The history of Jews in India is pretty divided as some of the Jews state that their ancestors arrived in the country during the Kingdom of Judah, while others identify themselves as descendants of Israel’s Ten Lost Tribes. In the mid 1940s, the population of Jewish people peaked at around 20,000 but began to rapidly decline due to their emigration to the newly created Middle Eastern country of Israel in 1948. Currently in India, the population of Jews are spread out in cities like Kochi, Mumbai and Kolkata.
History of Jews in Kochi
The Jews of Kochi are the oldest Jews in India and their ancestry dates back to the time of King Solomon. The Kochi Jews had a close relationship with the Indian rulers, who granted the Jewish leader Joseph Rabban the rank of prince over the Jews of Kochi. The Indian rulers granted them the rights to 72 free houses, the Jews were given the liberty to live freely and build synagogues.
In 1524, when the Muslims attacked the wealthy Jews of Cranganore, they were given shelter by the Kochi Royal family and the Hindu king exempted the Jews of taxation. Kochi saw a variety of Jewish communities starting from Malabari, Paradesi to Mardasi.
History of Jews in Mumbai
Due to the erstwhile Bombay’s economic opportunities in the 18th century, the Jews started to settle in the city during that time. The Jewish community in Bombay consisted of three distinct communities: the first being the Baghdadi Jews of Israel, who arrived in 1730, then there was the Bene Israel Jews of Konkan, who moved to the city in 1746 and lastly it is the Kochi Jews of Malabar. Currently, there are less than 4000 Jews in Mumbai and about 8 synagogues.
History of Jews in Kolkata
Dating back to the 18th century, most of the Jews in Kolkata belong to the Baghdadi community. The first recorded Jewish immigrant to Kolkata was Shalom Aharon Obadiah Cohen, who arrived in Kolkata in 1798. The first generation of Jewish settlers in Kolkata spoke Judeo- Arabic at home and adhered to their Arabic style of costumes. The next generation of Jews adopted European dress and lifestyle and communicated only in English. In Kolkata, there five independent synagogues out of which only two are in use, along with a Jewish cemetery in the Narkeldanga neighbourhood. In the initial years, the Jewish community of Kolkata had about 6000 members but presently it has become fewer than 100. There are also other Jewish communities in other places of India like Chennai, Goa, Nagercoil, etc.
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