Native toIsrael
Native speakers
60,000 in Israel (2018)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-2jpr
ISO 639-3jpr
Seven Priests sounding horns at Wall of Jericho. From an illustrated manuscript of Emrani's Fath-nameh.

Judeo-Persian refers to both a group of Jewish dialects spoken by the Jews living in Iran and Judeo-Persian texts (written in Hebrew alphabet). As a collective term, Judeo-Persian refers to a number of Judeo-Iranian languages spoken by Jewish communities throughout the formerly extensive Persian Empire, including the Mountain and Bukharan Jewish communities.[2]

The speakers refer to their language as Fārsi. Some non-Jews refer to it as "dzhidi" (also written as "zidi", "judi" or "jidi"), which means "Jewish" in a derogatory sense.[2]


There is an extensive Judeo-Persian poetic religious literature, closely modeled on classical Persian poetry. The most famous poet was Mowlānā Shāhin-i Shirāzi (14th century CE), who composed epic versifications of parts of the Bible, such as the Musā-nāmah (an epic poem recounting the story of Moses); later poets composed lyric poetry of a Sufi cast. Much of this literature was collected around the beginning of the twentieth century by the ּּBukharian rabbi Shimon Hakham, who founded a printing press in Israel.

Earliest Judeo-Persian writings

The earliest evidence of Judeo-Persian writing dates back to the 8th century CE. These documents written in Hebrew script document the existence of Jewish communities writing in Judeo-Persian across historical Persia. Archaeologists working in the 20th century discovered Judeo-Persian writings in locations as far-spread as southern India, Xinjiang Province, Cairo, and present-day Iran and Afghanistan. They include court documents, trade documents, headstones, stone inscriptions, and works on religious matters. Linguists have studied these sources since they preserve certain archaic elements of Persian.[3]: 22 

Biblical epics

Mowlānā Shāhin-i Shirāzi

The most famous Judeo-Persian poet is the 14th century Shahin-i Shirazi who composed two versified Biblical epics: the first based on the Pentateuch and the second centered on the Book of Esther and the Book of Ezra. In his writing, Shahin uses a language typical of his era’s Classical Persian and does not employ the level of Hebrew words as other Judeo-Persian writers.[3]: 27 

Pentateuchal epic

Shahin's Pentateuchal epic cycle consists of 10,000 metered couplet (distich) versification of the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy written in 1327, and a 8,700 couplet length versification of Genesis composed in 1358. He focuses on narratives from the Pentateuch that are also prominent in Islamic literature such as the fall of Satan, Joseph (Yusuf) and Zulaykha, and Jacob’s mourning of the lost Joseph. Shahin fashions his biblical epics off of Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, the most renowned Persian epic. This includes styling Moses after heroes from Persian epic heroes, contributing to a glorification of Moses prevalent in Judeo-Persian literature.[3]: 27  Shahin omits certain elements of the Pentateuch such as the legal sections. In a short adaptation of the Book of Job appended to his versification of Genesis, Shahin leaves out the speeches from Job’s friends and God’s response while including the less-central insults from Job’s wife.[3]: 28 


Shahin’s Ardashir-namah consists of 9,000 metered couplets that adapt narratives from the Books of Esther, Nehemiah, and Ezra. He also includes non-biblical storylines that parallel the Shahnameh and Nizami’s Khamsa.[3] : 28–29  It recounts the biblical narrative of Ardashir (Xerxes) and Esther; and a love story between Ardashir and a Chinese princess. The Ezra-nameh is shorter and often grouped with the Ardashir-nameh.[4]

Joshua carrying Ark of the Covenant across the Jordan River in an illuminated manuscript of the Judeo-Persian Fath-nameh


Emrani was a 15th century Persian poet who like Shahin, wrote Persian in Hebrew script. Born in Isfahan, he moved to Kashan in his twenties and lived there until his death. The 10,000-verse Fath-nameh adapts the Books of Joshua, Ruth, and Samuel 1 and 2. Like Shahin’s biblical epics, it displays a strong Shahnameh influence. His Hanuka-nameh is a shorter (1,800 verses) versification of the Maccabees’ rebellion against the Greeks. This work, authored in 1524, relies heavily on the apocryphal First Book of Maccabees.[3]: 159  Emrani employs more Hebrew vocabulary than Shahin and relies more on narratives from the Bible and rabbinic literature.[4]: 50 


Written in 1692 by Aaron ben Mashiah, this versification of the Book of Judges uses the same meter as Emrani’s Fath-nameh.[4]: 50 


In 1606, Khajah of Bukhara versified narratives from the Book of Daniel, apocrypha, and Midrashim (rabbinic commentaries).[4]: 51 

Mishnah and midrash


Emrani’s Ganj-nameh is a commentary on the Mishnaic ethical tractate Avot. It numbers nearly 5,000 rhyming couplets and includes Sufi terminology. [3] : 184–185  There are many extant manuscripts of this work, indicating its widespread popularity among Persian-speaking Jews.[5]: 53  It was completed in 1536 and was likely Emrani’s final work. It is an ethical and didactic work that deals with broader ethical themes compared to his previous writings in this genre.[5] : 43–45  The Ganj-nameh consists of 88 sections that each elaborate a saying or two from the Abot, following the sequence of the Abot itself. The first five sections make up the introduction and follows the structure of many Persian introductions – praise and supplication of God and a history of the work’s composition. Instead of the typical Persian praise of the Prophet Muhammad, Emrani substitutes praise of Moses. [5] : 59  The rest of the Ganj-nameh belongs to the counsel genre prominent in Persian literature and combines the epic, midrashic, mystic and didactic techniques present in Emrani’s earlier works. [5] : 60–63 

Biblical commentaries

11 or 12th century Judeo-Persian introduction to a commentary on the Book of Proverbs.

