Iranian Jewish Women Discover the Power of Words


Publication Date: November 1999

Publisher: Hadassah International Research Institute on Jewish Women

Author(s): Farideh Dayanim Goldin

Research Area: Culture and religion

Keywords: Women; Literature; History

Type: Brief

Coverage: Iran


Iran, a country famous for its literary heritage, is known both for beautiful poetry and for a rich oral tradition. Yet, until very recently, Iranian Jewish women had no place in this history. Before we discuss, criticize, or praise the literary works of Jewish women of Iranian heritage, we need to understand the women’s long silence, the conditions that constrained them in the past, and those that constrain them now. For many centuries, life for Jewish women in Iran meant poverty, early marriages, and illiteracy. Jewish women were classed the lowest, suffering the double jeopardy of sexism and anti-Semitism. The train of hardship was often lessened through the cherished dard-e del, talking of the “aching heart.” Dard-e del had many functions. It was a healing tool, a source of empowerment, and a Middle Eastern version of a “support group.” The custom created a reservoir of stories that circulated among women as yet unaware of the power of written words. Generations later, Iranian Jewish women reach back to this collection of oral histories to record their mothers’ stories, and to cross over from talking themselves free to writing themselves free.