The Bene Israel
are a group of Jews who migrated in the 19th century from villages in the Konkan
The Konkan also called the Konkan Coast or Karavali is a rugged section of the western coastline of India from Raigad to Mangalore...
area to the nearby Indian cities, primarily Mumbai
Mumbai , formerly known as Bombay in English, is the capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra. It is the most populous city in India, and the fourth most populous city in the world, with a total metropolitan area population of approximately 20.5 million...
, but also to Pune
Pune , is the eighth largest metropolis in India, the second largest in the state of Maharashtra after Mumbai, and the largest city in the Western Ghats. Once the centre of power of the Maratha Empire, it is situated 560 metres above sea level on the Deccan plateau at the confluence of the Mula ...
, and Ahmedabad
Ahmedabad also known as Karnavati is the largest city in Gujarat, India. It is the former capital of Gujarat and is also the judicial capital of Gujarat as the Gujarat High Court has its seat in Ahmedabad...
. Prior to these waves of emigrations and to this day, the Bene Israel formed the largest sector of the subcontinent's Jewish population. The native language of the Bene Israel is Marathi
Marathi is an Indo-Aryan language spoken by the Marathi people of western and central India. It is the official language of the state of Maharashtra. There are over 68 million fluent speakers worldwide. Marathi has the fourth largest number of native speakers in India and is the fifteenth most...
. Most Bene Israel have now emigrated to Israel
Aliyah is the immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel . It is a basic tenet of Zionist ideology. The opposite action, emigration from Israel, is referred to as yerida . The return to the Holy Land has been a Jewish aspiration since the Babylonian exile...
The traditions of the community trace their descent to Jews who escaped persecution in Galilee
Galilee , is a large region in northern Israel which overlaps with much of the administrative North District of the country. Traditionally divided into Upper Galilee , Lower Galilee , and Western Galilee , extending from Dan to the north, at the base of Mount Hermon, along Mount Lebanon to the...
in the 2nd century BCE, though the Bene Israel resemble the non-Jewish Maratha
The Maratha are an Indian caste, predominantly in the state of Maharashtra. The term Marāthā has three related usages: within the Marathi speaking region it describes the dominant Maratha caste; outside Maharashtra it can refer to the entire regional population of Marathi-speaking people;...
people in appearance and customs. The Bene Israel, however, maintained the practices of Jewish dietary laws
Kashrut is the set of Jewish dietary laws. Food in accord with halakha is termed kosher in English, from the Ashkenazi pronunciation of the Hebrew term kashér , meaning "fit" Kashrut (also kashruth or kashrus) is the set of Jewish dietary laws. Food in accord with halakha (Jewish law) is termed...
The brit milah is a Jewish religious circumcision ceremony performed on 8-day old male infants by a mohel. The brit milah is followed by a celebratory meal .-Biblical references:...
and observation of Sabbath
Shabbat is the seventh day of the Jewish week and a day of rest in Judaism. Shabbat is observed from a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until a few minutes after when one would expect to be able to see three stars in the sky on Saturday night. The exact times, therefore, differ from...
as a day of rest.
The Bene Israel believe their ancestors were oil pressers (seven men and an unknown number of women) in the Galilee and that they descend from survivors of a shipwreck. In the 18th century CE they were "rediscovered" by traders from Baghdad
Baghdad is the capital of Iraq, as well as the coterminous Baghdad Governorate. The population of Baghdad in 2011 is approximately 7,216,040...
. At that time the Bene Israel were practicing just a few outward forms of Judaism (which is how they were recognized) but had no scholars of their own. Teachers from Baghdad and Cochin taught them mainstream Judaism in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Jewish merchants from Europe traveled to India in the medieval period for purposes of trade, but it is not clear whether they formed permanent settlements in south Asia. The first reliable evidence of Jews living in India comes from the early 11th century. It is certain that the first Jewish settlements were centered along the western coast. Abraham ibn Daud
Abraham ibn Daud was a Spanish-Jewish astronomer, historian, and philosopher; born at Toledo, Spain about 1110; died, according to common report, a martyr about 1180. He is sometimes known by the abbreviation Rabad I or Ravad I. His mother belonged to a family famed for its learning...
's 12th century reference to Jews of India is unfortunately vague, and we do not have further references to Indian Jews until several centuries later.
Under British hegemony, many Bene Israel rose to prominence. They were not affected by racially-discriminatory policies, and as such were able to gain higher, better paying posts in the British Army when compared with their non-Jewish neighbours. Many Bene Israel rose high enough that when the British left India in 1947, they felt that they stood to lose more than they could possibly gain under Indian independence. As such, most emigrated to Israel.
It is estimated that there were 6,000 Bene Israel in the 1830s, 10,000 at the turn of the 20th century, and in 1948—their peak in India—they numbered 20,000. http://www.bh.org.il/Communities/Archive/BeneIsrael.asp
Since that time, their population in India has decreased through emigration (mostly to Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...
) to under 5,000.
Life in Israel
In 1962, authorities in Israel were accused by articles in the Indian press of racism towards the Bene Israel. In the case that caused the controversy, the Chief Rabbi of Israel ruled that before registering a marriage between Indian Jews and Jews not belonging to that community, the registering rabbi should investigate the lineage of the Indian applicant for possible non-Jewish descent, and in case of doubt, require the applicant to perform conversion or immersion. The alleged discrimination may actually be related to the fact that some religious authorities believe that the Bene Israel
The Bene Israel are a group of Jews who migrated in the 19th century from villages in the Konkan area to the nearby Indian cities, primarily Mumbai, but also to Pune, and Ahmedabad. Prior to these waves of emigrations and to this day, the Bene Israel formed the largest sector of the subcontinent's...
were not fully Jewish because of inter-marriage during their long separation.
