Page 34 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 30

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e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
transliteration were published in lithography, one in Calcutta
in 1880 and one in Bombay, probably by Baghdadi Jews, in 1888.
The Calcutta Urdu piece represents an Indian drama
composed with illustrations in the middle of the 19th
century, which became most popular on the Indian stage. Because
of its entertainment value, this drama was deemed worthy enough
to be transliterated from Urdu into Hebrew. The Urdu pub­
lication in Bombay in Hebrew characters of
Lai la Majnu
Love), also a popular play, appeared in 1888.
The Decline of Judeo-Arabic
As a consequence of the intensive English education, the
Judeo-Arabic dialect lost its appeal and gradually came to be
forgotten by the younger generation in India. Very few Judeo-
Arabic books appeared in the 20th century and the periodicals
of the 19th century were replaced by journals in English published
in Bombay or Calcutta. The English periodicals in Bombay, such
Zion’s Messenger
The Jewish Advocate
The Jewish Tribune
(1933-1951), and
India and Israel
1953), and in Calcutta
The Eastern Hebrew and Annual
1945), the
(1946-1960), the
Davar be-Itto
(1917-1919), and
and others, became the literary nutriment of
the Baghdadi Jews in the 20th century.
The political and economic changes in the Middle East after
World War II, and even before, had a profound impact on the
“Arabian” Jews in India; they led gradually to their economic
decline. Like the Bene-Israel in Bombay and the Cochin Jews
on the Malabar Coast, the Baghdadi Jews in India stood in the
line of the exodus to Israel from 1948 on. By virtue of the im­
migration of Arabian Jews to Israel, England and America, their
once large and flourishing communities in India dwindled rapidly
to but a few hundred, indicating their vanished glory and
The most significant contribution of Baghdadi Jews in India,
which continues to have its impact on the scholarly world, was
the activity of the great scholar and bibliophile, Rabbi David S.
Sassoon (b. 1882, Bombay, d. 1942, London ), the son of Solomon
and Flora Sasson. After moving to London in 1911, he dedicated
his life to collecting those treasures in Hebrew, Samaritan and
Judeo-Arabic which embrace most of the compositions and writ­
ings of the Arabian speaking Jews in India. This magnificent
collection of manuscripts as listed in his
Ohel David,
guarded and supplemented by his eminent son, Rabbi Sulaiman
David Sassoon, is perhaps the greatest permanent monument to
the Judeo-Arabic literary creativity in the Oriental diaspora.