The history of the
India reaches back to ancient
Judaism was one of the first foreign religions to
India in recorded history. Indian
Jews are a religious
minority of India, but unlike many parts of the world, have
historically lived in
India without any instances of antisemitism from
the local majority populace. The better-established ancient
communities have assimilated a large number of local traditions
through cultural diffusion. The Jewish community of
India is the
fourth largest Asian Jewish community after Israel, Asian Russia, and
Iran. The Jewish population in
India is hard to estimate, since each
Jewish community is distinct with different origins; while some
allegedly arrived during the time of the Kingdom of Judah, others are
seen by some as descendants of Israel's Ten Lost Tribes.
1 Jewish groups in India
4 Bene Israel
5 South Asian
Jews & Baghdadi Jews
6 Bnei Menashe
7 Bene Ephraim
8 Delhi Jewry
Jews of Indian descent
12.1 Further reading
13 External links
Jewish groups in India
In addition to Jewish expatriates and recent immigrants, there are
seven Jewish groups in India:
The 'black' Malabar component of the
Cochin Jews, according to Shalva
Weil, might have arrived in
India together with Solomon's merchants.
Jews settled down in
Kerala as traders. The 'white'
component is of European and other Jewish descent.
Chennai Jews: The so-called Spanish and Portuguese Jews, Paradesi Jews
Jews arrived at
Madras during the 16th century, they were
diamond businessmen, and of
Sephardi heritage. Following expulsion
Iberia in 1492 by the Alhambra Decree, a few families of
Jews eventually made their way to
Madras in the 16th
century. They maintained trade connections to Europe, and their
language skills were useful. Although the
Sephardim spoke Ladino (i.e.
Spanish or Judeo-Spanish), in
India they learned Tamil and
Judeo-Malayalam from the Malabar Jews.
Jews of Goa: These were Portuguese
Jews who fled to Portuguese Goa
after the commencement of the
Inquisition in Portugal. The community
consisted mainly of "New-Christians" who were
Jews by blood and had
converted under the duress of the Inquisition. This group was the
target of heavy persecution with the start of the Goan Inquisition,
which put on trial famed physician Garcia de Orta, among others.
Another branch of the
Bene Israel community resided in Karachi until
the Partition of
India in 1947, when they fled to
particular, to Mumbai). Many of them also moved to
Jews from Sindh,
Pathan area are often
incorrectly called Bani
Israel Jews. The Jewish community who used to
reside in other parts of what became Pakistan (such as
Peshawar) also fled to
India in 1947, in a similar manner to the
larger Karachi Jewish community.
Jews arrived in the city of
Surat from Iraq (and other
Arab states), Iran and Afghanistan about 250 years ago.
Bnei Menashe are Mizo and Kuki tribesmen in
Manipur and Mizoram
who are recent converts to Judaism.
Bene Ephraim (also called "Telugu Jews") are a small group who
speak Telugu; their observance of
Judaism dates to 1981.
Arrival of the Jewish pilgrims at Cochin, A.D. 68
Synagogue in Kochi is an active 16th century synagogue
The oldest of the Indian Jewish communities is in Cochin. The
traditional account is that traders from
Judea arrived in the city of
Cochin, Kerala, in 562 BCE, and that more
Jews came as exiles from
Israel in the year 70 CE. after the destruction of the Second
Temple. It is also believed that the
Jews settled in
King Solomon was in power. This was a time that teak, ivory, spices,
and peacock were popular in trade in Cochin. There is no exact date or
reason to why they arrived in
India but scholars date it to around the
early Middle Ages.
Cochin is a group of small tropical islands filled
with markets and many different cultures such as Dutch, Hindu, Jewish,
Portuguese, and British. 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 in 1492, although the Jewish community in Mattancherry
had only six remaining members as of 2015.
