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|Regions with significant populations|
| Israel 8,000 (estimated)|
|Related ethnic groups|
Cochin Jews, also called Malabar Jews (Malabar Yehudan) and Yuda Mappila, are the oldest group of Jews in India, with roots claimed to date to the time of King Solomon (circa 950 BCE), though historically attested migration dates from the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Historically, they lived in the Kingdom of Cochin in South India, now part of the state of Kerala. Several rounds of immigration of the Jewish diaspora into Kerala led to an ethnic, but not a linguistic, diversity: the community was divided into White Jews (Paradesi Jews) and Black Jews (Malabari), both of which spoke Judeo-Malayalam, a dialect of Malayalam. The vast majority of Cochin Jews assimilated into the Syrian Malabar Nasrani community while the rest emigrated to Israel after its formation, the number remaining in Kerala itself is minuscule, and the community faces extinction there.
P. M. Jussay wrote that it was believed that the earliest Jews in India were sailors from King Solomon's time. It has been claimed that following the destruction of the First Temple in the Siege of Jerusalem of 587 BC, some Jewish exiles came to India. But it was after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE that the first wave of large numbers of settlers came to Cranganore, an ancient port near Cochin. Cranganore, now transliterated as Kodungallur, but also known under other names, is a city of legendary importance to this community. Fernandes goes so far as to call it "a substitute Jerusalem in India" and Katz and Goldberg note the "symbolic intertwining" of the two cities.
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Central to the history of the Cochin Jews is their close relationship with Indian rulers, and this was eventually codified on a set of copper plates granting the community special privileges. The date of these plates, known as "Sâsanam", is contentious. The plates themselves provide a date of 379 CE, but in 1925 tradition was setting it as 1069 CE, Whatever the date, the Jewish leader Joseph Rabban was granted the rank of prince over the Jews of Cochin, given the rulership and tax revenue of a pocket principality in Anjuvannam, near Cranganore, and rights to seventy-two "free houses". The Hindu king gave permission in perpetuity (or, in the more poetic expression of those days, "as long as the world and moon exist") for Jews to live freely, build synagogues, and own property "without conditions attached". A link back to Rabban, "the king of Shingly" (another name for Cranganore), was a sign of both purity and prestige. Rabban's descendants maintained this distinct community until a chieftainship dispute broke out between two brothers, one of them named Joseph Azar, in the sixteenth century.
In 1341 a disastrous flood silted up the port of Cranganore, and trade shifted to a smaller port at Cochin (Kochi). Many of the Jews moved quickly, and within four years the first synagogue had been completed. The Portuguese Empire established a trading beachhead in 1500, and until 1663 remained the dominant power. They were not kind to the Jews.
The Paradesi Jews, also called "White Jews", settled in the region at about this time. In the sixteenth century, Sephardi Jews faced religious persecution under the Inquisition, and, along with the Islamic Moors, were exiled from the Iberian peninsula, where they had thrived for centuries. Some fled north to Holland and England but the majority fled east to the Ottoman Empire and beyond, with some following the Arab spice routes to southern India. They brought with them the Ladino language and their Sephardic customs. They found the Black Malabari Jewish community quite different, and tensions between the two communities existed from early on, according to Mandelbaum The European Jews had good trade links with their countries of origin, and useful languages to conduct international trade, which helped their position both financially and politically.
In 1524, the Muslims, backed by the ruler of Calicut (today called Kozhikode and not to be confused with Calcutta), attacked these wealthy Jews of Cranganore on the pretext that they had an advantage with the pepper trade. The Jews fled south to the Kingdom of Cochin, seeking the protection of the Cochin Royal Family (Perumpadapu Swaroopam). The Hindu Raja of Cochin, Bhaskara Ravi Varman II (979–1021) gave them asylum. Moreover, he exempted Jews from taxation but bestowed on them all privileges enjoyed by the tax-payers.
Shortly thereafter, the Portuguese occupied the Kingdom of Cochin and suppressed the Jews until the Dutch displaced them in 1660. The new Protestant rulers were more tolerant of the Jews than the Catholics had been. (See the Goa Inquisition for the situation in nearby Goa.)
The Malabari Jews (also referred as Black, even though their skin colour was brown) had seven places of worship; the Paradesi Jews (also called White Jews) had only one, the Paradesi Synagogue. For centuries the Cochin Jews were divided by the colour line with the Malabari Jews in the majority. Both communities claimed special privileges and greater status over each other, and were endogamous.The Paradesi Jews didn't allow the Malabari Jews equal access to the Paradesi Synagogue, which is the oldest synagogue in Cochin. The Malabari Jews worshipped in their synagogues, some of which are centuries old as well, the oldest being built in 1625.
