- Religion and Philosophy»
- The Role of Religion in History & Society
Hounded and persecuted in other countries, The Jews in India led a comparatively peaceful life. In the coastal state of Kerala , tucked deep in the South of India, they were not only prosperous but were treated as honored guests. The first Jewish migration was around 605 BC when they landed in the ancient port town of Cranganore (now called Kodungallore). After that there were waves of migration in 586 BC, 68 AD, 369 AD, 486 AD and 490AD. The largest Jewish migration was during the year 486 AD.
In India the largest Jewish community is known as Bene Israel. Most of them migrated after the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem.They settled in the west coast of India known as the Konkan coast. In the 19th century most of them began moving to other cities Bombay (now called Mumbai), Ahmedabad and Poona (now called Pune).
The Jews of Cochin were called Malabari Yehudan or Malabar Jews also known as Black Jews. This was to distinguish them from the White Jews or Paradsesi Jews who had migrated from Holland, Spain and other European countires. Naturally their language was different. While the Black Jews spoke Judeo-Malayalam, the White Jews spoke Ladino, a Romance language of the Sephardi Jews
While Bene Israeli's were mainly agriculturists, Malabar Jews were traders. One of their prominent leader was Joseph Rabban who was given a principality by the then Chera King Bhaskara Ravivarman. Unfortunately due to internecine fight among the descendants they were dispossessed and in 1524 skirmishes with Muslims, forced many Jews to flee to Cochin. The King of Cochin not only gave them asylum, but also a town which is still known by the name Jew Town. Portuguese incursions after Vasco da Gama resulted in Jews being persecuted, but when the Dutch took over Cochin their nightmare came to an end. The advent of the British posed no problem and the Jews became a prominent trading community. Free India was equally tolerant, but many Jews began to migrate once the state of Israel became a reality. Now the Jewish community is a microscopic minority but has left behind a great legacy which is still preserved.
A standing monument to this is the synagogue of Cochin, also called Paradesi synagogue which was built in 1568. The other popular names by which it is known is Mattancherry Synagogue and Cochin Jewish Synagogue which forms a part of Jew town. Unlike other synagogues there are no rabbis here, and the congregation is conducted by community elders. There are some other interesting variations too, like the tradition of removing footwear before entering the synagogue. The synagogue has in its custody rare antiques, like the TOHRA, copper plates conferring privileges to Joseph Rabban and many other interesting objects. Another synagogue is in Chennamangalam, Parur, which was built in the 17the century, has now been converted into a museum.