Jews and India: Perceptions and Image (Routledge Jewish Studies Series)

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This has become increasingly apparent over the last two centuries as Judaism and its image have been incorporated into the discussions of some of the most prominent figures of different religious and nationalist movements, leaders of independent India, and the Indian mass media. Furthermore, recent decades witnessed mass adoption of Israelite identity by Indians from two different regions and religious groups.

This is a topic that has hitherto received little attention and Jews and India seeks to rectify this situation by examining these developments and providing a fascinating insight into these issues. This volume will be of interest to scholars of Jewish and Indian cultural studies. He divided the category of the other into three broad groups: This latter type of the other, whom Todorov also defines as remote, represents another society which will be near or far away, depending on the case: I would suggest that in India, Jews could be described as both an interior other, the other which was part and parcel of Indian society, and an exterior or remote other, which belonged to a different environment.

Jews are present on the subcontinent and their tiny community forms a part of the Indian population, although the paucity of the Jews in India means that only a limited number of Indians have ever had a chance to get acquainted with them in India itself. However, India s encounter with the West introduced its population to more sources of knowledge about the Jews and Judaism.

The book considers the Indian representations of the Jews and Judaism on two levels: The emphasis will be on the Indian side, though we shall also look at the way Indian Jews, who were on the receiving end of these attitudes, perceived their place in Indian society.

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The theoretical framework which forms the background of this book belongs mainly to the domain of history, however it also relies a lot on. The Indian discussion about the Jews will be considered at three levels. We shall look at the actual depiction of the Jews, i. In this respect it will be useful to refer again to Todorov s typology of relations to the other, which includes three levels at which the problematics of alterity could be located: So, first, when examining the representations of the Jews throughout the book, we shall see whether they are depicted in a positive or a negative way and will try to determine what attitude towards the Jews these images manifest.

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Second, the book will explore how the participants in each discourse under survey describe the Jews in relation to themselves and whether they tend to find similarities between themselves and the Jews or whether they are eager to be dissociated from them. In this respect I suggest that Todorov s schema could be developed by adding one more dimension on the praxeological level.

What do I do when I am confronted with two different others? Do I reduce our relations to a binary opposition by either identifying myself with one of them and dissociating both of us from the second other or by identifying the first other with the second and distancing myself from both of them, or do I perceive myself and my two others as three separate entities?

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We shall see what groups and in what contexts have identified themselves with or dissociated themselves from the Jews, or alternatively, what other groups they identified the Jews with. Third, the book will attempt to assess how well the participants in the discourses under survey have been acquainted with Jewish topics and what their sources of information about the Jews have been.

It will be suggested that it was due to the advance of British rule that the Indian discourse about the Jews first came into being. Were there any similarities in the way the Jews were represented in the Indian and European discourses? If there were any, what accounted for this continuity?

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Van Dijk in his study of racism in Europe and the United States made an assumption that those who have more power, and hence more control over the actions of more people in more situations, also have a broader range of opportunities to contribute to,. Similarly here we shall see whether European rhetoric of anti-semitism affected the Indian discussion of the Jews.

What implications were associated with the Jews in India? In what connotations in Barthes terms was the very word Jew used in the sources under survey? What codes of knowledge about the Jews did the participants of the examined discourses share? Finally, what was the relationship between the Indian discussion of indigenous Jews and Jews in general? Sources The sources used in the reconstruction of the Indian representations of the Jews can be divided into four broad groups. The first group is represented by the sources of the colonial administration. The publications produced by British ethnographers, such as censuses, gazetteers and caste dictionaries describe the Jewish communities of India and cast light on their relations with other religious communities.

The private papers of the British who worked in India also offer evidence on the Indian response to the Jewish theme in general. For instance, memoirs and journals of Christian missionaries, which reflect their debates with their Hindu and Indian Muslim opponents, inter alia contain observations on the Indian discussion of the Jews.

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The Indian sources, which constitute the second group, also represent a variety of materials: The archives contain reports of representatives of various Jewish organisations who visited India, their correspondence with senior Indian politicians and leaders of Indian Jewry and thus throw light on the Indian popular opinion about the Jews.

The fourth group represents what may be characterised as the sources of the Jewish communities of India themselves.


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These publications include periodicals, reports of various charitable and educational organisations and periodicals of the Zionist organisations of India. These sources provide evidence on various aspects of the life of the Jewish community of India and help to reconstruct the Indian discourse about the Jews in the sense that they contain references to various popular notions of the Jews on the subcontinent, Jewish topics in the Indian press and the Indian responses to the Zionist movement and European anti-semitism.

