Jews, Indians, and Imperialists

In 1919, at a public meeting held to consider the question of Zionism, an Indian Jew, David Erulkar, argued that “to form a Jewish nation from peoples who were widely divergent in their civilizations, ways of thought, and economic conditions…would be to set back the world’s progress by several centuries.” The diversity he felt was threatened is the subject of two books—one anthropological, the other historical—about the Jewish communities of India. Those who are not aware of any Jewish presence amid the warring Hindus and Muslims will be astounded to discover that there were not only quite different groups of Jews in India for hundreds of years but that the differences among them were so great that it frequently required official intervention to bring about a reconciliation among them. It is salutary to be reminded that religion was once so much at odds with history that the two occupied separate spheres—since the common experience of the twentieth century is precisely the opposite, with the remarkable harnessing of religion to history under the banner of nationalism, a term that was once meaningless.

The origin of the Cochin Jews, who settled on the southwest coast of India, and of the Baghdadi Jews—the misleading name for the Jews who came from different parts of the Middle East to Bombay and Calcutta—is within historical memory. That of the Bene Israel is lost in the mists of legend. Some 1,600 years ago, so tradition has it (a tradition curiously like that of the Chitpavan Brahmin Hindus), a ship was wrecked off the Konkan coast of India. There were fourteen survivors—conveniently divided into seven men and seven women—who managed to reach the coastal village of Navgaon, some twenty-six miles south of Bombay. Those of the drowned who were washed ashore were buried by the survivors in unmarked mounds. Their possessions sank. The survivors settled down in villages along the coast where the local people, who were Hindus, accepted them as long as they did not slaughter cows (here the legend resembles that of the arrival of the Parsees). The local crop was sesame seed (til) and the Jews became the traditional oil pressers of the region. Because they did not work their presses on a Saturday, they came to be known as Shanwar-telis (Saturday oilmen). When one David Rahabi, a Jew, visited the Konkan coast in the year AD 1000 (or possibly 1400, or even 1600) he found that the community called itself Bene Israel, Children of Israel, and not only observed the Sabbath but at every ceremony pronounced the Shema, a prayer that consisted of just one verse, Deuteronomy 6:4, before others were added to the temple service; they circumcised their male infants on the eighth day after birth and abstained from eating fish without fins or scales (Leviticus 11:9 and 11:10). Could these be Jews—possibly even descendants of the Ten Tribes of Israel?

A welter of theories attempts to account for them. The Bene Israel tradition has it that their ancestors fled from northern Palestine during persecution by Antiochus Epiphanes in 75 BC. Others propose they came from Yemen in the first millenium, or as late as the sixth century, or were part of the dispersal caused by the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70. In India’s Bene Israel, Shirley Berry Isenberg goes into the various theories and favors the one that points to an earlier date, asking

Would the influence of these basic Jewish treatises have been entirely erased from Bene Israel memory, even if actual writings had been lost in a shipwreck? Why should the Bene Israel have remembered only precepts from the Torah and no teaching and traditions from post-Biblical times?

There has also been a longstanding rumor that the Bene Israel were descendants of local inhabitants who had been converted by Jewish traders in order to ensure the kosher cooking of their meals, or of marriages between traders and local women. Since there are no documents, inscriptions, or other evidence to support the different theories—the burial mounds at Navgaon have never been excavated—none of them can be substantiated.

Whatever their origin, an early reference was made to them in 1199 by the Jewish philosopher Maimonides: “The Jews of India know nothing of the Torah and of the laws nothing save the Sabbath and Circumcision.” Other reports were made by the Danish missionary Sartorius and the Cochin Jew Ezekiel Rahabi, whose son David visited the Konkan coast as an agent of the Dutch East India Company. David Rahabi is generally credited with having undertaken to teach the Bene Israel the observance of Judaic law as it evolved in post-Biblical interpretations. He taught Hebrew to three young men so that all rituals could be correctly performed and from these three disciples were descended the officiating priests, called Kaji, who performed rites and ceremonies and settled disputes. (The title itself is a Muslim one for a judge—although apart from occasional Muslim traders there was no Muslim presence in the Konkan before the fourteenth century, which leads one to speculate that David Rahabi came from Rahab—Egypt—and spoke Arabic.) In the role of both priest and judge, they traveled from village to village, trying to revive Judaism in a community that was not only scattered and sparse but had merged with the local populace to such a degree that they assumed the local dress—saris for women—and language, Marathi; even their names were Indianized—Issaji for Isaac, Mussaji for Moses, with the name of the village with an appended kar for a surname: Kehimkar, Apteker, etc.

