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 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.
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