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soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Jews As A Nation (7/12)

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               Frequently Asked Questions on Soc.Culture.Jewish
                           Part 7: Jews as a Nation
         [Last Change: $Date: 1995/10/19 15:24:09 $ $Revision: 1.3 $]
                    [Last Post: Thu Mar  4 11:07:08 US/Pacific 2004]

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Subject: ORGANIZATION This portion of the FAQ contains answers to the following questions: Section 13. Jews as a Nation 1. [8]What are the different racial and cultural groups of Jews? 2. [9]What are the differences between Sephardim and Ashkenazim? 3. [10]Where did the Beita Yisrael (Falashas) come from? 4. [11]Who were the Khazars? Are Ashkenazi Jews descended from the Khazars? 5. [12]Who are Crypto-Jews (also known as "marranos")? 6. [13]How does the Sephardi/Ashkenazi differences differ from the O/C/R differences? 7. [14]I've heard of a group called the "Black Hebrews". Who are they? 8. [15]What about the black jews in South Africa? 9. [16]Who Are The Jews of India, And What Are Their Origins? 10. [17]Are Jews a Nation or a Religion? 11. [18]Who are the Edot Mizraxi? 12. [19]What About Yeminite Jews? 13. [20]Who was Donna Gracia?
Subject: Question 13.1: What are the different racial and cultural groups of Jews? Answer: The Jewish religion is practiced by people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, as a result of the continual process of conversion to Judaism. Thus, Jews today are a mixture of descendants of converts as well as direct descendants of ancient Israelite Jews. You cannot determine who is a Jew based solely on name, racial characteristics, or any other physical characteristics (including circumcision, for much of the male general population undergos this procedure). Among North American Jews, individuals of Eastern European Ashkenazi heritage are predominant, although before the late 1800's, individuals of Sephardi origin (i.e. Jews who settled around the Mediterranean basin at the time of the diaspora) were more common. Other groups of Jews include the Arab and Yemeni Jews. In fact, there was a Jewish kingdom in Yemen in the early Middle Ages under the rule of Dhu Nuwas. There are also Jews of Persian origin. The larger groups of non-Caucasian Jews include the Jews from Ethiopia. Other Jewish communities include the Kaifeng Jews of China (now mostly assimilated). Until 1960, there was a community of cave-dwelling Jews in southern Libya. A community in Burma claimed to be Jews, and rumors and legends abound about African, Native American, and other tribes claiming Jewish ancestry. There are also Jewish communities in India. A 20th-century convert community, the Abayudaya Jews, exists in Uganda, Africa. Jews may be white or black. No one knows the skin color of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We do know that there was some mixing between the Jewish and the Hamatic nations. Some biblical scholars believe that Abraham was half-Chaldean; there is some evidence that the Chaldeans were black. The point of this: to reiterate what was said at the beginning of this answer: You cannot determine who is a Jew based solely on name, racial characteristics, or any other physical characteristics (including circumcision, for much of the male general population undergos this procedure).
Subject: Question 13.2: What are the differences between Sephardim and Ashkenazim? Answer: They came from different cultures, and so particular customs developed differently, such as details of the prayer service and permitted foods on Pesach. The [5]Shulchan Aruch by R' Joseph Karo is the definitive Sephardic work on halacha, and R' Moshe Isserles later added glosses to describe Ashkenazi practice. Other works describe the customs and practices of particular communities. Many of the customs (minhagim) are derived from the communities in which these groups arose. The customs of Ashkenazi Jews often resemble those of the Slavs and Germans, because the Ashkenazi Jews were concentrated in that region. Additional information may be found in Paul Wexler's book The Ashkenazic Jews by Slavica Publishers.
Subject: Question 13.3: Where did the Beita Yisrael (Falashas) come from? Answer: First off, know that "Falasha" (Amharic for "stranger") is considered very derogatory. Just say "Ethiopian Jew" if you can't remember "Beita Yisrael." Older reference books will probably list them under "Falasha," i.e. the 1972 article in the Encyclopaedia Judaica. Their own legends date them back to Shlomo ha-melech [King Solomon], and ascribe their origin to the tribe of Dan. See the book The Lost Jews by Rappoport. Researchers also think some of the defeated Yemenite Jews from the Abu Duwas Jewish Kingdom came to Ethiopia, and that some Elephantine Jews migrated south from Egypt. Another Ethiopian legend has one of Moses' sons migrating South and establishing a Hebrew community before King Solomon. You can learn more about Ethiopian Jewry and their rich history and culture on the [5]Ethiopian Jewry WWW Homepage at <>.