Central to the history of the
Jews is their close relationship
with Indian rulers, and this was eventually codified on a set of
copper plates granting the community special privileges. The date of
these plates, known as "Sâsanam", is contentious. The plates
themselves provide a date of 379 CE, but in 1925 tradition was setting
it as 1069 CE,
Joseph Rabban by Bhaskara Ravi Varma, the fourth
ruler of Maliban granted the copper plates to the Jews. The plates
were inscribed with a message stating that the village of Anjuvannam
belonged to the
Jews and that they were the rightful lords of
Anjuvannam and it should remain theirs and be passed on to their
Jewish descendants "so long as the world and moon exist." This is the
earliest document that shows that the
Jews were living in India
permanently. It is now stored in Cochins main synagogue. The Jews
Kodungallur (Cranganore) on the Malabar Coast, where they
traded peacefully, until 1524. The Jewish leader
Joseph Rabban was
granted the rank of prince over the
Jews of Cochin, given the
rulership and tax revenue of a pocket principality in Anjuvannam, near
Cranganore, and rights to seventy-two "free houses". The Hindu
king gave permission in perpetuity (or, in the more poetic expression
of those days, "as long as the world and moon exist") for
Jews to live
freely, build synagogues, and own property "without conditions
attached". A link back to Rabban, "the king of Shingly"
(another name for Cranganore), was a sign of both purity and prestige.
Rabban's descendants maintained this distinct community until a
chieftainship dispute broke out between two brothers, one of them
named Joseph Azar, in the 16th century. The
Jews lived peacefully for
over a thousand years in Anjuvannam. After the reign of the Rabban's,
the Jewish people no longer had the protection of the copper plates.
Neighboring princes of
Anjuvannam intervened and revoked all
privileges that the Jewish people were given. In 1524, the
attacked by the Moors brothers on a suspicion that they were messing
with the pepper trade and the homes and synagogues belonging to them
were destroyed. The damage was so extensive that when the Portuguese
arrived a few years later, only a small amount of impoverished Jews
remained. They remained there for 40 more years only to return to
their land of Cochin.
In Mala, Thrissur District, the Malabar
Jews have a
Synagogue and a
cemetery, as well as in Chennamangalam, Parur and Ernakulam. There
are at least 7
Synagogues still existing in Kerala, although not
serving their original purpose anymore.
Main article: Paradesi Jews
Plan of Fort St George and the city of
Madras in 1726,Shows "Jews
Burying Place" (marked as "b."), the "Jewish Cemetery Chennai", Four
Brothers Garden and Bartolomeo Rodrigues Tomb
Rabbi Salomon Halevi(Last
Madras Synagogue) and his wife
Rebecca Cohen, Paradesi
Jews of Madras
Jews also settled in
Madras (now Chennai) soon after its founding in
1640. Most of them were coral merchants from Leghorn, Caribbean,
London, Amsterdam who were of Portuguese origin and belonged to the
Henriques De Castro, Franco, Paiva or Porto families.
Jacques (Jaime) de Paiva (Pavia), originally from Amsterdam, was an
early Jewish arrival and a leader of the community. He established
good relations with those in power and bought several mines. Through
Jews were permitted to live within Fort St. George.
De Paiva died in 1687 after a visit to his mines and was buried in the
Jewish cemetery he had established in Peddanaickenpet, which later
became the north Mint Street.[a] In 1670, the Portuguese
Madras numbered around 3000. Before his
death he established ‘The Colony of Jewish Traders of Madraspatam’
with Antonio do Porto, Pedro Pereira and Fernando Mendes
Henriques. This enabled more Portuguese Jews, from Leghorn, the
Caribbean, London and Amsterdam, to settle in Madras.
Coral Merchant Street was named after the Jews' business.
Jews were nominated to be aldermen of Madras
Corporation. Three - Bartolomeo Rodrigues, Domingo do Porto and
Alvaro da Fonseca - also founded the largest trading house in Madras.
The large tomb of Rodrigues, who died in
Madras in 1692, became a
landmark in Peddanaickenpet but was later destroyed.
Samuel de Castro came to
Madras from Curaçao and Salomon Franco came
In 1688, there were three Jewish representatives in the Madras
Corporation. Most Jewish settlers resided in the Coral Merchants
Street in Muthialpet. They also had a cemetery, called "Jewish
Cemetery Chennai" in the neighbouring Peddanaickenpet.
Main article: Bene Israel
photo of Marathi
Bene Israel family
Alibag Bombay State.
