KASHAN, city in the central part of Iran. The migration of the Jews into Kashan may well have begun to increase early in the 16th century with the Safavid state-sponsored expansion of the silk industry, in which the Jews played a central role in trade and manufacturing. In places such as Ārān, there is evidence of Jewish rural population until the early years of the 19th century
Its industrious people made Kashan prosperous, which also benefited the Jewish inhabitants. The beginning of Jewish settlement in Kashan is unknown but the dialect spoken by the Jews points to their antiquity. The earliest reference to the existence of a Jewish community in Kashan may be found in the colophon of a book of prose written in the year 1805; however, there is no doubt that their earliest presence far predated the 15th century. We know that Kashan was a flourishing city before the *Mongol invasion (early 13thcentury) and, although seriously damaged during the invasion, seems to have been rebuilt. Unlike many cities and towns across Persia populated by Sunni Muslims, Kashan was for the most part Shi’ite. As a result, it did not suffer from the establishment of the Shi’ite Safavid dynasty in the early 16th century, as did other Sunni cities and towns.
Kashan is reputed for its Jewish poets and scholars such as Judah ben Eleazar, Babai ibn Lutf, Babai ibn Farhād, Samuel Pir Ahmad, Sarmad the Sufi (who later embraced Islam), *Amina, and others. The missionary Stern was twice in Kashan, in 1850 and 1852. He wrote that there lived in Kashan 150 Jewish families in the midst of 30,000 Muslim inhabitants and, due to the prosperity of the town the general condition of the Jews in Kashan was much better than those of Isfahan. On the other hand, *Benjamin II, who was in Kashan about the same time as Stern, claimed that 180 Jewish families lived there in fear. According to Castleman the Jewish community of Kashan consisted of 100 families and most of them were poor.
According to BAIU (1906) there lived in Kashan 2,000 Jews in 130 houses among 50,000 Muslim inhabitants. A Jewish school was founded in Kashan in 1910 by a local philanthropist named Jekutiel. There were 1,380 Jews living in Kashan in 1943 (‘Ālam-e Yahud, pp. 379, 472–73). Many of these Jews left Kashan to live in Teheran, London, and New York.
Lord David Alliance, a native of Kashan (b. 1932), who immigrated to London at the age of 17, became one of the greatest textile industrialists in England. At the end of the 20th century, Kashan, which once was called “the Little Jerusalem.