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. Jo blo

    A glimpse at what world peace would look like. Calm, happy and permeated in a spirit of goodwill. Hats off to him and kudos to him for having the courage to embrace good and reject hate. If only we could all just exist peacefully. What a beautiful world we could be if we let love set us free!

    September 4, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
  2. Vic

    Wow, I guess you can politicize anything anymore! It is also

    September 4, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
    • Cheryl Magnuson

      It is also........what?

      September 4, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
    • Vic

      It is also ironic that Iranians are Pharisees!

      Sorry about the premature launch!

      September 4, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
      • Cheryl Magnuson


        September 4, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
      • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

        Are Iranians time travellers?

        September 4, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
  3. Tim

    There is a HUGE difference between being against Israel's foreign policy (i.e., not even Israel itself but the way it treats Palestinians), than being anti-Jew. Ironically, extremists on both sides would like to conflate the two things.

    As for Iran-Israeli relations, it is too early to tell. Both Iran and Israel are sovereign nations with their own interests, but for the sake of humanity, everyone in the Middle East – Jew, Christian, Muslim – need to work towards conflict resolution and de-escalation.

    September 4, 2013 at 9:36 pm |
  4. shamgar50

    It's a start. "Hope Springs Eternal in the Human Breast."

    September 4, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
  5. Soshi

    I am thrilled for my Jewish relatives by marriage and my deceased husband's Shiite family. It is a start a and long in coming. My husband never had any ill will toward his Iranian Jewish neighbors and many were his friends. He also harbored no ill will towards Americans and loved living in this country.

    September 4, 2013 at 9:27 pm |
  6. bryan

    Dave I don't see Mossad wearing suicide vest killing any one near. they are more like well get you if you mess with us. yes we will target you.

    September 4, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
    • sam

      You dont see mossad wearing suicide vests and blowing them selves up? Do you not know what has been going on throughout syria for the past two years?

      September 4, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
      • shamgar50

        "The King David Hotel bombing was an attack carried out on July 22, 1946 by the militant right-wing Zionist underground organization the Irgun on the British administrative headquarters for Palestine, which was housed in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. 91 people of various nationalities were killed and 46 were injured." One persons terrorist, is another persons freedom fighter.

        September 4, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
    • JomoDaMusicMan

      The Mossad may not be wearing suicide vests but they damn sure are killing & torturing people EVERYDAY.

      September 4, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
  7. Frank

    I've learned one thing in my life. Never trust a human.

    September 4, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
    • Realist

      Perfectly said.

      September 4, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
  8. Michael Hunt

    All these religions nutjobs bowing to the setting sun and slitting throats in the name of their God or scripture. Fools!

    September 4, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
  9. bryan

    I remember the marine barracks in Beirut. I remember the USS Cole. I remember the world trade center. the twin towers, Boston and many other atrocities that these people commit. if they really want to be any ones friend then they should stop trying to go nuclear. you just can't trust some people. it's simple. they lie.

    September 4, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      I remember Kangaroo Jack. Terrible film.

      September 4, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
    • JimmyFlim

      Bryan, that's the most pathetic, self pitying, ignorant statement I've read all day today. One more thing for you to remember... "they" remember a lot of stuff too, but you're too self centered and whiny to acknowledge that.

      September 4, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
    • shamgar50

      Bryan, do you remember when we helped overthrow their legal government, 60 years ago?

      September 4, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
      • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that


        September 4, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
    • Duh

      Iranians are Persians, not Arabs. And al-queda did everything you mentioned. Do we blame the atrocities of the Crusaders on all Christians? So why blame all Muslims for the atrocities of Islamist Extremists?

      September 4, 2013 at 9:46 pm |
  10. LKG

    First a member of the KKK signs up for the NAACP and now the Iranian President is offering the Jews of the world a blessed Rosh Hashanah.

    Has the world ended?

    September 4, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
  11. NO Fing way

    What? A peace loving muslim? This goes against the western plan to conquer all oil producing countries. We must suppress this news.

    September 4, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
  12. nancy

    Just love reading your posts you useless couch potatoes

    September 4, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
    • Cheryl Magnuson

      And yet here you are. Get over yourself, and step away from the Cheetos.

      September 4, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
      • Phil_Bury

        yes, step away from the Cheetos so that I may grab them. is there any beer in the fridge?

        September 4, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
  13. John Z

    All I have to say is... its a start... I never would have guessed to ever hear that from any muslim nation... can't think of one muslim country ever wishing any Jew anything positive.