As reported by travelers from Maimonides to the Reverend John Wilson in 1840, the Bene Israel had largely adapted their customs to local ones—at a birth, they followed most of the Hindu customs including the distribution of coconuts and betel leaves to visitors; at weddings, they too painted the hands and feet of the bride with henna, set the bridegroom on a caparisoned horse to ride to the bride’s house where he put a garland on her; after a husband’s death, the widow would remove all her jewelry and not put it on again. Also, they “worshiped” the local goddess of smallpox, Shitla Devi (smallpox being a common epidemic in earlier times) although the Jewish Indian scholar and historian B.J. Israel prefers to think of this form of propitiation as “magic ritual” closer to superstition than religion. In return, Hindus accepted their manner of life and helped the Jews by milking their cows and leaving the milk at the doors on Yom Kippur, which the Jews observed in silence indoors.

Isenberg describes the ritual offering made by the Bene Israel of malida, a tray of fruit, flowers, rice cakes, and sometimes pieces of meat, at various ceremonies, much like the offerings made by Hindus and Muslims at shrines. There were other customs peculiar to them. They put the special emphasis on the prophet Elijah, whose name was invoked at every ceremony and whose death was ceremoniously observed at a place where the footprints of his horse were said to be visible (recalling the alleged footprints of Mohammad’s horse under the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem) at an annual fair called the Elijah Hanabicha Urs—urs being the Muslim term for the observation of the death of a saint. The Bene Israel sang the same folk songs as others in the Konkan region but inserted Hebrew names and Biblical allusions. In the seventeenth century there was even a Sufi mystic among them, known as Sarmad the Jew, who went about naked, expounding his philosophy in verse.

Most significantly, they also seem to have absorbed the Hindu concept of caste, particularly its emphasis on color, and they divided their society into groups that were either kala (black) or gora (white), the latter being Jews of pure descent and the former those who had married into the local populace. Like Hindus, they disapproved of marriage between the castes and were anxious to maintain caste purity by avoiding pollution (which meant not eating food cooked by or in pots touched by another caste). Their Hindu neighbors also ascribed a caste to them, that of their principal occupation—oil pressing—which was on a fairly low rung of the village’s social ladder, although not the lowest.

Curiously, the Bene Israel were to experience the same observance of caste at the hands of other Jewish communities such as the Jews of Cochin, a city now in Kerola state on the southwest coast. These were originally merchants from Persia and Iraq who plied the Indian west coast during the Middle Ages—about one thousand of them are known by name from the Cairo Geniza, the storage place in Egypt for letters and documents from throughout the Jewish world that bear the name of God and therefore cannot be destroyed. In AD 1000 the Hindu ruler of Cochin, Cheruman Perumal, presented what is known as the Copper Plate Deeds to one Joseph Rabban, in Cranganore, granting land and special privileges to the Jews of Cranganore in perpetuity. In the eighteenth century, when the Muslim ruler Sultan Hyder Ali was persecuting the Hindus of Cochin, he spared the Jews because they were circumcised and followed Moses and could therefore be considered believers.

The effect of such local protection was that the Jews of Cochin, although a small group, never numbering more than 2,500, remained more strongly Jewish than the Bene Israel. They were not, however, immune to the pressures of caste: they were divided into three groups that did not intermarry—the Malabari Jews who were descendants of the original community at Cranganore and known to the British as Black Jews; the Pardesi (foreign), or White Jews, whose ancestors came from European or Levantine lands; and the Brown Jews, descendants of manumitted slaves who had been converted to Judaism. Caste is usually related to color, but not always. In his book, the Indian anthropologist M.N. Srinivas explains the notion of purity and pollution inherent in the caste system, as known to the Hindus and observed by the Jews:

Pollution may refer to uncleanliness, defilement, impurity short of defilement, and indirectly even to sinfulness, while purity refers to cleanliness, spiritual merit and indirectly to holiness.

The structural distance between various castes is defined in terms of pollution and purity. A higher caste is always “pure” in relation to a lower caste, and in order to retain its higher status it should abstain from certain forms of contact with the lower. It may not ordinarily eat food cooked by them, or marry or have sex relations with them.

