Jews were one of the first foreign religions that had arrived in India, and though it cannot be pinpointed when precisely Jews had migrated to India, it is generally believed that they arrived in groups since 10th Century BC and settled in different parts of the country.
To give a brief introduction of Judaism as a religion, it is one of the oldest monotheistic religions in the world and came into existence when, according to Jewish history, God revealed Himself to Abraham about 4000 years ago in Babylonia. Jews believe that there is a Messiah coming who would deliver them and rule over them as a king and the holy books of Jews are filled with prophecies about the Messiah.
When Jesus arrived in the scene about 2000 years ago and declared that He Himself was the promised Messiah that Jews were waiting for, many believed in Him because of His miracles and these people became the early Christians. Those who rejected Jesus remained Jews and are still waiting for the Messiah.
India is one of the very few places in the world where there were never discriminations against the Jews and have lived in harmony along with other religions in the country for thousands of years and have even adopted some of the Indian cultures into their way of life.
Here are 9 facts about Indian Jews that you should know.
1. There are about 5000 Jews living in India.
It is estimated that presently there are between 5,000 to 7,000 Jews living in India and as many as 70,000 Jews have already migrated to Israel since the country came into existence in the year 1948.
2. The first Christians in India were Jews.
It is believed that when Apostle Thomas came to Kerala 19 years after the crucifixion of Jesus in 52 AD, the first converts to Christianity in India were actually Jews who were living there and were familiar with Hebrew language which Thomas spoke.
3. There are 7 groups of Jews in the country.
There are about seven groups of Jews living in India namely Cochin Jews, Bene Israel, Chennai Jews, Portuguese Jews, Baghdadi Jews, Bnei Menashe and Bene Ephraim. Each group of Jews is believed to have come to India at different points of time.
4. The Bene Israel didn’t know about Hanukkah for centuries.
Among the seven groups of Jews, Bene Israel is the largest and for centuries they wouldn’t celebrate Hanukkah, an important Jewish festival, because it was associated with the destruction of The Second Temple in Jerusalem and they migrated much before the destruction that took place in 70 AD. It was only after they came in contact with other groups Jews in India who knew about the destruction and the festival that they adopted it.
5. The Bene Israel came to India after a shipwreck.
According to legends, the Bene Israel are believed to have reached India when a ship carrying their forefathers wrecked near the Konkan coast and seven men and seven women swam to the shore of a village called Nawgaon in Maharashtra and settled there.
6. 3 groups of India Jews claim to be descendants of 10 lost ancient Israeli tribes.
Interestingly, Bene Israel of Maharashtra, Bnei Menashe of Mizoram and Manipur and Bene Ephraim of Tamil Nadu claim to be the direct descendents of the ancient 10 lost tribes of Israel. According to Jews and Christians, the Jews comprised of 12 tribes and 10 of these 12 tribes in the year 930 BC formed the kingdom of Israel while the remaining two formed the kingdom of Judah. Around 721 BC, Israel was attacked by Assyrians and the land was captured. Nothing more about those tribes were written and thus they are termed as ‘lost tribes of Israel’. It is believed that they scattered to different parts of the world.
7. The synagogues in India are getting empty.
There are about 35 functioning synagogues (place of worship for Jews) present all over India presently. All the synagogues ever built in India remains till today but many have been converted to museums after a large number of Jews migrated to Israel and settled there and the synagogues weren’t in use anymore.
8. There have been 3 Miss India already from the Indian Jewish community.
Though comparing to the population of India Jews are close to non-existent, there have been but three Miss India already from this tiny community. The very first Miss India title was won by Esther Victoria Abraham aka Pramila in the year 1947. In 1959, the title was won by Fleur Ezekiel and in 1972 it was won by Salome Aaron.
9. Two towns in India are known as ‘mini-India’.
Due to significant migration of Indian Jews to Israel for good and keeping alive the unique cultures of India there, two towns of Israel Dimona and Ashdod are now dubbed as ‘mini-India’ where Hindi and Marathi are largely spoken. Even Dimona’s central library has a special section for Indian-language books.