Despite the querulous-ness and expressed dissatisfaction with the cultural situation of the Jews in India, with which one meets here, there is no doubt that a notable change is setting in.
The recent census which in India takes account of castes and religions, revealed that there are in India only some 20,000 Jews. This, in a population of close on 400,000,000 is so insignificant a fraction as to elicit a wonder that Indian Jewry has managed to resist disappearance in the general population. Nevertheless, the perpetuation of Indian Jewry as a separate entity cannot really be regarded as a miracle. On the contrary, the very structure of Indian life, the jealousy with which castes and even the smallest sub-castes are protected by an age-old system has gone a long way to assist the continuance of Judaism in India. Thus, in a sense, until quite recently, it would have been more difficult for the Jews of India to merge with the rest of the population, than it was for them to remain separate.
The 20,000 Jews in India are divided into three distinct sections; the Bene Israel; the colored Jews of Cochin; and immigrants from Iraq and Yemen. One might even talk of a fourth section, if account is to be taken of the considerable influx of European and American Jews, numbers of whom are now to be found in most of the trading centers.
Where, hitherto, the native Jewish communities were satisfied to rely upon the benefactions of the Sassoon and other wealthy Jewish families, there is now a tendency particularly in the younger generation to rely upon their own efforts and to organize both for cultural and communal purposes.
It is not unlikely that the growth of nationalism in India has contributed greatly towards a rising interest in Jewish nationalism among young Jews. The fruits of this are already to be seen in the spread of Zionism and even in monetary contributions made to Zionist funds. Thus, last year’s Zionist receipts from India almost quadrupled sums received in any previous year.
One of the main obstacles which Indian Jewry has to combat is the great distances separating many of the tiny Jewish communities, and the consequent lack of spiritual guidance and organized education for the young. It is a difficulty which cannot be easily overcome. The situation is further complicated by the host of so-called “Chazanim”, men with little attainment and no training, who have been imported mainly from Iraq to minister to thinking Indian Jews. Recently, quite a controversy grew up around this question, particularly when some of these Chazanim began to describe themselves as “Chazan-Rabbis”, a hyphenation quite new in Jewish terminology.
The fact is, that there is really not a single properly ordained rabbi in the whole of India.
A hopeful sign, however, is the fact that Indian Jewry has during the last three years managed to maintain a press organ of its own in the shape of the “Jewish Advocate”, a robus# the spiritual needs of the different communities. The problem of these Chazanim has exercised the minds of many