History of Jews of Kochi
As per the accounts of the medieval Jewish traveller, Benjamin of Tudela, the inhabitants of the Malabar Coast are good and benevolent. These inhabitants were called the Malabar Jews or the Jews of Kochi, who were well versed in the Laws of Moses and the other Jewish sacred texts. They were the first Jews in Kerala to have built synagogues in the 12th and 13th centuries and were known to have developed the language called Judeo- Malayalam, which is a dialect of the Malayalam language.
The Jewish history in Kerala dates back to 68 A.D, when they moved after the destruction of their Second Temple in Jerusalem. The first settlements of Jews were in Cranganore, which is modern day Kodungallore. There are historical evidences to show that the erstwhile rulers gave trading rights and concessions in the area to the Jewish merchant Joseph Rabban.
Following Rabban’s death in the 11th century, a power struggle broke out among his sons which led to the break-up of the community. Many moved to Mattancherry, which went on to become a major Jewish settlement. A theory disputing this version says that it was the Portuguese invasion of Kodungallore that forced the Jews to move to Mattancherry where they were welcomed by the king of Kochi.
In the 16th century, Kochi Jews were no longer the only Jewish community in southern India as the Paradesi Jews began to settle in the region. The Paradesi Jews, who were also referred to as the White Jews came to India following the expulsion from Iberia due to forced conversion and religious persecution in Spain and then Portugal. Soon after, during the rule of the Portuguese in India, the Jews faced discrimination but the Paradesi Jews received better treatment than the Kochi Jews, who were historically referred to as the ‘blacks’ during the colonial rule.
By the 17th century, the Jews in Kerala had set up synagogues in Mattancherry, Ernakulam, Paravoor, Mala, Chendamangalam and Angamaly. They had also built many mansions and buildings, many of which have now been converted to heritage hotels and offices. After the birth of the nation of Israel in 1948, the number of Jews in Kochi dwindled.