History of the Jews in Pakistan

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Mehndi ceremony of a Jewish wedding in Karachi, 1959

The history of the Jews in Pakistan dates at least as far back as 1839, when Pakistan was a part of British India.[1][2] Various estimates suggest that there were about 1,000 to 2,500 Jews living in Karachi at the beginning of the 20th century, mostly comprising Iranian Jews and Bene Israel (Indian Jews);[3][4][5] a substantial Jewish community lived in Rawalpindi,[1] and a smaller community also lived in Peshawar.

The Partition of British India along religious lines in August 1947 led to the establishment of two independent sovereign states: a Hindu-majority India and a Muslim-majority Pakistan. Following this event, Pakistani Jews began to leave the new country for India, Canada and the United States before their persecution heightened in Pakistan after the establishment of Israel in 1948, which ultimately led to their exodus from the country; today, Pakistan-origin Jews are predominantly found in the Israeli city of Ramla (see Pakistani Jews in Israel), while the Pakistani government claims to host a modest Jewish population. According to Pakistan's National Database and Registration Authority (NDRA), there are 745 registered Jewish families in the country.[6] However, the accuracy and transparency of the NDRA's database has been challenged;[7] Liel Leibovitz, an Israeli journalist, has doubted the correctness of the official numbers.[8]

It has been widely reported in Pakistani media that a man known as Fishel Benkhald, who preserves the last standing Jewish cemetery in Karachi, has claimed to be last Jew in Pakistan.[9][10] However, Benkhald's identity has been challenged by his brothers, who claim to be Muslims,[11][12] and he has been targeted and attacked in the country due to his activism for religious minorities in Pakistan. However, his Jewishness was formally recognized by the Pakistani government in 2017 after numerous appeals.[13]

History[edit]

First migrations[edit]

A community of Jews fleeing a revolt in Mashhad, Persia, settled in Rawalpindi in the Punjab in 1839. The elaborate early 20th century synagogue they built still stands on Nishtar Street in Rawalpindi's Babu Mohallah neighborhood, between the Bohra Mosque and a large and elaborate Victorian era church.[1]

The interior of the Magain Shalome synagogue before its demolition

Colonial era (1842-1947)[edit]

According to the 1881 census, there were 153 Jews in Sindh province.[14] In the Sindh Gazetteer of 1907,[15] Edward Hamilton Aitken mentions that according to the 1901 census, the total population of Jews [in Sindh] was 482 and almost all of them lived in Karachi.[16] By 1919, this figure had risen to about 650.[17] By 1947, there were about 1,500 Jews living in Sindh with the majority residing in Karachi. Most of these Jews were Bene Israel and they lived as tradesmen, artisans, poets, philosophers and civil servants.[18]

In 1911, Jews constituted 0.3 percent of Karachi's population and at the time of independence from the British Empire their number had reached 2,500.[19] In her 1947 book ‘Malika-e-Mashriq’ (Queen of the East), Mehmooda Rizwiya has written about the Jewish presence in Karachi.[16] Jews used to live in Karachi.[20][21] In a paper titled "Karachi Ke Yahudi” (Karachi's Jews), Gul Hasan Kalmatti indicates that Jews arrived in Karachi from Maharashtra in the 19th century.[22][23]

A variety of associations existed to serve the Jewish community in Pakistan, including:

  • Magain Shalome Synagogue: Built in 1893 near Ranchore Line,[24] by Solomon David Umerdekar and his son Gershone Solomon. Other accounts suggest that it was built by Shalom Solomon, a surveyor for the Karachi Municipal Committee and his wife Shegula-bai. The synagogue soon became the center of a small but vibrant Jewish community. A member of this Synagogue, Abraham Reuben Kamarlekar, became a councilor in the Karachi City Corporation in 1936.
  • Young Man's Jewish Association: Founded in 1903 and whose aim was to encourage sports as well as religious and social activities of the Bene Israel in Karachi.
  • Karachi Bene Israel Relief Fund: Established to support poor Jews in Karachi.
  • Karachi Jewish Syndicate: Formed in 1918 and whose aim was to provide homes to poor Jews at reasonable rent fees.

