KASHMIR, region in S. central Asia. The association of Kashmir with Jews was first alluded to by the 11th-century Muslim
scholar Al-Bīrūnī in his "India-Book": "In former times the inhabitants of Kashmir used to allow one or two foreigners to enter their country, particularly Jews, but at present they do not allow any Hindus whom they do not know personally to enter, much less other people." In the time of the Moghul emperor Akbar (1556–1605), the question of the association of Jews with Kashmir and the Jewish descent of the Kashmiris was raised by the Jesuit Monserrate, who regarded the old inhabitants of this region as Jews by race and custom in view of their appearance, physique, style of dress, and manner of conducting trade. As early as the 17th century François Bernier, the scholar and traveler, who was in India from 1656 to 1668, was asked by Melchissedec Thevenot (1620–1692), a traveler and publisher, to discover if Jews had long been resident in Kashmir. Bernier reported that Jews had once lived here, but that they had converted to Islam. Nonetheless, as he put it:
There are many signs of Judaism to be found in this country. On entering the kingdom after crossing the Pire-penjale mountains the inhabitants in the frontier villages struck me as resembling Jews. Their countenance and manner and that indescribable peculiarity which enables a traveler to distinguish the inhabitants of different nations all seemed to belong to that ancient people. You are not to ascribe what I say to mere fancy, the Jewish appearance of these villagers having been remarked by our Jesuit Fathers, and by several other Europeans, long before I visited Kashmir. A second sign is the prevalence of the name of Mousa, which means Moses, among the inhabitants of this city, notwithstanding they are Mahometans. A third is the tradition that Solomon visited this country and that it was he who opened a passage for the waters by cutting the mountain of Baramoulé. A fourth, the belief that Moses died in the city of Kashmir, and that his tomb is within a league of it. And a fifth may be found in the generally received opinion that the small and extremely ancient edifice seen on one of the high hills was built by Solomon; and it is therefore called the throne of Solomon to this day.
The claim to be of Israelite extraction is still widespread among Kashmiris, who point to the similarity of place names which appear to reflect biblical names like Mamre, Pisgah, and Mt. Nevo. The Internet is not deficient in web pages which purport to show historical connections between India and the Jews, India and Jesus (who is said to have gone there), the identical nature of Hebrew and Sanskrit, and so forth.
F. Bernier, Travels in the Moghul Empire, 1656–58, ed. by A. Constable (1891). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: T. Parfitt, The Lost Tribes of Israel: The History of a Myth (2002).
[Walter Joseph Fischel / Tudor Parfitt (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.