Foreign notices of the
Bene Israel go back at least to 1768, when
Yechezkel Rahabi wrote to a Dutch trading partner that they were
widespread in Maharatta Province, and observed two Jewish observances,
recital of the
Shema and observation of
Shabbat rest. The legend
of their origins claims that they descend from ancestors, 14 Jewish
men and women, equally divided by gender, who survived the shipwreck
of refugees from persecution or political turmoil, and came ashore at
Navagaon near Alibag, 20 miles south of Mumbai, some 17 to 19
centuries ago. They were instructed in the rudiments of normative
Cochin Jews. Their Jewishness is controversial, and
initially as not accepted by the Rabbinate in Israel. Since 1964
however they intermarry throughout
Israel and are considered Israeli
and Jewish in all respects.
They are divided into subcastes, which do not intermarry: 'Black'
(Kara) and White (Gora), the latter believed to be lineal descendants
of the shipwreck survivors, while the former are considered to descend
from concubinage of a male with local women. They were nicknamed
the shanivār telī ("Saturday oil-pressers") by the local population
as they abstained from work on Saturdays.
Bene Israel communities and
synagogues are situated in Pen, Mumbai, Alibag,
Pune and Ahmedabad
with smaller communities scattered around India. The largest synagogue
in Asia outside
Israel is in
Pune (Ohel David Synagogue).
Mumbai had a thriving
Bene Israel community until the 1950s to 1960s
when many families from the community emigrated to the fledgling state
of Israel, where they are known as Hodi'im (Indians). The Bene
Israel community has risen to many positions of prominence in
India itself the
Bene Israel community has shrunk
considerably with many of the old
Synagogues falling into disuse.
Unlike many parts of the world,
Jews have historically lived in India
without any instances of antisemitism from the local majority
populace, the Hindus. However,
Jews were persecuted by the
Portuguese during their control of Goa.[verification needed]
Main article: Jewish Community of Mumbai
Jews & Baghdadi Jews
Main articles: Baghdadi
Jews and History of the
Jews in Kolkata
Knesset Eliyahoo, a 150-year-old Jewish
Synagogue in Fort, Mumbai,
The first known Baghdadi Jewish immigrant to India, Joseph Semah,
arrived in the port city of
Surat in 1730. He and other early
immigrants established a synagogue and cemetery in Surat, though most
of the city's Jewish community eventually moved to Bombay (Mumbai),
where they established a new synagogue and cemetery. They were traders
and quickly became one of the most prosperous communities in the city.
As philanthropists, some donated their wealth to public structures.
Sassoon Docks and
David Sassoon Library
David Sassoon Library are some of the famous
landmarks still standing today.
The Magen David
Synagogue of Kolkata was built in 1884
The synagogue in
Surat was eventually razed; the cemetery, though in
poor condition, can still be seen on the Katargam-Amroli road. One of
the graves within is that of Moseh Tobi, buried in 1769, who was
described as 'ha-Nasi ha-Zaken' (The Elder Prince) by David Solomon
Sassoon in his book A History of the
Jews in Baghdad (Simon Wallenburg
Press, 2006, ISBN 184356002X).
Baghdadi Jewish populations spread beyond Bombay to other parts of
India, with an important community forming in Calcutta (Kolkata).
Scions of this community did well in trade (particularly jute and
tea), and in later years contributed officers to the army. One, Lt-Gen
J. F. R. Jacob
J. F. R. Jacob PVSM, became state governor of
Goa (1998–99), then
Punjab, and later served as administrator of Chandigarh. Pramila
(Esther Victoria Abraham) became the first ever Miss India, in 1947.
Flag of Bnei Menashe
Main article: Bnei Menashe
Bnei Menashe are a group of more than 9,000 people from the
northeastern Indian states of
Mizoram and Manipur who practice a
form of biblical
Judaism and claim descent from one of the Lost Tribes
of Israel. Many were converted to Christianity and were originally
headhunters and animists at the beginning of the 20th century, but
began converting to
Judaism in the 1970s.
Main article: Bene Ephraim
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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.
There are a few families in
Andhra Pradesh who follow Judaism. Many
among them follow the customs of Orthodox
Jews like long side locks in
male hair and having head covering all the time.
