The Jewish community of Persia, modern-day Iran, is one of the oldest in the Diaspora, and its historical roots reach back to the 6th century B.C.E., the time of the First Temple. Their history in the pre-Islamic period is intertwined with that of the Jews of neighboring Babylon. Cyrus, the first of the Archemid dynasty, conquered Babylon in 539 B.C.E. and permitted the Jewish exiles to return to the Land of Israel, bringing the First Exile to an end. The Jewish colonies were scattered from centers in Babylon to Persian provinces and cities such as Hamadan and Susa.
The years of the Pahlavi dynasty, however especially the reign of Muhammad Reza Shah (1941-1979) are often considered a “Golden Age” for Iranian Jewry. On the eve of the Islamic Revolution in 1978, the Jewish community in Iran numbered around 80,000 with 60,000 living in the capital, Tehran. their economic, professional, and cultural impact on the country was great. At this time, the vast majority of the Jewish population in Iran was middle class or upper middle class. There were Jewish schools, active social and cultural organizations, and about 30 synagogues in Tehran alone.
During the revolution, a wave of anti-Israel sentiment swept over Iran, impacting the Jewish community. Private wealth was confiscated on a large scale, which sent thousands of affluent Jews fleeing to the United States or Israel.
Today Iran's Jewish population is the second largest in the Middle East, after Israel. Reports vary as to the condition and treatment of the small, tight-knit community, and the population of Iranian Jews can only be estimated due to the community’s isolation from world Jewry.