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Jews in Bombay

Fishing island - commerce - waves of Jewish immigrants - Jewish communities in the 19th and 20th century

from: Bombay; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 4

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)

Kneseth Elijah Synagogue in Bombay (1888), front
Kneseth Elijah Synagogue in Bombay (1888), front

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[Fishing island - East India Company - pirate Kidd]

<BOMBAY , capital of Maharashtra and the proverbial "gateway to India".

Bombay enters Jewish history after the cession of the city to the Portuguese in the middle of the 16th century. Then a small fishing island of no great economic significance, Bombay was leased out around 1554-55 to the celebrated *Marrano scientist and physician Garcia da *Orta, in recognition of his services to the viceroy. Garcia repeatedly refers in his Coloquios (Goa, 1563) to "the land and island which the king our lord made me a grant of, paying a quit-rent."

After the transference of Bombay to English rule the Jews Abraham *Navarro expected to receive a high office in the Bombay council of the East India Company in recognition of his services. This was, however, denied to him because he was a Jews.

In 1697 Benjamin Franks jumped Captain Kidd's "Adventure Galley" in Bombay as a protest against Kidd's acts of piracy; his deposition led to Kidd's trial in London.

The foundation of a permanent Jewish settlement in Bombay was laid in the second half of the 18th century by the *Bene Israel who gradually moved from their villages in the Konkan region to Bombay. Their first synagogue in Bombay was built (1796) on the initiative of S.E. *Divekar.

[Waves of Jewish immigrants: Cochin Jews, Syrian and Mesopotamian Jews]

*Cochin Jews strengthened the Bene Israel in their religious revival. The next largest wave of immigrants to Bombay consisted of Jewish merchants from Syria and Mesopotamia. Prominent was Suleiman ibn Ya'qub (Ya'qūb) or Solomon Jacob whose commercial activities from 1795 to 1833 are documented in the Bombay records. The Arabic-speaking Jewish colony in Bombay was increased by the influx of other "Arabian Jews" from *Surat (Sūrat), who, in consequence of economic changes there, turned their eyes to India.

[Jewish immigrants: Baghdad Jews in 1833]

A turning point in the history of the Jewish settlement in Bombay was reached with the arrival in 1833 of (col. 1192)

the Baghdad Jewish merchant, industrialist, and philanthropist, David *Sassoon (1792-1864) who soon became a leading figure of the Jewish community. He and his house had a profound impact on Bombay as a whole as well as on all sectors of the Jewish community. Many of the educational, cultural, and civic institutions, as well as hospitals and synagogues in Bombay owe their existence to the munificence of the Sassoon family.


Kneseth David Synagogue in Byculla,
                          Bombay (1861), front
Kneseth David Synagogue in Byculla, Bombay (1861), front
Kneseth David Synagogue in Byculla,
                          Bombay (1861), interior
Kneseth David Synagogue in Byculla, Bombay (1861), interior



[Jewish cultural life in Bombay]

Unlike the Bene Israel, the Arabic-speaking Jews in Bombay did not assimilate the language of their neighbours, Marathi, but carried their Judeo-Arabic language and literature with them and continued to regard Baghdad as their spiritual center. They therefore established their own synagogues, the Magen David in 1861 in Byculla, and the Kneseth Elijah in 1888 in the Fort quarter of Bombay. A weekly Judeo-Arabic periodical, Doresh Tov le-Ammo, which mirrored communal life, appeared from 1855 to 1866. Hebrew printing began in Bombay with the arrival of Yemenite Jews in the middle of the 19th century. They took an interest in the religious welfare of the Bene Israel, for whom - as well as for themselves - they printed various liturgies from 1841 onward, some with translations into (col. 1193)

Marathi, the vernacular of the Bene Israel. Apart from a shortlived attempt to print with movable type, all this printing was by lithography. In 1882, the Press of the Bombay Educational Society was established (followed in 1884 by the Anglo-Jewish and Vernacular Press, in 1887 by the Hebrew and English Press, and in 1900 by the Lebanon Printing Press), which sponsored the publication of over 100 Judeo-Arabic books to meet their liturgical and literary needs, and also printed books for the Bene Israel.


Kneseth Elijah Synagogue in Bombay (1888),
                        front
Kneseth Elijah Synagogue in Bombay (1888), front
Kneseth Elijah Synagogue in Bombay (1888),
                        interior
Kneseth Elijah Synagogue in Bombay (1888), interior



[Further Jewish immigration in 19th and 20th century]

The prosperity of Bombay attracted a new wave of Jewish immigrants from Cochin, Yemen, Afghanistan, Bukhara, and Persia. Among Persian Jews who settled in Bombay, the most prominent and remarkable figure was Mulla (Mullā) Ibrahim *Nathan (d. 1868) who, with his brother Musa (Mūsā), both of *Meshed, were rewarded by the government for their services during the first Afghan War.

The political events in Europe and the advent of Nazism brought a number of German, Polish, Rumanian [[Romanian]], and other European Jews to Bombay, many of whom were active as scientists, physicians, industrialists, and merchants.

[[There is no number indicated in the article]].

Communal life in Bombay was stimulated by visits of [[racist]] Zionist emissaries.

[W.J.F.]>






Sources
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Bombay,
                          vol. 4, col. 1192
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Bombay, vol. 4, col. 1192

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Bombay, vol.
                        4, col. 1193-1194
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Bombay, vol. 4, col. 1193-1194


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