Pune is the largest active synagogue in India
Judaism in Delhi is primarily focused on the expatriate community who
work in Delhi, as well as Israeli diplomats and a small local
community. In Paharganj,
Chabad has set up a synagogue and religious
center in a backpacker area regularly visited by Israeli tourists.
Main article: Indian
Jews in Israel
Synagogues in India
The majority of Indian
Jews have "made Aliyah" (migrated) to Israel
since the creation of the modern state in 1948. Over 70,000 Indian
Jews now live in
Israel (over 1% of Israel's total
population). Of the remaining 5,000, the largest
community is concentrated in Mumbai, where 3,500 have stayed over from
the over 30,000
Jews registered there in the 1940s, divided into Bene
Israel and Baghdadi Jews, though the Baghdadi
Jews refused to
recognize the B'nei
Israel as Jews, and withheld dispensing charity to
them for that reason. There are reminders of Jewish localities in
Kerala still left such as Synagogues. The majority of
Jews from the
old British-Indian capital of Calcutta (Kolkata) have also migrated to
Israel over the last six decades.
Jews of Indian descent
Anish Kapoor, sculptor
Aditya Roy Kapur, actor
Eli Ben-Menachem, Israeli politician
Jacqueline Bhabha, lecturer at Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy
School of Government
Ranjit Chaudhry, Bollywood actor
David Abraham Cheulkar, Bollywood actor
Reuben David (1912 - 1989) zoologist
Esther David (March 17, 1945— ), Jewish-Indian author, an artist and
Nadira, Bollywood actress
Karen David, British-Canadian actress
Nissim Ezekiel, poet, playwright, editor and art-critic
Lieutenant General J F R Jacob, former Chief of Staff of the Indian
Army's Eastern Command, and former Governor of
Punjab and Goa
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, writer who moved to
India when she was 24, lived
there for 24 years, before emigrating to USA
Gerry Judah, artist and designer
Ellis Kadoorie and Elly Kadoorie, philanthropists
Horace Kadoorie, philanthropist
Anish Kapoor, sculptor
Samson Kehimkar, musician
Ezekiel Isaac Malekar,
Bene Israel rabbi
Ruby Myers, Bollywood actress of the 1920s known as Sulochana
Pearl Padamsee, theatre personality
Joseph Rabban, was given copper plates of special grants from the
Chera ruler Bhaskara Ravivarman II from Kerala
David and Simon Reuben, businessmen
Abraham Barak Salem,
Cochin Jewish Indian nationalist leader
Aditya Roy Kapur, Bollywood actor
Lalchanhima Sailo, rabbi and founder of Chhinlung
David Sassoon, businessman
Albert Abdullah David Sassoon, British Indian merchant
Sassoon David Sassoon, philanthropist and benefactor of greater Indian
Solomon Sopher, Jewish community leader in Mumbai
Bensiyon Songavkar, professional cricketer
Esther Victoria Abraham, also known as Pramila, first Miss India
Fleur Ezekiel -
Bene Israel model, chosen as Miss World in 1959
Sheila Singh Paul, paediatrician, founder and director of Kalawati
Saran Children's Hospital, New Delhi; pioneer in polio vaccination
^ A synagogue once also existed at Mint Street.
^ a b c The
Jews of India: A Story of Three Communities by Orpa
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^ a b Schreiber, Mordecai (2003). The Shengold Jewish Encyclopedia.
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^ Meyer, Raphael. "
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^ Three years in America, 1859–1862 (p. 59, p. 60) by
^ Roots of Dalit history, Christianity, theology, and spirituality (p.
28) by James Massey, I.S.P.C.K.
^ Weil, Shalva. "Where are
Jews today? The
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^ a b c d Muthiah, S. (3 September 2007). "The Portuguese
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^ Sundaram, Krithika (31 October 2012). "18th century Jewish cemetery
lies in shambles, craves for attention". The New Indian Express.
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Jews be there?".
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^ Muthiah, S. (2014).
Madras Rediscovered. Westland.
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They soon established an Office of
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^ Stephen Epstein. "
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^ "More than 7,200 Indian
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with a Tiger" in David Shulman and
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