Subject: Question 13.4: Who were the Khazars? Are Ashkenazi Jews descended from the Khazars? Answer: The Khazars were a Turkic tribe that migrated to the steppes of what is today southern Russia and eastern Ukraine by the 5th century. They established a powerful kingdom that existed from the mid-7th century until the early-11th century. The Khazars had a two-king system, consisting of a military king (bek) and a sacral king (khaqan). The Khazar army, which took orders from the bek and the military commander (tarkhan), included tens of thousands of professional soldiers. The Khazars were a potent military force in eastern Europe till about the middle of the 11th century, their last power base being the Crimean peninsula. In the 7th and 8th centuries, they defeated the Eastern Caliphate in several key battles, thus halting the spread of Islam north of the Caucasus mountain range, much the same as what the Carolingian rulers did to the Western Caliphate at the Pyrenees. (Ironically, these Jewish converts made Eastern Europe safe for Christianity.) The Khazars gained control over major waterways such as the Caspian Sea, the Volga River, and the Dnieper River. The Khazar kings collected tribute from many of the East Slavic tribes as well as from traders traversing their country. Large garrisons were stationed at hill-forts located at strategic points throughout the kingdom (e.g., Kiev by the Dnieper, Sarkel by the Don, Samandar by the Caspian) to guard against enemy invaders such as the Rus. The king of the Khazars learned the Torah with the assistance of the Jewish preacher Isaac Sangari, whose existence has recently been verified (by the discovery of poems authored by Sangari in the Firkovitch collection of manuscripts). In the 9th century, the Khazarian kings and nobles officially converted to Judaism. Surrounded by the Islamic Eastern Caliphate of Persia and the Christian Byzantine Empire, the Khazars may have chosen Judaism as their state religion to avoid being religiously (and hence politically) dominated by either empire, so that they could avoid being labelled as heathens while at the same time remaining independent of their powerful neighbors. By the start of the 10th century, Judaism gained a stronghold among the common Khazar people, and the Hebrew script came into use in Khazaria. However, most of the soldiers in the Khazar army were Muslims, and the non-Khazar ethnic groups within the Khazar Empire (such as the Slavs, Bulgars, and Goths) did not adopt Judaism but rather remained pagans, Muslims, and Christians. Arab travelogues provide useful contemporary details about the life of the Khazars. Armenian, Slavic, and Hebrew sources also form the core of our knowledge about the Khazar people. Important Hebrew primary sources are: 1. The Khazar Correspondence between Khaqan Joseph and Hasdai ibn Shaprut of Spain, now known to be authentic. 2. The Schechter Letter, found in the Cairo Genizah, an account of the conversion of Khazars to Judaism, the migration of Jews to Khazaria, and the military victories of the Khazars. 3. The Kievan Letter, found in the Cairo Genizah, written by the Khazar Jews of Kiev in the early 10th century. Within the past few decades, archaeological excavations in Russia and Ukraine have unearthed Khazar jewelry, pottery, gravesites, and tombstones containing engraved menorahs and Turkic tribe symbols. One of the most famous sites was Sarkel, which in 1952 was flooded for a dam by the Soviet government and is not available for further research. Other major Khazarian archaeological sites include Verkhneye Chiryurt (Balanjar, in Daghestan), Verkhneye Saltovo and Mayaki hill-fort (near the Don and Donets rivers), and Kerch and Sudak (on the Crimea). For several years, archaeologists have been trying to locate the precise site of the Khazar capital of Itil; some believe the wall which surrounded Itil has been found underwater, while others associate Itil with a hill in the Volga delta region called Samosdelka (south of Astrakhan). Secondary sources include: * The Kuzari by Yehuda HaLevi, a 12th century religious work using the story of the Khazars as justification for Judaism in the face of intense missionary pressure especially in Spain. The Kuzari was originally written in Arabic, but many excellent Hebrew and English translations have been published. * "The History of the Jewish Khazars" by Douglas M. Dunlop (New York: Schocken Books, 1967). * "The Thirteenth Tribe: The Khazar Empire and Its Heritage" by Arthur Koestler (New York: Random House, 1976). * "Khazar Studies: An Historico-Philological Inquiry into the Origins of the Khazars" by Peter Golden (Budapest: Akademiai Kiado, 1980). * "Khazarian Hebrew Documents of the Tenth Century" by Omeljan Pritsak (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1982). * "The Jews of Khazaria" by Kevin A. Brook (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1999). Are Ashkenazi Jews descended from the Khazars? Some believe that they are, at least to a certain extent. An important Khazar community remained in Kiev, and family oral traditions indicate the persistence of Khazar Jewish communities in Hungary, Transylvania, Lithuania, and central Ukraine. Some Jews have features that might be considered almost Mongolian or Oriental. However, there is no remnant of Khazar custom among Ashkenazi Jews, and there are only a few Ashkenazi surnames (e.g., Balaban) that derive from Turkic. It is sometimes suggested that the surname Kogan derives from Khaqan, but the more likely derivation is from Kohen (meaning "Israelite priest"); the Ukrainians and Belarusians use the letter h, but in Russian h becomes g, as may be seen in such examples as Grodno-Hrodna and Girsch-Hirsch. It seems that after the fall of their kingdom, the Khazars adopted the Cyrillic script in place of Hebrew and began to speak East Slavic (sometimes called "Canaanic" because Benjamin of Tudela called Kievan Rus the "Land of Canaan"). These Slavic-speaking Jews are documented to have lived in Kievan Rus during the 11th-13th centuries. However, Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants from the west (especially Germany, Bohemia, and other areas of Central Europe) soon began to flood into Eastern Europe, and it is believed that these newer immigrants eventually outnumbered the Khazars. Thus, Eastern European Jews predominantly have ancestors who came from