Iranian Jewish Culure
Shlomo Kohan-Sedgh

Shlomo Kohan-Sedgh

Jewish Scholar, Pioneering Educator & Historian

Shlomo Kohan-Sedgh “Cohen-Tzedek”, a.k.a. Sultan Soleiman (Solomon), was born in 1891 C.E. as the eldest son of Mullah Yousef Kohan-Sedgh, the father of a religious Jewish family in Tehran.

His early education coincided with the opening of the Alliance Israélite “Ettehad” School of Tehran. At 18, he received his high school diploma in Persian and French languages from the said school, where he stayed to teach. Even as a young child, he had been bringing in an income, and now he spent what he earned to support the family, including his three sisters and a little brother.

In 1911, having received his high school diploma, he was employed by the Gendarmerie, the largely outer-city policing branch of the Iranian Army. He served for more than seven years in that capacity and was promoted to the rank of Sarvān or Sultan, a “Captain”, which earned him the nickname Sultan Soleiman, that is, “Captain Solomon”.

Shlomo Kohan-Sedgh was passionate about social and cultural affairs, as well as advancing Jewish beliefs. As such, he resigned from his military position and began work at cultural institutions. At 26, he formed a 13-member council of youngsters, thus founding the first Cultural Movement of the Young Jews of Tehran, to which he was elected president for five years.

Shortly thereafter, his consistent efforts led the Movement to open several other branches in most Iranian towns with a Jewish community. Among its many goals, the Movement aimed to teach Hebrew, to promote and spread the Jewish religious law and knowledge, to unify the Jews of Iran, and to encourage them to connect with the Jews of other countries.

Shlomo Kohan-Sedgh married his cousin Gohar “Jewel”, his father’s niece, from the Bakhaj family. Their union brought four daughters and two sons to the world. As they grew up, Yitzchak and Yousef Kohan-Sedgh both followed their father’s suit, and like Sultan Soleiman, they spent most of their lives in social and cultural affairs.

Shlomo Kohan-Sedgh is considered one of the founding members of the Tehran Jewish Association. He arranged for the very first meeting to be convened at his own house until a dedicated location would be found for the nascent organization. To seat the guests, wooden benches covered in Persian carpets were placed around the central pool or howz of the courtyard, in the Oudlajan neighborhood, “the Jewish ghetto” of Tehran. Between the two World Wars, he was assigned career-related tasks that would take him to towns and cities all around the country. In each city, town or village, while he assessed and took care of the living conditions of the Jews, he would also study the Jewish history and culture of that area.

For the 22 years from 1919 to 1941, Kohan-Sedegh’s frequent professional trips put him through much hardship, the arduous social conditions of the country, an utter lack of living conveniences, tough and dangerous roads, and a shortage of proper transportation. He traveled to about 180 Iranian towns and cities, an ordeal that allowed him to collect statistical, historical, cultural and social data on Iranian Jewish communities in all corners of the country. Moreover, during his trips abroad to Iraq, Jerusalem, Egypt and France, he visited some of their largest libraries, completed his research, and set out to write his comprehensive history of the Jewish communities of Iran, from 70 years before the rule of Cyrus the Great to the reign of Pahlavi. This unique work would become one of the most important sources for Dr. Habib Levy in writing his own History of the Jews of Iran.

In 1924, Shlomo Kohan-Sedgh joined a group of Iranian Jews to make pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Shortly afterwards, he returned to his homeland, Iran, and began work as the head of accounting at the Danish firm Kampsax, which held a contract with the government of Iran to construct the national railroad.

Fluent in Persian, French, English and Hebrew, Shlomo Kohan-Sedgh was also an outstanding and beloved scholar and speaker, one closely familiar with the cultural and social problems that faced the Iranian Jews. In 1946, he was recommended by the Executive Board of Tehran Jewish Association to the late Ha-Rav Levi, a Polish rabbi who was in Iran to help WWII Polish refugees, for cooperation in cultural affairs. Awhile later, with the relentless efforts of these two erudite figures, the greatest cultural institution of the Iranian Jews, namely The Otzar (Ozar) Ha-Torah Cultural Center was established. Before long, the foundation opened several other branches in most Iranian towns with a Jewish community, under the name “Ganj-e Danesh”, “The Treasure of Knowledge” schools.

Shlomo Kohan-Sedgh was elected as the first president of the Otzar Ha-Torah Cultural Center. He picked qualified people and set up two-year educational seminars to train experienced teachers. He then sent them far away around the country to teach Jewish religious subjects which were covered by the Otzar Ha-Torah program. This colossal cultural movement in the Iranian Jewish schools largely transformed the youth education and led to the revival of religious knowledge in Iranian Jewish communities.

Shlomo Kohan-Sedgh, a.k.a. Sultan Soleiman, completed several valuable books, some penned in the Judeo-Persian alphabet, which could not be published due to the shortage of financial resources.

This erudite scholar, with a love of culture and dedicated service to the community, published his first book in Persian, A Self-Teaching Guide to Hebrew, in 1915. The book would later be used as a textbook at Alliance “Ettehad” Schools.

Other published works in Persian by Shlomo Kohan-Sedgh include:

1) The History of Iranian Jews, in 2 Volumes: The book was one of the main references used by Dr. Habib Levy in writing his own History of the Jews of Iran.

2) A book of Hebrew Grammar.

3) Collections of Poems and Lyrics by Famed Jewish poets of Iran.

4) Interpretation of Dreams by Daniel the Prophet, in 2 Volumes.

5) Ginze Sedeq: The book covers the Jewish code, as well as moral lessons and anecdotes.

6) Emunat Sedeq: The book provides answers and explanations to some of the religious codes of the Jewish Holy Book. gggggg

In 1941, Shlomo Kohan-Sedgh began to realize one of Iranian Jews’ cherished dreams, as for the first time, he began to calculate, author, and edit the first Hebrew Calendar in Persian. He had the calendar published by his own expense, and provided it to the public. In later years, his son Isaac Kohan-Sedgh would continue to publish the work, with corresponding dates in the Persian, Gregorian and Arabic calendars, as well as the marking of salient days and events.

Soleiman Kohan-Sedgh, “Sultan Solieman” was a religious scholar, historian, cultural figure, and philanthropist, who spent 55 years of his life in cultural and social activities, 30 years of which included his selfless services at the Otzar Ha-Torah institution. The master died in 1964 C.E., on the 27th of Av, 5724 of the Hebrew calendar, of heart conditions.

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