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Encyclopedia Judaica Mumbai

Mumbai (formerly Bombay), capital of Maharashtra and the proverbial "gateway to India." Bombay enters Jewish history after the cession of the city to the Portuguese in the middle of the 16th century. Then a small fishing island of no great economic significance, Bombay was leased out around 1554–55 to the celebrated *Marrano scientist and physician Garcia da *Orta , in recognition of his services to the viceroy. Garcia repeatedly refers in his Coloquios (Goa, 1563) to "the land and island which the king our lord made me a grant of, paying a quit-rent." After the transference of Bombay to English rule the Jew Abraham Navarro expected to receive a high office in the Bombay council of the East India Company in recognition of his services. This was, however, denied to him because he was a Jew. In 1697 Benjamin Franks jumped Captain Kidd's "Adventure Galley" in Bombay as a protest against Kidd's acts of piracy; his deposition led to Kidd's trial in London.

The foundation of a permanent Jewish settlement in Bombay was laid in the second half of the 18th century by the Bene Israel who gradually moved from their villages in the Konkan region to Bombay. Their first synagogue in Bombay was built (1796) on the initiative of S.E. Divekar. Cochin Jews strengthened the Bene Israel in their religious revival. The next largest wave of immigrants to Bombay consisted of Jewish merchants from Syria and Mesopotamia. Prominent was Suleiman ibn Ya?qub or Solomon Jacob whose commercial activities from 1795 to 1833 are documented in the Bombay records. The Arabic-speaking Jewish colony in Bombay was increased by the influx of other "Arabian Jews" from Surat, who, in consequence of economic changes there, turned their eyes to India.

A turning point in the history of the Jewish settlement in Bombay was reached with the arrival in 1833 of the Baghdad Jewish merchant, industrialist, and philanthropist, David Sassoon (1792–1864) who soon became a leading figure of the Jewish community. He and his house had a profound impact on Bombay as a whole as well as on all sectors of the Jewish community. Many of the educational, cultural, and civic institutions, as well as hospitals and synagogues in Bombay owe their existence to the munificence of the Sassoon family.

Unlike the Bene Israel, the Arabic-speaking Jews in Bombay did not assimilate the language of their neighbors, Marathi, but carried their Judeo-Arabic language and literature with them and continued to regard Baghdad as their spiritual center. They therefore established their own synagogues, the Magen David in 1861 in Byculla, and the Kneseth Elijah in 1888 in the Fort quarter of Bombay. A weekly Judeo-Arabic periodical, Doresh Tov le-Ammo, which mirrored communal life, appeared from 1855 to 1866. Hebrew printing began in Bombay with the arrival of Yemenite Jews in the middle of the 19th century. They took an interest in the religious welfare of the Bene Israel, for whom – as well as for themselves – they printed various liturgies from 1841 onward, some with translations into Marathi, the vernacular of the Bene Israel. Apart from a short-lived attempt to print with movable type, all this printing was by lithography. In 1882, the Press of the Bombay Educational Society was established (followed in 1884 by the Anglo-Jewish and Vernacular Press, in 1887 by the Hebrew and English Press, and in 1900 by the Lebanon Printing Press), which sponsored the publication of over 100 Judeo-Arabic books to meet their liturgical and literary needs, and also printed books for the Bene Israel. There were also a number of Bene-Israel journals published in Bombay (Bene Israelite, Friend of Israel, Israelite, The Lamp of Judaism, Satya Prakash).

The prosperity of Bombay attracted a new wave of Jewish immigrants from Cochin, Yemen, Afghanistan, Bukhara, and Persia. Among Persian Jews who settled in Bombay, the most prominent and remarkable figure was Mulla Ibrahim Nathan (d. 1868) who, with his brother Musa, both of Meshed , were rewarded by the government for their services during the first Afghan War. The political events in Europe and the advent of Nazism brought a number of German, Polish, Romanian, and other European Jews to Bombay, many of whom were active as scientists, physicians, industrialists, and merchants. Communal life in Bombay was stimulated by visits of Zionist emissaries.

[Walter Joseph Fischel]

Contemporary Period

After the establishment of the State of Israel and India's Independence the Jewish community of Bombay started diminishing due to emigration. In the early 21st century the Jewish population of Bombay (Mumbai) was estimated to be about 2,700. The city remains the last major center of organized Jewish life in India. There are eight synagogues in Mumbai – six belong to the Bene Israel community and two to Baghdadi Jews. Mumbai is also a home to the Indian branches of ORT (Organization for Technological Training) and AJDC ( *American Joint Distribution Committee ).


[Paul Gottlieb / Yulia Egorova (2nd ed.) BIBLIOGRAPHY: Fischel, in PAAJR, 25 (1956), 39–62; 26 (1957), 25–39; idem, in: HUCA, 29 (1958), 331–75; S. Jackson, The Sassoons (1968), index; C. Roth, The Sassoon Dynasty (1941), index; D.S. Sassoon, History of the Jews in Baghdad (1949), index; idem, Massa Bavel, ed. by M. Benayahu (1955), index; Soares, in: Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Bombay Branch, 26 (1921), 195–229; A. Yaari, Ha-Defus ha-Ivri be-Are?ot ha-Mizra?, 2 (1940), 52–82. CONTEMPORARY: S. Strizower, Exotic Jewish Communities (1962), 48–87; World Jewish Congress, Jewish Communities of the World (1963), 40–41; S. Federbush (ed.), World Jewry Today (1959), 339–40. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Roland, The Jewish Communities of India (1998).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.