Bene Israel

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Bene Israel
Beni-israel-india-2.jpg
Languages
Traditionally, Marathi ; those in Israel, mostly Hebrew
Religion
Judaism
Related ethnic groups
Cochin Jews, Baghdadi Jews, Marathi people

The Bene Israel ("Sons of Israel") are a historic community of Jews in India, believed to have been one of the Lost Tribes and descendants of ancestors who had settled there centuries ago. In the 19th century, after being taught about normative (Ashkenazi/Sephardi) Judaism, they tended to migrate from villages in the Konkan area1 to the nearby cities, primarily Mumbai,2 but also to Pune, Ahmedabad, and Karachi, in today's Pakistan.3 They gained positions with the British colonial authority.

In the early part of the twentieth century, many Bene Israel became active in the new film industry, as actresses and actors, producers and directors. After India gained its independence in 1947 and Israel was established in 1948, many Bene Israel emigrated to Israel.

History

According to Bene Israel tradition, their ancestors had migrated to India after centuries of travel through western Asia from Israel and gradually assimilated to the people around them, while keeping some Jewish customs.4 In the 18th century, a Jew named David Rahabi discovered the Bene Israel in their villages and recognized their vestigial Jewish customs.5 Some historians have thought their ancestors must have belonged to one of the Lost Tribes of Israel,6 but the Bene Israel have never been officially recognized as such. Rahabi taught the people about normative Judaism, and trained certain young men among them to be the religious preceptors of the community.7 Known as Kajis, the position of these men became hereditary, like the Cohanim. They were recognized as judges and settlers of disputes.citation needed

Bene Israel tradition places Rahabi's arrival at around 1000 or 1400, but historians believe he arrived in the 18th century. Historians think the "David Rahabi" of Bene Israel folklore is a man named David Ezekiel Rahabi, who lived from 1694 to 1772, and resided in Cochin, then the center of the wealthy Malabar Jewish community.8910

It is estimated that there were 6,000 Bene Israel in the 1830s; 10,000 at the turn of the 20th century; and in 1948—their peak in India—they numbered 20,000.11

Under British colonial rule, many Bene Israel rose to prominence in India.4 They were less affected than other Indians by the colonial racially-discriminatory policies. They gained higher, better paying posts in the British Army when compared with their non-Jewish neighbours.citation needed

In the early twentieth century, Bene Israel became leaders in the new film industry—traditional Indian women would not appear in film, and several prominent actresses of the era were Bene Israel, including Ruby Myers ('Sulochana), the highest-paid actress of the time.12 In addition, men worked as producers: Ezra Mir (alias Edwin Myers) (1903-1993) became the first chief of India's Film Division, and Solomon Moses was head of the Bombay Film Lab Pvt Ltd from the 1940s to 1990s.12

Given their success under the British colonial government, many Bene Israel prepared to leave India at independence in 1947, as it appeared that nationalism and emphasis on indigenous religions would mean fewer opportunities for them. Most emigrated to Israel,13 which was newly established as a Jewish homeland.1415

Life in Israel

Between 1948 and 1952, some 2,300 Bene Israel immigrated to Israel.16 Several rabbis refused to marry Bene Israel to other Jews, on grounds that they were not legitimate Jews. As a result of sit-down protests and hunger strikes, the Jewish Agency returned 337 individuals in several groups to India between 1952 and 1954. Most returned to Israel after several years.17

In 1962, the Indian press reported that European-Jewish authorities in Israel had treated the Bene Israel with racism.1819 They objected to the Chief Rabbi of Israel ruling that, before registering a marriage between Indian Jews and Jews not belonging to that community, the registering rabbi should investigate the lineage of the Indian applicant for possible non-Jewish descent. In case of doubt, they should require the applicant to perform conversion or immersion.1819 The alleged discrimination may be related to the fact that some religious authorities believe that the Bene Israel were not fully Jewish because of having had intermarriage during their long separation from major communities of Jews. Others thought that was a convenient cover for racially based bias against Jews who were not Ashkenazy or Sephardim.20 Between 1962 and 1964, the Bene Israel community staged protests, and in 1964 the Israeli Rabbinate declared that the Bene Israel are "full Jews in every respect".21 Following this declaration, a new wave of Bene Israel immigrated to Israel from India.citation needed

The Report of the High Level Commission on the Indian Diaspora reviewed life in Israel for the Bene Israel community. It noted that the city of Beersheba in Southern Israel has the largest community of Bene Israel, with a sizable one in Ramla. They operate a new form of the joint family transnationally.22 Generally the Bene Israel have not been politically active and have had modest means. They have not formed continuing economic connections to India and have limited political status in Israel.23