Post-independence[edit]

Pakistani Jews after making aliyah from Pakistan, 1963

1947-1970[edit]

Leading up to the time of the Partition of India,[25] some 1300 Jews remained in Karachi, most of them Bene Israel Jews observing Sephardic Jewish rites.[26] The first real exodus of Jewish refugees from British India to Bombay and other cities in India came just prior to the creation of Israel in 1948 when antisemitism spread to Pakistan.[27][28] When Israel came into being in 1948, many Jews migrated to Israel, and after the Arab-Israel war a majority of them left Karachi.[29] By 1953, fewer than 500 Jews were reported to be in all of Pakistan.[30]

1971–present[edit]

Magen Shalom, the Bene Israel's only synagogue in Karachi founded under the British Raj, was demolished in 1988 to make way for a shopping plaza by order of General Zia-ul-Haq shortly after the Bene Israel community in Israel petitioned for its maintenance and use as a historical or other community center.[31] As per another account, in July 1988 the synagogue was burnt and brought down by religious zealots (where today a building 'Madiha Square' stands).[32] The last custodian of the synagogue was Rachel Joseph, now deceased.[33][34][35] Many Jews who migrated from Pakistan have not updated their status since leaving Pakistan in NADRA's database so the database must be old and there may not actually be as many Jewish Pakistanis left in Pakistan despite NADRA showing existence of Jews in Pakistan.

Dan Kiesel, a Jew of German origin, was employed as a physiotherapist by the Pakistan Cricket Board from 1995 to 1999. His appointment brought some controversy, as Pakistani politicians questioned the hiring an Israeli Jew in the Senate of Pakistan.[36]

The term "Yehudi" and its variants remains a word of derision when directed at a Bene Israel or anyone else as noted by Reverend John Wilson, one of the founders of University of Bombay (now University of Mumbai). In Urdu and Hindi, however, the word simply translates to Jewish.[37] The Bene Israel's prayers include intercessions on behalf of Her Majesty as in several Commonwealth countries.[38] The Jewish Chronicle of London reported on Karachi's Jews as recently as 2007.[39]

In general elections 2013, it was reported that 809 adult Jews were enrolled as voters. The number of Jewish women voters was 427 against 382 men in the community.[40] By 2017, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan around 900 Jews were registered as voters in the country.[41] Also in 2017 According to the National Database and Registration Authority, there are 745 registered Jewish families in Pakistan.[42]

Most of the Karachi Jews now live in Ramla, Israel, Mumbai, India and Toronto, Ontario, Canada with several spread throughout the United States of America and built a synagogue they named Magen Shalome after the Pakistani Synagogue in Ramla. Developments in the Middle East peace process led to an alleged visit of Pakistan's government's representative's visit to Israel. While, the government denies any such visit to Israel a new controversy broke out when a former minister said that he visited Israel during Nawaz Sharif's tenure as PM.

Notable people[edit]

Lifestyle[edit]

Bene Israel maintain Sephardic Jewish rites as modified by several cross-cultural celebrations based on their current locations in the world.

Antisemitism[edit]

Many purport to speak about the state of antisemitism in Pakistan today and in her past. The massive demographic influx of Mohajirs from the Dominion of India upon independence and the creation of Israel and the consequent Arab–Israeli conflict worsened Jew-hatred as witnessed by the 1948 Muslim occupation and eventual destruction of Karachi's Magane Shalom synagogue. After the 1970s, anti-Semitism worsened towards the Jews of Pakistan.[43]

Mewa Shah Graveyard[edit]

The Jewish Bene Israel Graveyard remains in the larger Mewa Shah Graveyard in Karachi.[44][45]

