The Jews of Cochin, in India and Israel

The Jews of Cochin, a port city in the southwestern Indian state of Kerala, trace their history to the time of King Solomon, although most scholars believe Jews did not arrive there at least until the 1st century CE. Today, only about 40 Jews remain in Kerala, but their descendants in Israel are keeping their customs alive. Bala Menon writes:

Recorded history shows that Jews were present in Kerala in 849 CE: Hebrew names were engraved on copper plates granted by a Kerala Hindu king . . . to Syrian Christian settlers. . . . The Jews signed these . . . plates as witnesses. . . .

In 1000 CE, the emperor of Kerala . . . issued two copper plates to a Jewish merchant [by the name of] Issappu Irrappan (Joseph Rabban), believed to be of Yemenite descent. The plates conferred on the Jewish community 72 proprietary rights equivalent to those held by the . . . the nobles of Malabar.

Today, there are several flourishing Cochini moshavim [semi-collective farming communities] in Israel. . . . One, Mesilat Tsion, boasts signs like Reḥov Cochin and Reḥov Malabar (reḥov means “street” in Hebrew) dating to the early 1950s. . . . Moshav Nevatim also boasts a beautiful Cochini synagogue. The interior is a copy of the Kadavumbhagam synagogue [in Kerala] and the holy ark and the Torah scrolls were all brought from various synagogues in Cochin.

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Read more at Asian Jewish Life

More about: India, Indian Jewry, Israel, Jewish history, Jewish World, Moshav

Jerusalem’s Economic Crisis, Its Arabs, and Its Future

Oct. 18 2018

The population of Israel’s capital city is 38-percent Arab, making Arab eastern Jerusalem the largest Arab community in the country. Connected to this fact is Jerusalem’s 46-percent poverty rate—the highest of any Israeli municipality. The city’s economic condition stems in part from its large ultra-Orthodox population, but there is also rampant poverty among its Arab residents, whose legal status is different from that of both Arab Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Haviv Rettig Gur explains:

Jerusalem’s Arab inhabitants are not Israeli citizens—in part because Palestinian society views acceptance of Israeli citizenship, [available to any Arab Jerusalemite who desires it], as acceptance of Israeli claims of sovereignty over the city, and in part because Israel is not eager to accept them, even as it formally views itself as having annexed the area. Nevertheless, they have a form of permanent residency that, unlike West Bank Palestinians, allows them unimpeded access to the rest of Israel. . . .

There are good reasons for this poverty among eastern Jerusalem’s Arabs, rooted in the political trap that has ensnared the Arab half of the city and with it the rest of the city as well. Right-wing Israeli political leaders have avoided investing in Arab eastern Jerusalem, fearing that such investments would increase the flow of Palestinians into the city. Left-wing leaders have done the same on the grounds that the Arab half would be given away in a future peace deal.

Meanwhile, eastern Jerusalem’s complicated situation, suspended between the Israeli and Palestinian worlds, means residents cannot take full advantage of their access to the Israeli economy. For example, while most Arab women elsewhere in Israel learn usable Hebrew in school, most Arab schools in eastern Jerusalem teach from the Palestinian curriculum, which does not offer students the Hebrew they will need to find work in the western half of the city. . . .

It is not unreasonable to argue that Jerusalem cannot really be divided, not for political reasons but for economic ones. If Jerusalem remains a solely Israeli capital, it will have to integrate better its disparate parts and massively develop its weaker communities if it hopes ever to become solvent and prosperous. Arabs must be able to find more and better work in Jewish Jerusalem—and in Arab Jerusalem, too. Conversely, if the city is divided into two capitals, that of a Jewish state and that of a Palestinian one, that won’t change the underlying economic reality that its prosperity, its capacity to accommodate tourism and develop efficient infrastructure, and its ability to ensure access for all religions to their many holy sites, will still require a unified urban space.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Arabs, Israeli economy, Jerusalem