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Paradesi Jews
Djudios Paradesi
Portrait of David Henriques De Castro, by Gabriel Haim Henriques De Castro (1838-1897)
Regions with significant populations
Initially Ladino, later Judeo-Malayalam, Tamil, now mostly Hebrew and English
Orthodox Judaism
Related ethnic groups
Spanish and Portuguese Jews
Sephardic Jews in India
De Castro family
Henriques family
Cochin Jews
Indian Jews
Desi Jews
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Paradesi Jews immigrated to the Indian subcontinent during the 15th and 16th centuries following the expulsion of Jews from Spain. Paradesi refers to the Malayalam word that means foreign[2] as they were newcomers. These Sephardic (from Spain and Portugal) immigrants fled persecution and death by burning in the wake of the 1492 Alhambra decree expelling all Jews who did not convert to Christianity from Spain, and King Manuel's 1496 decree expelling Jews from Portugal. They are sometimes referred to as "White Jews", although that usage is generally considered pejorative or discriminatory and refers to relatively recent Jewish immigrants (end of the 15th century onward), predominantly Sephardim.[3]

During the 18th and 19th centuries, Paradesi Jews were Sephardi immigrants to the Indian subcontinent from Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries[4][5] fleeing forcible conversion, persecution and antisemitism. The Paradesi Jews of Cochin traded in spices. They are a community of Sephardic Jews settled among the larger Cochin Jewish community located in Kerala, a coastal southern state of India.[3]

Paradesi Jews of Madras (now Chennai) traded in Golconda diamonds, precious stones and corals. They had very good relations with the rulers of Golkonda, because they maintained trade connections to some foreign countries (e.g. Ottoman empire, Europe), and their language skills were useful. Although the Sephardim spoke Ladino (i.e. Judeo-Spanish), in India they learned Tamil and Konkani as well as Judeo-Malayalam from the Cochin Jews, also known as Malabar Jews.[6][full citation needed]

After India gained its independence in 1947 and Israel was established as a nation, most of the Malabar Jews made Aliyah and emigrated from Kerala to Israel in the mid-1950s. In contrast, most of the Paradesi Jews preferred to migrate to Australia and other Commonwealth countries, similar to the choices made by Anglo-Indians.[7]

History of Madras (Chennai) Jews

Plan of Fort St George and the city of Madras in 1726, b.Jews Burying Place is the location of Second Madras Synagogue and Jewish Cemetery Chennai.Bartolomeo Rodrigues Tomb in Four Brothers Garden
The 1921 Census of British India shows 45 Jews living in Madras.
Rabbi Salomon Halevi (Last Rabbi of Madras Synagogue) and his wife Rebecca Cohen (Najran Jew)
Mr. Cohen (Najran Jew), his German wife, and children, Paradesi Jews of Madras
Paradesi Jews of Madras
Paradesi Jews of Madras at EIC garden
Paradesi Jews of Madras at Fort St. George

The East India Company (EIC) wanted to break the monopoly of Portugal in trading with Golconda diamonds and precious stones from the mines of Golkonda. The EIC entered India around 1600 and had built the Fort St. George (White Town) fortress by 1644[8][full citation needed] at the coastal city of Madras, now known as Chennai.

EIC policy permitted only its shareholders to trade in Golconda diamonds and precious stones from the mines. The Company considered the Madras Jews to be interlopers because they traded separately through their Jewish community connections.[9]

Madras Jews specialised in Golconda diamonds, precious stones and corals.[10] They had very good relations with the rulers of Golkonda and this was seen as beneficial to Fort St. George, so Madras Jews were gradually accepted as honourable citizens of Fort St. George/Madras.[11][need quotation to verify]

Jacques de Paiva (Jaime Paiva), originally from Amsterdam and belonging to Amsterdam Sephardic community, was an early Jewish arrival and the leader of Madras Jewish community. He built the Second Madras Synagogue and Jewish Cemetery Chennai in Peddanaickenpet, which later became the South end of Mint Street,[12]

Jacques (Jaime) de Paiva (Pavia) established good relations with those in power and bought several Golconda diamond mines to source Golconda diamonds. Through his efforts, Jews were permitted to live within Fort St. George.[13]

