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| Israel 8,000 (estimated)
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Cochin Jews, also called Malabar Jews (Malabar Yehudan) and Yuda Mappila, are the oldest group of Jews in India, with roots claimed to date to the time of King Solomon (circa 950 BCE). Historically recorded immigration dates from the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. The Cochin Jews settled in the Kingdom of Cochin in South India, now part of the state of Kerala. Becoming known as the Malabari Jews, they built synagogues in Kerala beginning in the 12th and 13th centuries and developed Judeo-Malayalam, a dialect of Malayalam language.
Following the expulsion from Iberia in 1492, a few families of Sephardic Jews eventually made their way to Cochin in the 16th century. They became known as Paradesi Jews (or White Jews). The European Jews maintained some trade connections to Europe, and their language skills were useful. Although the Sephardim spoke Ladino, in India they learned Judeo-Malayalam from the Malabar Jews. The two communities retained their ethnic distinctions. In the late 18th century, Arabic-speaking Jews, who became known as Baghdadi, also immigrated to southern India, constituting what became known as a third community.
After India gained its independence in 1947 and Israel was established as a nation, most Cochin Jews emigrated from Kerala to Israel in the mid-1950s. Most of their synagogues have been sold and adapted for other uses. The Paradesi Synagogue in still has a congregation and also attracts tourists as an historic site.
First Jews in South India 
P. M. Jussay wrote that it was believed that the earliest Jews in India were sailors from King Solomon's time. It has been claimed that following the destruction of the First Temple in the Siege of Jerusalem of 587 BC, some Jewish exiles came to India.
But it was after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE that there are records of numerous Jewish settlers arriving at Cranganore, an ancient port near Cochin. Cranganore, now transliterated as Kodungallur, but also known under other names, is a city of legendary importance to this community. Fernandes writes, it is "a substitute Jerusalem in India," and Katz and Goldberg note the "symbolic intertwining" of the two cities.
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St. Thomas, one of the disciples of Jesus, is believed to have visited India while prosyletizing. Many of the Jews who converted to Christianity at that time were absorbed by what became the Nasrani or Saint Thomas Christians.
Central to the history of the Cochin Jews was their close relationship with Indian rulers. This was codified on a set of copper plates granting the community special privileges. The date of these plates, known as "Sâsanam", is contentious. The plates are physically inscribed with the date 379 CE, but in 1925, tradition was setting it as 1069 CE. Indian rulers granted the Jewish leader Joseph Rabban the rank of prince over the Jews of Cochin, giving him the rulership and tax revenue of a pocket principality in Anjuvannam near Cranganore, and rights to seventy-two "free houses". The Hindu king gave permission in perpetuity (or, in the more poetic expression of those days, "as long as the world and moon exist") for Jews to live freely, build synagogues, and own property "without conditions attached". A family connection to Rabban, "the king of Shingly" (another name for Cranganore), was long considered a sign of both purity and prestige within the community. Rabban's descendants led this distinct community until a chieftainship dispute broke out between two brothers, one of them named Joseph Azar, in the 16th century.
The oldest known gravestone of a Cochin Jew is written in Hebrew and dates to 1269 CE. It is near the Chendamangalam (also spelled Chennamangalam) Synagogue, built in 1614. It is now operated as a museum.
In 1341 a disastrous flood silted up the port of Cranganore, and trade shifted to a smaller port at Cochin (Kochi). Many of the Jews moved quickly, and within four years, they had built their first synagogue at the new community. The Portuguese Empire established a trading beachhead in 1500, and until 1663 remained the dominant power. They continued to discriminate against the Jews, although doing business with them. A synagogue was built at Parur in 1615, at a site that according to tradition had a synagogue built in 1165. Almost every member of this community emigrated to Israel in 1954
In 1524, the Muslims, backed by the ruler of Calicut (today called Kozhikode and not to be confused with Calcutta), attacked the wealthy Jews of Cranganore because of their primacy in the lucrative pepper trade. The Jews fled south to the Kingdom of Cochin, seeking the protection of the Cochin Royal Family (Perumpadapu Swaroopam). The Hindu Raja of Cochin gave them asylum. Moreover, he exempted Jews from taxation but bestowed on them all privileges enjoyed by the tax-payers.
The Malabari Jews built additional synagogues at Mala and Ernakulum. In the latter location, Kadavumbagham Synagogue was built about 1200 and restored in the 1790s. Its members believed they were the congregation to receive the historic copper plates. In the 1930s and 1940s, the congregation was as large as 2,000 members, but all emigrated to Israel.
Thekkambagham Synagogue was built in Ernakulum in 1580, and rebuilt in 1939. It is the synagogue in Ernakulam sometimes used for services if former members of the community visit from Israel. In 1998, five families who were members of this congregation still lived in Kerala or in Madras.