The few score meshuchrarim (former slaves) belonging to the White Jewish community were discriminated against by other White Jews, being relegated to a subordinate position in the synagogue and community. These Jews would form a third sub-group within Cochin Jewry. In the early twentieth century there arose a "Jewish Gandhi", a young lawyer named Abraham Barak Salem (1882–1967), who devoted his life to ending discrimination against meshuchrarim jews and other divisions among the Cochin Jews. He was both an Indian nationalist and Zionist. His family were meshuchrarim, a Hebrew word used, sometimes neutrally and sometimes with derogatory intent, to denote a manumitted slave.
The stratification in the Jewish community prevented the meshuchrarim from marrying other White Jews and forced them to sit in the back of the synagogue in a manner resembling the discrimination against converts from lower castes sometimes found in Christian churches in India. Salem fought against this by boycotting the synagogue for a time and utilised satyagraha as a means of combating discrimination within the community. Salem's efforts were successful, and by the mid-1930s, Mandelbaum reported that many of the old taboos had fallen.
Today most of Cochin's Jews have emigrated. Most of them went to Israel (made aliyah), where large groups went to the moshavim (agricultural settlements) of Nevatim, Shahar, Yuval, and Mesilat Zion. Others settled in the neighborhood of Katamon in Jerusalem, in Beersheba, Dimona and Yeruham.
Part of the decline in Kerala's Jewish population is due to the fact that large numbers assimilated into the Syrian Malabar Nasrani community who is also referred to as the cousins of the Kerala Jews. (Nasranis number around 6 million.)  Largely, however, it appears to be due to internal schism between White and Black Jews.
The 12th century Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela wrote about the Malabari coast of Kerala: "The inhabitants are all black, and the Jews also. The latter are good and benevolent. They know the law of Moses and the prophets, and to a small extent the Talmud and Halacha." Maimonides (1135–1204), the preeminent Jewish philosopher of his day, wrote, "Only lately some well-to-do men came forward and purchased three copies of my code [the Mishneh Torah] which they distributed through messengers.... Thus the horizon of these Jews was widened and the religious life in all communities as far as India revived." (The Baghdadi Jews came to India in the 18th century, and it was only then that the Bene Israel Jews of India were "discovered" and taught mainstream Judaism by the Cochinis and Baghdadis, so Maimonides must be referring to the Cochini Jews.)
Further support for the Mishneh Torah circulating in India comes in the form of a letter sent from Safed, Israel to Italy in 1535. In it David del Rossi claimed that a Jewish merchant from Tripoli had told him the India town of Shingly (Cranganore) had a large Jewish population who dabbled in yearly pepper trade with the Portuguese. As far as their religious life, he wrote they: "only recognize the Code of Maimonides and possessed no other authority or Traditional law." According to Katz, Rabbi Nissim of Gerona (the Ran) visited the Cochini Jews, and they preserve in their song books the poem he wrote about them. In the Kadavumbagham synagogue, there was a yeshiva (school) for both "children's education and adult study of Torah and Mishnah."
The early twentieth century Jewish Encyclopedia states, "Though they neither eat nor drink together, nor intermarry, the Black and the White Jews of Cochin have almost the same social and religious customs. They hold the same doctrines, use the same ritual (Sephardic), observe the same feasts and fasts, dress alike, and have adopted the same language Malayalam. ... The two classes are equally strict in religious observances," and prominently featured is a black Cochin Jew with his entire head shaved, save for his very prominent payot. According to Chemana, the Jews of Cochin "coalesced around the religious fundamentals: devotion and strict obedience to Biblical Judaism and to the Jewish customs and traditions ... Hebrew, taught through the Torah texts by rabbis and teachers who came especially from Yemen...".
It is notable that the Jews of Cochin did not adhere to the Talmudic prohibition against public singing by women (kol isha), and therefore have always had a rich tradition of Jewish prayers and narrative songs performed by women in Judeo-Malayalam. (However, this Talmudic prohibition is not absolute; there are in fact traditional Orthodox interpretations that sanction certain kinds of singing performances by women before men, and other historical Jewish communities besides the Cochini one relied on this lenient interpretation.)
Although Jewish law only proscribes a waiting period of a few hours between meat and milk, Benedicta Pereira, a Paradesi Jew, writes, "Mostly the older people prohibited the use of milk and meat the same day in the house[;] and to scare the young Jew's[,] [sic] so as not to be inspired by the culture[,] there were stories of bad Omens for those who dare[d] to think even of milk and meat together."
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