Shimon Hakham: Commentary on Exodus 3-4

Shimon Hakham, a Bukharan rabbi who later emigrated to Jerusalem, edited and published at least 29 works in Judeo-Persian, including a complete edition of Shahin’s Torah commentary. He included alongside this edition his own prose commentary on the Book of Exodus.[3]: 198 

Historical texts

Bābāi b. Lutf: Kitab-i Anusi (The Book of a Forced Convert)

Babai b. Lutf was a 16th century Jewish author and historian born in Kashan. His 5,000-couplet length Kitab-i Anusi recounts the persecution of Iranian Jews under the reigns of three Safavid shahs: ‘Abbas I, Safi I, and ‘Abbas II who collectively reigned from 1571 to 1666. It focuses on the forced conversions of Jews during this time.[3]: 223–224 

Bābāi b. Farhād: Kitāb-i Sar guzasht-i Kāshān (The Book of Events in Kashan)

Ibn Lutf’s grandson, Babai b. Farhad, composed a 1,300-couplet chronicle on the persecution faced by Jews in Kashan during the Afghan Invasion of Iran which occurred from 1722 to 1730. Ibn Farhad describes the voluntary conversion of Jews in Kashan to Islam and how they were allowed to return to their faith seven months later.[3]: 232 

Liturgical Poems


Beginning in the late 19th century, Jerusalem became a center for printing Judeo-Persian literature. Works from many genres were printed, as well as translations of non-Jewish works into Judeo-Persian. Some of the major figures in this movement included Jews from Central Asia such as Shimon Hakham. [2] [9] In 1917, a “Society for the Promotion of the Hebrew Language” was established in Tehran alongside a Judeo-Persian and Hebrew printing press. This group also published a Judeo-Persian newspaper, Ha-Ge'ulah. Two other Judeo-Persian newspapers were also published in Bukhara and Samarkand.[9]


Late 8th century Judeo-Persian document found at Dandan Uiliq

In the absence of a unified dialect of Persian spoken by Jews, Judeo-Persian refers to local dialects spoken by Jews. It is notable for its preservation of certain archaisms and incorporation of Hebrew words; however, this is less prominent than in other Jewish languages.[2] Judeo-Median is often used to designate the group of dialects spoke by Jewish communities in Central Iran.[10]: 117  Early Judeo-Persian writings displays various orthographies that sometimes demonstrate pronunciation differences from New Persian. It also preserves a transitional stage in certain linguistic features. For example, Early Judeo-Persian uses a preposition p (meaning either ‘to’, ‘by’, or ‘in’) that marks a transition from the Middle Persian’s pad and New Persian’s be. It also exhibits a variety of constructions for ezafe and for verbs in passive voice. In certain personal correspondence found in the Cairo Geniza, Persian is written using Hebrew script while the Arabic phrases included in these letters are written using the Arabic alphabet. Furthermore, these letter writers include Hebrew blessings and expressions. Judeo-Persian versions of the Bible do not follow Persian syntax, instead glossing the Hebrew word-for-word.[2]

Contemporary Dialects

Some of the primary Iranian cities with Jewish dialects are Kashan, Isfahan, Yazd, Kerman, Shiraz, Borujerd, and Hamadan. Vernaculars spoken by Jews in Persian-speaking Central Asia are often referred to as Judeo-Tajik. Judeo-Tat is spoken in the eastern Caucasus and is considered mutually unintelligible with standard Persian today.[10]: 119  Many speakers of these Iranian dialects have left Iran and few native speakers remain. As a result, Judeo-Median languages are considered endangered according to the Endangered Language Alliance.[11]

See also


  1. ^ Judeo-Persian at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) Closed access icon
  2. ^ a b c d e "JUDEO-PERSIAN COMMUNITIES viii. JUDEO-PERSIAN – Encyclopaedia Iranica". www.iranicaonline.org. Retrieved 2019-01-29.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Moreen, Vera Basch (tr. and ed.), In Queen Esther's Garden: An Anthology of Judeo-Persian Literature (Yale Judaica): Yale 2000, ISBN 978-0-300-07905-0
  4. ^ a b c d Tobi, Yosef (2017). "Chapter 1: Jewish (Mizrahi)". In Ziolkowski, Eric (ed.). A Handbook of Biblical Reception in Jewish, European Christian, and Islamic Folklores. DeGruyter. p. 50. ISBN 9783110286724.
  5. ^ a b c d Yeroushalmi, David (August 1, 1997). The Judeo-Persian Poet 'Emrani and his "Book of Treasure". Brill. ISBN 9004103015.
  6. ^ Loeb, Laurence D. Outcaste: Jewish Life in Southern Iran. Vol. 31. Routledge, 2011.
  7. ^ נצר, אמנון. "מוסיקה של קודש ושל חול בקרב יהודי פרס." פעמים: רבעון לחקר (in Hebrew). קהילות ישראל במזרח. 1984. pp. 163–181.
  8. ^ Chehabi, Houchang Esfandiar; Soroudi, Sorour Sarah. Persian literature and Judeo-Persian culture: collected writings of Sorour S. Soroudi. Harvard University Press, 2010.
  9. ^ a b Judeo-Persian, Encyclopedia Judaica, Second Edition, Volume 11, Brill
  10. ^ a b Borijan, Habib (2014). "What Is Judeo-Median—and How Does it Differ from Judeo-Persian". Journal of Jewish Languages. 2014 (2): 117–142. doi:10.1163/22134638-12340026. S2CID 55902997.
  11. ^ "Judeo-Isfahani". Endangered Language Alliance. Retrieved April 21, 2022.


Further reading