Page 32 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 28

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J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
26
and cultural bond and were united in their devotion to Rab-
binical Judaism and tradition. They adhered meticulously to the
precepts of the Halakhah, and strictly observed the Sabbath, the
festivals and the dietary laws.
Th is tradition bound Jewish life expressed itself foremost from
the earliest times, in the establishment of synagogues and prayer
halls in every Jewish settlement on the Malabar Coast—in Cran-
ganore (Shinkali), Chennamangalam (Chenot), Ernakulam (An■
jekaimal), Mala, Muttan, Parur, Tirtur, and, above all, in Cochin.
Some of these places had at one time even several synagogues.
Of all the synagogues in Cochin, only one still stands, the so-
called Paradesi Synagogue of the White Jews. The synagogue was
built in 1568 by Samuel Castiel, David Belilah, Ephrayim Salah
and Joseph Levi, partly destroyed by the Portuguese in 1662, and
restored in 1664. It maintains its grandeur and majestic beauty
in “Jew Town,” in Mattancherry, and not only functions today
but has even been the object of an historic celebration of its 400th
anniversary in December, 1968.
For the maintenance of their tradition-bound and synagogue-
centered life, the Jews of Cochin needed a steady supply of Hebrew
liturgical books and religious equipment. How the Elders of the
community filled this need, how they procured the necessary
Hebrew books from the outside Jewish world, first from Portugal,
through Marranos, through the Jewish wife of Gaspar da Gama,
then from Amsterdam and the Hague, from Venice and Leghorn,
from Yemen and elsewhere, is a romantic story. A systematic and
persistent policy of purchasing Hebrew books was initiated after
the visit of a delegation of Dutch-Sephardic Jews to Cochin, headed
by Moses Pereira de Paiva, the author of the “Notisias dos Judeos
de Cochim” (Amsterdam, 1687). It led to a close contact between
the Jews of Holland and of Cochin, and made Holland a supply
center and cultural reservoir for the latter’s liturgical needs. It
was Ezekiel Rahabi (d. 1771), that towering and central Jewish
figure in the economic life in Cochin during the 18th century,
who served the governors and commanders of the Dutch East
India Company for almost 50 years as merchant, diplomat and
agent, who accelerated the purchase of books from Holland, from
the two major Jewish book firms, Tobias Boaz and Abraham
Simon Boaz, of The Hague, and Joseph Jacob Proops of Amster-
dam. These books consisted of
Siddurim, Mahzorim,
copies of the
Talmud,
Midrashim, L ikku tim
from
Ayn Jacob,
parts of the
Shut-
han Arukh,
also “philosophical and other works both old and new”
as expressly stated by Ezekiel Rahabi. This book purchasing policy
of Ezekiel Rahabi was continued by his three sons and by his
descendants. It lasted through the 125 years of the Dutch rule over
Malabar (1663-1795).