Although it was the Cochin Jews who brought about the “revival” of Judaism among the Bene Israel, and even brought them their first Torah (from Yemen, via Aden), they would not marry with them because the “purity” of the Bene Israel was in doubt. Bene Israel Jews went some five hundred miles down the coast to Cochin to study Hebrew; and Cochin Jews visited them to teach and interpret the law. One Shelomo Sharrabi established synagogues in the Konkan region, and served as their Hazan (cantor), Mohel (circumciser) and Shohet (ritual slaughterer). It was such Jews who put the Bene Israel in touch with their Judaic heritage, in this case the Sephardic tradition.

The third community, the Baghdadi Jews, practiced their own form of the caste system—not ritualistic so much as materialist. Originally the name was given to the Jews from the region between the Tigris and the Euphrates who became the merchants of Basra and Baghdad, with whom the East India Company began trading in 1760. Later the community included Arabicspeaking Jews from Syria, Yemen, and the Ottoman Empire as well as some from Persia and Afghanistan. Their chief center of trade was at first Surat, about two hundred miles north of Bombay, but later it moved to Calcutta and Bombay where they traded in cotton and opium. They established great business empires—the largest by David Sassoon of Baghdad, who founded a dynasty that came to be known as the “Rothschilds of the East” for their philanthropy and the extent of their various enterprises, which stretched as far as Hong Kong, Singapore, and Shanghai. A part of their wealth was made during the American Civil War when they supplied Indian yarn to England. All the same, David Sassoon was an Orthodox Jew, strict in his observation of the law. Jews from Aleppo to Bombay knew they could find employment in the firm of Sassoon. He gave them not only jobs but also established schools, libraries, hospitals, reformatories, technical institutes, asylums, and synagogues. His three sons did not get on and the empire broke into rival companies; but a grandson, Jacob Sassoon, proved equally magnanimous and powerful and in 1909 was knighted by the British, who thought the Baghdadi Jews “a most valuable link between us and the natives—oriental in origin and appreciation—but English in their objects and associations, and, almost of necessity, loyal.” (Sir Bartle Frere, governor of Bombay, in 1862, quoted in Jews in British India).

Although the Baghdadi Jews had been welcomed by the Bene Israel of Bombay when they first arrived, and invited into their synagogues, they did not show a similar regard for the Bene Israel whom they suspected of not keeping kosher kitchens (the Bene Israel, being much poorer, often could not afford two sets of cooking utensils and simply “purified” them with boiling water), and by 1836 the two communities fell out when the Baghdadis proposed to build a wall and separate the two halves of the Jewish cemetery in Bombay. Strife and dissension were to mark their relations thereafter and although they had to learn to live together in cosmopolitan cities like Bombay, urban life also offered many opportunities to quarrel over such matters as whether the Bene Israel could read from the Torah in Baghdadi synagogues and whether intermarriage could be permitted.

The truth was that the two communities had no common history to share and did not make up a single religious congregation, still less a nation. In her introduction to the Jews in British India, Joan G. Roland explains that “The modern concept of the Jewish people as a nation is essentially a European one, with its roots deeply embedded in nineteenth-century nationalist ideology. For non-European Jews, however, the constructs of community, ethnicity, and religious sect were more relevant in their efforts to maintain their identity.” She then goes on to reconstruct the development of such an identity, a movement in three distinct stages.

Ironically, it was not communication between the different Jewish groups that helped to create such an identity but Christian—and chiefly British—missionaries who proved the major instigators. Isenberg traces the rise of Christian influence with some thoroughness, beginning in 1813 when an act of Parliament lifted the ban on the entry of anyone but officials—and chaplains—of the East India Company into India, the ban having been stated in a clause in the charter that company received from Queen Elizabeth in 1600. Until then, Protestant English missionaries had to restrict their activities to Serampore in Bengal, then Danish territory. After 1813, the Church of England, the Scottish Presbyterian, and the American Congregational missions spread across India, establishing schools wherever they went. In the Konkan region they often employed Bene Israel teachers because they “not only disallow the observance of heathenish customs in their schools, but also manifest considerable interest in giving religious instruction to their pupils” (from a report in 1829). Linguists among the missionaries compiled Marathi grammars; others translated the Bible into Marathi, making it possible for the Bene Israel to read it for the first time.

