Knesset Eliyahoo

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Knesset Eliyahoo
בית הכנסת אליהו
KnesetEliyahooSynagogue.JPG
Exterior of Knesset Eliyahoo Synagogue
Basic information
Location Mumbai, India
Affiliation Orthodox Judaism
Rite Sephardic
State Maharashtra
Ecclesiastical or organizational status Active
Architect(s) Gostling & Morris

The Knesset Eliyahoo, also Knesset Eliyahu, is an Orthodox Jewish synagogue located in downtown Mumbai, India. It is the city's second oldest Sephardic synagogue.[1] It was established in 1884 by Jacob Elias Sassoon, son of Eliyahoo David Sassoon and grandson of David Sassoon; the latter had immigrated from Baghdad to India in 1832 due to persecution and had settled in Bombay (now known as Mumbai). It is maintained by the Jacob Sassoon Trust.[2][3] The building's significance is attributed to its Jewish traditions as well as Indian and English colonial influences.[1]

Location[edit]

Knesset Eliyahoo is located in Colaba at 55, Dr. V.B. Gandhi Marg, Fort Mumbai. The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, and Oberoi Trident are nearby.[4]

Background[edit]

Prior to the arrival of Baghdadi Jews in India, the Jews residing in Bombay had come as representatives of King Solomon and had settled in the towns of India, living peacefully with other communities in India.[2] It is also said that among the Jews who now remain in Bombay are a group of Jews known as Bene Jews or Bene Israel who were reportedly descendants of seven tribes of Israel who, in the 2nd century BC, were shipwrecked on India's Konkan Coast while escaping persecution in the Galilee.[5] They found that living in India, amidst a cosmopolitan community consisting of Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and, much later, Muslims, was a very cordial environment, totally free of anti-Semitic feelings.[2]

The Jewish merchant community which played a significant role in the commercial development of Bombay consisted of Jews from Iraq, Syria, and other Middle Eastern countries who immigrated in the late 18th century under the threat of persecution. They found the environment conducive to continuing their trade and settled in the city, becoming prosperous in business ventures such as textile mills and international trading.[2] In 1784, the British government took over the East India Company. With this change, many business opportunities emerged in India, and Bombay in particular, encouraging immigrants to set up businesses. In 1790, one such business magnate was Shalom ben Ovadiah HaCohen, a Baghdadi Jew who had migrated from Aleppo (Halab), in Syria to Bombay; other Jewish businessmen from Baghdad, Basra, and Yemen followed him.[6]

History[edit]

Exterior view, before 1906

In 1832, David Sasson immigrated to Bombay and established himself as a magistrate of the cotton industry. He built the Magen David Synagogue in Kolkata in 1861; this was in addition to the older Magen Hasidim synagogue. His son, Abdulla Sassoon, transformed the weaving industry in Bombay.[5][6] To cater to the increasing need of the Baghdadi Jews, Knesset Eliyahoo synagogue was constructed on a premium piece of land in the hub of Bombay's commercial area by Jacob Sassoon, grandson of David Sassoon, commemorating his father, Eliyahoo Sassoon.[3]

More Jews came from Bukhara, Persia, and, following the Farhud pogrom in Iraq in 1941, many more immigrants shifted to Bombay. They all used to assemble in the Knesset Eliyahoo synagogue in large numbers during festival days and on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. On many such occasions, in view of the large crowd of devotees, overflow prayer services were held in the neighbouring Cawasjee Jehangir Public Hall.[3]

In 1985, President Giani Zail Singh visited the site to honour the centennial of the synagogue's construction. India Post issued a commemorative stamp in honour of the centennial.[7]

The first-ever terrorist attack on Jews in Mumbai occurred on 8 November 2008. Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, who had conducted Sabbath services on the previous day and also held religious discourses at the Knesset Eliyahoo, was killed, along with his wife and a few other Jews at the Nariman House, a community center operated by Chabad. This sowed fear among the Jewish community members residing in Mumbai, and also forged a closer bond between the city's Baghdadi and Bene Israel Jews.[2]

Architecture and fittings[edit]

Interior view

Designed by the British architectural firm Gostling & Morris of Bombay,[1] the building's base is of stone masonry while the superstructure is of brick masonry.[3] The external frontage of the synagogue is painted turquoise.[2]

The inner space contains ornamented pillars, and the sanctuary faces west towards Jerusalem. The tebah (reader's platform) is bordered on both sides by ornately carved marble, over which is placed a tall, stained-glass arch that reaches the ceiling. Women worshippers sit in an upstairs gallery. The synagogue contains a number of Torah scrolls, along with silver-cased sefarim (religious books) belonging to the Sassoon family. On the ground floor, there are meeting and school rooms, and a mikveh (immersion pool).[3] The staircase, windows, timber balconies, ceiling, walls, and roof are in need of restoration.[1]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue". World Monuments Fund. Retrieved 23 May 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Khan, Jeremy (2 December 2008). "Jews of Mumbai, a Tiny and Eclectic Group, Suddenly Reconsider Their Serene Existence". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Baghdadian Synagogues in Mumbai (Bombay) & Poona (Pune)". The Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue. Midrash Organization. 
  4. ^ "Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, Mumbai, India". Sir Jacob Sassoon Synagogues and Allied Trusts. Retrieved 23 May 2015. 
  5. ^ a b Brennan, Emily (16 September 2014). "Exploring the World's Jewish Communities". The New York Times. 
  6. ^ a b Dana 2007, p. 88.
  7. ^ Dana 2007, p. 89.

Bibliography[edit]