Monday, 17 November 2014

Secular Indians – Jews in India


Magen David synagogue,Calcutta,
Minara Chabad, Mumbai,
Since 2000 BC Jews and Christians have lived continuously in India without any instances of religious persecution or hatred by the natives - mostly Hindus throughout history. India is home to more than 24 million Christians – more than 2.3% of the population, the third largest religious group - of various denominations.
Cochin Synagogue, Kochi. credit en
For generations Indians have been secular in their outlook and have had the highest religious tolerance towards other religions in the world; hence it has been a multi-religious country for centuries. Without any instances of antisemitism, as prevalent in many parts of the world, the Indian Jews for centuries have had harmonious relationship with the local people-mainly Hindus and enjoyed full freedom as others. Judaism was the first foreign religion to have arrived in India. The Cochin Jews arrived in India 2500 years ago (562 BCE) as traders long before the Christian preachers and more Jews landed there as exiles in 70 CE soon after the destruction of Second Temple. Since then they have been living there peacefully assimilating the local tradition, culture, and making valuable contribution in their adopted land, though their numbers have dwindled recently due to migration to Israel.
 In the 14th century, British,Spanish and Baghdadi Jews arrived in Madras, – now Chennai to escape from persecution and religious bigotry. So were the Bene Israel Jews in Maharashtra who arrived there 900 years ago. There is a famous and one of the oldest synagogues in Mattancherry, near Cochin, Kerala that belongs to Paradesi Jews-the decedents of Spanish Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492.The then Hindu king of Malabar gave generous grants to the Jewish community for building temples, houses, etc, to live freely and comfortably. Currently there are 33 synagogues in India, many dating back to 6th century through 20th century;many of them do not function because,as mentioned before, Jewish migration - Aliah to Israel. Once these synagogues served the Baghdadi, Bene Israel and Cochin Jews.
Jewish population: Half of them live in Mizoram and a quarter live in the city of Mumbai. Unlike many parts of the world, Jews have historically lived in India without large-scale anti-Semitism. However, Jews in India have recently suffered from terrorist attacks by Lashkar-e-Toiba, which has declared Jews and Hindus to be enemies of Islam. In Mumbai, two synagogues are located in predominantly Muslim areas.
In addition to Jewish members of various diplomatic corps, there are five native Jewish communities in India.
The Cochin Jews arrived in India 2,500 years ago and settled down in Cochin, Kerala as traders. The Baghdadi Jews arrived in the city Mumbai from Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, and Arab countries about 250 years ago. The Bene Israel arrived in the state of Maharashtra 2,100 years ago. The Bnei Menashe are Mizo and Kuki tribesmen in Manipur and Indian Jews are a religious minority, living among India's predominantly Hindu populace. However, Judaism was one of the first religions to arrive in India and assimilate with 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 descendants of Israel's Lost Ten Tribes. 
Of the total Jewish population, Mizoram Jews claim descent from the tribe of Menasseh. The Bene Ephraim (also called Telugu Jews) are a small group who speak Telugu; their observance of Judaism dates to 17th or 18th C.
However, after the arrival of Portuguese in India in the early 1500 particularly in Goa the Hindus, Goan Jews and Muslims were subjected to religious persecution and oppression by the Portuguese Christian fanatics. Religious Inquisition -1560 AD was introduced by Evangelist Fr. Francis Xavier in the Portuguese territory,

The Jews of India: A Story of Three Communities by Orpa Slapak. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. 2003. ISBN 965-278-179-7.
Weil, Shalva.India's Jewish Heritage: Ritual, Art and Life-Cycle. Mumbai: Marg Publications [first published in 2002; 3rd edn.]. 2009.