“Thus said King Cyrus of Persia: God of Heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and has charged me with building Him a House in Yerushalayim, which is in Yehuda. Any one of you of all His people, Hashem his God be with him and let him go up.” II Chronicles 36:23 (The Israel Bible™)
As tensions between Israel and Iran flare after a reported Israeli airstrike in Syria killed seven Iranian military personnel, one prominent Rabbi is reaching out to Iran as a partner in redemption, connecting with the country’s ancient Persian heritage that played an essential role in building the Second Temple.
Against this backdrop of threats and open hostilities between Iran and Israel, Rabbi Hillel Weiss, a professor emeritus at Bar Ilan University and spokesman for the nascent Sanhedrin, told Breaking Israel News, “Of course Iran has a role in the Third Temple, and it is clear that the Iranians want to be a part of this.”
This Iranian good-will towards a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, so apparent to Rabbi Weiss, does not seem to be so evident to the IDF high command as they prepare for conflict in the north. The high-alert is in anticipation of an Iranian response to an Israeli Air Force missile strike on Monday night against the T4 base in Syria.
Iran’s intention to avenge the deaths of their military personnel was expressed by Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who arrived in Syria on Tuesday for a conference. The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) interviewed him in Damascus about the Israeli airstrike. Velayati unequivocally threatened Israel, saying, “the [Zionist] crimes will not remain unanswered.”
This unveiled threat characterizes the growing hostility that currently dominates relations between Israel and Iran. The gravity of this danger was described last month when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the representatives gathered at the Munich Security conference, “[Iran] is, in my judgment, the greatest threat to our world, not just to Israel, not just to our Arab neighbors, not just to Muslims far and wide, but to you as well.”
But this has not always been the case, and for most of its 2,700 year history, the Jewish community has been a respected part of Persian culture. There are some who believe that this relationship can be revived, and buried under the very real Iranian threat to Israel’s existence is an ally in the Jewish journey towards geula (Redemption). Rabbi Weiss is one such person.
“Under the Ayatollah, Islam stole Persia and replaced it with Iran,” Rabbi Weiss told Breaking Israel News. “They tried to destroy a culture that is thousands of years old, which was the Persian culture of Cyrus that enthusiastically supported the Jewish Temple. All that is needed is to scrape away this thin layer that has only recently appeared and the deeper layer that is the true Persia will reappear.”
It was on this basis that the nascent Sanhedrin, a group of rabbis attempting to reestablish the Biblically mandated court of 71 elders, included Iran in a letter they issued to the Muslim world. They invited the nations of Islam, referred to in the letter as the “ Sons of Ishmael”, to take their prophesied role in establishing and supporting the Third Temple.
“If you compare declared enemies of Israel, Iran is not like North Korea,” Rabbi Weiss said. “If you set aside their current political agenda, which may seem impossible at this point, the average Iranian looks back with pride on the role Cyrus had in building the Temple. This part of Persian history, their beneficent attitude towards the Jewish nation, is deeply embedded in modern Iranian consciousness.”
Rabbi Weiss brought as an example of this pro-Jewish Persian consciousness, an exchange between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif’s and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech during the holiday of Purim last year. Netanyahu gave a speech, warning that modern-day Iran is bent on destroying the Jewish people just as Haman was in ancient Persia. Zarif responded on Twitter saying, “it is truly regrettable that bigotry gets to the point of making allegations against an entire nation which has saved the Jews three times in its history.”
To sell bigoted lies against a nation which has saved Jews 3 times, Netanyahu resorting to fake history & falsifying Torah. Force of habit. pic.twitter.com/N09PyyGwqy
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) March 12, 2017
Zarif was referring to the Persian King Achashverosh in the story of Purim as well as Cyrus the Great who built the Second Temple in 520 BCE and the little known story of Abdol Hossein Sardari, an Iranian diplomat in the Paris consulate who saved hundreds of Jews from the Nazis occupying France in World War II.
In fact, these political and military concerns that have Israel and Iran poised as bitter enemies, are relatively recent phenomena. After Turkey, Iran was the second Muslim-majority country to recognize Israel as a sovereign state. Israel viewed Iran, ethnically Aryan, as a natural ally as a non-Arab power on the edge of the Arab world. From its establishment in 1948, Israel maintained close ties with Persia, but these relations turned bitter after the Iranian revolution in 1979 when Iran severed all diplomatic ties with Israel.
Despite the current hostilities in Syria, Rabbi Weiss’ belief in the possibility of an alliance between Israel and Iran is not so far-fetched. Dr. Ze’ev Maghen, professor of Islamic Studies at Bar Ilan University, says that many in the academic community are of the same opinion.
“The conventional wisdom among the academic experts is that the vast majority of Iranians today are itching to get rid of the current regime,” Dr. Maghen told Breaking Israel News. “The Iranians do not want the Khomeini regime. If in the unlikely event the Iranians succeed in jettisoning the ayatollahs, they could become a pro-Western, even pro-Israeli, power.”
Current events aside, Persia appears very frequently in Jewish eschatology in a manner that seems to echo Prime Minister Netanyahu’s warning to the world at the Munich conference. In the Yalkut Shimoni, a compilation of rabbinic commentary on the Bible believed to have been composed in the 13th century, Persia’s role in the end-of-days is outlined in detail.
“Rabbi Yitzchok said: The year in which Melech Hamashiach (Messiah king) will be revealed, all the nations of the world will be provoking each other…The king of Persia will provoke the King of Arabia. The King of Arabia, will go to Edom to take counsel and the King of Persia will threaten to destroy the entire world. The nations of the world will be outraged and panic. They will fall on their faces and will experience pains like birth pangs. Israel too, will be outraged and in a state of panic ask, “Where do we go?” (Yalkut Shimoni, Isaiah, 60:499)
Many Rabbis believe that the modern spiritual incarnation of the nation of Edom is represented by Western culture and more specifically, the United States. Rabbi Lazer Brody, an American-born Hasidic rabbi and teacher, noted in one of his blogs that the gematria (Hebrew numerology) of ‘Edom’ is 51, corresponding to the number of States in the USA and Puerto Rico.
Rabbi Weiss emphasized that prophecy described in the Yalkut Shimoni was only one possible scenario. The actual role that Persia will play in the end-of-days is dependent on its relationship with Israel.
“Iran could continue to be an enemy of Israel, in which case it will be at odds with the entire world, or it can follow in the footsteps of its Persian ancestors and join us in the Temple as they once did,” Rabbi Weiss said.