Central Europe rather than from the Khazar kingdom. The two groups (eastern and western Jews) intermarried over the centuries. The Ashkenazi Jews are also the direct descendants of the Israelites. Genetic tests seem to indicate some ancestry from the regions known today as Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Iran, and Iraq. Mediterranean Fever, for example, is found among some Ashkenazi Jews as well as Armenians and Anatolian Turks. It is now asserted that many Ashkenazi men who belong to the priestly caste (Kohenim) possess a "Kohen" marker on the Y-chromosome. However, note that this provides no evidence of Khazar ancestry. Common genetic markers in people from these regions is expected for the following reasons, which alone could account for the common markers occurring in some Jews as well as non-Jews in Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Iran, and Iraq: 1. Archaeological evidence suggests that the some of the earliest ancestors of the ancient Levantine and Mesopotamian civilzations originated in the region of Armenia and moved southwards. 2. The Tanach records extensive evidence of intermarriage between Jews and ancient peoples who originated in eastern Anatolia, viz. the Hittites and Hurrians (including the Jebusites of Jerusalem). The Edomites who were of mixed Hebrew and Hurrian ancestry were also absorbed into the Jewish people. 3. The Armenians and Kurds are the descendants of people who remained in Eastern Anatolia / Armenia / Kurdistan and intermarried with the Turks and neighbouring peoples. Some descendants of the Khazars may still live in the north Caucasus among the Kumuks and the Balkars. These descendents include Crimean Jews called Krymchaks and Mountain Jews (a mix of Khazars and Iranian Caucasian Jews). Many Muslim Khazars settled in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan and may have intermarried with Oghuz and Kipchak Turks. If you are interested in the subject of Khazar Jews, you can visit the Khazaria Information Center at <[5]>.
Subject: Question 13.5: Who are Crypto-Jews (also known as "marranos")? Answer: At the time of the Spanish Inquisition and the expulsion from Spain in 1492, Jews were offered conversion or expulsion. Many chose to leave Spain (quite a few found safety in the Muslim Ottoman Empire), but others stayed behind. "Marranos" actually started appearing with the first riots in the Juderias of Spain. Many were forced to convert to save their lives. These were naturally not faithful Catholics. The laws in 14th and 15th century Spain became increasingly oppressive towards practicing Jews, while providing an easy escape by conversion. Large numbers of middle class Jews outwardly took on Christianity to avoid the laws, while secretly practicing Judaism. [The term Marrano appears to be derived from the color of the robes of a Roman Catholic Bishop; Jews who converted were placed under the direct tutelage of that bishop. One source indicates that the term "marrano" means pig literally in Spanish, and notes that the converted Jews were called that because one of the ideals of the Spanish society in the times of the Catholic Kings was purity of blood--hence, if a person couldn't prove to be totally "clean" of blood (i.e., that they were a descendant of Christian Spaniards), they were called a marrano.] Most of the remaining Marranic practice in Spain and Portugal today is from those religious Jews who escaped from Spain to Portugal in 1492, only to be trapped there later when the expulsion was instituted there as well. The most active Marranism in the Iberian peninsula is in the mountainous border areas between Spain and Portugal, in towns such as Belmonte'. Jewish outreach in these areas is achieving success in bringing them forward and restoring full Judaic practice, but many still fear burning or other persecution if they go public. Some faithful Catholic converts were won by the efforts of famous apostates like Pablo de Santa Maria who went around disputing the rabbis and ordinary Jews, winning some converts. In the most famous disputation, with Nachmanides, he was soundly defeated, but the Franciscans published false reports of the disputation to win more converts. Nachmanides, who had been protected from heresy laws during the disputations, was forced to publish his refutations in public. He was forced into exile rather than be burned as a heretic. In any case, the faithfulness of these converts is doubtful, since the Order of Expulsion was primarily due to the recidivism of Conversos once they had to live next door to practicing Jews again. It was felt that expelling all open Jews was the only way to keep the Conversos Christian. Among those who stayed behind were Jews who pretended to convert to Roman Catholicism, but who secretly maintained a practice of Judaism. The term "Marrano" was at one time used to describe them, as the term refers to the swine which they'd publicly eat to demonstrate their outward conversion. It isn't clear if the "Old Christians" or the practicing Jews called them "marrano". In Majorca the community was converted in the 1430's and are called Chuetas, from "pork lard" since they regularly keep pork lard boiling in cauldrons on their porches. They themselves still call themselves Israelitas in private, and ask forgiveness from el Grande Dio for worshipping in front of statues of a man. They typically sacrified (in a figurative, not literal, sense) their first born sons to the Catholic priesthood as a means of getting protection from Church persecution, so, ironically, many of the priests across the Baleiric Islands are from Marrano families. Crypto-Jew is the correct term, as it also refers to Jews forced to adopt other religions and political philosophies while maintaining Jewish practices. Crypto-Judaism pre-dates the Inquisition, as Jews were forced by the Al-Mohavid invasions of Spain to become Muslims, creating Crypto-Jews who gradually fled to Christian districts for protection from the Muslims (see Roth's History of the Jews). In modern times outwardly Muslim Crypto-Jews are known to be in Meshed, Iran, and in Turkey. A number of Crypto-Jewish communities survive today, especially in former Spanish-influenced regions, such as the southwestern U.S.A. They still maintain extensive secrecy after centuries. Other communities were lost to assimilation, but maintained residual Jewish practices