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Calcutta (present day Kolkata)

(618 words)

Author(s): Shalva Weil
Shalome Cohen, a merchant from Aleppo, Syria, reputedly established the Jewish community in Calcutta in 1798. His diary, along with Moses Dwek's diary (preserved in the Sassoon Library) with entries from 1806 to 1861, provides source material on the early years of the community. In 1832, after the pogroms in Iraq under the Mamluk governor Daʾud Pasha (1817-1831), the wealthy businessman David Sassoon (see Sassoon Family) fled Baghdad for India and the Far East in order to pursue his commercial interests. Thousands of Baghdadis followed him to India, where they lived peacefully…

Bombay (present day Mumbai)

(697 words)

Author(s): Shalva Weil
There were two separate Jewish communities in Bombay: the Bene Israel (Children of Israel), and the Baghdadis. The Bene Israel claim that their ancestors were shipwrecked off the Konkan coast, south of Bombay, around 175 B.C.E. In the eighteenth century, the British enlisted them as soldiers and offered them employment beyond the confines of the Konkan villages. The first Bene Israel family moved to Bombay in 1749. By 1796, when Subedar Samaji Hasaji Divekar founded the Gate of Mercy Synagogue, there was more than a quorum of Bene Israel in the city. In 1843, the New Sy…


(1,752 words)

Author(s): Shalva Weil
The vast majority of India's 1.1 billion population are Hindus; 13.4 percent are Muslims, 80 percent of whom are Sunni Muslims; 2.5 percent are Christian; and fewer than 0.0004 percent are Jews. The majority of the 4,500 Jews live in Greater Mumbai (formerly Bombay), including Konkan (3,600), Pune (300), Ahmedabad (350), New Delhi (50), Calcutta (150), and Cochin (50). Even in its heyday before 1950, Indian Jewry only numbered 28,000 souls. They neither suffered from antisemitism at the hands of their fellow countrymen, nor experienced ethnic tensions with Indian Muslims.Contacts be…


(407 words)

Author(s): Shalva Weil
In the first half of the twentieth century, approximately a thousand Jews lived in pre-state Pakistan’s major urban centers: Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, and Lahore. The majority were members of the Bene Israel community of Maharashtra who had come to Pakistan with the British as railroad workers or as soldiers. They spoke Marathi, Urdu, and English; prayers were conducted in Hebrew. The rest were Jewish traders of Middle Eastern, Iranian, or Afghan origin.The Magen Shalom synagogue in Karachi was inaugurated in 1893, and in 1916 a Hebrew school was opened on its premise…