History of the Jews in Indonesia

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The history of the Jews in Indonesia commences with the arrival of early European explorers and settlers. Jews in Indonesia presently form a very small Jewish community of about 100-500,[1] of mostly Sephardi Jews.

Flag of Indonesia

Most of Indonesian Jews came from Middle Eastern area,Northern Africa area and Southern Europe area.


In the 1850s, Jewish traveler Jacob Saphir was the first to write about the Jewish community in the Dutch East Indies, after visiting Batavia. In Batavia, he had spoken with a local Jew, who had told him of about 20 Jewish families in the city; and several more in Surabaya and Semarang. Most of the Jews living in the Dutch East Indies in the 19th century were Dutch Jews, who worked as merchants or were affiliated with the colonial regime. However, some members of the Jewish community were immigrants from Iraq or Aden.

Between the two World Wars, the number of Jews in the Dutch East Indies was estimated at 2,000 by Israel Cohen. Indonesian Jews suffered greatly under the Japanese Occupation of Indonesia, and they were interned and forced to work in labor camps. After the war, the released Jews found themselves without their previous property, and many emigrated to the United States, Australia or Israel.

By the late 1960s, it had been estimated (reference needed) that there were 20 Jews living in Jakarta, 25 more living in Surabaya and others living in Manado.


Assimilation and population changes[edit]

The same social and cultural characteristics of Indonesia that facilitated the extraordinary economic, political, and social success of the Indonesian Jewish community also contributed to assimilation. Most of Indonesian Jews changed their names into Indonesian names. For Indonesian Jews it was important to change their names into Indonesian names. Most of Indonesian Jews were greatly suffered during the Japanese Occupation of Indonesia. They were forced to work at labor camp,most of them died at camp as well. Some of them left the country,some still stayed in Indonesia. Indonesian Jews were the first race in Indonesia that obligated to change their names and belief. Later Chinese Indonesians had to change their names as well,but the Chinese Indonesians are still allowed to practice Buddhism in Indonesia.

Indonesian Jews lost their properties and very suffered during the Japanese occupation of Indonesia and a lot of native Indonesians became patriotic and most of them were anti non Indonesians (Pribumi anti non pribumi).

Intermarriage rates rose from roughly 55% in 1944 to approximately 90%-99% in 2004. Intermarried couples raise their children with a local religious upbringing. However, it is much more common for intermarried families to raise their children as just culturally Indonesian. Even to the other Indonesian Jews with no intermarriage became culturally Indonesian.

For identity, the government issues ID cards called KTP (Kartu Tanda Penduduk). Every citizen over the age of 17 must carry a KTP. Listed on the identity card is the holder's religion. Indonesia only recognizes six religions: Islam, Christian, Catholic, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism. Judaism and other religions are not recognized by the Indonesian government.

Estimated about 2000 the descendants of Jews still living in Indonesia and losing their historical identity.


Surabaya synagogue[edit]

The Surabaya synagogue was a synagogue located in the city of Surabaya, provincial capital of Eastern Java in Indonesia. For many years it was the only synagogue in the country. The synagogue has been no longer active since 2009 and had no Torah Scrolls or rabbi. It was located in Jalan Kayun 6 on a 2.000 m² lot near the Kali Mas river.

The building was a house built in 1939 during the Dutch domination. It was bought by the local Jewish community from a Dutch doctor in 1948 and transformed into a synagogue. Only the mezuzah and 2 Stars of David in the entrance showed the presence of this synagogue. The Indonesian Jewish community is very tiny, with most of it living in the capital of Jakarta and the rest in Surabaya. The community in Surabaya is no longer big enough to support a minyan, a gathering of 10 men needed in order to conduct public worship. The synagogue was totally demolished in 2013.[2][3] No sign of it was left over. Nevertheless, there are many Jewish cemeteries around the country in Semarang (center of Java), in Pangkalpinang in Bangka island, in Palembang south of Sumatra and of course in Surabaya itself.

Tondano synagogue[edit]

Since 2003, Shaar Hashamayim synagogue has been serving local Jewish community of some 20 people in Tondano city, Minahasa Regency, North Sulawesi. Currently it is the only synagogue in Indonesia that provides services.[4] Some tiny local Jewish community exist in the area, mostly those whom rediscovered their ancestral roots and convert back to Judaism.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Jewish Virtual Library - Indonesia
  2. ^ Sinaya,James.(May 30, 2013).Jawa pos newspaper,26 May 2013,30 May 2013
  3. ^ http://www.jpost.com/Jewish-World/Jewish-News/Report-Indonesias-last-synagogue-destroyed-327907
  4. ^ Hussain, Zakir (February 18, 2013). "Indonesia's Only Synagogue Struggles to Find Wider Acceptance". Straits Times. Jakarta Globe. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 

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