such as lighting candles Friday night. Cohen's The Marranos and Prinz's The Secret Jews claim that the following are examples of such communities, although such claims have not been verified and are disputed by some: * The Antiqueñas of Colombia. * Much of Northern Mexico's middle and upper classes (Nuevo Leon is the "New Lion of Judah"). Note: Some note that Neuvo Leon mean was named after the old Leon in Spain. However, whatever the origin of the name, many of the families of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, have managed to keep in their memory, after more than 400 years, their Separdic origin. * The Naucalpan and Vallejo districts of Mexico City. (Technically, Naucalpan is not in the Distrito Federal, but in the greater metropolitan area). * The Chuetas of Majorca. A look at Chueta last names shows many surnames which have became quite famous in the Hispanic world. They include Mir, Miro, and Marti. Of course Joan Miro was Mallorcan. Any marranism in Fidel Castro's family would be through his mother, as his father's family was Gallego, and very few Jews ever lived in Galicia (of course plenty lived in the Austrian Galicia, I'm refering to northwestern Spain ). Interesting about the mountains on the Spanish-Portuguese border being a hotbed of marranism, particularly those on the Extremadura-Andalucia border. This area is directly inland from some of the areas which contained the earliest Jewish communities on the Iberian peninsula - for example Huelva and Gibraltar. Malaga and Almunecar - which also had early communities - are also in Andalucia. According to Timothy Mitchell's book Flamenco: Deep Song and other sources, the inquisition in western Andalucia was slightly more lenient than elsewhere because of the need for labour related for the new world trade and mining. The connections are quite interesting. Famous Hispanics who have acknowledged Marrano ancestry include Rita Moreno and Fidel Castro. Jews have played an important role in the history of Monterrey, Mexico. Frida Kahlo's father, Guillermo Kahlo, a somewhat reknowned photographer in his own right, was a Hungarian Jew.
Subject: Question 13.6: How does the Sephardi/Ashkenazi differences differ from the O/C/R differences? Answer: Traditional Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews agree that the oral and written Torah are from G-d, and that the sages may rule on halachic matters. The differences in practice are mostly in culture and customs. Traditional and liberal Jews disagree on the Divine origin of the oral and written Torah, and on the ability of present-day sages and secular scholars to overrule earlier halachic decisors. Also, Sephardic Jews tend not to separate along "denominational" lines, but rather "observant" and "non-observant."
Subject: Question 13.7: I've heard of a group called the "Black Hebrews". Who are they? Answer: The answer depends on where you are talking about. First, note that the term "Black Hebrews" is not appreciated (although used) by most individuals in such communiites. The term is used only because they were branded with the name by the predominantly White media some decades ago. The problems with the term is that it normalizes the "Whiteness" of the Jewish/Hebrew people. The groups actually refer to themselves as "Hebrews", "Israelites" and in many cases, "Hebrew-Israelites." * In Israel: First, note that there are many "black" Jews in Israel that are properly affiliated with Judaism--in all movements--including Orthodoxy. Many were converted generations ago and their descendants deserve the same credibility given to any child born of a Jewish mother-converted or otherwise. Others have come from African communities who have practiced Judaism for ages. In the eyes of Judaism, it is whether you are a Jew, and not your skin color, that matters. However, in Israel, there are groups calling themselves "Black Hebrews" that are African Americans, not Ethiopian Jews, who moved to Israel in late 60's-early-70's. There is a wide variety of "Black Hebrew" practices in Israel. Some are Torah Israelites, some ascribe to "the whole bible", and some claim they are Torah based. Some of the misunderstandings about the nature of these groups arises from the particularity of African-American religious sensibilities, which themselves arise out of fundamentally different experiences than those of any other American group. Thus, the categorical boundaries that apply to Euro-Americans (i.e., Christian or Jew, Muslim or Christian) cannot be so easily applied to the African-American religious traditions. This partially explains why these groups identify with ancient culture and not the religion of Judaism. Some groups called "Black Hebrew" Israel (but which are really not) practice a fundamentalist form of Christianity, but do not consider themselves Christians or Jews, but Hebrews, "true" decendants of the "Hebrew race". For example, they fast on Shabbat, and are strict vegetarians, to name a couple of examples. They have a large community in Dimona in the Negev, and they often hold jazz concerts throughout the country. They recently received permanent residency status, and official citizenship is soon to follow. Many African American Hebrews practice Kashruth, circumcise their male children, observe Shabbat, as well as many other customs. These customs were passed down from their grandparents, although they may not be understood as Jewish at the time. Some in this group grew up practicing all forms of Christianity, some have given such practices up completely, others have mixed Christian practices with Jewish custom. Such African American Hebrew Israelites identify with ancient culture and not the religion of Judaism * In the United States: Note that according to the Council of Jewish Federations, 2.2% of America's 5.5 million Jews identify themselves as black. There are many observant Black Jews living within American communities in all movements--including Orthodoxy. Many African-Americans were converted generations ago and their descendants deserve the same credibility given to any child born of a Jewish mother-converted or otherwise. In the eyes of Judaism, it is whether you are a Jew, and not your skin color, that matters. In the United States, some groups of Black Jews use the term "black hebrews". The name is an artifact of the times when white synagogues refused to accept them as Jews.