1660 to Independence 
The Paradesi Jews, also called "White Jews", settled in the Cochin region in the 16th century and later, following the expulsion from Iberia due to religious persecution in Spain and Portugal. Some fled north to Holland and England but the majority fled east to the Ottoman Empire.
Some went beyond that territory, including a few families who followed the Arab spice routes to southern India. Speaking Ladino language and having Sephardic customs, they found the Malabari Jewish community as established in Cochin to be quite different. According to the historian Mandelbaum, there were resulting tensions between the two ethnic communities. The European Jews had some trade links to Europe and useful languages to conduct international trade. These attributes helped their position both financially and politically.
When the Portuguese occupied the Kingdom of Cochin, they discriminated against its Jews. The Protestant Dutch displaced the Portuguese in 1660, and were more tolerant of the Jews, having given many asylum in the Netherlands. (See the Goa Inquisition for the situation in nearby Goa.)
The Malabari Jews (referred to historically during the colonial years as Black, although their skin colour was brown) built seven synagogues in Cochin, reflecting the size of their population.
The Paradesi Jews (also called White Jews) built one, the Paradesi Synagogue. The latter group was very small by comparison to the Malabaris. Both groups practiced endogamous marriage, maintaining their distinctions. Both communities claimed special privileges and the greater status over each other.
The White Jews had brought with them from Iberia a few score meshuchrarim (former slaves, some of mixed African-European descent). Although free, they were relegated to a subordinate position in the community. These Jews formed a third sub-group within Cochin Jewry. The meshuchrarim were not allowed to marry White Jews and had to sit in the back of the synagogue; these practices were similar to the discrimination against converts from lower castes sometimes found in Christian churches in India.
In the early 20th century, Abraham Barak Salem (1882–1967), a young lawyer who became known as a "Jewish Gandhi", worked to end the discrimination against meshuchrarim Jews. Inspired by Indian nationalism and Zionism, he also tried to reconcile the divisions among the Cochin Jews. He became both an Indian nationalist and Zionist. His family were descended from meshuchrarim. The Hebrew word denoted a manumitted slave, and was at times used in a derogatory way. Salem fought against the discrimination by boycotting the Paradesi Synagogue for a time. He also used satyagraha to combat the social discrimination. According to Mandelbaum, by the mid-1930s many of the old taboos had fallen with a changing society.
The Cochini Anjuvannam Jews also migrated to Malaya. Records show that they were settled in Seremban, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia. The last descendant of Cochin Jews in Seremban is Benjamin Meyuhasheem.
The Cochini Jews are divided in three groups. The biggest group is called 'Meyuhasheem' (meaning 'privileged' in Hebrew) or Malabari Jews (Malabar is the name of the coast on which Kerala is situated). These Jews forefathers are considered to have arrived in India as merchants during the period of King Solomon. The remnant of the Meyuhasheem Yehudans are traced to Seremban, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia. The Meyuhasheem and the Rabban-Mattan-Cheri Yehudans have established connection with the Cochini-Kerala Yehudans and such connection traces back to the Cochin Jews to modern Israel.
Since Independence 
India became independent of Britain in 1947 and Israel established itself as a nation. With the heightened nationalism and emphasis in the Partition of India of Hindu and Muslim identities, most of Cochin's Jews emigrated from India. Generally they went to Israel (made aliyah). Many joined the moshavim (agricultural settlements) of Nevatim, Shahar, Yuval, and Mesilat Zion. Others settled in the neighbourhood of Katamon in Jerusalem, and in Beersheba, Dimona and Yeruham, where many Bene Israel had settled. Since the late 20th century, former Cochin Jews have also immigrated to the United States.
In Cochin, the Paradesi Synagogue is still active as a place of worship, but the Jewish community is very small. The building also attracts visitors as an historic tourist site. As of 2008, the ticket-seller at the synagogue, Yaheh Hallegua, is the last female Paradesi Jew of child-bearing age in the community.
Traditions and way of life 
The 12th-century Jewish traveller Benjamin of Tudela wrote about the Malabari coast of Kerala: "The inhabitants are all black, and the Jews also. The latter are good and benevolent. They know the law of Moses and the prophets, and to a small extent the Talmud and Halacha." European Jews sent texts to the community of Cochin Jews to teach them about normative Judaism.
"Only lately some well-to-do men came forward and purchased three copies of my code [the Mishneh Torah] which they distributed through messengers.... Thus the horizon of these Jews was widened and the religious life in all communities as far as India revived."
