Indian Jews: Wikis


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A map of India, showing the main areas of Jewish concentration.

Indian Jews are a religious minority of India. Judaism was one of the first non-Dharmic religions to arrive in India in recorded history. The better-established ancient communities have assimilated a large number of local traditions through cultural diffusion. The Jewish population in India is hard to estimate since each Jewish community is distinct with different origins; some arrived during the time of the Kingdom of Judah, others are seen by some as descendants of Israel's Ten Lost Tribes. Of the total Jewish population in India, about half live in Manipur and Mizoram and a quarter live in the city of Mumbai. Unlike many parts of the world, Jews have historically lived in India without anti-Semitism from Hindus (though they were victims of anti-Semitism by the Portuguese[1] and their Inquisition during their colonial rule in Goa). The Jews settled in Kodungallur (Cranganore) on the Malabar Coast, where they traded peacefully, until 1524. Jews have held important positions under Indian (Hindu) princes in the past and even after independence from British Rule, have risen to very high positions in government, military and industry. India is recognized as one of the few countries where anti-semitism has not taken place, although Pakistani terrorists killed six Jews in the Nariman House during the Mumbai attack of 26/11.

In addition to Jewish expatriates and recent immigrants, there are five native Jewish communities in India:

  1. The Cochin Jews arrived in India 2,500 years ago and settled down in Cochin, Kerala as traders.
  2. The Bene Israel arrived in the state of Maharashtra 2,100 years ago.
  3. The Baghdadi Jews arrived in the city Mumbai from Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, and Arab countries about 250 years ago.
  4. The Bnei Menashe are Mizo and Kuki tribesmen in Manipur and Mizoram who claim descent from the tribe of Menasseh.
  5. The Bene Ephraim (also called "Telugu Jews") are a small group who speak Telugu; their observance of Judaism dates to 1981.


Cochin Jews

The oldest of the Indian Jewish communities is in Cochin. Traders from Judea arrived in the city of Cochin, in what is now Kerala, in 562 BC. Most Jews, however, came as exiles from Israel in the year 70 C.E. after the destruction of the Second Temple[2] The distinct Jewish community was called Anjuvannam. The still-functioning synagogue in Mattancherry belongs to the Paradesi Jews, the descendants of Sephardim that were expelled from Spain and Holland in 1492.[3]

Bene Israel

The Bene Israel arrived 2,100 years ago after a shipwreck stranded seven Jewish families from Judea at Navagaon near Alibag, just south of Mumbai. The families multiplied and integrated with the local Maharashtrian population adopting their language (Marathi), dress and food. They were nicknamed the shanivār telī ("Saturday oil-pressers") by the local population as they abstained from work on Saturdays which is Judaism's Shabbat. The Bene Israel claim a lineage to the Cohanim, which claims descent from Aaron, the brother of Moses. In 2002, a DNA test confirmed that the Bene Israel share the same heredity as the Cohanim.[4] Bene Israel communities and synagogues are situated in Pen, Mumbai, Alibag, Pune and Ahmedabad with smaller communities scattered around India. Mumbai had a thriving Bene Israel community until the 1950's to 1960's when many families from the community emigrated to the fledgeling state of Israel. The Bene Israel community has risen to many positions of prominence in Israel. In India itself the Bene Israel community has shrunk considerably with many of the old Synagogues falling into disuse. In Mala, Thrissur District, Jews have a cemetry.

Baghdadi Jews

Knesset Eliyahoo, a 150 year old Jewish Synagogue in Fort, Mumbai, India

Despite the name, the Baghdadi Jews are not exclusively of Iraqi origin: many came from Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen as well. These Jews emigrated to India around 250 years ago and settled in the city of Bombay (Mumbai). They were traders and quickly became one of the highest earning communities in the city. As philanthropists, some of them donated their wealth to public structures. The David Sassoon Docks and a Sassoon Library are some of the famous landmarks still standing today.

As well as Bombay (Mumbai), Baghdadi Jews spread to other parts of India, with an important community in Calcutta (Kolkata). Scions of this community did well in trade (particularly jute, but also tea) and, in later years, contributed officers to the army. One, Lt-Gen J. F. R. Jacob PVSM, becoming state governor of, first, Goa then Punjab and later administrator of Chandigarh.

Bnei Menashe

An estimated 9,000 people in the northeastern Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur started practicing halachic Judaism in the 1970s, claiming to be descendants of the Tribe of Manasseh. They have since been recognized by Israel as a lost tribe, and most have left, or plan to leave India and emigrate to Israel after undergoing a conversion to Orthodox Judaism. However, India has since halted conversions to Judaism and exodus to Israel. [5]

Bene Ephraim

The Bene Ephraim are a small group of Telugu-speaking Jews in eastern Andhra Pradesh whose recorded observance of Judaism, like that of the Bnei Menashe, is quite recent, dating only to 1981.

Delhi Jewry

Judah Hyam Synagogue, the Centre of Jewish Life in Delhi

Judaism in Delhi is primarily focused on the expatriate community who work in Delhi, as well Israeli diplomats and a small local community. Jewish life in Delhi centers around the Judah Hyam synagogue, which has services run by Ezekiel Isaac Malekar. In Paharganj, Chabad has set up a synagogue and religious center in a backpacker area regularly visited by Israeli tourists.



Jews in India typically have not intermarried with gentiles. In recent years, however, Indian Rabbis such as Ezekiel Isaac Malekar have presided over inter-faith marriage.[6] The majority of Indian Jews have "made Aliyah" (migrated) to Israel since the creation of the modern state in 1948. A total of 75,000 Indian Jews now live in Israel (over 1% of the nation's total population).

See also


  1. ^ "Christianity and antisemitism". Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 2008-11-09. Retrieved 2008-11-21.  
  2. ^ P. 125 The Shengold Jewish Encyclopedia By Mordecai Schreiber
  3. ^ P. 125 The Shengold Jewish Encyclopedia By Mordecai Schreiber
  4. ^ Parfitt, Tudor; Egorova, Yulla (June 2005). "Genetics, History, and Identity: The Case of the Bene Israel and the Lemba". Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 29 (2): 193–224.  
  5. ^ The Virtual Jewish History Tour - India
  6. ^
  • "India's Bene Israel: A Comprehensive Inquiry and Sourcebook" Isenberg, Shirley Berry; Berkeley: Judah L. Magnes Museum, 1988
  • "Indian Jewish Heritage: Ritual, Art and Life-Cycle" Dr. Shalva Weil (ed). Mumbai: Marg Publications
  • Indian Jews - Jewish Encyclopedia
  • Bene Israel - Jewish Encyclopedia
  • Cochin Jews - Jewish Encyclopedia
  • Calcutta Jews - Jewish Encyclopedia
  • Indian Jews - Jewish Virtual Library

External links



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