Professor Amnon Netzer’s invaluable share in introducing Iranian Jewish history and culture to the world is beyond doubt or measure. Largely thanks to his outstanding and tireless efforts, the Iranian Jewish identity was revived in the history of the world.
Amnon Netzer was born “Nasser Solouki” in 1934 C.E. in the city of Rasht, in the northern Iran. In 1950, at the age of 16, he immigrated to the Holy Land, eventually joined by his family. Following his high school education, he received his Bachelor’s degree in the Middle Eastern Studies and International Affairs from Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He then completed his Master’s and Doctorate degrees in Iranian Studies, Indo-European Languages, Semite Languages and Literature, with Honors from Columbia University. Immediately thereafter in 1969, he went on to teach at Illinois University.
In 1970, Hebrew University of Jerusalem invited him to undertake the chair of Iranian Studies at the university. Thence, Amnon Netzer would become known to history as the founder of the Iranian Studies Department of the said university, and more broadly, as the founder of the systematic research and education of the Iranian Jewish culture and history, in particular.
From his early youth, Amnon Netzer showed his gifts and genius in socio-cultural affairs. In 1955, he undertook the editorial positions of the Persian publications of Tel Aviv, even as he joined the ad hoc teams who assisted the immigrants. In 1958, he founded the daily Persian broadcasts of Voice of Israel, and for the next five years, he remained its announcer. Besides, Amnon Netzer not only loved the traditional Persian music, but as a truly skilled musician, he was fully familiar with its thematic and modal material, known as the goushe-ha and dastgah-ha. Throughout his life, he played his violin on occasion, reviving the memory of his homeland among friends in the diaspora.
Professor Amnon Netzer is considered the sole scholar and academic historian, and one of greatest scholars of the past few centuries, who spent his relentless and selfless efforts to acquire the facts and documents necessary to unravel and introduce the 2700-year old Iranian Jewish history and culture before the world, a task that cost him untold hardship. He had mastered 10 living languages, besides that given his field of studies, he was fully familiar with the ancient languages of the Middle East.
His volumes of research papers and essays have been published in English, French, Hebrew and Persian. He attended most international conferences in his academic field as a historian and a commentator of the social history sciences. He served on their directors board, or was an advisor to, many cultural and research institutions. Among his most important positions, he was the Chair of the Iranian, Indian and Armenian Department of the Asian and African Institute of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a contributing member of Encyclopaedia Iranica of New York, and a contributing board member for the entries on Iran in the 33-volume Encyclopedia Judaica annual publication, besides being a member of various other academic and research institutions in Europe, Israel and the United States.
Although a high ranking academic figure, Professor Amnon Netzer was fully capable of speaking in a language that was accessible to the public, as he often explained complicated historical and philosophical topics in a tone that was simple and comprehensible enough to benefit everyone. Yet, to be sure, the published works of this erudite scholar manifest a great historian and scholar who seriously scrutinized the content of his work both before and after committing them to the paper.
He first began his work with a critique of the story of the Jewish people and their ancestral homeland. Then he discussed this people’s background throughout history, from the origins of their formation to the present time, and their connection to the culture of the land of Persia. Next, he explained the Iranian Jewish contribution to the Iranian culture, and the formation of their holy places throughout history, all supported by firm evidence. He loved the Iranian Jewish history and culture, so far as he dedicated most of his life to studying and researching the Iranian Jewish oral history.
Until permissible, Amnon Netzer traveled to the farthest corners of Iran. He remained in contact with many Iranologists, as well as with many erudite Iranians in other fields. From 1997 forward, he began to collect various Iranian Jewish dialects, a project that made him travel to the United States and interview members of the Iranian diaspora, for at the time, it was all but impossible to travel to Iran. During these trips, he also recorded a number of religious songs and traditional Persian vocal pieces.
Professor Amnon Netzer’s many important works include the major project known as Padyavand, an anthology of studies edited or written by him, in English and Persian, which were published in three volumes between 1996 to 2000 via the collaboration of the Graduate Society Foundation, Los Angeles. The title of the collection, Padyavand, is a Pahlavi word, i.e. an ancient Persian word, which means “victorious.”
In his later years, Professor Amnon Netzer, the erudite Iranologist, and the Distinguished Professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, traveled to California upon the persistence and support of his close friends, where he was hospitalized to receive necessary treatment for a liver condition. Following a long battle with the illness, he died on February the 15th, 2008, at the age of 74. In observance of his will, his remains were interred in the Holy Land, next to the grave of his mother.