In a 1535 letter sent from Safed, Israel to Italy, David del Rossi wrote that a Jewish merchant from Tripoli had told him the India town of Shingly (Cranganore) had a large Jewish population who dabbled in yearly pepper trade with the Portuguese. As far as their religious life, he wrote they: "only recognize the Code of Maimonides and possessed no other authority or Traditional law." According to the contemporary historian Nathan Katz, Rabbi Nissim of Gerona (the Ran) visited the Cochini Jews. They preserve in their song books the poem he wrote about them. In the Kadavumbagham synagogue, a yeshiva (school) was available for both "children's education and adult study of Torah and Mishnah."
The Jewish Encyclopedia (1901-1906) said,
"Though they neither eat nor drink together, nor intermarry, the Black and the White Jews of Cochin have almost the same social and religious customs. They hold the same doctrines, use the same ritual (Sephardic), observe the same feasts and fasts, dress alike, and have adopted the same language Malayalam. ... The two classes are equally strict in religious observances,"
According to the current French historian, Martine Chemana, the Jews of Cochin "coalesced around the religious fundamentals: devotion and strict obedience to Biblical Judaism and to the Jewish customs and traditions ... Hebrew, taught through the Torah texts by rabbis and teachers who came especially from Yemen..."
The Jews of Cochin had a long tradition of women singing Jewish prayers and narrative songs in Judeo-Malayalam; they did not adhere to the Talmudic prohibition against public singing by women (kol isha). (But, this Talmudic prohibition is not absolute; there are traditional Orthodox interpretations that sanction certain kinds of singing performances by women before men. Historical Jewish communities in addition to the Cochini relied on this lenient interpretation.)
In terms of dietary restrictions related to meat and milk, Benedicta Pereira, a Paradesi Jew, writes, "Mostly the older people prohibited the use of milk and meat the same day in the house[;] and to scare the young Jew's[,] [sic] so as not to be inspired by the culture[,] there were stories of bad Omens for those who dare[d] to think even of milk and meat together."
See also 
- Census of India 2001
- Katz 2000; Koder 1973; Menachery 1998
- "ISJM Members Helen & Abe Sirkin Carry out Reconnaissance Survey of Kerala Jewish Sites", ISJM Jewish Heritage Report, 1998, Volume II, numbers 3-4, accessed 7 May 2013
- Katz 2000; Koder 1973; Thomas Puthiakunnel 1973.
- The Jews of Kerala, P. M. Jussay, cited in The Last Jews of Kerala, p. 79
- The Last Jews of Kerala, p. 98
- Katz 2000; Koder 1973; Thomas Puthiakunnel 1973; David de Beth Hillel, 1832; Lord, James Henry 1977.
- The Last Jews of Kerala, p. 102
- cited in The Last Jews of Kerala, p. 47
- Weil S. 1982; Jussay P.M. 1986; Menachery 1973; Menachery 1998.
- Burnell, Indian Antiquary, iii. 333–334
- Katz, Nathan (2000). Who are the Jews of India?. University of California Press. p. 33. ISBN 9780520213234.
- Ken Blady, Jewish Communities in Exotic Places. Northvale, N.J.: Jason Aronson Inc., 2000. pp. 115–130.
- Three Years in America, 1859–1862, (p. 59, p. 60) by Israel Joseph Benjamin
- Roots of Dalit History, Christianity, Theology, and Spirituality (p. 28) by James Massey, I.S.P.C.K.
- The Last Jews of Kerala, pp. 81–82
- The Last Jews of Kerala p. 111
- Who Are the Jews of India? (pp. 34-35) Nathan Katz
- Cited on p 51 in The Last Jews of Kerala
- "Cochin Jews" Indian Express, accessed 13 December 2008
- "A Kochi dream died in Mumbai". Indian Express, 13 December 2008
- "PANEL 39: Nationalisms and their Impact in South Asia", European Association of South Asian Studies
- Katz, The Last Jews of Kerala, p. 164
- Abram, David. The Rough Guide to Kerala (in English) (2nd ed.). London, United Kingdom: Penguin Books. p. 181. ISBN 978-1-84836-541-4.
- Adler, Marcus Nathan. (1907). "The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela: Critical Text, Translation and Commentary". New York: Depts.washington.edu. Retrieved 2012-05-01.
- Twersky, Isadore. A Maimonides Reader. Behrman House. Inc., 1972, pp. 481–482
- Katz, Nathan and Ellen S. Goldberg. The Last Jews of Cochin: Jewish Identity in Hindu India. University of South Carolina Press, p. 40. Also, Katz, Nathan, Who Are the Jews of India?, University of California Press, 2000, p. 33.
- Katz, Who Are the Jews of India?, op. cit., p. 32.
- Sam Gruber. "''ISJM Jewish Heritage Report'', Volume II, numbers 3–4". Isjm.org. Retrieved 2012-05-01.
