Rabbi Yousef Hamadani Cohen was Iran's former chief rabbi and one of the cornerstones of the country's Jewish community. He was the spiritual leader of Iran's Jews from 1993-2007, and remained a senior rabbi after he retired and Rabbi Mashallah Golestani took over.
Iran's Jews number about 25,000 people – a tiny minority in a population of about 76 million – but are still the Middle East's largest Jewish community outside of Israel. It is also one of the world's oldest Jewish communities, with historical roots reaching back 2,700 years, since the first Jewish diaspora. Before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the community had closer to 100,000 Jews, but in the years following the population dropped to about 40,000.
In 1979 Habib Elghanian, honorary leader of the Jewish community, was arrested on charges of "corruption", "contacts with Israel and Zionism", "friendship with the enemies of God", "warring with God and his emissaries", and "economic imperialism". He was executed.
None the less, on a trip to the US in 2000, the MP Morris Motamed, who represents the interests of Iran's Jewish, Christian and Zoroastrian communities in the country's Parliament, claimed that the lives of Jews in Iran was better than that of other Iranians and even invited the wealthy Iranian Jewish community to return. Rabbi Cohen's nephew, also called Yousef Hamadani Cohen, said, "He didn't suffer from the Iranian people, they respected him."
In August 2000, Cohen met the Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami, for the first time, and in 2003 he and Motamed met Khatami at the Yusef Abad Synagogue, the first time a President of Iran had visited a synagogue since the Islamic Revolution.
Yousef Hamadani Cohen, rabbi: born 1916; died 29 March 2014.