The most influential of all the missionaries was John Wilson, who came to Bombay from Scotland in 1829. A man of prodigious interests and abilities, he was described as “an Orientalist who subordinated scholarly to missionary ends.” Having studied Hebrew under the Rabbi D’Beth Hillel, a Lithuanian Jew from Jerusalem who spent two years in Bombay, he in turn taught Hebrew to the Bene Israel in whom he took a great interest and about whom he wrote a paper for the Royal Asiatic Society. He compiled for his pupils The Rudiments of Hebrew Grammar in Marathi and included an account of the Creation, the Fall, the Flood, the Ten Commandments, passages regarding the Messiah in the Old Testament, and corresponding ones in the New Testament “as a set of useful and constructive exercises.” His intention was to proselytize and in this he was disappointed—not a single member of the Bene Israel converted to Christianity—but through the study of Hebrew he taught them to rely on the Biblical text rather than on rabbinical interpretation and strengthened their religious identity, as David Rahabi had done in an earlier century. Isenberg considers this period of Bene Israel history “an unparalleled example of a Jewish remnant, unfettered by the minutiae of halachic rules, not only obtaining secular education, but simultaneously strengthening its Jewish life under Christian auspices!” She is right to point out that in these schools education went beyond the religious subjects to secular ones; and through the English language there was an exposure to Western historical and political thought and ideas of justice, equality, and civil rights that were to have a profound effect on the political movements of the nineteenth century in India.

The Bene Israel did not turn from Marathi to English without some debate, as one notes from the fulminations of an indignant columnist in The Friend of Israel who signed himself verbum sap (an abbreviation of verbum sapienti sat est): “By teaching children to despise their mother tongue, we teach them indirectly to despise the race to which they belong, the country that has nurtured them, and the faith in their fathers.” He was supported in an editorial in the same paper, which argued:

Neglect of Marathi will serve to enhance the isolation of the Bene Israel from their neighbours. For no degree of perfection attained in English will bring them into any closer relations with Europeans in India, while ignorance of Marathi will effectually cut them off from Indians in whose midst they have been living for the last ten centuries or so.

But since the English language led to better jobs in the British government of India, it was inevitable that parents chose to send their children to schools where English was taught, and precisely such a drift began to take place, as the editor had prophesied. His argument showed a fine grasp of the intricate relation between language, religion, and race which characterizes Indian politics.

Joan G. Roland analyzes the political impact of British colonialism on the Jews of India. She attributes the making and counting of categories of people in Indian society—as Bernard Cohn and David Lelyveld have done previously—to the publication of the all-India census in 1872. The classifications of Indian society in the census to a considerable extent replaced the traditional caste system, which had been hierarchic and fluid, taking into account material success and power in addition to ritual status. The traditional caste structure, being culturally pluralistic, had allowed for assimilated groups such as the Cochin Jews and the Bene Israel. When the British became aware of the multitude of communities in India, and their different histories, customs, and systems, they reacted by categorizing them and then used these categories as the basis for allocating patronage. This applied not only to Hindu castes but to other religious groups—Muslims, Jews, Anglo-Indians, Parsees, etc. British colonialism can therefore be said to have given Indian Jews—and other minorities—a political identity they had not had before. In keeping with the nineteenth-century trend toward “race thinking” pointed out by Hannah Arendt, the inevitable reaction to colonialism exploded in the form of Indian nationalism. The mutiny of 1857 and the protests that followed its suppression brought out all the arrogance of British imperialism and the bitterness and frustration of nationalists. Indian Jews were forced to question their roots and loyalties. The second phase of the development of Jewish identity began when, like the Anglo-Indians who had also been recruited into the British army, they were now required to choose sides. Most decided that it was expedient to choose the British, and some began to Anglicize their formerly Indian names—Rajpurkar to Rogers, Ashtamkar to Ashton, etc.

In response to the increasing demand by Indians for participation in the government, the Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909 gave specific groups and organizations a vote in the legislative councils. Muslims, organized by the Muslim League, feared Hindu domination and insisted on being given special constituencies that guaranteed them places in the central and provincial legislative councils. Other minority communities, also afraid of Hindu dominance, began to clamor for separate representation. Roland calls this the beginning of what came to be known as “communalism” in Indian politics.

The British ethnographer W.C. Smith defined the Indian usage of this word as “that ideology which emphasizes as the social, political and economic unit the group of adherents of each religion, and emphasizes the distinction, even the antagonism between such groups.” The anthropologist Louis Dumont considered this conception an affirmation of the religious community as a political entity:

A community’s consciousness of being different from others,…and its will to live united as against others…to reflect itself in a given territory, makes communalism resemble nationalism…. At the same time the adherence to group-religion distinguishes it sharply.

