Page 29 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 30

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T H E L I T E R A R Y A C T I V I T I E S OF
THE A R A B I C - S P E A K I N G J EWS
I N I N D I A
By
W
alter
J.
F
i sc h e l
O
f the three major distinct and separate Jewish groups within
Indian Jewry today, the Arabic-speaking Jews or Baghdadi
Jews constitute the latest wave of Jewish immigration to India.
While the Cochin Jews on the Malabar Coast and the Bene-
lsrael Jews in Bombay and in the Konkan villages can be re­
garded basically as “native” Jews of India by virtue of their many
centuries-long residence, the Baghdadi Jews in India have been in
the truest sense “foreigners,” “outsiders,” hailing from the West,
from the Asiatic provinces of the Ottoman Empire, from Aleppo,
Basra and Baghdad. The pioneers of this Arabian wave of mi­
gration from “the rivers of Babylon” came to India towards the
end of the 18th century. Some settled in Surat around 1775,
165 miles north of Bombay, others moved to Bombay around
1790 and later branched out to Poona and Calcutta and later
beyond the borders of India to Rangoon, Hong Kong, Singapore
and Shanghai.
The foundation of a permanent colony of Arabian Jews in
Bombay was accelerated with the arrival of David S. Sassoon of
Baghdad in 1832. Escaping the oppression of the Ottoman Pasha,
he fled to Bushire on the Persian Gulf with his father, Sheikh
Sassoon b. Saleh (1750-1830) and moved, after the death of his
father, to Bombay, where he and his family arrived in 1833.
The coming of the Sassoons was a signal for an ever-increasing
influx of Baghdadi Jews to Bombay, who soon become the undis­
puted leaders of the Jewish community and the founders of
that illustrious merchant-house which earned them the name
of the “Rothschilds of the East,” the merchant princes of the
Orient.
These Arabic-speaking Jews from the West differed from the
Marathi-speaking Bene-Israel in Bombay and from the Malaya-
lam-speaking Jews in Cochin on the Malabar Coast in many fun­
damental aspects, liturgically, linguistically and economically.
A closely-knit group, the Baghdadi Jews were the heirs of a rich
culture and tradition, deeply rooted in Jewish learning and
following their own liturgy and rite. Their mother tongue was
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