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November 14, 2013 12:01 am

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

avatar by Joshua Levitt

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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.

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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  • E.A.Karting-Hallegua

    As a Cochini Jew, settled in the Netherlands, I’m so surprised about the claim of many that, if not directly, at least through a far relative they have a Jewish connection. Often that’s the only Jewishness about them and also that they’re able to spell the word, but what Jewishness entails is an enigma to them and if explained that apart from a certain religion without strict dogma’s but a whole kaleidoscope of advices on how to lead a successful life it is more of a culture with its own historical values to which its members are still contributing, and that there is nothing mysterious about it. That some people look into some mystical aspects, which some deviants have devised, like the cabala to which e.g. Madonna must be reckoned, is interesting, but that adds just another colour to that faith without really changing its meaningful aspects, as the survival of the Cochin Jews proves who, after 3000 years are still making an impact on the world by their perseverance in good as well as in bad times, which sadly is not much recognised by various (and too many) non-Jewish as well as Jewish communities, especially not by the Dutch.

  • Mo Gold

    I believe you have your timing wrong. Cochin Jews arrived around 72CE. Oldest group of Jews were the Bnei Menasha and Bnei Ephraim. They are part of the tribes that were exiled by Babylonia. The Nene Israel are the 2nd oldest group having arrived in India 2200 years ago. Next came the Cochin Jews. Check the pictures in the museum across from the Pardesi Synagogue in Cochin.

  • There is historical data linking the English royal family to ancient Jewish roots-thru the royal hoouse of the Mergovingians in europe. Mary, Queen of Scots, acknowledged her Jewish ancestry.