Indo-Judaica This book may be described as belonging to the relatively new field of Indo-Judaica, which was created mainly by scholars studying the Jewish. The former was located on the Malabar Coast of South India and appears to be the oldest and the best known both to Indians and to the outside world. One of the characteristic features of this community is that it was historically divided into several groups: One of the earliest studies on the Jews of Cochin was done by the anthropologist David Mandelbaum in the s, who paid particular attention to social stratification among them and depicted it as an inherent feature of the life of the community Mandelbaum The same topic was studied by Naphtali Bar-Giora, who discussed the sources reflecting the division of the community into the White and the Black Bar- Giora The sources that may cast light on history of the Cochin Jews in general are considered in a comprehensive study by J.

The religious life of the Jews of Cochin has been described in detail by Nathan Katz, who considered the way their customs and traditions have been influenced by Indian religious cultures. He has analysed the relationship between the legends of origin of the Jews and those of other religious groups of the Malabar and focused on the parallels between the practices of the Jews of Kerala and their Hindu neighbours.

Katz has argued that the Hindu religious environment which assigns each group of society a fixed place enabled Jewish acculturation without assimilation and that the Jews of Cochin achieved a synthesis of their Jewish and Indian identities Katz , ; Katz and Goldberg A number of studies devoted to the Jews of Cochin have also been written by the anthropologist Barbara C. Johnson, who researched the life of the community both in India and in Israel and has paid particular attention to the study of the relationship between the caste system and the Jews of Cochin Johnson a, The Bene-Israel represent one of the Jewish communities whose early history is obscure.

The earliest sources to offer a more or less detailed account of the Bene-Israel are the writings of Christian missionaries and Jewish travellers who visited the community in the nineteenth century. Originally, most members of the community lived in the villages of the Konkan coast of Western India, where their traditional occupation was oilpressing. By the second half of the nineteenth century many of them moved to Bombay and some small towns on the Konkan coast, where they worked as artisans.


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In the later British period a significant number of the Bene-Israel took jobs in the British administration, which led to them moving to different parts of the subcontinent. Among the first scholars who studied the life of the community in India one should mention Schifra Strizower and Carl Mark Gussin.

Strizower described in detail the internal stratification of the Bene-Israel, as well as their relations with other Jewish communities of India Strizower Gussin s thesis concentrates on the religious life of the Bene-Israel and the question of their identity, which he characterised as double, i. A similar observation in respect to Bene-Israel emigrants in Israel was made in Shalva Weil s seminal dissertation Weil Based on a threeyear fieldwork in Lod, this thesis offers a comprehensive description of the customs and traditions of the Bene-Israel settled in Israel.

The Cochin Jews were persecuted under Portuguese rule , as fervor from the Inquisition followed immigration to India. Under Dutch rule , the Jews gained better status, as the Dutch looked favorably upon the cosmopolitan Paradesi community.

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In contrast, with the arrival of the British East India Company in , Mumbai was transformed into a bustling metropolis, granting the Jews of the Bene Israel community enormous opportunity. Jews were given jobs in the military, the navy, commerce, and construction, but ironically abandoned their original oil pressing monopoly as the Empire took over. With Western influence, the Bene Israel Jews were introduced to the more traditional Jewish practices.

The first synagogue was built in Interestingly, Christian missionary schools provided the first centers for Hebrew education. Although Christian missions aimed for conversion, their institutions actually strengthened the Bene Israel community, proven by its larger population today around 5, people see Christianity in India.

The Baghdadi Jews arrived in India during British rule, so their relationship with the Empire differed from the more indigenous communities. Most of the Baghdadi Jews came to India purely for commercial reasons, and did not make large efforts to assimilate to the native culture. Most Baghdadis, especially today, choose a more European or Arab style of dress, and discriminate among the darker the members of the community. The Baghdadi Jews depended on British rule for their livelihood. An estimated Baghdadi Jews live in India today.

As many Indian Jews benefited from European rule, the issues surrounding Indian independence became controversial. The Zionist movement grew in the early twentieth century and forced many Indian Jews to reconsider their loyalties: And how would the Jewish communities survive without the helping hand of the Empire? Relief movements organized by the JRA, the Jewish Relief Association of Bombay, helped hundreds of European Jews escaping persecution, and set up hostels and homes for them to live.

After the war in Kerala, many Jews left to go to Israel hoping to find a better sense of Jewish identity in a Jewish state. Many from the Bene Israel community, whose population peaked during the twentieth century at 25,, also emigrated to Israel and other nations such as the U. The Baghdadi Jews were hurt under Indian independence. Relations with the Middle East changed and many of the Sasson factories closed.


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Many of the Bagdhahdi Jews immigrated to other countries to protect financial interests see Partition in India.