Page 34 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 28

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28
the embellishment of their prayers, their literature was permeated
by a prevailing and conspicuous feature, namely, a strong historical
consciousness and an eagerness to put into Hebrew writing and
to transmit the traditions and legends of their forefathers.
This sense of historical consciousness was undoubtedly stimu-
lated by their possessing the famous ancient copper plate inscrip-
tions which were probably from the 10th century. On them were
engraved in the ancient Tam il language written in the archaic
and obsolete Vatteluta script, privileges granted to Joseph Rabban
(Isuppu Irappan), their leader of the remote past, and to his
descendants, by the H indu emperor of Malabar, Bhaskara Ravi
Varma, whose title was Cheraman Perumal. They regarded these
inscriptions as their charter, their original settlement deed (Sasa-
nam), which the Elders of the Paradesi Synagogue are carefully
guarding to this day.
The desire to record the past of the Cochin community and
the miracle of its survival found literary expression in many
Hebrew chronicles composed by learned Cochin Jews. Their writ-
ings have been preserved in manuscript form and above all in
this famous “Epistle of 1768” written by Ezekiel Rahabi in answer
to eleven questions put to him.
The pride in the community’s history has prompted many prom-
inent 20th century members of the Cochin community, such as
Dr. A. J. Simon, A. B. Salem, and S. S. Koder, Jr., the president
of the Cochin community of our days, to investigate the records
of the past
Pioneers of the Hebrew Printing Press
Cochin Jews can be credited with another significant contribu-
tion by their pioneering efforts to promote Hebrew printing ac-
tivities for the Jews in India beyond the confines of their own
community.
Printing activities in India began in 1556 in Goa by the Jesuit
missionaries. They were continued in Bombay from 1674 on, in
Tranquebar from 1712 on by Danish missionaries, and in 1778
in Bengal; but Hebrew types never appeared in those books.
These early printing establishments in India could hardly have
been expected to sponsor the publication of Hebrew books for
liturgical or literary purposes of the Cochin Jews. Therefore, most
of the literary productions of the Cochin Jews had remained
unpublished, and whatever Cochin writings were printed ap-
peared not in India, not in Cochin, but abroad, especially in
Amsterdam. The first book by a Cochin Jew appeared in Amster-
dam in 1757 in the press of Proops and Son and was entitled