A Dying Religion A Lot Like Ours


Viraf Darukhanawalla wore a sacred cord, [i.e., a gartel] or kushti, at the ceremony.

The New York Times has a feature article and an interesting slideshow on a dying religion. Note the similarities to Judaism:

…“We were once at least 40, 50 million — can you imagine?” said Mr. Antia, senior priest at the fire temple here in suburban Chicago. “At one point we had reached the pinnacle of glory of the Persian Empire and had a beautiful religious philosophy that governed the Persian kings.

“Where are we now? Completely wiped out,” he said. “It pains me to say, in 100 years we won’t have many Zoroastrians.”

There is a palpable panic among Zoroastrians today — not only in the United States, but also around the world — that they are fighting the extinction of their faith, a monotheistic religion that most scholars say is at least 3,000 years old.

Zoroastrianism predates Christianity and Islam, and many historians say it influenced those faiths and cross-fertilized Judaism as well, with its doctrines of one God, a dualistic universe of good and evil and a final day of judgment.

While Zoroastrians once dominated an area stretching from what is now Rome and Greece to India and Russia, their global population has dwindled to 190,000 at most, and perhaps as few as 124,000, according to a survey in 2004 by Fezana Journal, published quarterly by the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America. The number is imprecise because of wildly diverging counts in Iran, once known as Persia — the incubator of the faith.

“Survival has become a community obsession,” said Dina McIntyre, an Indian-American lawyer in Chesapeake, Va., who has written and lectured widely on her religion.

The Zoroastrians’ mobility and adaptability has contributed to their demographic crisis. They assimilate and intermarry, virtually disappearing into their adopted cultures. And since the faith encourages opportunities for women, many Zoroastrian women are working professionals who, like many other professional women, have few children or none.

Despite their shrinking numbers, Zoroastrians — who follow the Prophet Zarathustra (Zoroaster in Greek) — are divided over whether to accept intermarried families and converts and what defines a Zoroastrian. An effort to create a global organizing body fell apart two years ago after some priests accused the organizers of embracing “fake converts” and diluting traditions.

“They feel that the religion is not universal and is ethnic in nature, and that it should be kept within the tribe,” said Jehan Bagli, a retired chemist in Toronto who is a priest, or mobed, and president of the North American Mobed Council, which includes about 100 priests. “This is a tendency that to me sometimes appears suicidal. And they are prepared to make that sacrifice.”…

Despite, or because of, the high intermarriage rate, some Zoroastrian priests refuse to accept converts or to perform initiation ceremonies for adopted children or the children of intermarried couples, especially when the father is not Zoroastrian. The ban on these practices is far stronger in India and Iran than in North America.…



Filed under History, Religion

12 responses to “A Dying Religion A Lot Like Ours

  1. Harbona

    המכבה את הנר מפני שהוא מתירא מפני גוים מפני ליסטים…… או מפני החולה שישן, פטור
    from bameh madliqin. i believe, these are the goyims refered to here.
    during their rule, (the fire worshipers), jews were not permitted to light lights for religious purpose. doing so was deemed so dangerous, that it was permitted to put off the candles if one were afraid of being discovered with his/her shabbat candles lit.

  2. Harbona

    “and cross-fertilized Judaism as well, with its doctrines of one God, a dualistic universe of good and evil and a final day of judgment. ”

    indeed, BT berakhot warns:
    דף לג,ב משנה האומר …..מודים מודים משתקין אותו:. דף לג,ב גמרא בשלמא מודים מודים משתקין אותו משום דמיחזי כשתי רשויות …

  3. Judaism is in many ways the ever-dying religion. I have no doubt it will be around in one form or another in a thousand years.

    Zoroastrianism, on the other hand, has been in this crisis for decades now and they still have not decided whether or not they are going to accept converts. This is especially weird because, like most religions, all Zoroastrians descend from converts.

    If it still exists in a thousand years, it will be because the American branch decided to accept converts, and the other branches died out.

  4. Avraham

    Thank god you are the end of your gene pool.

  5. DK

    I met a Persian Zorostrian in Mexico and then in DC. She was amazing — had this universalistic understanding of the world. A soft far-Leftist. You know, a babe.

    The thing was, she made me sleep on her couch.

    So I guess she was still anti-Jewish.

  6. Paul Freedman

    DK; she probably worked in the morning.

  7. Paul Freedman

    “All our fire-temples and rituals of the Yasna are sacred and are necessary for the religion, such as the Nirang-din ceremony, which creates the Holy Nirang. …

    “Dakhma-nashini is the only method of corpse-destruction for a Zarathushtri, as enjoined in the Vendidad: this is the destruction of the dead body in the stone-enclosed Dakhma, by the flesh-eating bird or the rays of the Sun, the most spiritually powerful method as commanded by Ahura Mazda to Zarathushtra.”

    Note the similarities to Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

  8. Paul Freedman

    Actually, I think Captain Kirk fell in love with a high Priestess of the Yasna in the first season of StarTrek–the episode is called “Nirang Din Dong” and the Priestess, a real babe btw, tells Kirk she is going to instruct him in the esoteric arts of the Nirang Din Dong, but changes her mind.

    She makes him sleep him on the couch.

  9. DK

    Paul, exactly! Shatner is Jewish too.

    These Zoroastrian women have a serious problem with Jewish men.

  10. Paul Freedman

    DK: proof positive 🙂

  11. Danon

    Shatner is Jewish too.

    Wasn’t Spock Jewish 2?

  12. Zeke

    Zoroastrians are pagan. They believe in two dieties, one of light (fire) and the other of darkness. To call them monotheistic is misleading.
    And yes, both Leonard Nimoy and the character Spock are both Jewish (the latter comes out in one of the authorized novels where he learns of a Jewish great-great-grandmother from his mother’s mother’s side.

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