History of the Jews in Burma

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The history of Jews in Burma goes back to the 19th century and is tied to that of the Jews in India and to the development of the British Empire. At its height the community of Jews in the country stood at 2,500 members.[1]

History[edit]

The first recorded Jew in the country was Solomon Gabirol, who served as a commander in the army of King Alaungpaya in the 18th century.[2]

In the 19th century, Jewish merchants from India began establishing sizable communities in Rangoon and Mandalay. This included Baghdadi Jews, Cochin Jews, and the Bene Israel. Under British rule, the local Jewish community prospered with small businesses, and trading in cotton and rice.[3] Jews were so established that Rangoon and Pathein both had Jewish mayors in the early 20th century. With the Japanese invasion in 1942, many Jews fled to India. Though the Japanese were allies of the Nazis, they did not have any particular antipathy towards the Jews. At the same time, they viewed the local Jews with suspicion as a pro-British and a "European" group. Following nationalization of businesses in 1964, the community suffered further decline, with many members moving to other countries.[4] The country's last rabbi left in 1969.

As of 2002, only 20 Jews remained in Yangon, the capital city. Most Burmese Jews have immigrated to Israel.[4] The local Jews use the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue, but it rarely draws the required quorum of men for a full religious service. Often, employees of the Israeli embassy help synagogue keeper Moses Samuel maintain regular service. There are 45 Jews in congregation in 2011 from its peak population of 2,500.[5]

In the north of Burma, on the Indian border, the Mizo people, who are ethnically descended from Tibet have taken on the belief that they descend from the lost tribe of Manasseh, based on certain traditions shared with Judaism. Those who have converted intend to immigrate to Israel. Many have embraced Orthodox Judaism and have settled in Judea, Samaria, and Gush Katif. They are known as the Bnei Menashe.

Burma was the first Asian nation to recognize Israel and maintains diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. Israel opened its first Diplomatic mission in Yangon in 1953, and in 1957 it became an embassy. Both nations shared a Socialist outlook in their early years and held extensive contacts between their respective leaders.[6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Nathan Katz and Ellen S. Goldberg, "The last Jews in India and Burma", Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jerusalem Letter, n° 101, 15 Avril 1988.
  2. ^ Secret Yangon II: The Lost Tribe: ThingsAsian
  3. ^ McDonald-Gibson, Charlotte "Myanmar Jews count on tourism" Globe and Mail 12/02/2006 http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20061202.SYNAGOGUE02/TPStory/specialTravel
  4. ^ a b Mydans, Seth "Yangon Journal; Burmese Jew Shoulders Burden of His Heritage " New York Times 7/23/2002
  5. ^ http://www.mizzima.com/edop/features/5698-moses-dreams-of-reversing-jewish-exodus.html
  6. ^ Freedman Cerna, Ruth "Almost Englishmen: Baghdadi Jews in British Burma" P. 122
  • Almost Englishmen: Baghdadi Jews in British Burma Lexington Books, 2007

External links[edit]