Jacques (Jaime) de Paiva (Pavia) died in 1687 after a visit to his Golconda diamond mines and was buried in the Jewish cemetery which he had established in Peddanaickenpet, which later became the north Mint Street,[13] alongside the synagogue which also existed at Mint Street.[14]

After Jacques (Jaime) de Paiva (Pavia)'s death in 1687, his wife Hieronima de Paiva fell in love with Elihu Yale, Governor of Madras and went to live with him, causing quite a scandal within Madras' colonial society. Governor Elihu Yale later achieved fame when he gave a large donation to the University of New Haven in Connecticut, which was then named after him — the Yale University. Elihu Yale and Hieromima de Paiva had a son, who died in South Africa.[15]

In 1670, the Portuguese population in Madras numbered around 3000.[citation needed] Before his death he established 'The Colony of Jewish Traders of Madraspatam' with Antonio do Porto, Pedro Pereira and Fernando Mendes Henriques.[13] This enabled more Portuguese Jews, from Leghorn, the Caribbean, London and Amsterdam to settle in Madras.[citation needed] Coral Merchant Street was named after the Jews' business.[16]

Three Portuguese Jews were nominated to be aldermen of Madras Corporation.[17] Three - Bartolomeo Rodrigues, Domingo do Porto and Alvaro da Fonseca - also founded the largest trading house in Madras. The large tomb of Rodrigues, who died in Madras in 1692, became a landmark in Peddanaickenpet but was later destroyed.[18]

Samuel de Castro came to Madras from Curaçao in 1766 and Salomon Franco came from Leghorn.[13][19]

Isaac Sardo Abendana (1662–1709), who came from Holland, died in Madras. He was a close friend of Thomas Pitt and may have been responsible for the fortune that Pitt amassed.[13]

Portuguese Jews were used as diplomats by the East India Company to expand English trading. Avraham Navarro was the most prominent of these.[20]

In 1688, the famous Sephardi poet Daniel Levy de Barrios wrote a poem in Amsterdam, with historical and geographical meaning. His information was usually most precise and drawing upon him we may receive a panorama of Sephardi life in the seventeenth century. There were six Jewish communities — Nieves, London, Jamaica, fourth and fifth in two parts of Barbados, and the sixth in Madras-Patan.[21][22]

During the 18th and 19th centuries Yemenite Jews started coming to Madras via Cochin. They were very religious. Some came from Najran. They were Rabbis and jewelry-makers.[12]

From the 19th centuries Yemenite Jews and Portuguese Jews started intermarrying.[12][21]

Paradesi synagogues and cemeteries

The Paradesi Jews had built three Paradesi synagogues and cemeteries.

In 1500 the first Madras Synagogue and cemeteries was built by the Amsterdam Sephardic community in Coral Merchant Street, George Town, Madras, which had a large presence of Portuguese Jews in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Neither the synagogue nor the Jewish population remains today.[23]

In 1568 the first Cochin Paradesi Synagogue and cemetery was built in Cochin-Jew Street, adjacent to Mattancherry Palace, Cochin, now part of the Indian city of Ernakulam, on land given to them by the Raja of Kochi.[24]

In 1644 the second Madras Synagogue and Jewish Cemetery Chennai was built by Jacques (Jaime) de Paiva (Pavia) also from Amsterdam Sephardic community in Madras, Peddanaickenpet, which later became the south end of Mint Street,[13] It was demolished by local government in 1934 and the tombstones were moved to the Central Park of Madras along with the gate of the cemetery on which Beit ha-Haim (the usual designation for a Jewish cemetery, literally "House of Life") were written in Hebrew.[25] The tombstones were moved again in 1979[citation needed] to Kasimedu, when a government school was approved to be built. In 1983, they were moved to Lloyds Road, when the Chennai Harbour expansion project was approved.[14] In this whole process seventeen tombstones went missing, including that of de Paiva.[26]

Last Jewish Business House and Trust of Chennai, Owned by Henriques De Castro Family

Places named after Madras (Chennai) Jews

Holocaust Memorial of Isaac & Rosa Henriques Decastro, erected by C. N. Annadurai Former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu

Notable Madras (Chennai) Jews

Madras (Chennai) Jewish surnames (partial list)

