Cochin Jews

From Academic Kids


Cochin Jews
Total population: 5000-8000 (est.)
Significant populations in:

Israel 8000 (est.)
Kerala 52 (including Cochin, Ernakulam, Parur, Aluva)

Language Traditionally, Judo-Malayalam, now mostly Hebrew.
Religion Judaism
Related ethnic groups

  Bene Israel
  Cochin Jews
  Other Jewish groups

Cochin Jews, also called Malabar Jews are the ancient Jews and their descendants of the South Indian port city of Cochin. They traditionally spoke Judo-Malayalam, a form of the Malayalam tongue, native to the state of Kerala, in India. Several rounds of immigration of the Jewish diaspora into Kerala, led to a diversity amongst the Cochin Jews.



Some sources say that the earliest Jews were those who settled in the Malabar coast during the times of Solomon, and after the Kingdom of Israel split into two. They are sometimes referred to as the "black jews". The Paradesi Jews, also called "White Jews", settled later, coming to India from European and Middle Eastern nations such as Holland and Spain, and bringing with them the Ladino language. A notable settlement of Spanish and Portuguese Jews (Sephardim) starting in the 15th century was Goa, but this settlement eventually disappeared. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Cochin had an influx of Jewish settlers from the Middle East, North Africa and Spain.

Missing image
Hebrew inscription at the Synagogue in Cochin.

Jews came to Kerala and settled as early as 700 BC for trade. An old, but not particularly reliable, tradition says that Jews of Cochin came in mass to Cranganore (an ancient port, near Cochin) after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. They had, in effect, their own principality for many centuries until a chieftainship dispute broke out between two brothers in the 15th century. The dispute led neighboring princes to dispossess them. In 1524, the Muslims, backed by the ruler of Calicut (today called Kozhikode), attacked the Jews of Cranganore on the pretext that they were tampering with the pepper trade. Most Jews fled to Cochin and went under the protection of the Hindu Raja there. He granted them a site for their own town that later acquired the name "Jew Town" (by which it is still known).

Unfortunately for the Jews of Cochin, the Portuguese occupied Cochin in this same period and indulged in persecution of the Jews until the Dutch displaced them in 1660. The Dutch Protestants were tolerant, and the Jews prospered. In 1795 Cochin passed into the British sphere of influence. In the 19th century, Cochin Jews lived in the towns of Cochin, Ernakulam, Aluva and Parur.

Cochin Jews today

Today most of Cochin's Jews have emigrated (principally to Israel). In Kerala there are still three synagogues; the one at Mattancherry, Cochin is still functioning.

Another reason why there was a reduction in Jewish population in old times was conversion to Christianity. Both, during the time of St. Thomas in Kerala and later on, many Jews joined among the Nasrani people in Kerala. They intermingled especially with the Knanaya Christian-Jews within the Nasrani community of Kerala.

Ruby of Cochin

Ruby Daniel emigrated to Israel from Cochin in 1951. Her 1995 memoir, Ruby of Cochin lists a fourth method for marriage among the Jews of Cochin: that of witness by the entire congregation to a marriage. The memoir includes her experience in the Armed Forces of India as a Jewish woman among Hindu and Muslim men.

See also

External links


  • Ruby Daniel & B. Johnson. (1995). Ruby of Cochin: An Indian Jewish Woman Remembers. Philadelphia and Jerusalem: Jewish Publication Society.

de:Cochin-Juden he:יהדות קוצ'ין ja:コーチン・ユダヤ人 nn:Cochini-jdar


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