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|Regions with significant populations|
|Andhra Pradesh, India|
|Related ethnic groups|
Jews, Indian Jews
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|Jews and Judaism|
The Bene Ephraim (Telugu: బెనె ఎఫ్రాయిమ్) (Hebrew: בני אפריים) Bnei Ephraim ("Sons of Ephraim"), also called Telugu Jews because they speak Telugu, are a small community living primarily in Kottareddipalem, a village outside Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, India, near the delta of the River Krishna. They claim to be descendants of the Tribe of Ephraim, of the Ten Lost Tribes, and since the 1980s have learned to practice Judaism.
The Bene Ephraim claim descent from the Tribe of Ephraim, and say that they traveled from Israel through western Asia: Persia, Afghanistan, Tibet and into China for 1,600 years before arriving in southern India more than 1,000 years ago. They hold a history which they say is similar to that of the shift of Afghan Jews and Persian Jewish, Bene Israel, Bnei Menashe in the northeastern Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur, who received recognition in 2005 from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. (The latter people must still go through a formal conversion process to become citizens of Israel.)
During the medieval period they have worked as farm laborers. While practising Judaism, they adopted some Christianity after the arrival of British Baptist missionaries during the early 19th century.
Their leader, Shamuel Yacobi, went to Jerusalem in the 1980s, he became convinced they were of Jewish descent. Because of the long period in which the people were not practising Judaism, they did not develop any distinctly identifiable Judæo-Telugu language or dialect. (See Jewish languages.)
Since the 1980s, about fifty families around Kottareddipalem and Ongole (Headquarters of the nearby district of Prakasam) have studied Judaism, learned Hebrew, and built an operating synagogue. They celebrate all Jewish holiday's and often uses their Torah scroll speaking Hebrew.
Today Hebrew is being used as a living language rather than limited to liturgy. The community has been visited over the years by rabbis from the chief rabbinate in Israel to study their Jewish tradition and practices. The Chief Rabbi has to recognise the community as being of Jewish descent. The rabbis have taught Judaism and converted many Indians, while some women eventually married to a rabbi family, many married in the past to Jewish people, but not attached to homeland Israel they still must relocate. They have sought recognition from many rabbis around the world.
According to the Washington Times in 2006,
Many think the Bnei Ephraim Jews are trying to escape poverty and that they want to leave this region of Andhra Pradesh where six successive years of drought and crop failure have driven more than 3,000 peasants into debt and to suicide.
Chandra Sekhar Angadi, a social scientist in neighboring Karnataka, said of the Telugu Jews:
They are among the poorest of Jews who practice Judaism and in the world. They are eager to hear their Jewish origin and the recognition by Israel’s chief rabbinate, simply to be guaranteed a passport from that country where they can lead a much better Jewish practice life — away from this life of poverty and hunger.
- Yacobi, Sadok. "Bene Ephraim of Andhra Pradesh, South India", Kulanu
- Shaikh Azizur Rahman, "Another tribe seeks rabbinical recognition", Washington Times, 1 May 2006, accessed 16 May 2013
- Francisco, Jason L., "Meet the Telugu Jews of India", Kulanu website
- Sussman, Bonita & Gerald., "India Journal", 2007, Kulanu website
- Indian Jews, Kulanu Website index.
- Tudor Parfitt (2002), "The Lemba: An African Judaising Tribe", in Judaising Movements: Studies in the Margins of Judaism, edited by Parfitt, Tudor and Trevisan-Semi, E., London: Routledge Curzon.
- Shamuel Yacobi, THE CULTURAL HERMENEUTICS, an introduction to the cultural translation of the Hebrew Bible among the ancient nations of the Thalmulic Telugu Empire of India.