The Jews of India and the Ten Lost Tribes

February 13, 2012 3:18 pm 2 comments

David Sassoon Library, Mumbai. Photo: wiki commons.

There are 5 distinct Jewish communities in India – the Cochin Jews, Bene Israel, the Baghdadi Jews, Bnei Menashe and Bene Ephraim.

The Cochin Jews are the oldest Jewish group living in India and claim to have first arrived in Cochin, which is now part of the South Indian state of Kerala, around the time of King Solomon.

More Jews arrived in Cochin following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E and in 379 CE, the Hindu king, Sira Primal, gave permission for Jews to own property and practice their religion freely there. In fact, these rulings were eventually codified on a set of copper plates. Some Sephardi Jews who fled persecution in the Iberian Peninsula arrived in the 15th and 16th centuries and later became known as Paradesi Jews.

In 1524, the Jews of Cranganore (Southwest India) fled to Cochin after Muslims attacked them for having a perceived advantage in the pepper trade. The Hindu Raja of Cochin gave them asylum and in addition exempted Jews from taxation. The Pardesi Synagogue in Cochin (Kochi) was built in 1568 and is the oldest synagogue in the British Commonwealth.

Bene Israel comprises the largest Jewish community in India. They claim to be descendents of the Jews who escaped persecution in Galilee.  There are at least 20,000 Bene Israel in Israel and most of them live in the town of Beersheva.

Baghdadi Jews trace their origins to Iraq as well as other Middle Eastern countries and before emigrating to Israel and the U.S. in large numbers, they were mainly based around the city of Bombay (Mumbai). David Sassoon was a key member in this community, helping to build several synagogues in addition to donations given to Jewish and public institutions. The David Sassoon Docks and Sassoon Library are some of the famous Jewish landmarks still standing today in India.

Bnei Menashe claim to be descendents from Manasseh, one of the ten Lost Tribes of Israel. There are approximately 9,000 Bnei Menashe in the northeastern Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur. Based on a 2005 ruling by Rabbi Shlomo Amar, one of Israel’s two chief rabbis, Bnei Menashe are allowed to enter Israel under Israel’s Law of Return. At least 7,200 Bnei Menashe plan to immigrate to Israel after undergoing a conversion process.

The Bene Ephraim are a small Jewish community who speak Telugu and live in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

There are claims that the 40 million Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan descended from Ephraim, one of the ten Lost Tribes of Israel (the Taliban are made up of mostly Pashtun militants). An Indian research fellow collected blood samples for an Israeli Foreign Ministry funded study at Technion University in Israel to test these claims. A  British researcher had also attempted to collect DNA for a similar study. Both studies appear to have not been carried out successfully due to security related reasons.

All the Jewish communities of India are in danger of disappearing mainly due to immigration to Israel and partly due to conversion and inter-marriage. The number of Indian Jews living in Israel ranges from 70,000 to 85,000, making up approximately 1% of Israel’s total population.

2 Comments

  • Nissim Moses Bene Israel Historian

    Dear Mr Lakkana Nanayakkara,

    There are about 70,000 Bene Israel living in Israel today and another 20,000 in other places in the world like USA, UK, Australia, Canada etc. The Bene Israel community has large section of its population in several cities like Beersheba, Dimona, Kiryat Gat, Ashdod, Ashquelon. Kiryat Atta, Nazerath, Kiryat Shemona, Yerucham, Lod, Ramle, Petah Tiqwa, Haifa, Jerusalem and several other locations. The Bene Israel form the major single Jewish community of Indian Jews in Israel and not the others. Further it is the Bene Israel who have promoted and popularized Indian Music Dance and other cultural and sports activity in Israel (like cricket,badminton bollywood dance & pop songs and Indian cuisne like Batta Vada, Bajias, Sammossas Chutney etc.) Further itas a Bene Israel (the undersigned) who Established the first Liaison office in India on behalf of and Israeli Company in India & was the primer in the defence relations between India & Israel
    Regards
    Nissim Moses