Subject: Question 13.8: What about the black jews in South Africa? Answer: This group lives in a region in the north of S.A. known as Venda. Apparently early Jewish traders in S.A. found that certain Africans in Venda practised kashrut and other Jewish practises, and historical records of the Boer republics mention black Jews. There are supposedly 300,000 such Jews in S.A.; they claim to be descendants of a group of Yemenite Jews who migrated south and intermarried with the locals. Supposedly, there are similar groups all along the east coast of Africa. Of particular interest are 40000 members of the black Lemba people. Like the Abayudaya, these people are keen to learn more about Jewish laws and practices. These claims of the Lemba are documented at [5] On the other hand, there is a book about this group (called the Lembe') called Voyage to the Invisible City. The author, Tudor Parfitt lives with them, studies them and sifts through the early records of the area, and concludes (over their objections of course) that their "jewish" traits come from Islam, not Judaism. They appear to him to be a mixture of locals, Hindus from India (they have lots of ancestor worship mixed in too) and Islam (they circumcise at 13 not in the first few weeks). He originally concluded that there is little likelihood that they have any real Jewish ancestry. Recently, Kohen Madol Haplotype testing has been performed among the Lemba; these tests have proven the Lemba to have the highest concentration of the gene marker than any known halakhic Jewish group. This is reported in an article titled "Decoding the Priesthood" by Peter Hirshberg and Jane Logan, in Jerusalem Report (May 10, 1999 issue). According to this article, the Lemba have the same proportion of the gene as "Western" Jews and a remarkably high frequency among their Buba clan, a senior clan parallel to our Cohens.
Subject: Question 13.9: Who Are The Jews of India, And What Are Their Origins? Answer: 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 practiced important elements of Judaism and had active synagogues. The Sephardic rites predominate among Indian Jews. One of the most important Jewish peoples of India are the Bene Israel ("Sons of Israel"), whose main population centers were Bombay, Calcutta, Old Delhi, and Ahmadabad. The native language of the Bene Israel was Marathi, while the Cochin Jews of southern India spoke Malayalam. The Bene Israel claim to be descended from Jews who escaped persecution in Galilee in the 2nd century BCE. The Bene Israel resemble the non-Jewish Maratha people in appearance and customs, which indicates intermarriage between Jews and Indians. However, the Bene Israel maintained the practices of Jewish dietary laws, circumcision, and observation of Sabbath as a day of rest. The Bene Israel say their ancestors were oil pressers in the Galil and they are descended from survivors of a shipwreck. In the 18th Century they were "discovered" by traders from Baghdad. At that time the Bnei Israel were practicing just a few outward forms of Judaism (which is how they were recognised) but had no scholars of their own. Teachers from Baghdad and Cochin taught them mainstream Judaism in the 18th and 19th centuries. Jewish merchants from Europe travelled to India in the medieval period for purposes of trade, but it is not clear whether they formed permanent settlements in south Asia. Our first reliable evidence of Jews living in India comes from the early 11th century. It is certain that the first Jewish settlements were centered along the western coast. Abraham ibn Daud's 12th century reference to Jews of India is unfortunately vague, and we do not have further references to Indian Jews until several centuries later. The first Jews in Cochin (southern India) were the so-called "Black Jews", who spoke the Malayalam tongue. The "Sephardic Jews" settled later, coming to India from western European nations such as Holland and Spain. A notable settlement of Spanish and Portuguese Jews 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. The Jews of Cochin say that they came to Cranganore (south-west coast of India) after the destruction of the Temple in 70ce. They had, in effect, their own principality for many centuries until a chieftanship dispute broke out between two brothers in the 15th century. The dispute led neighbouring princes to dispossess them. In 1524, the Moors, 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 which 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, and Parur. Today most of Cochin's Jews have emigrated (principally to Israel). 16th and 17th century migrations created important settlements of Jews from Persia, Afghanistan, and Khorasan (Central Asia) in northern India and Kashmir. By the late 18th century, Bombay became the largest Jewish community in India. In Bombay were Bene Israel Jews as well as Iraqi and Persian Jews. Near the end of the 18th century, a third group of Indian Jews appears. They are the middle-eastern Jews who came to India through trade. They established a trading network stretching from Aleppo to Baghdad to Basra to Surat/Bombay to Calcutta to Rangoon to Singapore to Hong Kong and eventually as fare as Kobe in Japan. There were strong family bonds amongst the traders in all these places. Typical is the founder of the Calcutta community, Shalom Aharon Ovadiah HaCohen. He was born in Aleppo in 1762 and left in 1789. He arrived in Surat in 1792 and established himself there. He traded as far as Zanzibar. In 1798 he moved to Calcutta. In 1805 he was joined by his nephew, Moses Simon Duek HaCohen, who married his eldest daughter Lunah. Soon the community was swelled by other traders and Baghdadis outnumbered those from Aleppo. Under British rule, the Jews of India achieved their maximum population and wealth, and the Calcutta community