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Cochin Jews


This is the oldest of the Indian Jewish communities, located in the green and fertile Malabar Plain, a coastal strip in southwestern India that once belonged to the Raja of Cochin and today is part of Kerala State. Already in antiquity Malabar was known for its wealth of spices, which attracted merchants — among them Jews — from distant countries.

Although there are numerous traditions as to the early origins of the community, the earliest written document relating to them dates from the year — a set of copper plates engraved with a list of religious and economic privileges granted by the local Hindi ruler to the Jewish leader Joseph Raban. This source indicates that the Jews were already well established in the region and integrated into local economic life. Early in the 16th CENT, Jews expelled from Spain settled in Cochin; they were called Paradesi (foreign) or White Jews by local Malabari Jews. In the 17th CENT there were Jews in five localities in the
region, and eight synagogues had been built.

The political history of Malabar in the modern era saw foreign rule by a series of European nations: first the Portuguese ( - ), who brought the Inquisition that persecuted local Jews; then the Dutch (), under whom the Jewish community flourished. Under the British ( - ), the community continued to thrive, and many Jews were employed in the colonial bureaucracy.

At its height in the 1950s, the Cochin community numbered approximately ; most of these Jews immigrated to Israel and settled in the Jerusalem region, around Beersheva, and in the Upper Galilee.

The Scribe