Page 36 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 28

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Aleppo. In view of its promising prospects and economic oppor-
tunities, it attracted many Cochin Jews.
Of all of these Cochin immigrants to Calcutta, none made a
more permanent contribution to its spiritual and cultural life
than Rabbi Eleazer b. Mari Aaron b. Sa’adya Iraki Hacohen. Born
in 1816 in Cochin of Yemenite parents, he moved with his father
to Calcutta and engaged in numerous activities as community
leader, teacher and poet. The climax of his life work was the
founding in Calcutta of the first Hebrew printing press in 1841—
the first in all of India. This pioneer Hebrew printer in India
published between 1841 and 1856 about 28 Hebrew books of
liturgical, literary and general relevance. They served, however,
mainly the needs of the Baghdadi Arabic speaking sector of the
Jewish community in Calcutta.
The Cochin Jews can be proud that through one of them the
intellectual life in Calcutta was so greatly enriched. In external
appearance and in aesthetic beauty, the books produced by Rabbi
Eleazar b. Mari Aaron b. Sa’adya Iraki Hacohen reflected the
direct influence of those Amsterdam prints, which had been ordered
by Ezekiel Rahabi and his sons of Cochin.
It is paradoxical that, while Cochin Jews were promoting He-
brew printing in Bombay and Calcutta, a Hebrew and Malayalam
printing press was not established in their own city until 1877,
thanks to the initiative of Joseph Daniel Cohen, a well-known
educator and teacher of Cochin, of Baghdadian origin. His enter-
prise aroused great enthusiasm in the Cochin community, but
produced only six small booklets (in Hebrew as well as in Malay-
alam or Malabari translations), dealing with hymns, prayers,
p iyyu tim ,
etc. according to their
“Minhag Shinkali.”
The Hebrew
printing press in Cochin lasted only five years. The Cochin Jews
had to turn again to the press in Bombay established by Rabbi
Yehuda David Ashkenazi, also a Cochin Jew, where works of
relevance for the Cochin community could be issued from 1900 on.
This press in Bombay, known as “Lebanon Printing Press,”
published books for the needs both of the Baghdadian Jews and
the Cochin Jews. It continued to flourish under Ashkenazi's son
David, after his father had immigrated to the Holy Land in 1909.
It was in this Bombay press that the last Hebrew book of a Cochin
author, the famous
Sefer Hupat Hattanim ,
was republished in 1917
with additional notes by N. E. Rahabi.
M ajor Contributions of Cochin Jewry
Surveying the literary and cultural creativity of the Cochin
Jews throughout the centuries, we can discern in general outlines