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November 14, 2013 12:01 am

Prince Charles Visits Cochin, India, Synagogue on 65th Birthday

avatar by Joshua Levitt

Prince Charles celebrating the induction of the UK's new chief rabbi, on September 1, 2013. Photo: Screenshot.

Prince Charles celebrating the induction of the UK's new chief rabbi, on September 1, 2013. Photo: Screenshot.

Britain’s Prince Charles of Wales visited a synagogue in Cochin, India, Wednesday, where he was granted a traditional Jewish blessing as he celebrated his 65th birthday, the UK Jewish News reported.

It has been an ecumenical nine-day visit by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall to the former British Commonwealth territory, where they also visited a mosque in Mumbai and attended a Remembrance Day event at the St. John The Evangelist Church.

Wednesday was Prince Charles’s second shul visit in as many months, having attended the installation of UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis at St John’s Wood Synagogue in September, the UK Jewish News said.

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The largest shul in Cochin, called the Pardesi Synagogue, was built in 1568 and is the oldest synagogue in the British Commonwealth. It was established by Sephardi Jews who fled persecution in the Iberian Peninsula, arrived in the 15th and 16th centuries and later became known as Pardesi Jews.

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

More Jews arrived in Cochin following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. In 379 CE, Hindu King Sira Primal gave permission for Jews to own property and practice their religion freely there in rulings that were eventually codified on a set of copper plates.

In 1524, the Jews of Cranganore, in 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 Jews of Cochin are one of five distinct Jewish communities in India, which also includes Bene Israel, the Baghdadi Jews, Bene Ephraim and Bnei Menashe. The 8,000-member “Bnai Menashe” sect, from the northeastern Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur, claim descent from one of the Lost Tribes of Israel.

While Jews have always been a minuscule religious minority in India, they have historically encountered very little antisemitism. In Israel, about 1% of the Jewish population has Indian ancestry.

While not Jewish, Prince Charles was circumcised by a “royal mohel,” as the royal family celebrated the ancient tradition, until his sons’ generation. His grandson, Prince George, was baptized last month.

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