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JEWS OF INDIA

 

It is commonly accepted that the Jews have been in India for over 2,000 years ever since they first landed on the West coast of India. Indian Jews fall into five categories: Bene Israel, Cochinis, Baghdadi Jews, Bene Menashe (Manipuri Jews) and Bene Ephraim ("Telugu Jews'). The Bene Israel, or the Children of Israel are the Marathi-speaking Jews who are more numerous than the other two groups. The Cochinis form a small Jewish community in Cochin, Kerala. The Baghdadis are the Jews who came to India as traders from West Asia, mainly from Baghdad. They are settled mainly in Mumbai, Pune and Kolkata.

Cochin Jews : About 10,000 Jews are said to have come to the Kerala coast in 68 A.D. to escape religious persecution elsewhere in the world. Jewish settlements came up in Cranganore (now Kodungallur), Palayur, Pullut, Quilon, Madayi and Chowghat among other places. The Jewish community was bestowed with several valuable privileges by the native rulers.  The famous Jewish Copper Plate given by Emperor Bhaskara Ravi Varman to the Jewish Chief, Joseph Rabban, in 1000 AD records the grant of several rights and privileges in perpetuity. However the arrival of Christian Portuguese started their persecution forcing them to flee Cranganore for Cochin in 1565 A.D. The Jews of Cochin were allowed full religious freedom by the British and the Dutch.  In fact, the Jews reached their peak of prosperity under the Dutch.  The Jews were originally divided into two classes : White or Jerusalem Jews, who were the original settlers, and the Black Jews, who were the natives working for the White Jews who converted to Judaism.  White Jews were traders and merchants while the Black Jews were sawyers, blacksmiths, tailors, fishermen and others who practised various handicrafts.  The Black Jews were later began to be known as the "Malabar Jews". These Jews had synagogues at Mattancherry, Ernakulam, Parur, Cranganore and Chennamangalam, of which only the Synagogue of  Mattancherry is functioning. After the creation of Israel in 1948, there was a mass exodus of Indian jews and their number in and around Cochin in places like Mattancherry, Parur and Ernakulam does not exceed 100.

Manipur Jews: The Manipur Jews constitute a community which sees itself as descendants of the Manasseh (Menashe) Tribe (which is one of the 10 lost tribes of Jews). These people have Chinese appearance and they claim that after their forefathers were exiled and enslaved by the Assyrians they somehow escaped from slavery and arrived in China and later on moved to the Chinese-Burmese border and India. They believe that the Christian missionaries in the 19th century forced them to abolish their Jewish identity and adopt Christianity. From 1951 after a local chief, named Tchalah revealed to his people that God had told him that his people should return to their original religion and land (Judaism and Israel), there is a movement to return to Judaism and immigration to Israel.Known as the "Children of Menmasseh", the majority of them are believed to be Messianic Jews (believers in Jesus Christ -- Yeshua).

The Children of Menmasseh is claimed to be one of the largest groups of Jews in India, who claim that their combined number in India and the adjoining border areas varies from 1.2 to 1.5 million people.

The Indian Jews are known as a peace-loving community. They follow the Hebrew calendar. The Indian Jews have a special thanks giving ceremony known as Eliyahoo-ha-Nabior i.e. 'gratitude to Elijah the Prophet', on festive occasions.

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