Further reading[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Tahir, Saif (23 February 2016). "The lost Jewish history of Rawalpindi". Express Tribune. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  2. ^ Weil, Shalva. 2010 'Pakistan'; in Norman A. Stillman (ed.) Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World, Leiden:Brill.
  3. ^ Weil, Shalva. 'The Jews of Pakistan', in M.Avrum Erlich (ed.) Encyclopaedia of the Jewish Diaspora, Santa Barbara, USA: ABC CLIO. 2008, (3: 1228-1230).
  4. ^ "The Jewish Community of Pakistan". The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot.
  5. ^ Weil, Shalva. "Jews of India" in Raphael Patai and Haya Bar Itzhak (eds.) Jewish Folklore and Traditions: A Multicultural Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, Inc. 2013, (1: 255-258).
  6. ^ Hussain, Danish (27 March 2017). "Man of interfaith parents wins right to religion of choice". The Express Tribune. Retrieved 27 March 2017.
  7. ^ [Pakistan's experience with identity management, M Ilyas Khan, BBC News,8 June 2012]
  8. ^ Leibovitz, Liel (4 April 2013). "Where Are Pakistan's Jews Hiding?". Tablet Magazine. Retrieved 9 September 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  9. ^ "'Last Jew in Pakistan' beaten by mob, arrested". The Express Tribune. 6 March 2015. Retrieved 9 September 2021.
  10. ^ "A passage to Pakistan". The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com. Retrieved 9 September 2021.
  11. ^ Amanda Borschel-Dan. "Denounced by his brothers, Pakistani Jew says he's being thrown to an 'apostate lynch mob'". www.timesofisrael.com. Retrieved 9 September 2021.
  12. ^ Frazer, Jenni (4 April 2017). "Brother of Pakistan's only registered Jew claims he is Muslim". www.thejc.com. Retrieved 9 September 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  13. ^ Pakistan’s ‘last Jew’ finally recognised by the government, Hindustan Times, MAR 27, 2017last jew
  14. ^ W. W. Hunter, The Imperial Gazetteer of India, vol XII, Trubner and Co, London, 2nd edition, 1887. Online at: http://www.panhwar.net/rarebooks/The%20Imperial%20Gazetteer%20of%20India%20Vol%20XII%201887.pdf Archived 11 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Aitken, Edward Hamilton. Gazetteer Of The Province Of Sindh (1907 ed.). Karachi. Retrieved 8 January 2017.
  16. ^ a b Balouch, Akhtar (16 September 2015). "Karachi's 'Yahoodi Masjid'". Dawn newspaper. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
  17. ^ Joan G. Roland, The Jewish Communities of India: Identity in a Colonial EraPg 149 Limited Preview : https://books.google.com/books?pg=PA149&lpg=PA149&dq=jews+karachi&sig=YzcQuJHDc7pllJ9pKs_lcxe2c_w&id=kHJccZ92IecC&ots=UATw6OEEDF&output=html
  18. ^ Weil, Shalva. 2009 'The Heritage and Legacy of Indian Jews' in Shalva Weil (ed.) India’s Jewish Heritage: Ritual, Art and Life-Cycle, Mumbai: Marg Publications [first published in 2002; 3rd edn.], pp. 8-21. Weil, Shalva. 2011 'Bene Israel', in Adele Berlin (Ed. in Chief) Oxford Dictionary of Jewish Religion, 2nd edition, New York: Oxford University Press, 131. Weil, Shalva. 2011 'Bene Israel' (616), in Judith Baskin (ed.) Cambridge Dictionary of Judaism and Jewish Culture, New York: Cambridge University Press.
  19. ^ Salman, Peerzada (3 November 2013). "Role of Jews in Karachi's uplift highlighted". Dawn newspaper. Retrieved 17 January 2017. In 1911 they constituted 0.3 per cent of the city’s population and at the time of partition their number had reached 2,500.
  20. ^ Weil, Shalva. 2011 "The History and Disappearance of the Jewish Presence in Pakistan", International Relations and Security Network (ISN). http://www.isn.ethz.ch/isn/Current-Affairs/ISN-Insights/Detail?lng=en&id=130985&contextid734=130985&contextid735=130984&tabid=130984&dynrel=4888caa0-b3db-1461-98b9-e20e7b9c13d4,0c54e3b3-1e9c-be1e-2c24-a6a8c7060233
  21. ^ "کراچی والے حصّہ "1"". وی او اے. Archived from the original on 8 March 2016. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  22. ^ Salman, Peerzada (3 November 2013). "Role of Jews in Karachi's uplift highlighted". Dawn newspaper. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  23. ^ Ghosh, Palash (16 November 2013). "Karachi Yahudi: Pakistan's Vanishing (Or Vanished) Jewish Community". International Business Times. Retrieved 26 January 2017. In a paper titled "Karachi Ke Yahudi" ("Jewish Karachi"), Kalmatti indicated that Jews arrived in Karachi from Maharashtra (now the state in western India that includes Mumbai) in the 19th century – when, of course, there was no Pakistan, as the British ruled over all of the Indian subcontinent.
