Page 31 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 28

Basic HTML Version

T H E L I T E R A R Y C R E A T I V I T Y OF
T H E J E W S O F C O C H I N O N
T H E M A L A B A R C O A S T *
B y W
alter
J.
F
isc h e l
T
h e J ew s
of India today comprise the remnants of at least three
different groups who, at various periods in history, came from
many parts of the Jewish Diaspora to settle on Indian soil.
a. The Jews on the Malabar Coast of Cochin and vicinity,
using Malayalam or Malabari as their vernacular.
b. The “Bene Israel״ group in Bombay and vicinity, using Ma-
rathi as their vernacular.
c. The Baghdadi or “Arabian” Jews, who arrived towards the
end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, and
settled in Bombay, Poona, Calcutta—and beyond India, in
Burma, Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai—using Judea-
Arabic as their linguistic bond.
These three major groups of Indian Jewry, totaling not more
than 12-15,000 souls in a native population of about five hundred
millions, are basically so heterogeneous in their ethnic origins,
liturgical practices, linguistic peculiarities and sociological and
economic structure, that only through a separate treatment of each
of them can their specific literary and cultural contributions be
understood and appreciated.
In dealing with the first group, the Jews of Cochin, and with
the literary heritage they bequeathed to posterity, we must first
outline the religious patterns and conditions under which they
lived during so many centuries in that remote outpost of South
India.
Tradition Bound and Synagogue Centered
The Jews on the Malabar coast, though heterogeneous in their
ethnic composition and geographical origin, divided into the
so-called Black or Malabar Jews hailing from Cranganore, their
original settlement, and White Jews, later immigrants from
various centers of the Jewish diaspora, and differentiated in their
occupational stratification—they all shared a common religious
* Dedicated to H. E., the President of the State of Israel, Zalman Shazar, on
the occasion of his eightieth birthday.
25