The Jews of India

The Jews of India consist of 3 distinct groups:  
Additional Information

Genealogy Project
by Nissim Moses

For more information about the Indian-Jewish Community please click HERE.

  1. The Cochin Jews or Cochinis
  2. The Baghdadis
  3. The Bene Israel

The Cochin Jews:

These Jews originated by settling in Cranganore and around in Malabar. They lived there for centuries. In the 15th Century C.E. they took shelter in Cochin further south after being attacked by the Moors and later by the Portuguese. They never numbered more than 2500. Today there are not more than 17 in Cochin, mainly elderly men and women.

The Baghdadis:

This sect consists of Jews from West Asia, mainly from Baghdad and Syria who came in the 19th century as traders and refugees. They settled in Bombay, Calcutta and Pune. They first arrived in Surat which was the most important port on the West Coast. They spoke Arabic or Persian and English. At one time, there were about 5000 of them, today less than 200, most of them having emigrated to U.K., Australia and Canada.

The Bene Israel:

At the present moment it is the Bene Israel who predominate the Jewish presence in India. Their story is an old one. How old? It is and will continue to be a scholarly dispute. Some say that they came from the ancient kingdom of Israel after they were defeated by the Assyrian king in 722 B.C.E. Some believe that when the kingdom of Judah was destroyed and Jerusalem taken by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E., some of the Jews reached the West Coast of India. Oral tradition and probably the most favored is that descended from the Jews who fled in 175 B.C.E. from the Syrian-Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes, were ship wrecked at Navgaon near the port of Cheul on the Konkan Coast, 30 miles South of Bombay. 7 men and 7 women survived and from there the Bene Israel spread to many of the surrounding villages in the Konkan. Most of the Bene Israel have surnames ending wit “kar” identifying the villages where they resided. There are 142 such surnames.

One, David Rahabi of Cochin is credited with the revival of Judaism amongst the Bene Israel. Fully convinced that the Bene Israel were Jews, he retaught them Hebrew and the details of the Jewish religion. He appointed 3 Kazis from the prominent families who then became the teachers and preachers of the community. With Bombay becoming an important port of British India, the Bene Israel were encouraged to move to Bombay where opportunities were better for employment.

Each of the 3 groups maintained its separate identity with little admixture. The story of the Jews in India has on the whole been a happy one where Jews dwelt in complete security and have been accorded an honorable place in the social structure of the land. India, predominantly a Hindu country of more than a billion people has approx. 130 million Moslems, 25 million Christians and less than 5000 Jews. She has been a generous mother but the pull of Israel besides economic factors prompted the Jews to emigrate. However with 14 synagogues and 2 Jewish schools still functioning, the fear of extinction has been kept at bay. But for how long?

For more information about the Jews of India please click on the link below:
Jews of India Useful Links Page