Sephardic Jews in India
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Sephardic Jews and anusim in India are European Jews who settled in southwest India, in Goa, Madras (now Chennai), and, primarily and for the longest period, on the Malabar coast, after having left the Iberian peninsula at the end of the 15th century and throughout the 16th century, in search of religious freedom due to the Spanish Inquisition in both Spain and Portugal. In Iberia, they spoke Ladino and Arabic.
Some of the newer immigrants were crypto-Jews, having been forcibly converted to Catholicism but continuing to practice Judaism in secrecy. Traveling through Asia Minor, the Indian Sephardic Jews went down the west coast of India, settling in the Konkan and Malabar Coast of South western coastal India, joining the more ancient settlements formed by the Malabar Jews and forming settlements nearby. In Kerala, they learned Judeo-Malayalam, the dialect developed by the Malabar Jews, descendants of immigrants who had been there for more than 1,000 years from Israel and Yemen. The combined groups in Kerala became known as the Cochin Jews. The European Jews were also referred to as the Paradesi Jews (associated with foreigners) or White Jews, given their European ethnicity. The Malabar Jews, having intermarried in south India, had darker skin.
A notable Jewish population once existed in Goa. They had their own synagogues and enjoyed freedom. They had been settled in Goa before the Portuguese arrived. Many of them integrated with the local Goan culture and spoke the Konkani language, whereas part of them were immigrants from Iberia who spoke Spanish.
In addition, some settled in Madras, now known as Chennai, developed by the English East India Company from Fort St. George. Sephardic Jewish traders from Portugal, London and the Netherlands settled there and became highly successful and influential for a time. By the late 18th century, they had mostly shifted their trading companies to London, and the Jewish community in Madras declined.
The Portuguese who carried out the Inquisition in Europe did the same in India. As part of the Inquisition, the colonists killed many Jews in South Western India. Many Jews from Goa fled to Cochin in Kerala and joined the Malabar Yehudan. In Kerala the Malabar Jews and the Malabar Nasranis of Judeo-Christian heritage were also persecuted by the Portuguese as part of the Goa Inquisition. The coming of the more tolerant Dutch rule beginning in 1661 eased the pressure on the community.
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As a result of the inquisition large numbers of Malabar Jews assimilated into the Malabar Nasrani community (thus becoming a community of anusim and Judeo-Christians forced to comply with the wishes of the Roman Catholic Church). Additionally, some of the later Baghdadi Jewish families that arrived in India, such as the Sassoons, were of Sephardic origin.
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- Mordecai Arbell, "The Portuguese Jewish Community of Madras, India, in the Seventeenth Century", Los Muestros, No. 41, December 2000, accessed 12 May 2013
- T.V, Parasuram (1982). India's Jewish heritage. the University of Michigan: Sagar Publications. pp. 136(see page:67).
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