continued to grow and prosper and trade amongst all the cities of the far east and to the rest of the world. The Indians were very tolerant and the Jews of Calcutta felt completely at home. Their numbers reached a peak of about 5000 during WW-II when they were swelled by refugees fleeing the Japanese advance into Burma. The first generations of Calcutta Jews spoke Judeo-Arabic at home, but by the 1890s English was the language of choice. After WWII, nationalism fever caught the Indians rather strongly and it became less comfortable for the Jews who came to be identified with the English by the Indians. India's Jewish population declined dramatically starting in the 1940s with heavy immigration to Israel, England, and the United States. It is in these 3 nations where the most significant settlements of Indian Jews exist today. Today there is just a handful of old people and the once vital community with its 3 synagogues is no more. For more details, visit the [5]Jews of Chocin Website (<>). Lastly, note that there were a number of European Jews who lived, or settled in India. Some examples: Lady Mountbatten, and Haffkine, after whom the famous Haffkine Institute in Bombay (Mumbai) has been named. The mother of one of India's most glamorous film actresses, Zeenat Aman is said to be Jewish. Many Indian Jews have reached great prominence. For example, the Sassons after whom the Sasson docks, the Sasson hospital, and two of Mumbais well known sites- the Jacob Circle, and Flora Fountain have been named. In the past years, there has been a Jewish mayor of Bombay (Dr. E. Moses), and a Jewish Chief of the Navy. In the Indian Army, Jews have reached very high posts. A General Jacobs, now the Governor of Goa, supervised the surrender of the Pakistani Army in the Liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. Maj. Gen. Samson who was awarded the Padma Bhushan, and a few other Jews reached prominence in the Indian Army. Two of India's leading literary personalities, poet Nissim Ezeickel, and cartoonist Abu Abraham are Jewish. Also the late famous Hindi film actor David, and the late "Sulochana" the Queen of Indian Silent Films, and the actress/dancer Helen. A Dr. Erulkar was the personal physician/friend of Mahatma Gandhi. His father, also a Dr. Abraham Erulkar, donated land for the synagogue in Ahmedabad, Gujrat. Dr. Erulkar's daughter is currently the 1st lady of Cyprus, married to the President of Cyprus. Another prominent Indian Jew is Dr. Jerusha Jhirad, who was given the title of Padma Shri by the Government of India. A good book on this subject is Nathan Katz's Who Are the Jews of India?. University of California Press, November 2000. Hardcover. ISBN: 0-520213-23-8 [6][Buy at Amazon:]
Subject: Question 13.10: Are Jews a Nation or a Religion? Answer: Judaism can be thought of as being simultaneously a religion, a nationality and a culture. Throughout the middle ages and into the 20th century, most of the European world agreed that Jews constituted a distinct nation. This concept of nation does not require that a nation have either a territory nor a government, but rather, it identifies, as a nation any distinct group of people with a common language and culture. Only in the 19th century did it become common to assume that each nation should have its own distinct government; this is the political philosophy of nationalism. In fact, Jews had a remarkable degree of self-government until the 19th century. So long as Jews lived in their ghettos, they were allowed to collect their own taxes, run their own courts, and otherwise behave as citizens of a landless and distinctly second-class Jewish nation. Of course, Judaism is a religion, and it is this religion that forms the central element of the Jewish culture that binds Jews together as a nation. It is the religion that defines foods as being kosher and non-kosher, and this underlies Jewish cuisine. It is the religion that sets the calendar of Jewish feast and fast days, and it is the religion that has preserved the Hebrew language. If Judaism an ethnicity? In short, not any more. Although Judaism arose out of a single ethnicity in the Middle East, there have always been conversions into and out of the religion. Thus, there are those who may have been ethnically part of the original group who are no longer part of Judaism, and those of other ethnic groups who have converted into Judaism. If you are referring to a nation in the sense of race, Judaism is not a nation. People are free to convert into Judaism; once converted, they are considered the same as if they were born Jewish. This is not true for a race.
Subject: Question 13.11: Who are the Edot Mizraxi? Answer: There were two communities in countries like Syria, Iraq, and Iran. The first are communities that were there since the fall of the Temple. In the case of Iraq's Babylonian Jewery, since the fall of the First Temple. These are the people who maintained the institutions that gave us the Talmud. For example, the acadamy of Sura, in which half the debates of the Talmud occured (along with Pupedisa/Naharda'ah, the other half) was founded in the Hasmonian period and was closed in 1958 CE! The other community are the exiles from Spain in 1492, who were largely absorbed into the older communities. Technically, Edot haMizrach refer to the former, Sepharadi -- the latter. Of course, the communities pretty well blended. Still, we see customs particular to these communities that originated in the local traditions rather than the Spanish ones. Including pronunciation, diferences in prayer texts, etc... There are far more than one or two differences in pronunciation, cantillation and services. The Ben Ish Hai, and later R' Ovadia Yosef, has done much to unify Sefaradi and Edot haMizrach practice to some fusion of Sepharadi and Iraqi traditions.
