Page 13 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 29

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F i s c h e l—L i t e r a r y A c t i v i t i e s o f t h e “B n e - I s r a e l ”
the Book of Genesis (1819) and the Book of Exodus (1833) into
Marathi, they enabled the “Bene-Israel” for the first time to get
acquainted with their own Holy Scriptures, even as
Rudiments of
Hebrew Grammar in Marathi,
published in 1832 by the Reverend
John Wilson of the Scottish Mission in Bombay, guided them to
learn Hebrew through the medium of their Marathi vernacular.
Under the impact of the Cochin Jews, assisted by Arabian
Jews of Baghdad, within one decade from about 1840 on, numer-
ous Hebrew liturgical books appeared in Hebrew and Marathi to
enhance the revitalization of the “Bene-Israel” community. It was
in this cultural climate that the
Haggadah shel Pesach,
into Marathi by two “Bene-Israel” Jews with the help of two
Cochin Jews, appeared in 1846 as the first Hebrew book ever
printed in Bombay with illustrations. This
Haggadah shel Pesach
became so popular that it was republished in Poona in 1874,
under the title
The Institution of Passover,
by E. Sh. Walwatkar,
again in Bombay in 1890 and 1935.
All these activities were helpful and beneficial for the religious
rejuvenation of the “Bene-Israel,” but they constituted only values
them, not
them. They began to be creative only
after they had emancipated themselves, had made themselves
independent from any cultural tutelage, whether the Christian
missionary societies, the Cochin Jews or the “Arabian” Jews in
Bombay. Thus, in the second part of the 19th century there arose
among them Hebrew teachers, communal leaders and educators
who undertook to translate in a systematic way the essential works
of Hebrew liturgy into Marathi. They created a new genre of
Marathi-Hebrew literature in translation.
Among the
promoters, publishers or translators of this literary project were
prominent members of “Bene-Irael” families of the Talkar’s, the
Penkar’s, the Divekar's, Walwutkar’s, Galtulkar’s, and others. In
the forefront of these activities, however, stood Joseph Ezekiel
Rajpurkar, Benjamin Samson Ashtamkar, and Hayim Samuel
Joseph Ezekiel Rajpurkar (1834-1905) was one of the most
prolific promoters of this kind of Hebrew-Marathi literature
among the “Bene-Israel.” After receiving his education at the
Free Assembly School under Rev. John Wilson, he became in
1856 a teacher in the David Sassoon Benevolent Institution,
Bombay, and later its headmaster, a post he occupied for forty
years. In 1871, he was appointed Hebrew Examiner at the Univer-
sity of Bombay, of which he became a Fellow in 1879. The Gov-
ernment honored him in 1890 by electing him Justice of the Peace.
A master of Hebrew, as well as of the Marathi language, he
published important works from 1858 until his death in 1905.
Apart from translations of English composition of Jewish content