JEWS OF KERALA
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
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.
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
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.
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.