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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. bryan

    don't believe that bull. they fund hezbollah and also hamas.

    September 4, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      And our government funds the state terrorism of Israel. Everybody's a winner.

      September 4, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
  2. GoTerps1982

    QUESTION: Who is right? 1) Christians – Jews have been living in Israel for more than 4,000 years. 2) Iran and the racists – the Jews have been living in Israel only since 1948.

    September 4, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
  3. TopCat

    now we just need denise rodman to bring the north korean back to reality.

    September 4, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      Is that Dennis Rodman's sister?

      September 4, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
    • Athy

      Well, there's the De-neice and De-nephew. Take your pick.

      September 4, 2013 at 11:43 pm |
  4. epipsyche

    It's a nice token for Iran to make. Let's leave it at that and dispense with all the other reliogio-political pontifications.

    September 4, 2013 at 8:51 pm |
  5. GoTerps1982

    Happy Rosh Hashanah and a happy New Year to all my Jewish friends. My Catholic strongly supports Jews living in their homeland of thousands of years.

    September 4, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
    • GoTerps1982

      my Catholic church...

      September 4, 2013 at 8:51 pm |
  6. Recondo 6-78

    Yea, a civil gesture could mean a step forward.

    September 4, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
  7. GoTerps1982

    The Jews were in Israel for 2,700 years BEFORE Islam even began. There are archaeological sites to prove Jews were there 4,000 years ago and Jesus 2,000 years ago. So how are Jews and Christians occupying Muslim land?

    September 4, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
    • Madak

      So, by your standards all white people should leave the USA and give it all back to the Native Americans?

      September 4, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
      • sbp

        And by extension, just because the Palestinians were on the land 100 years ago, they can't use that now as a basis for a claim of property rights.....

        September 4, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
    • Ethan

      Are you serious? I don't even care about the Arab/Jew conflict, but your argument is just bad. By your logic, because the American Indians lived and worked the territory of the United States far, far before the European settlers even came here, Americans are "occupying" their land.

      September 4, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
    • hasenstein

      I'm not sure which article you read, not this one, that's for sure. You just wrote some personal standard comment that is completely inappropriate to this story. You are a problem-commenter.

      September 4, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
    • James the second

      Because they LEFT and went to Europe you dummy... That is until they were prosecuted and killed that they have decided to go back and steal the land back. And the Israel state is not a Jewish state.. IT IS A Zionist states you moron.

      September 4, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
      • steve

        The only time in history when there were no Jews living in what is now Israel was before Abraham became the first Jew. They have been there ever since even when the Arabs were there pre 1948.

        September 4, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
    • GoTerps1982

      You did not understand my post. Iran has said the Jews have been living in Israel since 1948 because of WWII (they will not say the word – Holocaust) but the Jews have been there for thousands of years. That is the lie told by Iran to their people.

      September 4, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
      • Madak

        That's not a lie, there was no Israel until after WWII.

        September 4, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
  8. artistchd

    YES: Now y’all wait one Devil Damned minute: Lets keep thinking in terms of being insane and inhumane. Expressly, all commonly called Catholic church Christians, Protestants, and Allah professing Islamic Muslims. Those who wantonly wish to faithfully follow bible based beliefs. That a human bio-bodily being, actually walked upon top of rushing waters and didn’t sink. That a man person being named “Jesus” who supposed to had been THE CHRIYST; died and then came back to life, or resurrected from the dead.

    Also, religiously thinking that he, this portrayed picture of a European “White” male messiah, Lord & Savior, performed magical miracles, cast out demons and cured cripple citizens and removed satanic spells. Then he ascended up in heaven to sit on the right hand side of his Father “God“, yet he is thought to be “God” himself. Etc., etc., etc.

    So then, why would the religiously not sane and never humane, think not that Syria’s Government & President, didn’t use banned biological weapons of mass destruction. On his own citizenry mass murdering innocent babies, small children and little kids. Isn’t it obvious?! And also, needing no apparent evidential proof, that this “Jesus Christ”; ever truly existed. What’s the differences? And poisonous chemicals, tissue toxins, nerve gas, likewise, needs no actual proofs. Are Christians satanically sure? Are Islamic Muslims – Mohammedans not criminally crazy? Shall we keep the faith? Asks; ARTISTCHD1

    “(CNN) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry calls it proof "beyond any reasonable doubt." Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says it's "very clear." President Barack Obama says the United States has "high confidence" that Syria used chemical weapons - the strongest position the U.S. can take short of confirmation.”

    September 4, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
  9. Kevin

    Arabs don't hate Jews, they hate Israel... got it?

    September 4, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
    • Major Tom

      Iranians are not Arabs. Got it?

      September 4, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
      • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

        Arab/Persian, what's the difference?

        September 4, 2013 at 8:45 pm |
        • GoTerps1982

          They are the same to me. However, Arabs are becoming more moderate and peaceful, while Iran is still years behind.

          September 4, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
        • Sam

          Wow, have you been to school ever?

          September 4, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
        • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

          Once, but it made me sleepy.