In 1964 the Israeli Rabbinate
The term rabbinate may refer to the office of a rabbi or rabbis as a group:*Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the supreme Jewish religious governing body in the state of Israel...
declared that the Bene Israel are "full Jews in every respect."
A full description of life in Israel for the Bene Israel community can be found in the following reference. The town of Beersheva in Southern Israel has the largest community of Bene Israel. There is also a sizable community in Ramla
Ramla , is a city in central Israel. The city is predominantly Jewish with a significant Arab minority. Ramla was founded circa 705–715 AD by the Umayyad Caliph Suleiman ibn Abed al-Malik after the Arab conquest of the region...
. As this community is with modest means and little political activism, they have limited economic activity with India and limited political status in Israel.
Famous Bene Israel
- Dr. Erulkar, (Physician of Mohandas Gandhi)
- Dr. Solomon Erulkar
- Nissim Ezekiel
' was an Indian Jewish poet, playwright, editor and art-critic. He was a foundational figure in postcolonial India's literary history, specifically for Indian writing in English....
- Isaac Kehimkar, Author, Nature Photographer, Naturalist & Conservationist
- Sameer Kehimkar, Wildlife Enthusiast & Photographer, professionally a Creative Designer.
- Jonathan Mapgaonkar, CEO, SSBU, Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd.
- Esther David, Writer
- Ezekiel Gulu, Author
- Sophie Judah, Writer
- Carmit Delman, Writer
- Sadia Shepard
Sadia Shepard is a Pakistani American filmmaker and author based in New York City. She is the author of The Girl from Foreign: A Search for Shipwrecked Ancestors, Lost Loves, and a Sense of Home, which was published by The Penguin Press in 2008...
- Dr Nathan Malachi Aston, Educationist
- Colonel Gabriel Ashton, Israeli Police - Former Commander of the West Bank
- Brigadier David Abraham, Indian Army
- Maya Avraham Popular Israeli Singer
- Liel Kolet
Liel Kolet is an Israeli singer, of Indian Jewish descent.-Biography:Liel Kolet was born on 11 July 1989 to Indian Jewish parents in the Kibbutz Kvutzat Kinneret where she also spent the rest of her childhood....
Popular Israeli singer
- Ilan Kolet, Bank of Canada
- Levi M. Sankar, Lawyer, Ontario Securities Commission; Graduate, Yale University; Writer
- Aviva Kolet, singer and cantor, Canada
- Major General Jonathan Reuben Samson, Indian Army
- Lt General Jacobs, Indian Army
- Wg Cdr Abraham Moses Reuben, Indian Air Force
- Uriel Kolet, Captain, Air Canada
- Dr. E M Best, Former Dean B J Medical College, Ahmedabad and Dir Medical Education Gujarat State
- Prof Lael Anson Best, Thoracic Surg, Chief of Surgery, Rambam Hosp, Haifa Israel
- David Abraham Cheulkar
David Abraham Cheulkar , popularly known as David, was a Jewish-Indian, Hindi film actor, who started his film career with 1941 film Naya Sansar and went on to act in over 110 films....
- Ruby Myers
Sulochana , real name Ruby Myers) was an Indian silent film star of Jewish ancestry, although it is unclear whether she descended from an Ashkenazi family, Bene Israeli family, or both....
(known as Sulochana), actress
- Bunny Reuben, noted film journalist
- Susan Solomon
Firoza Begum, also known as Susan Solomon, was a Jewish Indian actress. She is of Bene Israel heritage. Firoza acted in several Bollywood and Mollywood films.-References:...
(known as Firoza Begum), actress
- Pearl Padamsee
Pearl Padamsee was an Indian theatre personality as a stage actress, director and producer of English language theatre in Mumbai active in 1950s - 1990s.She also acted a few Hindi and English language films...
- Asha Bhende, Marathi stage actress and wife of Atmaram Bhende
- Herman - Dance Director (movie : Gumnaam (old) )
(External reference "Pioneering Indian Jewish Bollywood Actresses & Actors" : http://b-inet.com/sammy/indian-jewish-actors/)
- Joseph Jacobs and Joseph Ezekiel, Beni-Israel, in the Jewish Encyclopedia
The Jewish Encyclopedia is an encyclopedia originally published in New York between 1901 and 1906 by Funk and Wagnalls. It contained over 15,000 articles in 12 volumes on the history and then-current state of Judaism and the Jews as of 1901...
- Shalva Weil, The Bene Israel of India on the site of The Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora at Tel Aviv University
Tel Aviv University is a public university located in Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv, Israel. With nearly 30,000 students, TAU is Israel's largest university.-History:...
- Voices on Antisemitism Interview with Sadia Shepard from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
- Jews in India: Bene Israel
- Jews of India - Includes a Photo Gallery & a Forum
- Jews in Pakistan. An article by Prof. Adil Najam
Adil Najam is a globally renowned Pakistani academic and intellectual. He is a leading expert on issues related to developing country environmental policy, especially climate change, and also on the politics of South Asia. He was the Director of the Frederick S...
of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University
Tufts University is a private research university located in Medford/Somerville, near Boston, Massachusetts. It is organized into ten schools, including two undergraduate programs and eight graduate divisions, on four campuses in Massachusetts and on the eastern border of France...
- The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people Nature 466, 238-242 (8 July 2010)
- The Indian Jewish community and synagogues in Israel
- "Yonati Ziv Yifatech" Bene Israel Wedding Hymn
- The Satamker Family Website