Judaism in Kerala

Malabari Jews

The Malabari Jews were allowed to pray at the Paradesi Synagogue but were not treated as full members of the congregation. The Meshuchrarim, on the other hand were not allowed inside.  However, in course of time, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s methods, Abraham Barak Salem, a nationalist and member of the Meshuchrarim Cochin Jew community, boycotted the synagogue and used other non-violent means to protest against this discriminatory practice during the 1900s.

In retrospect, it may appear that early signs of in-fighting were evident in the very beginning.  After the demise of Joseph Rabban, who was said to be the first Jew in Kerala, his male descendants led the Jewish populace. But this harmony was disturbed when a quarrel between two siblings over ownership of property divided the community.  When the dispute snowballed into a tussle for power, rulers of neighbouring princely states joined in the fracas. According to one version, the younger brother by name Joseph Azar eventually succeeded in killing his elder sibling, Aaron, but he paid a heavy price for the crime.  The entire village got destroyed in the process and he had no other alternative but to decamp to Cochin, where in course of time the diaspora would sprout new shoots.  Some researchers argue that this man built the Kochangadi Synagogue in Cochin, although nothing of the building remains in the present. (It is said to have been destroyed by the Mysore army in the late 18th century during a raid.)  But the year of establishment (1344) inscribed on a stone recovered from the Kochangadi Synagogue, which has survived the ravages of time and is currently preserved in the Paradesi Synagogue, seems to prove this claim to be false.