Indians who have experienced communalism as a drastic and violent force can only think of the Morley-Minto Reform as a Pandora’s Box.

Although Indian Jews were in agreement with these reforms, they chose not to seek separate representation for their community of some twenty thousand. In a letter to the parliamentarian Lord Montagu, they expressed the opinion that

the interests of small communities will not suffer in any way by a general representation as distinct from communal representation…we feel smaller communities stand to lose by communal representation, inasmuch as they are marked out…. By giving a separate electorate to a community, the racial feeling is accentuated and the interest of the community is narrowed down to its own activities. Such communal elections do not foster the development of the Indian nation; they rather retard it.

An editorial in an unidentified paper at that time read

The representation [to Montagu] is, indeed, an oasis in the desert of bewildering, silly and stupid clamour for representation on the basis of class, creed and caste, which self-seeking elements in some of the most advanced communities like the Parsis and Anglo-Indians, have chosen to claim. We would commend the Bene Israel representation to the careful study of people,… who shamelessly attempt to gamble for advantages to themselves at the expense of the commonweal of the nation.

Indian Muslims continued to insist on separate representation and won it; and it was therefore extended to Indian Christians, Sikhs, Anglo-Indians, and others, but Jews did not accept it and voted in the general constituencies.

It has to be added, however, that apart from a few Jewish visionaries and leaders, the attitude of the average Jew to politics was lethargic and seldom went beyond neutrality. On the whole, the Bene Israel tended to identify with the Indians who had accepted them and sheltered them for so long. The Baghdadis from the beginning allied themselves with the British (the Sassoons had moved to England between 1865 and 1870 and were “accepted” by British society) and fought a long, bitter struggle to have themselves recognized, in the census, as “Europeans”—a demand to which the British did not accede, since it would have created confusion about the status of other Jews such as the Cochin Jews and the Bene Israel.

The disputes between the Baghdadis and the Bene Israel became more pronounced: the Baghdadis excluded the Bene Israel from their charitable institutions, questioned their credentials as Jews, and accused them of being “backward.” As the Bene Israel leader I.A. Isaac remarked, “Had Bene Israel been wealthy, all objections would have vanished long ago,” and Roland adds, “While condemning Bene Israel for assimilating to Indian customs, dress and language, they ignored their own adoption of Arabic customs and language.” This was a quarrel that was later to be carried on through the century into another state, and this provided the third stage of the development of Indian Jewish consciousness, the Zionist stage.

Emissaries from the Holy Land (called Shlichim) had been visiting communities of the Diaspora since the first century AD. (Rabbi D’Beth Hillel had been an early emissary.) There had been commercial contacts between India and Palestine since 1740. In the nineteenth century Indian Jews began to visit Jerusalem. After 1897 they were invited to Zionist Congress meetings. The contact between Indian Jews and Palestine would probably have developed at a natural pace had there not been a twist in the tale that accelerated the process—the opposition of the Indian National Congress, which was emerging as the party certain to govern India once the British left, to the conception of Israel. This opposition was partly derived from the ignorance and the lack of interest in Israel of leaders like Nehru but there was also in it an element of carefully considered diplomacy.

This predominantly Hindu party did not wish to antagonize the Muslim League by supporting a Zionist state in Palestine. As a part of its anti-imperialist position, the Congress supported the Khilafat movement which was against the division of the Ottoman Empire, and the removal of the caliphate, and thus against the creation of a new Jewish state. Although repeatedly asked to support the Israeli movement because of his friendship and cooperation with Jews in South Africa, Gandhi failed to do so with any conviction. There were some staunchly nationalist Jews like the Erulkar brothers, who supported intellectual Zionism but opposed its national and political aspirations, and there was Jacob Solomon who declared, “We are Indians first, second and last,” and supported Gandhi’s program of boycotting British goods. Others saw Zionism as an Ashkenazi movement which boded no good for Sephardic Jews. But most Jews had become uneasy about their future in an independent India.

The fluid state of affairs was crystallized by two events elsewhere—one was the Balfour Declaration, which led to Israel making vigorous efforts to give the Jews of the Diaspora a sense of community by sending emissaries to collect funds and encourage immigration for the sake of building a new nation. Dr. Chaim Weizman, head of the Jewish Agency, sent a special message to India:

We need the help of the Jews of India particularly in one respect: as they live in the East among diversified races and religions, they can appreciate more deeply than is often done in the West, the special problems connected with the upbuilding of a Jewish community in an Eastern land.

