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The Jewish Communities in India

History of the Jews in India


They came and made this their home

Introduction

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There are several little Jewish communities in India, who have come and made India their home. Their cuisine is distinct and they retain some traditions from their home of origin and adapt their style and customs to suit the needs of their Indian home.

What makes these communities unique is that they are significantly smaller than other minority groups in the country and that they also retain their original identity rather merging into the general landscape. 

The Jewish community abides by its Kosher laws while adopting the Indian style of cooking.


History of the Jewish Peoples in India

India has a legacy of four distinct Jewish groups: the Bene Israel, the Cochin Jews, the Sephardic Jews from Europe, and the "Baghdadis" from Iraq. Each group had their own synagogues. The Sephardic rites predominate among Indian Jews. The first Jewish immigrants came to India about 2500 years ago.

The most important of these communities were the Bene Israeli Jews who mainly came and settled in Mumbai and Amhedabad. They are supposed to be traders who came into India through a ship-wreck. There were some Jews who later came and settled into the south of India, particularly in Cochin.

The Jews in Kolkata or Calcutta are the most prominent community and some of them still live in the city. They felt very welcomed in the city and made this their home. They subsequently spread to other parts of east India. Currently about half the Jewish population of India lives in Mizoram in the east, with a small community in Calcutta, about a quarter of the population lives in Mumbai and the remainder are scattered in the south and other parts of the country. The most important religious festival celebrated by the Jewish community in India is that of Passover.

Food Traditions and Culinary Styles - Maintaining Jewish Kosher Rules in India

While the community is small, they still retain and enrich the characteristic Indian culinary and cultural diversity.  To maintain kosher and avoid mixing milk and meat products, recipes that use a yogurt marinade will eliminate the yogurt. 

The Baghdadi Jewish Community in Calcutta

This community as the name suggest emigrated from Baghdad and brought with them dishes like Hameen (Vegetables and Meat) and koobe (Stuffed Dumplings). These were later adapted to included Bengali spices such as ginger and turmeric and commonly used vegetables like squashes and spinach. They did maintain the laws of kosher cooking and this remained a factor in their cooking.

The Bene-Israeli Jewish Community of Bombay

 The Bene-Israeli community came into Bombay from Palestine and adapted in turn the local flavors of Marathi cuisine, culture and language.They retained the holidays such as Rosh Hashanah, Sabbath and Passover. In preparation for Passover, they clean the house and prepare fresh condiments. Matzah is baked for prayer rather than as a substitute for bread. Rice is not forbidden as it is in the Ashkenazi tradition.

The Black Jews of Cochin

The so-called “Black Jews” came into the southern part of India and made Cochin their home. They migrated to India most likely from Africa, Middle East and Spain. Legend, hearsay, and community stories form an historical background to the origin of the Black Jews. Benjamin of Tudela, that peripatetic Spanish traveler (1170 C.E.), indicated that there were about 1,000 Jews in Cochin in his time.

Some recipes that show the adaptation of Indian food to their tastes and preferences.

 

 

 

Recipes of the Jewish People in India :

Please also read:

An Introduction to Jewish Cooking

kosher rules and regulations

introduction to Indian cooking

history of Indian cooking

more indian recipes

cooking in kashmir

 

 

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