          September 4, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
        • Major Tom

          What did you do to get kicked out of grade school and never be allowed back in?

          September 4, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
        • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

          It involed a donkey, a gym teacher and some KY jelly. I'm legally obligated not to divulge further information.

          September 4, 2013 at 9:03 pm |
        • Major Tom

          And you're still able to walk?

          September 4, 2013 at 9:10 pm |
        • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

          Barely.

          September 4, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
        • amerz123

          Um, there is a huge difference. Go educate yourself. It's too tiring to enlighten ignorant people on my own.

          September 4, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
        • amerz123

          And FYI, go meet the people who live in Tehran and THEN try and tell me they are "behind in years" compared to Arabic nations. Hah, you've got to be kidding me.

          September 4, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
  10. Vince

    This is nonsense. Jews are not the same thing as Israel or Holocaust. Lots of people hate Israeli government, and think Holocaust details are exaggerated, but they have nothing against Jews. Some people who hate the Israeli government are Jews. Iranian government has never said anything derogatory about Jews in general. They have their own Jewish population.

    September 4, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
    • scott

      no??? their now former president spent thelast10yrs denying the holocust....he is their commander-in-chief and their official speaker....plus, iran supports hamas and hezbablowme,, so yes, iran is against israel

      September 4, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
  11. Craig from Pa.

    I had my Confirmation and First Holy Communion at a Catholic church in Tehran ,....in 1957

    September 4, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
    • Kerr

      Have you been cured of that disease since then?

      September 4, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
  12. Fish

    Both Islam and Judaism are based upon the old testament basically the story of Abraham and his children they merely have different messengers Mohammed and Jesus on the face of the facts we should be allies not foes. Maybe in a perfect world one day!!!

    September 4, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
    • Major Tom

      Jesus is the messenger of Jews? LOL! Did you get your history lessons from that Australian airhead bimbo that was running for office? And her campaign lasted about 24 hours? what a m0r0n !!!

      September 4, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
  13. jamessavik

    Amazing! This is a very hopeful sign.

    September 4, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
    • David

      Not very amazing, Ahmadinejad had nothing against Jews either, but lambasted the Israeli government and the political state of Israel. When it came to the race of Jews he had no ill will. Iran has the largest Jewish population outside of Israel, so why would he hate his own people?

      September 4, 2013 at 10:40 pm |
  14. Rationalist

    I'd like to take this opportunity to wish a blessed Sha Ka Kan to all FSM worshipers. May His Noodley Appendage touch you all.

    September 4, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      RAmen.

      September 4, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
    • Kerr

      May your sauce ever be plentiful and your tomatoes abundant.

      September 4, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
  15. Realist

    Man has worshiped thousands of gods and goddesses. Yes, like all the rest, your http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com

    September 4, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
  16. Tom Smith

    Iran feeling a little hot under the collar? Could it be Tomahawks are on the horizon?

    September 4, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
    • TheBob

      Tomahawks have been "on the horizon" since 2003. They're nothing new. Maybe you've been in a coma all these years.

      September 4, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
    • Johnross1968

      Or maybe their new President isn't such a bad guy.
      I say lets take this as a good thing and give the guy some credit instead of thinking the worse.

      September 4, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
  17. Snowdog

    Are you kidding me? This guy has said countless times that the Holocaust never happened and he wants to wipe out Israel. You take this comment from him seriously. Give me a break.

    September 4, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
    • TheBob

      You're confused. They had an election in June and this is the new president. Stop watching American Idol for an hour and read some news. Idi0t.

      September 4, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
      • Snowdog

        Yeah, I still believe him.

        September 4, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
  18. If I had a hammer... I'd whack you in the morning

    A true politician has little boundary.

    September 4, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
  19. Bender Rodriguez

    All people who express surprise at this statement are either uninformed or hostile to muslims. Muslims have said that the issue with Israel isn't it's jewishness, it doesn't matter if it was jews that settled there or chinese or the zulu. A people settled on land that had other inhabitants on it and forced them out, they continue to not allow palestinians back that fled when israel was created. How can you sit there and argue that these people don't have a right to come back to their homes? Arguing that its the jewish homeland is a separate issue from not allowing people to come back to their homes, how is that democratic or moral or righteous?

    September 4, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
    • Straighter Jimenez

      The homes argument ends up just a vicious circle. There were homes before those homes before those homes. Claim after claim. Must be some better way out.

      September 4, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
      • what

        Had Germany won WW2 would europeans being occupied not continue to want their homes back?

        September 5, 2013 at 12:21 am |
    • Phillip Fry

      Those dirty Jews settled in Iran. That's why Muslims hate them.

      September 4, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
      • Walter Adams

        "Settled"? We've been in Iran (Persia) for more than 3000 years, long before the beginning of Islam. Keep your prejudice and ignorance to yourself.

        September 4, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
    • Dippy

      Bender, its, not it's.

      September 4, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
      • Bender

        do you want a sticker?

        September 5, 2013 at 12:22 am |
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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.