The settlement of Jews in Burma consists for the most part of descendants of immigrants hailing from Iraq, the bulk of whom arrived during the period from the sixties of the last century up to the outbreak of the world war.
It is authoritatively stated that a few Jews were favorites of the Burmese Court of King Thebaw. Owing to unsettled conditions subsequent to the war, this immigration has entirely ceased.
A conservative estimate gives the total number of Jews in Burma at approximately 1,500 persons. In addition there are about 15 to 20 dark Jews from Cochin and an equal number of members of the Bene Israel Community, both of whom, however, keep themselves aloof from their brethren in faith.
The largest part of the community is Sephardic, although there are some Ashkenazic Jews from England in the liberal professions, who also are not in touch with their Oriental co-religionists.
Burma Jews tend to concentrate in the chief cities. The preponderant number live in the capital and chief seaport, Rangoon. A paucity are to be found in the ancient Burmese capital, Mandalay, in upper Burma; and in Bassein in the Irawadi Delta. But neither of these two towns can muster a minyan. The Jews number .003% of the inhabitants of Rangoon, with a population of close to half a million.
There are some wealthy Jews who own flourishing business houses, but this does not compensate for the greater number who eke out a miserable livelihood. Latterly the position has become more acute; a comparatively large number of Jewish firms of long standing have for some reason or other closed down. The youths leaving school find it difficult to enter Government service owing to the general retrenchment; and the present economic crisis does not improve matters. This accounts for the large number who start their careers with petty peddling. True there are a very few Jews serving under Government, but these are not recent appointments, and exceptions rather than the rule. The sword of unemployment dangles over the head of many a brilliant youth. Employment of Jews by Jews are rare; an explicable phenomenon, due no doubt, to a “dislike of the like.”
Owing to their sparse numbers Jews cannot elect a fellow-Jew as Councillor to represent them in the Rangoon