Indian Jews: The Minority Community retains its unique Religious Identity for 2,000 Years

Indian Jews are the only Jews throughout the world who have never encountered any form of racial discrimination since the 2 millennia.

Indian Jews in 1905. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
  • The Indian Jews is an ancient and sparse community and was given the official minority status by the Maharashtra state government on June 21, 2016
  • Out of 4,650 Jews in India, Maharashtra is home to 2466 Jews
  • This community is made up of three traditional communities who settled in the West, South and the East coast of India

The Indian Jews is an ancient and sparse community that was given the official minority status on June 21, 2016, by the Maharashtra state government. Maharashtra is the second state to give this official recognition to Indian Jews after West Bengal, as it was necessary for the very survival this community due to its precarious condition. Out of 4,650 Jews in India, Maharashtra is home to 2466 Jews, mentioned a leading News portal.

Follow NewsGram on Twitter: Newsgram

However, in the post-independence era, Jewish population always revolved around 5000 due to the large-scale immigration during the 1950s and 1960s to Israel. Therefore, being recognised as a minority will help Indian Jews to retain their religious and cultural traditions, and their unique heritage on the Indian subcontinent. This present recognition has raised the community’s hopes of being recognised as a minority by the central government.

Indian Jews are the only Jews throughout the world who have never encountered any form of racial discrimination since the two millennia, mentioned This community is made up of three traditional communities who were settled in the West, South and the East coast of India.

With numerous tale of displacement from their native land, their settlement in India as well as their migration to Israel and the West; there exist several distinct communities of Jews. But all of these communities arrived in Indian Subcontinent by sea or came as maritime traders and in the end settled here.

The Paradesi Jews

India’s Jewish legacy is popular among the world because of foreign Jewish community of Kochi and their attractive 500-year-old synagogue at Mattancherry. Author Salman Rushdie in his novel “The Moor’s last Sigh” extolled the beauty of Synagogue and mentioned that “Legends had begun to stick to them. Some said that if you explored long enough/ You’d find your own story…because pictures on the tiles could change, were changing, /Generation by generation, to tell the story of the Cochin Jews.”

Follow NewsGram on Facebook: @NewsGram

However, Paradesis are the smallest group in comparison to the Cochini Jews and never exceeded 200 individuals.

The Paradesi Jews came to the Malabar Coast in waves- as traders and some to escape persecution from the Spanish Inquisition in the domain of the rajah of Cochin during the 14th and 15th centuries. This fair skinned and light- eyed community were from Baghdad, Yemen, Kurdistan, Spain, Germany, and Portugal, mostly belonged to the trading families.

A map of India, showing the main areas of Jewish concentration.
A map of India, showing the main areas of Jewish concentration, Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Today, Jew Town is overrun by shops selling tourist- souvenirs, books, and antiques, since the synagogue and the nearby royal temple and the “Dutch” Palace are the main the tourist spots.

The propinquity of these two heritage sites, they share a common compound wall, indicates the respect for the Paradesis in the eyes of Rajahs of Cochin.

The rule of the Dutch East India Company(1663-1773) was the golden era for this community. Especially, when Ezekial Rahabi II (b.1694-d.1771) became the chief merchant of the company whom the Dutch negotiated with the Rajah of Cochin.

Malabari Jews of Kochi are probably the oldest community of Jews in India, and today only 20 individual exist from this community. They came to the Indian subcontinent around 68CE. about the same time that the Bene-Israel Jews of Maharashtra’s Konkan Coast were shipwrecked at Navgaon (south of Mumbai).

The sasnam (grant) inscribed on the Jewish copper plates gives the principality of Anjuvvanam (now Kondungallur), with its 70 villages and its revenue, to Joseph Rabban and his family in perpetuity. There are some evidence that they belong from the Chera period of the 10th century.

It is this principality of Anjuvannam, close to the ancient entrêport of Muziris (where there is an ongoing Archaeological Survey of India excavation), which is the legendary medieval Indian Jewish kingdom of Shingly. This kingdom existed is reiterated by a body of Hebrew songs composed during the period Anjuvannam and after its abandonment, and almost until the 17th century, it was known as the Shingly tunes.

To keep this joyous legacy alive, both Cochini Jews and Malabar Jews sing Shingly tunes on several religious occasions.
During festivals like Simchat Torah, the theme of royalty is played by Cochin Jews and Torah scrolls are carried in seven circuits within the Synagogue, according to the tradition. A royal procession is also held in the compound of the synagogue.

This is also a day of mourning for Jews all over the world, as on this very day it is believed that the First and the Second Jewish temple in Jerusalem were destroyed.

The Jews of Cochin

The fusion of the distinct histories of the Malabar Jews and Paradesi Jews is exemplified in the Paradesi (Mattancherry) Synagogue, where the foundation stone of the first Synagogue in cochin was built by the Malabar Jews in the year 1344.

Migrations from the Malabar Jewish Community to Cochin is believed to have started in 1341, and integrated with the constant decline of Anjuvannam (Shingly), and got settled in the vicinity of Cochin at Ernakulam, Parur, Mala, Chendamangalam, and Mattancherry. The last named though associated with the Paradesis was originally founded by settlers from Anjuvannam — Samuel Castiel, Joseph Levi, David Belila, and Ephraim Sala.

Just like the Paradesis, the Malabar Jews too were faithful to the Perumal royal family of Cochin because of their religious tolerance and protection of Jews. This community consists of small traders, oil pressers and stevedores, suppliers of foodstuffs to ships that anchored off Cochin.

During the formation of the State of Israel in 1948, a strong Zionist vehemence to return to the native land grasped the minds of this community. The entire community, like the Jews of Malabar, started migrating to Israel and decided to settle in agricultural settlements. The Paradesi Jews also immigrated themselves to Israel, settling in the cities of Tel, Aviv and Haifa. Now, this Jew community consists of a large number of professionals, like doctors and engineers.

To protect and preserve the unique culture and heritage of Indian Jews community, Kerela state government has also given them the status of the minority as this community has retained their unique religious identity in India for 2,000 years.

– prepared by Akansha Sharma of NewsGram. Twitter: Akansha4117