|Search results for: All About Kerala & Kerala History
THE JEWS OF KERALA
There is no consensus of opinion on the date of the arrival of the first Jews in India. The tradition of the Cochin Jews maintains that after 72 A.D., after the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, 10,000 Jews migrated to Kerala. A second tradition says that the Jews are the descendants of the Jews taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar and then released by Cyrus of Persia in the sixth century B.C. A third theory holds the view that they came to India
in 370 from Majorca where they were exiled by the Roman Emperor Vespasian. A fourth tradition, the Christian tradition, says that when St. Thomas the Apostle visited Muziris in 52 A.D., he stayed in the Jewish quarter. The only verifiable historical evidence about the Kerala Jews goes back only to the Jewish Copper Plate Grant of Bhaskara Ravi Varman of 1000 A.D. This docu-ment records the royal gift of rights and privileges to the Jewish Chief of Anjuvannam Joseph Rabban.
The Jews, like the rest of the Keralites, came from the East Coast in the sixth century and after. They came to India as political refugees and/or as traders. Because of the paucity of their numbers at any time in their his-tory in India, it is very likely that they came only in small numbers to India and remained small unless most of them became Christians at one time. According to one tradition, St. Thomas converted many of them to Christianity. It seems likely that the fate and fortune of the Jews were tied in with the fate and fortune of the Christians. In my view, the early Christians of India were converts from Judaism. The clearest evidence for their view is found in the Aramaic language once spoken by the Kerala Christians and used even today in the prayer books of Kerala's Syrian Christian community. It was the language of the Iraqi Jews and of some Iraqis even today. In the sixteenth century White Jews from Spain and Portugal came to Kerala.
The Portuguese did not look favorably on the Jews. They destroyed the Jewish settlement in Cranganore and sacked the Jew town in Cochin and partially destroyed the famous Cochin Synagogue in 1661. However, the tolerant Dutch allowed the Jews to pursue their normal life and trade in Cochin. According to the testimony of the Dutch Jew, Mosss Pereya De Paiva, in 1686 there were 10 synagogues and nearly 500 Jewish families in Cochin. During the British times, too, the Jews enjoyed peace and protection. After the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, most Jews (85%) decided to depart for Israel. All the Black Jews and Brown
Jews, about 3,000, went to Israel between 1948 and 1955; they are known as Cochini in Israel today. Only a -few hundred Jews remained in Kerala; they were all white Jews. In 1961 there were only 35'9 Jews in Kerala with only two synagogues open for service: the Pardesi Synagogue in Maltancherry built in 1567 and the synagogue in Parur.
Today the number of the Jews has dwindled down to a mere 50; most of them are elderly people, and women outnumber men. According to the prominent Jewish businessman of Kerala, S. S. Koder, the main problem for the Kerala Jews is to find bridegrooms and brides for their young people in Kerala. When it is time for them to get married, they leave for the Kiriath Shemona settlement in Israel where most of the Cochin Jews resettled. Another problem is the absence of a good shoeth (butcher) to prepare kosher meat after ritual slaughter. Fortunately, they have found one recently.