- "Jacobs, Joseph and Joseph Ezekiel. "Cochin", 1901–1906, pp. 135–138". Jewishencyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2012-05-01.
- Chemana, Martine. "Women sing, men listen: Malayalam folksongs of the Cochini, the Jewish Community of Kerala, in India and in Israel," trans. from "Les femmes chantent, les hommes écoutent. Chants en malayalam (pattu-kal) des Kochini, communautés juives du Kerala, en Inde et en Israël," in Bulletin du Centre de recherche français de Jérusalem, November 2002. French original, English translation
- Pradeep, K. (15 May 2005). ""Musical Heritage"". The Hindu. Hindu.com. Retrieved 2012-05-01.
- Johnson, Barbara C. ""Cochin: Jewish Women's Music"". Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved 2012-05-01.
- Michael Makovi, article, Conversations, May 2010, published by Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals
- Benedicta Pereira. "Kerala Jews," Shalom Online (David Shalom and Benedicta Pereira). 2010-01-26. URL:http://www.shalom2.20m.com/page3.htm. Accessed: 2010-01-26. (Archived by WebCite at webcitation.org)
- Fernandes, Edna. (2008) The Last Jews of Kerala. London: Portobello Books. ISBN 978-1-84627-098-7
- Koder, S. "History of the Jews of Kerala," The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India, ed. G. Menachery, 1973.
- Puthiakunnel, Thomas. (1973) "Jewish Colonies of India Paved the Way for St. Thomas", The Saint Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India, ed. George Menachery, Vol. II., Trichur.
- Daniel, Ruby & B. Johnson. (1995). Ruby of Cochin: An Indian Jewish Woman Remembers. Philadelphia and Jerusalem: Jewish Publication Society.
- Day, Francis (1869). The Land of the Permauls, Or, Cochin, Its Past and Its Present, Cochin Jewish life in 18th century, read Chapter VIII (pp. 336 to 354), reproduced pp. 446-451 in ICHC I, 1998, Ed. George Menachery. Francis Day was a British civil surgeon in 1863.
- Walter J. Fischel, The Cochin Jews, reproduced from the Cochin Synagogue, 4th century, Vol. 1968, Ed. Velayudhan and Koder, Kerala History Association, Ernakulam, reproduced in ICHC I, Ed. George Menachery, 1998, pp. 562–563
- de Beth Hillel, David. (1832) Travels; Madras.
- Jussay, P.M. (1986) "The Wedding Songs of the Cochin Jews and of the Knanite Christians of Kerala: A Study in Comparison". Symposium.
- Hough, James. (1893) The History of Christianity in India.
- Lord, James Henry. (1977) The Jews in India and the Far East. 120 pp.; Greenwood Press Reprint; ISBN 0-8371-2615-0
- Menachery, George, ed. (1998) The Indian Church History Classics, Vol. I, The Nazranies, Ollur, 1998. ISBN 81-87133-05-8
- Katz, Nathan; & Goldberg, Ellen S; (1993) The Last Jews of Cochin: Jewish Identity in Hindu India. Foreword by Daniel J. Elazar, Columbia, SC: Univ. of South Carolina Press. ISBN 0-87249-847-6
- Menachery, George, ed. (1973) The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India B.N.K. Press, vol. 2, ISBN 81-87132-06-X, Lib. Cong. Cat. Card. No. 73-905568 ; B.N.K. Press
- Weil, S. (1982) "Symmetry between Christians and Jews in India: The Cananite Christians and Cochin Jews in Kerala," Contributions to Indian Sociology, 16.
Further reading 
- Chiriyankandath, James. (March 2008) "Nationalism, religion and community: A. B. Salem, 'The Politics of Identity and the Disappearance of Cochin Jewry", Journal of Global History 3, 1: 21–42.
- Katz, Nathan. (2000) Who Are the Jews of India?; Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-21323-8
- Katz, Nathan; Goldberg, Ellen S; (1995) "Leaving Mother India: Reasons for the Cochin Jews' Migration to Israel", Population Review 39, 1 & 2 : 35–53.
- George Menachery, The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India, Vol. III, 2010, Plate f. p. 264 for 9 photographs, ISBN 81-8732-00-0
- Paulose, Rachel. "Minnesota and the Jews of India", Asian American Press, 14 February 2012
- Weil, Shalva. (eds) (2002) India's Jewish Heritage: Ritual, Art & Life Cycle; Marg Publications. ISBN 81-85026-58-0
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Cochin Jews|
- Cochin Jews
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- "Cochin Jewish musical heritage", The Hindu, 15 May 2005
- news "Indian officials recount Cochin Jewish history", The Hindu, 11 September 2003