He asked the Indian Jewish leaders to “explain the meaning and true aspirations of Zionism to fellow citizens in the vast realm of India.” Some Indians, like Shaukat Ali, the leader of the pro-caliphate movement, responded with a warning that war would break out between Arabs and Jews in Palestine. Jews contended that Jewish colonization would improve the welfare of the Arabs—an argument that was not likely to cut any ice with Indian anti-colonialists.

Indian Jews might have continued to think of the Holy Land as a distant mirage had European Jewish refugees not begun to arrive in 1933 and talk of pogroms, discrimination, and anti-Semitism of a kind they themselves had never experienced in India. A Jewish Relief Association was created to help the Europeans. When the war broke out, German Jews in India were interned along with other Germans by the British, and the association moved to release them. The Congress party’s anti-British position during the war was interpreted by many Jews as being pro-German (and a Bengali president of the Congress, Subhas Chandra Bose, in fact traveled to Germany to raise support and was said to have met Goebbels). In discovering their commitment to the cause of the Allied forces, Indian Jews began to break away from the country they had regarded as their homeland for so long.

In 1947, when the British finally left India, their final act was to partition the land between Hindus and Muslims. In Pakistan anti-Jewish riots took place during demonstrations in favor of an Arab Palestine and Jewish refugees streamed into Bombay from where they were helped to go to Israel. Indian Jews began to go there for special training in working with Jewish youth. Baghdadi Jews were the first to leave India—their family and business connections and funds abroad made it easier for them to emigrate—while Cochin Jews and Bene Israel lingered only to find that when they applied for jobs, the answer was often: “We’re reluctant to hire you because we’ll invest in your training and then you’ll leave for Israel.” They began to leave in a steady stream between 1950 and 1952.

Their experience of the Holy Land was not always an easy or heartening one. Not only did they find life in an emergent state much harder than they had imagined but they also suffered from discrimination and they accused Israelis of color prejudice. In 1961 a major row broke out when some Orthodox Jews, suspecting that the Bene Israel had not strictly observed Jewish marriage laws, declared they were not acceptable for purposes of marriage. At that time the Sephardic chief rabbi was Rabbi Nissim from Iraq. He demanded the Bene Israel undergo ritual conversion before being allowed to marry other Jews. The Chief Rabbinate Council, persuaded to examine the question, ordered rabbis to investigate the ancestry of the Bene Israel “as far back as possible” before permitting marriages. This aroused a fresh storm of protest. President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi had to intervene, in 1964, proposing that this directive apply to “immigrants from every distant land.” The compromise was angrily rejected, and an emergency meeting of the Knesset affirmed that the Bene Israel were Jews in every respect. In the opinion of B.J. Israel it was “tragic” that “the authorities in Israel had by their intransigence reduced religion to a matter of political expediency and compromise.” The office of Chief Rabbi was compelled to delete all reference to the Bene Israel in its 1961 directive, which was made applicable to “anyone whose family was in doubt.” Could this be called an instance of caste discrimination carried over to Israel from an alien past? It might have been explained away thus if later similar discrimination had not been shown Ethiopian Jews.

Nevertheless, by 1970, some four hundred Jews were emigrating every year from India and now there are some thirty thousand in Israel and only five thousand in India. Synagogues in India are closing as their membership dwindles and although efforts are made at creating a community by meetings at prayer halls and festivities, it is in Roland’s opinion only “an artificial one.” Why, she asks, after so many centuries of peaceful coexistence, did Indian Jews leave India almost en masse? The answer lies not in anti-Semitism but in the contingencies of history. Joan Roland gives an admirably lucid and thoughtful account of Indian Jewish history while Isenberg has compiled a mass of detail that illustrates the complexities of the issues involved. Both create a curiosity for further information—particularly about the Cochin Jews, and for a continuation of the story of Indian Jews in their new homeland.

Is it possible, in Israel, for instance, as it was in India in the 1930s, for Jews to purchase tickets from the Tramways Company of Bombay on a Friday for use on the Sabbath? Such tickets read:

The Bombay Electric Supply and Tramways Co. Ltd.

One anna ticket coupon for Jews only


(Good only for Sabbath and Holidays) To be handed over to the Conductor who will issue a ticket in lieu thereof C. Lucas Assistant Manager