Subject: Question 13.12: What About Yeminite Jews? Answer: Yemenite Jewery didn't have the same level of communiation or mixing with the other communities. Until the 19th and early 20th century, they had a pretty uniform, Rambam-based custom. Trade with Syria brought with it the Kabbalistic ideas from Sefad, causing a battle much like the one seen in Ashkenaz when Chassidus started. When they came to Israel they were in two basic camps (with different flavors based on city of origin): Baladi (national) custom and Shaami (Syrian; i.e. the kabbalistically influenced import from Sepharad, Safed, and Syria).
Subject: Question 13.13: Who was Donna Gracia? Answer: Donna Gracia Mendes Nassi (1510-1569) was a Portuguese aristocrat of the 15th century, who lost nearly all her relatives to the Spanish Inquisition. They were burned at the stake simply for being Jews. As a result, Gracia left Portugul and wandered through Europe with her daughter and nephew. While seeking a refuge where they could freely be Jews, Gracia managed her family's banking interest and became adept at navigating the twin worlds of finance and politics. Eventually Gracia's family landed in Constantinople, the capital of the Turkish Empire. There they were embraced by the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who allowed them to maintain their Jewish traditions. As their position at court became known, Jews throughout the land flocked to the family in times of need. One of the people she supported was Samuel Medina (The Maharashdam) and his yeshiva in Greece. Gracia was born a converso but at home continued to adhere to her Jewish heritage. After leaving Portugal with her entire entourage, she went to London and later moved to Antverp where she continued to live as a Catholic but kept a Jewish home. As the Kings needed her for their financial interests she was left alone, but eventually she also had to leave after quite a number of years and travelled via Italy to Istanbul. During this trip, she decided to return openly to Judaism. She began to study the Torah and the Talmud with a Rabbi. When she eventually arrived in Istanbul after travelling throught the Balkans she was not accepted by the Jewish community there as she was considered still a converso. At a later stage she travelled to Palestine studying in Safed and Tiberias where she had also synagogues built which still exist in her name. She spent some time studying Talmud in Safed. She valued Jewish education, financed it, and saved many Jewish refugees from persecution in Portugal and Spain.
Subject: How do I obtain copies of the FAQ? Answer: There are a number of different ways to obtain copies of the FAQ: * WWW. If you are reading this on Usenet, and would like to see an online, hyperlinked version, go visit [2] This is the "web" version of the FAQ; the version posted to Usenet is generated from the web version. Note that the version is a copy of the actual master version; if you want to access the master, visit [3] * Email. also provides an autoretriever that allows one to obtain a copy of the FAQ by return Email. To use the autoretriever, you send a retrieval request to [4] with the request in the body of the message. A more reliable way to retrieve these files is through the [5]FAQ autoretriever ([6] For the FAQ, the request has the form: send faq partname For the reading list, the request has the form: send rl partname "Partname" is replaced by the name of the part, as shown in the general index. The following is a short summary of the mapping to partnames for the FAQ: + [7]01-FAQ-intro: Section [8]1: Network and Newsgroup Information. + [9]02-Who-We-Are: Section [10]2: Who We Are + [11]03-Torah-Halacha: Sections [12]3, [13]4: Torah; Halachic Authority + [14]04-Observance: Sections [15]5, [16]6, [17]7, [18]8: Jewish Holidays; Jewish Dietary Law and Kashrut; Sabbath and Holiday Observance; Woman and Marriage + [19]05-Worship: Sections [20]9, [21]10, [22]11: Jewish Worship; Conversion, Intermarriage, and "Who is a Jew?"; Miscellaneous Practice Questions + [23]06-Jewish-Thought: Section [24]12: Jewish Thought + [25]07-Jews-As-Nation: Section [26]13: Jews as a Nation + [27]08-Israel: Section [28]14: Jews and Israel + [29]09-Antisemitism: Sections [30]15, [31]16, [32]17: Churban Europa (The Holocaust); Antisemitism and Rumors about Jews; Countering Missionaries + [33]10-Reform: Section [34]18: Reform/Progressive Judaism + [35]11-Miscellaneous: Sections [36]19, [37]20: Miscellaneous; References and Getting Connected + [38]12-Kids: Section [39]21: Jewish Childrearing Related Questions + [40]mail-order: Mail Order Judaica The following is a short summary of the mapping of partnames for the Reading Lists: + [41]general: Introduction and General. Includes book sources, starting points for beginners, starting points for non-Jewish readers, General Judaism, General Jewish Thought, General Jewish History, Contemporary Judaism, Noachide Laws, Torah and Torah Commentary, Talmud and Talmudic