Page 12 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 29

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new phase in their religious life led to a certain degree of literary
productivity.
Responsible for this reawakening of their religious and cultural
life were two external influential factors that enabled them to
enter the mainstream of Jewish life; namely, the Jews of Cochin
and the Christian missionary activities in Bombay. The first en-
counter of the “Bene-Israel” with leaders of the Cochin Jews is
said to have occurred in connection with Samuel Ezekiel Divekar,
an officer who had risen to the high rank of a Commandant
(Subedar) in the
6
th Battalion of the native British Infantry
Regiment. He was taken prisoner by the Mysore Tipu Sultan
during the Anglo-Mysore wars, but through strange circumstances
obscured by tradition and legend, he was released through the
intervention of David Rahabi, a leader of the “White Jews” of
Cochin who happened to be in the camp of the Sultan.
After this intervention, Samuel Ezekiel Divekar was brought to
Cochin, where he met for the first time with Jews in a well organ-
ized Jewish community, firmly rooted in Jewish traditions. Deeply
impressed by the Cochin Jewish community’s devotion to the
heritage of their fathers and by their beautiful synagogues and
numerous Torah scrolls, he vowed to build with his own financial
resources, as a thanksgiving offer for his delivery, a synagogue for
his community in Bombay. This synagogue, erected in Bombay in
1796, was named Shaar ha-Rahamim (“The Gate of Mercy”) —the
first ever built in Bombay for the “Bene-Israel” and still in use
today.
The Impact of the Cochin Jews
The impact of the Cochin Jews upon the “Bene-Israel” was
again felt when from 1826 on a group of pious and learned
Cochin Jews moved to Bombay, not to enter the military service or
to engage in trade and commerce, but to instill in that community
cut off for so many centuries from Jewish life, a new Jewish spirit.
This idealistic group whose names are recorded in the annals,
were imbued with a strong sense of Jewish solidarity. They de-
cided to pioneer among the “Bene-Israel” in the villages of the
Konkan, as well as in Bombay, as teachers, preachers and com■
munal guides, to acquaint them with their Jewish heritage and
to return this long-forgotten tribe of Israel to authentic and tra-
ditional Judaism. They labored zealously to establish schools and
prayer-halls for the “Bene-Israel” in Alibag, Panwel, Revdanda
and other villages, and above all, in Bombay, to instruct them in
Torah and Halakhah.
Mention should be made of earlier pioneering steps undertaken
by missionary societies in Bombay. Through their translation of