. timekeeper

    It is interesting to remember that Islam, Jews, and christians all hold Abraham very highly. They also all worship the god of Abraham regardless of what name they choose to call him. I hate to say it but they all remind me of the irish that killed fellow christians over economic reasons and tried to justify it through religion. One can only home the one god of all these sects can forgive the insanity of his children.

    September 4, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
  7. children of Israel

    The God of Jacob will make the entire world bow down to his people, speak on that. *Genesis 27:29 Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother's son bow down to thee: cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee. (Genesis 31:29) *Acts 3:13*

    September 4, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
    • Joao

      "Jews and Christians are, for the most part, allowed to live and worship openly in Iran."

      If the aforementioned is true, the US wouldn't hate Iran. So it must not be true.

      September 4, 2013 at 7:54 pm |
      • T

        The US hates Iran because it is a country that is not under it's control.

        September 5, 2013 at 12:49 am |
        • Dippy

          Its, not it's.

          September 5, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
  8. Sassy

    Easy Bake Oven.

    September 4, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
  9. Dr. Warren

    What better way to lull the U.S. and Israel into complacency than to play nice for awhile. Hope no one falls for it.

    September 4, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
    • Steve

      ...and right there is why these wars will go on FOREVER! Maybe give peace a chance?

      September 4, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
  10. Thought Purification

    i am sure someone ha cked his twitter account, it can't be him.

    September 4, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
    • Bob

      Actually Jews are treated really well in Iran. It's all just nonsense when you hear otherwise

      September 4, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
  11. Jimmy Morris

    There was never any doubt that the U.S. would attack Syria.There was never any doubt that the U.S. would attack Iraq.There is no doubt that Iran will be the next target.The U.S. will fight any of Israel's enemies ordered to do so by IPAC and the American politicians IPAC controls.

    September 4, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
  12. Danny Thomas

    And the world collectively spits out its coffee in surprise.

    September 4, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
    • Gobsmacked

      Ha ha ha ha!! Great comment.

      September 4, 2013 at 7:52 pm |
    • jim22

      yes - I did -- upon reading your comment. he he he

      September 4, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
  13. Dave

    President Hassan Rouhani will be shortly summoned to a meeting with the Ayatollah to 'explain' himself!! Nevertheless I give full marks to him for attempting to smooth the waters. Well done.

    September 4, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
    • Straighter Jimenez

      Yeah, I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.

      September 4, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
  14. hiruu

    "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."

    Indeed...ask how many are in Saudi Arabia or the rest...lol.

    September 4, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
  15. Rick from L.A.

    I hope this is the 1st huge step in normalizing relations between Tehran and Israel. Before the Shah was deposed, Israel and Iran were good friends. So much so that the US sold Iran our best equipment of the time, AH-1, F-14, C-130.

    September 4, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
  16. jay

    Has the Iranian Government come to it's senses? Stay Tuned.

    September 4, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
    • Dippy

      Its, not it's.

      September 4, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
      • Cricket666

        T its, not T its

        September 4, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
        • Akira

          Tits, not t its.

          September 4, 2013 at 7:53 pm |

        • Whose? yours or the one above?

          September 4, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
  17. anti-propaganda

    This is probably a coded message saying, "we know you are slowly gaining approval to end Assad's reign, who we have supported. Here, have this diplomatic gesture, to say, we will not respond to your atttacking Syria, with a nuke on Israel, because it would surely be mutally assured destruction."

    We needed a sign from Iran, and now Russia, that they will allow us to strike, without starting WWIII. Since the approvals are coming in from congress, they are backing off their hard-line stance about reprisals, should US attack Syria.

    Now we need to hear from Russia. That will be the tipping point, and the only reason we sought congressional approval.

    September 4, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • Oh Man

      Iran has no nuclear weapons. a device, maybe...not a weapon.

      September 4, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
      • anti-propaganda

        I hope you're right.

        September 4, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
  18. jay

    Israel the only civilization in the middle east. Even Iran can't deny the truth.

    September 4, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
    • sly

      Ha ha – you must be a lot of fun at parties "me me me".

      Earth don't belong to no-one. And no land belongs to anyone – it's a family affair.

      September 4, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
  19. Stan Current

    The words of President Hassan Rouhani show goodwill and acceptance of his Jewish citizens and neighbors. If we can show the same for President Rouhani and all Muslims, it could lead to dialogue that might resolve some differences in the Holy Land of the three great religions. Militants sworn to annihilate anyone opposed to their religion might remember Ghandi's words to a repentant militant who murdered a child: "Take an orphan and raise him in the faith of the child you murdered." Indeed, we all need to be the change the world needs for there to be peace. President Rouhani is leading us in that direction.

    September 4, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
    • Jen

      Maybe we'll eventually also get him past the violent teachings of his religion.

      September 4, 2013 at 7:18 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.