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« What would you buy with the Iraq War? (Joe) | Main | A Sin Against the Lord »

November 18, 2008


The Jews have always fascinated me...a) for the kind of suffering they have undergone and yet clung on to their religion b) for their will power and ingenuity.

Thanks for this Post...I do want to visit South India and now I will put this place down as a must visit.

Is this same kind of 'caste system' evident in other Jewish diaspora, I wonder? It seems rather unsurprising that the concept of the 'otherness' of groups based on skin color made its way into the Jews of Cochin, but the strange thing is that this tendency to designate as different based on traditions/color/language/etc. is not confined solely to the Jews in India. If I may relate an anecdote, a good friend of mine who is of Hungarian extraction and Jewish faith, sniffed audibly when we were discussing the selection of Rahm Emmanuel to the CoS post "Those Israelis can't be trusted", she averred.

enjoyed reading this. born & brought up in Kochi, i felt good reading good things about the place.
it's starnge how little we know of jews and their lives, despite the fact that we had jewish classmates and friends. Friendly people, but kept pretty much to themselves, particularly the women.
yes. there are twwo types. there were generally known as black jews and white jews. And sujatha, it's more a racial than a caste issue. but these groups generally had cordial relations with each other.
Ruchira, i wonder if you know/noticed thatthe blue chinese tiles in the synogoue dont have a uniform design. each tile has some diffierence from the next- -deliberately done that way.
the posts reminds me that a visit to mattancherry jew street is due.


An interesting post. My parents also described their visit to Cochin as historically interesting but somewhat anticlimatic. Though Jewish, there were other places in Southern India in which they seemed more interested.


The Jewish diaspora is too complicated for a unitary caste system. I have visited and have distant cousins in Israel, but don't know it well first hand. My understanding from reading and from the accounts of friends there is that racism by lighter skinned Ashkenazim toward darker Mizrahim, Sephardim, etc. is an ongoing problem, creating barriers that act synergisticaly with other cultural, economic, and social barriers between the different groups.

Through the Second World War, among Ashkenazim, the wealthier (and sometimes, though not always, lighter) and more assimilated German, Austrian, and Hungarian Jews looked down on the Jews, like my ancestors and the ancestors of the vast majority of American Jews, who came from the Pale of Settlement (Russia/Poland) farther to the South and East. Within the South and East, the Litvaks to the North considered the Galizianers to the South jolly, ignorant rubes, while the Galizianers considered the Litvaks dour snobs. Several generations of assimilation on one continent, and a holocaust on the other, have largely erased the distinctions and enmity among European Jews, though as my uncle (poor Russian/Polish Jewish background) and aunt (wealthy French and German Jewish) like to joke, my aunt's mother considered her marriage a confusing intermarriage, to which she nonetheless resigned herself.

Unlike in Israel, where about half the population are Jews from places other than Europe, until the 1970s, when Iranian Jews arrived in large numbers, fleeing the revolution, and then the 1980s, when Uzbekhi and other Jews from the former Soviet Union arrived, there just weren't many non-European Jews in America. Now, in places like Long Island, NY, and Los Angeles, CA, where there are large Jewish populations, there are quite a few. They largely have their own synagogues, for liturgical as well as social reasons, though I think that's more a function of immigrant culture than anything else. I wouldn't say there's a caste heirarchy, just the usual campanilismo, where the older European Jews, the Iranian Jews, etc. all think we're the "real" Jews. Recently, I visited with a friend at the home of her grandparents, Baghdadi Jews from Delhi who now live in Los Angeles, where they belong to a synagogue wholely comprised of Baghdadi Jews from Delhi. My friend and I joked afterward about her mother's careful introduction of me to grandma as "Anna LEVINE."

"As if my grandmother cares," my friend laughed. "She considers Ashkenazim just as barbaric as non-Jews." To my mind, this translates as: Baghdadi Jews from Delhi are like the Hungarian Jews of Asia.

No one trusts the Israelis, but it has nothing to do with a caste system or race or ethnicity. As someone who spent a year as a paralegal in the NY DA's office working on numerous fraud prosecutions against Israeli moving companies, I'd say it's just a sentiment that it's a sort of Wild West, violent and law-avoidant culture. When I lived in Italy, I didn't trust Italians either, notwithstanding my deep affection for the country, its culture and people.


Where else did your parents travel in south India? Do you know?

When do you plan to visit India?


Thanks for the fascinating account of the internal divisions among various Jewish groups- too often we tend to think of them as a completely homogenous population characterized primarily by the faith, and not understanding the myriad details of the regional and racial divisions.
It reminds me quite a bit of the kinds of divisions that we have in my own 'subcaste'- which naturally, pegs itself as superior to other similar groups in that we have special ceremonies and a lower degree of consanguinity by the requirement that each marriage in the group be only between parties of different 'gotras' or lineages. Then there's the regional stereotype, as in those from Tirunelveli are known to be seriously venal and calculating, those from Tanjavur are too snobbish and so on and so forth.
When will humans ever get over this silly categorizing and dividing?

'When will humans ever get over this silly categorizing and dividing?'
give the world another hundred years.2000 was so different from 1900. incredible cahnges took place within this century- -changes that have outstripped all the changes in the past 15000 ot more years? with science and technology recasting the very foundations of the present world order, i feel these differences cannot survive. not in a global village with ever inproving communication and transportation, and the media reach plus the market driven economy.
the present aggressive assertions of group identities can be called the last convulsions of a dying order.
the acceptance of OBama by a predominantly white nation is a sure sign in this direction.

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