Notable Bene Israel

  • Nissim Ezekiel, poet24
  • David Abraham Cheulkar (1908–1982), actor in India better known as David, he starred in Boot Polish (1954) and sang "Nanhe Munne Bachche."12
  • Patience Cooper (1905–1983), actress in India who played the first double role of Indian cinema in Patni Pratap (1923).12
  • Ezra Mir alias Edwin Myers (1903–1993), producer, the first chief of India's Film Division, called the Information Films of India under British rule; noted in the Guinness Book of World Records as "the producer of the largest number of documentaries and short films."12
  • Ruby Myers (1907–1983), actress better known as Sulochana (senior), she was one of the highest-paid Indian actresses in the 1920s.12
  • Susan Solomon (known as Firoza Begum), actress in India in the 1920s and 1930s12

See also

References

  1. ^ Weil, Shalva 1981 The Jews from the Konkan: the Bene IsraelCommunity of India. Tel-Aviv: Beth Hatefutsoth, the Nahum Goldman Museum of the Jewish Diaspora.
  2. ^ Weil, Shalva 2010 'Bombay' in Norman A. Stillman (ed.) Encyclopediaof Jews in the Islamic World, Leiden:Brill. (http://www.brillonline.nl/subscriber/entry?entry=ejiw_COM-0004450); 
  3. ^ Weil, Shalva 2008 'The Jews of Pakistan' (3: 1228-1230), in M.Avrum Erlich (ed.) Encyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspora, Santa Barbara, USA: ABC CLIO
  4. ^ a b Weil, Shalva (2009) [2002]. "Bene Israel Rites and Routines". In Weil, Shalva. India’s Jewish Heritage: Ritual, Art and Life-Cycle (3rd ed.). Mumbai: Marg Publications. pp. 78–89. 
  5. ^ Weil, Shalva (1994). "Yom Kippur: the Festival of Closing the Doors". In Goodman, Hananya. Between Jerusalem & Benares: Comparative Studies in Judaism & Hinduism. New York: State University of New York Press. pp. 85–100. 
  6. ^ Weil, Shalva 2013 "Jews of India" (1: 255-258);"Ten Lost Tribes" (2: 542-543), in Raphael Patai and Haya Bar Itzhak (eds.) Jewish Folklore and Traditions: A Multicultural Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO,Inc
  7. ^ Weil, Shalva (1996). "Religious Leadership vs. Secular Authority: the Case of the Bene Israel". Eastern Anthropologist 49 (3-4): 301–316. 
  8. ^ "David Ezekiel Rahabi (Jewish-Indian leader)". Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Britannica.com. Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  9. ^ "Bene Israel". Jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  10. ^ Shalva, Weil (2002). "Cochin Jews". In Ember, Carol R.; Ember, Melvin; Skoggard, Ian. Encyclopedia of World Cultures Supplement. New York: Macmillan Reference USA. pp. 78–80. 
  11. ^ Weil, Shalva. "The Bene Israel of India". The Database of Jewish Communities. Archived from the original on 7 January 2008. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Menon, Harish C. (14 December 2005). "Jews, the lost tribe of Indian Cinema". IndiaGlitz. 
  13. ^ Weil, Shalva 2008 'Jews in India' (3: 1204-1212), in M.Avrum Erlich (ed.) Encyclopaediaof the Jewish Diaspora, Santa Barbara, USA: ABC CLIO.
  14. ^ Roland, Joan G. (1989). Jews in British India: Identity in a Colonial Era. Hanover: University Press of New England. pp. 34–35. 
  15. ^ Weil, Shalva (2005). "Motherland and Fatherland as Dichotomous Diasporas: the Case of the Bene Israel". In Anteby, Lisa; Berthomiere, William; Sheffer, Gabriel. LesDiasporas 2000 ans d'histoire. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes. pp. 91–99. 
  16. ^ Weil, Shalva 2000 India,The Larger Immigrations from Eastern Countries, Jerusalem: Ben-ZviInstitute and the Ministry of Education. (Hebrew)
  17. ^ Weil, Shalva 2011 'Bene Israel' (59), in Judith Baskin (ed.)Cambridge Dictionary of Judaism and Jewish Culture, New York: Cambridge University Press.
  18. ^ a b Abramov, S. Zalman (1976). Perpetual dilemma: Jewish religion in the Jewish State. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. pp. 277–278. 
  19. ^ a b Smooha, Sammy (1978). Israel: Pluralism and Conflict. University of California Press. pp. 400–401. 
  20. ^ "How Do the Issues in the Conversion Controversy Relate to Israel?". Jcpa.org. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  21. ^ Weil, Shalva 2008 'Jews in India' (3: 1204-1212), in M.Avrum Erlich (ed.) Encyclopaedia of the Jewish Diaspora, SantaBarbara, USA: ABC CLIO
  22. ^ Weil, Shalva 2012 "The Bene Israel Indian Jewish Family in Transnational Context", Journal of Comparative Family Studies 43 (1): 71-80
  23. ^ "Report of the High Level Commission on the Indian Diaspora". Indian Diaspora. 
  24. ^ Joffe, Lawrence (9 March 2004). "Obituary: Nissim Ezekiel". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-09-26. 

Further reading

External links








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