Image gallery

See also


  1. ^ Census of India 2001
  2. ^ Lobo, Christabel. "India's Jew Town only has a few Jews left, but traditions and landmarks remain".
  3. ^ a b Yisra'el, Muzeon (1995). Slapak, Orpa (ed.). The Jews of India: A Story of Three Communities. UPNE. p. 28. ISBN 965-278-179-7. Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  4. ^ "VI- November 30: Commemorating the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands". Retrieved 19 February 2022.
  5. ^ Hoge, Warren (5 November 2007). "Group seeks justice for 'forgotten' Jews". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 December 2012.
  6. ^ Katz 2000; Koder 1973; Thomas Puthiakunnel 1973
  7. ^ Weil, Shalva. From Cochin to Israel, Jerusalem: Kumu Berina, 1984. (Hebrew)
  8. ^ Roberts, J: "History of the World" (Penguin, 1994).
  9. ^ Sudan, Rajani (2016). The Alchemy of Empire: Abject Materials and the Technologies of Colonialism. Oxford University Press. p. 69. ISBN 978-0-82327-067-5. Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  10. ^ Gill, Liz (1 September 2011). "Chennai: Where life is enshrined". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  11. ^ Muthiah, S., ed. (2008). Madras, Chennai: A 400-year Record of the First City of Modern India. Vol. 1. Palaniappa Brothers. p. 183. ISBN 978-8-18379-468-8. Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  12. ^ a b c "The last family of Pardesi Jews in Madras « Madras Musings | We Care for Madras that is Chennai".
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa Muthiah, S. (3 September 2007). "The Portuguese Jews of Madras". The Hindu. Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  14. ^ a b c Sundaram, Krithika (31 October 2012). "18th century Jewish cemetery lies in shambles, craves for attention". The New Indian Express. Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  15. ^ "The Portuguese Jewish Community of Madras, India, in the Seventeenth Century".
  16. ^ a b Muthiah, S. (30 September 2002). "Will Chennai's Jews be there?". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 12 March 2003. Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  17. ^ Muthiah, S. (2014). Madras Rediscovered. Westland. ISBN 978-9-38572-477-0. Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  18. ^ Parthasarathy, Anusha (3 September 2013). "Lustre dims, legacy stays". The Hindu. Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  19. ^ a b c d e "Chennai". International Jewish Cemetery Project. Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  20. ^ Fischel, Walter J. (1956). "Abraham Navarro: Jewish Interpreter and Diplomat in the Service of the English East India Company (1682-1692)". Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research. 25: 39–62. doi:10.2307/3622342. JSTOR 3622342.
  21. ^ a b c d e f "சிறப்புக் கட்டுரை: அமைதியை விரும்பும் யூதர்!".
  22. ^ "The Portuguese Jewish Community of Madras, India, in the Seventeenth Century". 11 April 2010.
  23. ^ Muthiah, S. (2004). Lakshmi, C. S. (ed.). The Unhurried City: Writings on Chennai. Penguin Books India. p. 30. ISBN 9780143030263. Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  24. ^ "Paradesi Synagogue". Kerala Tourism. Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  25. ^ Arbell, Mordechai. "The Portuguese Jewish Community Of Madras, India, In The Seventeenth Century". Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  26. ^ Sampath, Janani (10 May 2016). "Chennai's link to its Jewish past, cemetery in Mylapore fading into oblivion". DT Next. Archived from the original on 10 June 2016. Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  27. ^ Parthasarathy, N.S. (9 February 2018). "The last family of Pardesi Jews in Madras". Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  28. ^ "Our Readers Write". Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  29. ^ Fischel, Walter J. (1956). "Abraham Navarro: Jewish Interpreter and Diplomat in the Service of the English East India Company (1682-1692)". Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research. 25: 39–62. doi:10.2307/3622342. JSTOR 3622342.
  30. ^ a b c "Madras Rabbi Salomon Halevi and Rebecca Cohen B".
  31. ^ Fischel, Walter J. (1956). "Abraham Navarro: Jewish Interpreter and Diplomat in the Service of the English East India Company (1682-1692)". Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research. 25: 39–62. doi:10.2307/3622342. JSTOR 3622342.
  32. ^ "Another term in Chennai: Toyah, farewell!".

Further reading