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Serah Bat Asher Cemetery, Pir Bakran, Iran

Serah bat Asher: Serah bat Asher is a mystical figure in Judaism, known for revealing important truths to the people around her. She is only mentioned
twice in the Torah itself: once when Jacob’s children enter Egypt in Genesis, and during the listing of the Israelites about to enter the Land of Israel in Numbers [1]. Many midrashim or Jewish legends revolve around Serah.


Serah was born to Asher, one of the sons of Jacob-the father of the Israelites. She was one who delivered the news of Joseph being alive and living in Egypt to her grandfather Jacob. Supposedly none of the Jacob's twelve sons were brave enough to confront their father to deliver the news, so they sent in Serah, who sang the news to him while playing the harp. When Jacob heard the news he blessed her so that she would live a long life [2]. The midrash
also tells of Serah identifying Moses as the Redeemer of the Israelites due to him speaking a secret phrase foretold by God. The phrase was passed down from generation to generation to Serah who recognized it immediately when told of Moses' confrontation with Pharoah [3]. She also helped Moses fulfill his oath to Joseph to carry his bones from Egypt by showing him where the Egyptians had hidden Joseph’s coffin as she was the only one old enough to know where it was buried [4].


Another popular story regarding Serah occurs when she suddenly interrupts a teaching of the Rabbi Johanan ben Zakai in his description of the parted Red Sea. He describes it as bushes sprouting from the earth, but she insists, as a primary source, that the sea looked like a glass wall [5]


Persian Jews claim that Serah wandered throughout Persia during the rest of her life. During the 9th century CE she settled in the town of Isfahan [6].  


Even her death is shrouded in mystery. The Jews in the area tell of a great fire that erupted around the synagogue in their town during the 12th century CE. Serah was in the synagogue at the time of the fire, but when the fire stopped, she was no where to be found, and the synagogue was left unharmed. Many scholars claim that Serah never died and she was one of the few allowed to enter Paradise and the Garden of Eden while still alive [7].


The synagogue that caught fire was later renamed the Serah bat Asher synagogue. Until the end of the 19th century there was a grave site with the markings “Serah the daughter of Asher the son of our Patriarch Jacob” which stated that she died in the year 1133 CE [8]. From her first appearance in Genesis to her interruption of Rabbi ben Zakai lesson, her incredible age has always been a part of her legend. Serah’s age until her supposed death was around 2500 years old.


 Cave: The majestic mountains of Pir Bakran watch over one of the holiest sites in Iran. One of the mountains contains a sanctuary and cave belonging to the mystical Serah bat Asher. According to legend, Persian ruler Shah Abbas I was chasing a beautiful doe on a hunt until he was lead to a cave. As soon as he was inside the cave entrance closed shut, and the doe transformed into a woman, supposedly Serah. She threatened that if he did not rescind a decree he had enacted
forcing the Jews to wear embarrassing headgear, he would never leave the cave. The Shah agreed and the cave opened. After returning home, Shah
Abbas changed the decree from the headgear to a red turban [1].


The cave has been a place of pilgrimage for Jews all around Iran. The shrine, in the cave, is called Chellh-khun. The site is most popularly visited during the Jewish calendar month of Eul, leading up to the High Holy Days and ending with Yom Kippur. Some stay there for forty days after the conclusion of Yom Kippur to pray
[2]. Pilgrims come to prostrate themselves, asking for help in national and personal crisis. Even Muslims sometimes visit the site of Serah, known to them as Lady Sarah, to ask for help [3].


Cemetery: Looking out from the synagogue sanctuary one can see a large cemetery about a mile away filled with thousands of old, stone gravestones. The cemetery is next to the small town of Pir Bakran and about 20 miles south west from the city of Isfahan  The cemetery is shaped like the Hebrew letter
het (ח), which in Jewish tradition symbolizes life, perhaps referring to Serah’s longevity (or just unintentional irony or a reference to life 'in the world to come'). The open side of the cemetery faces a stream.


The cemetery has thousands of tombstones of Isfahani Jews from across the centuries. Jews from all across the world are still allowed to use this cemetery to this day. Many tombstones have carvings in English, Italian, Dutch, and others languages that are hundreds of years old.


Some say here is an ancient passageway in the cemetery leading to Jerusalem, and when the messiah appears the dead in the cemetery willhave a direct route to
Jerusalem and will be one of the first to arrive during the Day of Judgment [4]. In the past Jews of the town used to care for the cemetery, but as all of the Jews have left, now Muslims care for the site.


 


 


 

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Footnotes:

[1] “The Complete Jewish Bible,” Chabad.org, accessed July 22, 2015. http://chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/8241.

[2] Howard Schwartz, "The Chronicle of Serah bat Asher," in Gabriel's Palace: Jewish Mystical Tales (n.p.:Oxford University Press, 1993), 47-51.

[3] Moshe Reiss, "Serah bat Asher in Rabbinic Literature," Jewish Bible Quartely 42, no.1 (2014): accessed July 22, 2015, http://jbq.jewishbible.org/assets/Uploads/421/JBQ_421_8_reissserach.pdf.

[4] Tamar Kadari, "Serah, daughter of Asher: Midrash and Aggadah,"JWA.org, accessed July 22, 2015, http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/serah-daughter-of-asher-midrash-and-aggadah.

[5] Reiss, "Serah bat Asher in Rabbinic."

[6] Schwartz, "The Chronicle of Serah," in Gabriel's Palace: Jewish Mystical.

[7] Schwartz, "The Chronicle of Serah," in Gabriel's Palace: Jewish Mystical.

[8] Reiss, "Serah bat Asher in Rabbinic."

[9] Orly R. Rahimiyan, "Serah bat Asher," in Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World,ed. Norman A. Stillman (n.p.: Wellesley College, n.d.),
http://0-referenceworks.brillonline.com.luna.wellesley.edu/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-in-the-islamic-world/serah-bat-asher-SIM_0019610.

[10] Houman M. Sarshar, ed. Esther's Children: A Portrait of Iranian Jews. (Beverly Hills, CA: Center
for Iranian Jewish Oral History, 2002), 368.

[11] Rahimiyan, "Serah bat Asher," in Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic.

[12] Rahimiyan, "Serah bat Asher," in Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pir Bakran, Iran

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