    September 4, 2013 at 9:10 pm |
    • Kris

      John Z... your name is john, so I take it you're not Muslim. You've definately not met many Muslims,. My Muslim husband used to fix some community meals for our local synagogue, as he was a chef, and he knew how to fix Kosher food. I think the fact that you are surprised means that you simply need to get out of the propaganada of the American media, who have brain-washed America into thinking Jews and Muslims are totally hate mongers. Both have had serious wars over Palestine, but other than that, they are part of a rich religious heritage. As a Muslim... I have absolutely no hate of Jews.

      September 4, 2013 at 9:16 pm |
      • yuhmad


        I wish everybody would think like you in the USA this racism will be forgiven. One blood, One family.

        September 4, 2013 at 9:23 pm |
      • Cheryl Magnuson

        So he made you convert? Why didn't he convert to Judaism??

        September 4, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
        • Phil_Bury

          this is a thought provoking question – assuming someone converted.

          September 4, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
        • Garnet69

          As her name is Kris, I don't think she was ever Jewish.

          September 5, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
      • Reyshel

        I'm Jewish and also have plenty of Muslim friends and clients whom I love dearly, I agree this is a western lie. Muslims are some of the most respectful and well mannered people I've ever met, unlike most average Americans who think The Kardashians and Jerry Springer is a form of culture.

        September 4, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
      • John Z

        I actually am a Soldier in the Army and have 48 months deployed to Afghanistan and I respect the muslim religion on a pure, non political basis because I have met very good servants in the islamic faith however, I have to say as a whole is it is very rare for mass media to come out and show muslims (especially Iran) excited and with a celebratory mindset in regards to Jewish holidays... I mean zero offense by my words just stating the common norm that is relayed by the mass media and I am a Christian not a Jew and I than your husband for his sense of community and outreach to a diverse culture different than his own... God bless you and your family.

        September 4, 2013 at 11:11 pm |
  14. Bill Ball

    That's as shocking as it was to find out that Bonner agreed with the President. Not kidding, it was a shock.

    September 4, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
    • GeorgeR

      Must have been quite the shoehkner.

      September 4, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
    • JomoDaMusicMan

      Not a shock that Boehner agreed with Obama when he knows that a strike on Syria will cause the Democrats to lose the election in 2016

      September 4, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
  15. Concrete

    More lying garbage out of Persian holes

    September 4, 2013 at 9:05 pm |
  16. DaveR

    Ahh. yeah. This from a government, that worships deception, uses sponsored terror groups to commit atrocities. Example. 1983 US Marine barracks in Beirut. 1994 attacks in Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires. Sponsoring Holocaust denial conventions. Stoping work on their nuke weapon, only to contiunue it. Reading Iranian Revolutionary Gov. is like Mary Howitt. "Welcome to the jungle. Said the spider to the fly." Better bury them, and be safe then sorry.

    September 4, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
    • GeorgeR

      Said DaveR, who can't even spin an idiom.

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

      Any worse than Mossad? Hell no.

      September 4, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
  17. Correctlycenter

    Let the American citizen and pastor free Iran...

    September 4, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
    • Cheryl Magnuson

      No. He broke Iranian law. Let him out because he's American? Shuddup! He no more special than any other criminam just because he's American.

      September 4, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
  18. Correctlycenter

    Let American Christian pastor Saeed Abedini free from prison now Iran. He is jailed for being a witness for the Lord Jesus Christ...

    September 4, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
    • Cheryl Magnuson

      We're talking about Syria. And when in Rome, do what the Romans do. Being a Christian doesn't afford you special privileges, nor does being American. Get over yourself.

      September 4, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
      • Cheryl Magnuson

        Oops, I posted on the wrong blog, but everything else I said still holds true.

        September 4, 2013 at 9:06 pm |
  19. GoTerps1982

    I will never understand the hatred for Jews. My neighbors are Jewish and great people. Jews are hard working, successful and have greatly improved this world with many inventions and medicines.

    September 4, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      And Larry David.

      September 4, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
    • saggyroy

      The hatred has its roots in religion, namely Christianity.

      September 4, 2013 at 9:03 pm |
  20. Correctlycenter

    They are holding a US citizen and pastor Saeed Abedini hostage in a Iranian prison because he is a witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. Actions mean so much more than mere words. Let him go now!

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

      I witnessed Jesus once. He was selling blow to school kids. Naturally, I informed the authorities.

      September 4, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
    • Cheryl Magnuson

      No, they jailed him for breaking Iranian law. He doesn't get a pass because he's Christian, a pastor, or American. How many times does an idiot have to be told not to do something? When he gets caught you boo hoo because you're a Christian like he is? Shaddup.
      If he was an American MUSLIM who broke a law in Iran you wouldn't be saying jack.

      September 4, 2013 at 9:14 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.