    • wayne croning

      Dear Mr. Moses,

      My name is wayne croning; I was born in Karachi, Pakistan.Now living in Canada. There were many Jews living in karachi before Partition. Many left for Israel and other countries after this period. My mother is looking for an old classmate who was Jewish by the name of Kay Isaacs (or Isaacson). We think she may be living in Israel in the Bene Israel community. If you can help us get in contact with her that would be wonderful. She will be about mid 70 or so in age and her surname may have changed now. Truly appreciate your help.
      Shalom and thanks,
      wayne croning

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Sports Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    The Israel National soccer team could be facing a World Cup ban, and other soccer sanctions, unless it alleviates travel restrictions and increases field access for Palestinian players and coaches. The head of the Palestinian Football Association is pushing for international soccer’s governing body, the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), to issue a ban on Israel competing internationally, claiming Israel’s restrictive travel for Palestinians is equivalent to a form of oppression. “It’s not only the athletes,” Jibril Rajoub explains. [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    JNS.org – While the national debate on “Obamacare” rages on past the recent March 31 sign-up deadline, bestselling Jewish author Dr. Joel Fuhrman says the “current disease care model of what we call ‘health care’ cannot possibly be sustained.” “There is simply not enough money available to support a system in which the lion’s share of expenditures is devoted to acute care, with virtually nothing being spent on preventive medicine, i.e. health care,” Fuhrman says in an interview. “To make [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    JNS.org – “This is how I want to be—without fear. Independent. I want to be like a bird. I want to spread my wings.” So reads part of the description beneath one of the 30 paintings on display until the end of May at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv. The collection represents the first-ever art exhibit of its kind: an exhibit created entirely by Israelis in treatment for eating disorders. Dubbed “Tears of Color,” based on one of the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    JNS.org – Rachel Ament noticed that she and her friends often shared humorous anecdotes that were typically variations on a theme: overprotective, worrying Jewish moms who smothered them with love. That included Ament’s own mother. “My mom is probably every Jewish stereotype scrunched into one,” the Washington, DC, resident tells JNS.org. “At the root of all these stereotypical, worrying, overprotective moms, is love.” A social media writer for Capital One, as well as a freelance writer, Ament decided about three years [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    Kosher Lust, by Shmuley Boteach (Gefen Publishing House, 2014). You really do want to find something positive to say about Shmuley Boteach. He is a phenomenon; very bright, an articulate bundle of energy and self-promotion. Anyone who has the chutzpah to describe himself as “America’s Rabbi” deserves ten out of ten for effort. I believe that along with most Chabad alumni, official and unofficial, he does a lot of good and is a sort of national treasure. In this world [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    JNS.org – In a throwback to the golden age of cinema, Hollywood has declared 2014 the “Year of the Bible.” From Ridley Scott’s Exodus starring Christian Bale as Moses, to Russell Crowe playing Noah, Hollywood is gambling on new innovations in technology and star power to revisit some of the most popular stories ever told. “It’s definitely a throwback to the 1950s and early ’60s,” Dr. Stephen J. Whitfield, an American Studies professor at Brandeis University, told JNS.org. Starting with The [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    Eddie Carmel, dubbed “The Jewish Giant” by American photographer Diane Arbus, is the centerpiece of a new exhibit opening April 11 at The Jewish Museum in New York. Arbus met Carmel, who was billed “The World’s Tallest Man,” at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus in 1959 but waited until 1970 to photograph him at his parents’ home in the Bronx, according to the museum. The son of immigrants from Tel Aviv, Carmel posed for Arbus with his head bowed to [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    A Passover themed cover of hit songs Let It Go and Do You Want to Build a Snowman? from Disney’s Frozen has attracted tons of media buzz and a cool 65,ooo views on YouTube within days of going online. The work of Jewish a capella group Six13, the track is aptly named Chozen. We are celebrating “our freedom, our favorite festival, our fabulous fans, and aspiring Disney princesses everywhere” the group said. The Chozen music video tells the story of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.