It was 8:15 on Saturday morning, and Rabbis Shmuel Fuerst and Moshe Unger of Chicago were dressed in their Sabbath best: beaver-pelt shtreimels, or Polish-style hats on their heads; long black silk caftans draping their bodies; and thin white socks over their black knickers.
But last Saturday morning, these two bearded, ultra-traditional Orthodox Jews were not walking to synagogue on the city's heavily white North Side; they were riding in a car driven by a non-Jewish friend to meet the Rev. Jesse Jackson on the city's mostly black South Side.
After nearly seven months in jail, 13 Iranian Jews imprisoned by their government on suspicion of spying for Israel and the United States faced the prospect of formal charges Thursday.
Iranian Jewish activists here said the government had completed its investigation of the 13 and was prepared to announce its results. They cited Manouchehr Eliassi, the Jewish community’s official representative in Iran’s parliament, as among their sources.
Just outside the city of Shiraz, in Iran’s stark and arid south, lies the gravesite of Cyrus the Great, founder of the first empire in human history to declare religious tolerance for all its peoples. Cyrus, acclaimed in the Bible for allowing the Jews exiled by Babylonia to return to their homeland and rebuild their Temple in 538 BCE, lies in an unadorned and simple stone tomb, a reflection, historians say, of the man’s humble character.
Implicitly rebutting several senior government authorities, the Central Jewish Committee of Iran last week publicly asserted for the first time that 13 Iranian Jews currently imprisoned on suspicion of spying for Israel and the United States are innocent.
Putting its own resources on the line, the committee, which serves as the umbrella group for Iran’s 25,000 Jews, also announced it was prepared to raise money for attorneys to defend the imprisoned Jews.
A longstanding power struggle between Iran’s top leaders crystallized this week over the legal system that will decide the fate of 13 Iranian Jews charged with spying for Israel and America.
Offering the first specifics on the case against them, Iran’s foreign minister said Monday that the 13 were arrested “on charges of illegally gathering secret information, including military information, and handing it over to foreigners.”
As 13 Iranian Jews suspected of spying for Israel and the United States are set to go on trial April 13, an American Jewish leader has cited some ominous signs coming from Iran.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, said lawyers for the accused were barred from entering prison to allow their clients to sign retainer statements even after the investigating judge (who also will serve as the trial judge without a jury) had asked the suspects' families to hire counsel.