Iranian Jewish Culure
Solayman Haim

Solayman Haim

Linguist, Lexicographer, Playwright

Solayman “Shlomo” Haim is enshrined in the history of Iranian culture and literature as the pioneering figure of contemporary bilingual dictionaries. The Iranian society’s culture and civilization at large owes much of its connection to the global civilization, particularly over the past century, to the epic and singlehanded efforts of this Jewish scholar.

Solayman Haim was born in 1887 C.E. to a religious Jewish family in Tehran. His father, Haim Es-hagh “Isaac”, who made a living by sewing bed sheets and comforters, followed contemporary suit and sent Solayman to a traditional school known as “maktab” to receive his elementary education. He spent his high school years at the newly-founded Alliance Israélite “Ettehad” High School of Tehran, while to learn English, he enrolled himself in the American College of Tehran.

Ever since a child, Solayman’s extraordinary intelligence and natural gifts to absorb various subjects were manifest, so far as his college classmates would call him “the moving dictionary”.

Upon completing his studies in 1915, Solayman Haim went on to teach fulltime at the same college, while he spent his spare time on studying and writing his bilingual English- Persian dictionary. For long, he had felt the need across the society for a bilingual dictionary, and that drove him to publish all of his notes as a small bilingual dictionary. He didn’t allow financial impediments to discourage him, and with admirable love, passion and industry, he managed to publish the dictionary himself. The publication for the first time of Haim English-Persian Dictionary sent out far and broad ripples, as the book enjoyed a most unique reception by scholars and students across the society. The book was especially noticed by Ali Asghar Hekmat, then Minister of Culture of Iran. Intent on advancing lexicography in the country, and appreciating Solayman Haim’s difficult situation, the Minister made promises to assist the young author. His support, however, were not to be materialized anytime soon, since he was laid off of his ministerial position.

Despite such setbacks, Solayman Haim wrote in his diary, “Every night, when I go to bed, I think of words as a lover thinks of the beloved. To me, words have a colorful and multifaceted world, and I never get bored or tired of immersing myself in it.”

As the Iranian people grew ever more connected to the outside world and especially to the English-speaking societies, the void of comprehensive bilingual dictionaries was felt stronger than ever across the society. The vacuum was especially evident when a figure such as Dr. Arthur Millspaugh came to Iran in 1922, and again in 1942, as a financial expert and advisor to the Finance Ministry. The rough situation led the Ministry to hire a number of translators and try and provide a more comprehensive dictionary for the translators. At this time, Solayman Haim began his work in the Finance Ministry as a translator. At the same time, he followed his relentless lexicographic pursuits more comprehensively, ending up working some 18 contiguous hours per day. Finally, in 1929, he managed to have his larger English to Persian dictionary published in two volumes.

Awhile later, he was hired in the same position as a translator by the Oil Company, where over the years, he was promoted up to the Deputy position at the Purchasing Office of the company.

Solayman Haim married the young Azizeh Aqa in 1924. The couple brought two sons and four daughters to the world.

Solayman Haim was fluent in Persian, English, French, Hebrew and Arabic. Among his many works, he wrote a book on the Persian grammar. Besides, ever since a teenager, he actively assisted Chacham Haim Moreh. On the one hand, he personally wrote down all the books which that blind genius had to dictate, and on the other hand, he learned about Hebrew, Jewish subjects and mysticism from him. Eventually, this drove Haim to begin creating his Hebrew to Persian Dictionary since about 1951. The project would take him 10 years to complete, and the result was published after 1961 with the help of his daughter Parivash. He then decided to write Persian to Hebrew Dictionary, a project that was sadly left incomplete due to his death. According to his will, the manuscript of this dictionary, ready for print, was submitted to the Tehran Jewish Association of the time.

Maestro Solayman Haim believed that one could find the greatest pleasures of life in poetry, literature and music. He loved traditional Persian music and knew very well its modal material known as dastgah-ha. His instrument was violin, but he was also familiar with tar and kamancheh, a plucked and a bowed Persian instrument, respectively. On occasion, he plucked and strummed the tar and offered a sweet melody to the soul’s strings. He wrote down his own compositions using a system of symbols that he had invented for himself, similar to the standard notation. He played at every opportunity, and he sang in his sweet voice.

Besides lexicography and his affinity for music, Solayman Haim had a particular affection for Persian literature. Given his abundant gift in poetry, he wrote many poems in various Persian forms and styles such as couplets (do-beyti), quatrains (rubaiy), sonnets (ghazal), and ode (mathnavi). He collected these in a Divan scribed in his beautiful handwriting.

He also had an active hand in writing plays, essays, and other literary and philosophical texts. Sometimes, he arranged meetings at his place to discuss religion or mysticism. He had an especially friendly and fruitful relation with two prominent figures of Persian literature, Ostad Ali-Akbar Dehkhoda, and Ostad Saeed Nafissi. Haim was known for his stubborn persistence on finding the precise meaning and the synonyms of words in other languages. In spite of a fragile body, he was a serious and agile person. He loved his work, and he worked hard. Full of energy, he had a firm sense of responsibility in his work.

From the outset, Solayman Haim’s works were published by Yehuda Broukhim & Sons Bookstore and Publishers. They valued the precise eyes of the author and his meticulous attention to detail, and they had the dictionaries typeset and printed at the highest technical standards of the time. Later on, the publishing rights of Haim’s surviving works were transferred to Farhang-e Mo’aser “Contemporary Culture” Publication, which subsequently edited and published almost all of Haim’s dictionaries.

Ostad Solayman Haim died on February 14th, 1970, at the age of 82 in Tehran of a heart attack.

Following his death, the task of editing his Persian to Hebrew Dictionary faced too many impediments, and as the project’s scholars emigrated abroad, the project was set aside incomplete. The project was eventually revived in 2001 by Haroun Yashayai, then President of Tehran Jewish Association, who assembled a new team of scholars, including Chacham Dr. Younes Hamami-Lalehzar, Ostad Rahman Delrahim, and Engineer Arash Abai. Finally, by December 2014, the Large Solayman Haim Persian to Hebrew Dictionary was published and introduced to the public by Tehran Jewish Association.

 Tehran Jewish Association, who assembled a new team of scholars, including Chacham Dr. Younes Hamami-Lalehzar, Ostad Rahman Delrahim, and Engineer Arash Abai. Finally, by December 2014, the Large Solayman Haim Persian to Hebrew Dictionary was published and introduced to the public by Tehran Jewish Association.

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