Commentary, Mishnah, Midrash, Halachic Codes, Becoming An Observant Jew, Women and Judaism, and Science and Judaism. + [42]traditional: Traditional Liturgy, Practice, Lifestyle, Holidays. Includes Traditional Liturgy; Traditional Philosophy and Ethics; Prayer; Traditional Practice; The Household; Life, Death, and In-Between; and The Cycle Of Holidays. + [43]mysticism: Kabbalah, Mysticism, and Messianism. Includes Academic and Religious treatments of Kabbalah, Sprituality, and the Jewish notion of the Messiah. + [44]reform: Reform/Progressive Judaism + [45]conservative: Conservative Judaism + [46]reconstructionist: Reconstructionist Judaism + [47]humanistic: Humanistic Judaism (Society for Humanistic Judaism) + [48]chasidism: Chassidism. Includes general information on historical chassidism, as well as specific information on Lubavitch (Chabad), Satmar, Breslaw (Breslov), and other approaches. + [49]zionism: Zionism. Includes Zionism and The Development Of Israel, The Founders, Zionistic Movements, and Judaism in Israel. + [50]antisemitism: Antisemitism. Includes sections on Antisemitism, What Led to The Holocaust, Medieval Oppression, Antisemitism Today (Including Dealing with Hate Groups), Judaism and Christianity, and Judaism, Freemasonry and other rumors. + [51]intermarriage: Intermarriage. Includes sections on "So You're Considering Intermarriage?", The Traditional Viewpoint, Conversion, and Coping With Life As An Intermarried. + [52]childrens: Books for Jewish Children. Includes sections on Birth and Naming, Raising a Child, Family Guidebooks, Upsheren, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Confirmation, Holiday Books for Children, Liturgy for Children, Bible and Torah for Children, Jewish History for Children, Jewish Theology for Children, Israel, Learning Hebrew, and Jewish Stories. Alternatively, you may send a message to [53] with the following line in the body of the message: send usenet/news.answers/judaism/(portionname) Where (portionname) is replaced by the appropriate subdirectory and filenames; for example, to get the first part of the reading list, one would say: send usenet/news.answers/judaism/reading-lists/general * Anonymous FTP: All portions of the FAQ and of the reading lists are archived on [54] and are available for anonymous FTP from the pub/usenet/news.answers/judaism/FAQ directory (URL [55] Similarly, the parts of the reading lists are stored in the pub/usenet/news.answers/judaism/reading-lists directory (URL: [56] ts). Note that the archived versions of the FAQ and reading lists are the posted versions; that is, they are each one large ASCII file.
Subject: Who Wrote the FAQ? Answer: The original version of the Frequently Asked Questions was developed by a committee consisting of Mike Allen, Jerry Altzman, Rabbi Charles Arian, Jacob Baltuch (Past Chair), Joseph Berry, Warren Burstein, Stewart Clamen, Daniel Faigin, Avi Feldblum, Rabbi Yaakov Feldman, Itzhak "Jeff" Finger, Gedaliah Friedenberg, Yechezkal Gutfreund, Art Kamlet, Joe Kansun, CAPT Kaye David, Alan Lustiger, Hillel Markowitz, Len Moskowitz, Colin Naturman, Aliza Panitz, Eliot Shimoff, Mark Steinberger, Steven Weintraub, Matthew Wiener, and headed by Robert Levene. The organization and structuring of the lists for posting purposes was done by [2]Daniel Faigin, who is currently maintaining the lists. Other contributors include Aaron Biterman, A. Engler Anderson, Ken Arromdee, Seymour Axelrod, Jonathan Baker, Josh Backon, Micha Berger, Steven M. Bergson, Eli Birnbaum, Shoshana L. Boublil, Kevin Brook, J. Burton, Harvey Cohen, Todd J.Dicker, Michael Dinowitz, Rabbi Jim Egolf, Sean Engelson, Mike Fessler, Menachem Glickman, Amitai Halevi, Walter Hellman, Per Hollander, Miriam Jerris, Robert D. Kaiser, Yosef Kazen, Rabbi Jay Lapidus, Mier Lehrer, Heather Luntz, David Maddison, Arnaldo Mandel, Ilana Manspeizer, Seth Ness, Chris Newport, Daniel Nomy, Jennifer Paquette, Andrew Poe, Alan Pfeffer, Jason Pyeron, Adam Reed, Seth Rosenthall,, David Sheen, Rabbi John Sherwood, Michael Sidlofsky, Michael Slifkin, Frank Smith, Michael Snider, Rabbi Arnold Steibel, Andy Tannenbaum,, Meredith Warshaw, Bill Wadlinger, Arel Weisberg, Dorothy Werner, and Art Werschulz, and the soc.culture.jewish.parenting board. Some material has been derived from other sources on the Internet, such as [3], [4], and [5] Comments and corrections are welcome; please address them to [6] A special thank you... Special thanks for her patience and understanding go to my wife, Karen, who put up with me hiding at the computer for the two months it took to complete the July/August 2000 remodel of the entire soc.culture.jewish FAQ and Reading Lists. If you think the effort was worth it, drop her a note c/o [7] ------------------------------------------------------------ -- Please mail additions or corrections to me at End of SCJ FAQ Part 7 (Jewish as a Nation) Digest ************************** -------

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