Indian Jews in Israel

Indian Jews in Israel
Regions with significant populations
Nevatim, Shahar, Yuval, Mesilat Zion, Jerusalem, Beersheba, Ramla, Dimona, Yeruham and many other.
Hebrew (Main language for all generations);
Older generation: Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi

Indian Jews in Israel are immigrants and descendants of the immigrants of the Indian Jewish communities, who now reside within the state of Israel. Indian Jews who live in Israel are primarily Cochin Jews and Paradesi Jews of Kerala and Bene Israel of Maharashtra.


The majority of Indian Jews have "made Aliyah" (migrated) to Israel since the creation of the modern state in 1948. Jews back in the 1940s, were divided into Bene Israel and Baghdadi Jews,[1] though the Baghdadi Jews refused to recognize the B'nei Israel as Jews, and withheld dispensing charity to them for that reason.[2] There are reminders of Jewish localities in Kerala still left such as Synagogues. Majority of Jews from the old British-Indian capital of Calcutta (Kolkata) have also migrated to Israel over the last six decades.

When India became independent of Britain in 1947 and Israel established itself as a nation in 1948 and with the heightened nationalism and emphasis in the Partition of India of Hindu and Muslim identities, most of Cochin Jews emigrated from India. Generally they went to Israel (made aliyah). Many from the migrants joined the moshavim (agricultural settlements) of Nevatim, Shahar, Yuval, and Mesilat Zion.[3] Others settled in the neighbourhood of Katamon in Jerusalem, and in Beersheba, Ramla, Dimona and Yeruham, where many Bene Israel had settled.[4]

Between 1948 and 1952, some 2,300 Bene Israel immigrated to Israel.[5] 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.[6]

In 1962, the Indian press reported that European-Jewish authorities in Israel had treated the Bene Israel with racism.[7][8] 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.[7][8] 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 Ashkenazi or Sephardim.[9] 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".[10]

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.[11] 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.[12][13]

Notable people

See also


  1. Rachel Delia Benaim, 'For India’s Largest Jewish Community, One Muslim Makes All the Tombstones,' Tablet 23 February 2015.
  2. Nathan Katz, Who Are the Jews of India?, California University Press, 2000 pp.91ff.
  3. Weil, Shalva. "Lost Israelites from North-East India: Re-Traditionalisation and Conversion among the Shinlung from the Indo-Burmese Borderlands." The Anthropologist, 2004. 6(3): 219-233.
  4. Shulman, D. and Weil, S. (eds). Karmic Passages: Israeli Scholarship on India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008.
  5. Weil, Shalva 2000 India, The Larger Immigrations from Eastern Countries, Jerusalem: Ben-ZviInstitute and the Ministry of Education. (Hebrew)
  6. Weil, Shalva (2011). "Bene Israel". In Baskin, Judith. Cambridge Dictionary of Judaism and Jewish Culture. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  7. 1 2 Abramov, S. Zalman (1976). Perpetual dilemma: Jewish religion in the Jewish State. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. pp. 277–278.
  8. 1 2 Smooha, Sammy (1978). Israel: Pluralism and Conflict. University of California Press. pp. 400–401.
  9. "How Do the Issues in the Conversion Controversy Relate to Israel?". Retrieved 16 December 2010.
  10. Weil, Shalva (2008). "Jews in India". In Erlich, M. Avrum. Encyclopaedia of the Jewish Diaspora. Santa Barbara, USA: ABC CLIO.
  11. Weil, Shalva (2012). "The Bene Israel Indian Jewish Family in Transnational Context". Journal of Comparative Family Studies. 43 (1): 71–80.
  12. "Report of the High Level Commission on the Indian Diaspora" (PDF). Indian Diaspora.
  13. "The Indian Jews at the Heart of the Netanyahu-Modi Love Affair", Ha'aretz, Jan. 15, 2018
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