  24. ^ Israel Goldstein, My World As a Jew: The Memoirs of Israel Goldstein, Herzl Press, New York, USA, vol 2, Pg 21 Limited preview: https://books.google.com/books?id=mCU0XsXUDOYC&pg=PA21&lpg=PA21&ots=Rf8WikzBrB&dq=jews+karachi&output=html&sig=5giViHwkF4nloob2TatlYnh0k6k
  25. ^ Weil, Shalva (2012). "The Unknown Jews of Bangladesh: Fragments of an Elusive Community". Asian Jewish Life (10): 16–18. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  26. ^ Weil, Shalva. 2009 'Bene Israel Rites and Routines' in Shalva Weil (ed.) India’s Jewish Heritage: Ritual, Art and Life-Cycle, Mumbai: Marg Publications [first published in 2002; 3Arts, 54(2): 26-37.rd edn.], 78-89. Reprinted in Marg: A Magazine of The
  27. ^ Weil, Shalva. 'The Jews of Pakistan', in M.Avrum Erlich (ed.) Encyclopaedia of the Jewish Diaspora, Santa Barbara, USA: ABC CLIO.2008, (3: 1228-1230).
  28. ^ Daiya, Kavita (4 February 2011). Violent Belongings: Partition, Gender, and National Culture in Postcolonial India. Temple University Press. p. 129. ISBN 978-1-59213-744-2.
  29. ^ Salman, Peerzada (3 November 2013). "Role of Jews in Karachi's uplift highlighted". Dawn newspaper. Retrieved 17 January 2017. When in 1948 Israel came into being a lot of Jews migrated to Israel, and after the Arab-Israel war a majority of them left the city.
  30. ^ bataween. "Point of No Return: Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries". Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  31. ^ Weil, Shalva. 2011 "The History and Disappearance of the Jewish Presence in Pakistan", ETH Zürich. https://css.ethz.ch/en/services/digital-library/articles/article.html/130984/pdf
  32. ^ Salman, Peerzada (3 November 2013). "Role of Jews in Karachi's uplift highlighted". Dawn. Mr Kalmatti, the only speaker of the day who spoke in Urdu, said in 1988 the synagogue was burnt and brought down by religious zealots.
  33. ^ "No more in Karachi". Dawn newspaper. 27 January 2016. Retrieved 26 January 2017. Rachel Joseph, until her death, claimed that the property developers had promised her and her brother Ifraheem Joseph an apartment in the new building, and also space for a small synagogue.
  34. ^ Sahoutara, Naeem (18 March 2014). "Jewish trust goes to court to take back demolished Karachi synagogue land". Express Tribune. Retrieved 8 January 2017. After his death, his sister, R. Rachel Joseph, became the last known survivor of the community in the country.
  35. ^ Khurshid, Jamal (26 October 2015). "Jewish trust given time to review nazir's report on property status". The News International. Retrieved 8 January 2017. The counsel alleged that trustee Rachel Joseph, in violation of the prevailing laws, regarding sale and transfer of properties allocated to minority communities, executed certain conveyance deeds in favour of private respondents Aftabuddin Qureshi and Ahmed Elahi.
  36. ^ Weil, Shalva. 2011 "The History and Disappearance of the Jewish Presence in Pakistan", ETH Zürich. https://css.ethz.ch/en/services/digital-library/articles/article.html/130984/pdf
  37. ^ Platts, John T. (John Thompson) (1884). "A Dictionary of Urdu, Classical Hindi, and English". dsal.uchicago.edu. Retrieved 25 April 2020.
  38. ^ Weil, Shalva. 1994 'The Secular & Religious Elite among the Bene Israel Jews in India', Pe’amim 60: 49-63. (Hebrew)
  39. ^ Ghosh, Palash (16 November 2013). "Karachi Yahudi: Pakistan's Vanishing (Or Vanished) Jewish Community". International Business Times. Retrieved 8 January 2017. The Jewish Chronicle of London reported on Karachi’s Jews as recently as 2007, on the 60th anniversary of the founding of Pakistan.
  40. ^ The Newspaper's Staff Reporter. "Minorities' votes may decide fate of 96 constituencies". Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  41. ^ A. Khan, Iftikhar (8 January 2017). "Minorities' vote bank reaches close to 3m". Dawn newspaper. Retrieved 8 January 2017. Among other religious communities, around 900 are Jews.
  42. ^ Hussain, Danish (27 March 2017). "Man of interfaith parents wins right to religion of choice". The Express Tribune. Retrieved 27 March 2017.
  43. ^ Hashmi, Zeeba T (12 November 2015). "The Jews of Pakistan". Daily Times (Pakistan). Retrieved 17 January 2017. We cannot ignore the fact that before the 1970s there generally were no anti-Semitic feelings towards the Jews of Pakistan.
  44. ^ "Jewish Graveyard in Karachi Pakistan". Youtube. Archived from the original on 8 June 2014. Retrieved 13 November 2011.
  45. ^ "In search of the Jews of Karachi". Express Tribune. 6 February 2011. Retrieved 13 November 2011.

Sources[edit]

Above material is based on an article of Prof. Adil Najam of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, published in Pakistan's newspaper The Daily Times. 1