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The David Sassoon Library, Bombay, India 1979-1980

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The building of the David Sassoon library,
founded in 1847, Bombay, India 1979-1980.
Photo: Carmel Berkson, Bombay.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, Carmel Berkson Collection)
ID Number:
224894
Image Purchase: For more details about image purchasing Click here, make sure you have the photo ID number (as appear above)
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Mumbai

Also known as Bombay, the offical name until 1995

The capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra and the proverbial "gateway to India."

Mumbai 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, Mumbai 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 Mumbai to English rule the Jew Abraham Navarro expected to receive a high office in the Mumbai 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 Mumbai 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 Mumbai 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 Mumbai. Their first synagogue in Mumbai 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 Mumbai consisted of Jewish merchants from Syria and Mesopotamia.

Prominent was Suleiman Ibn Yaqub or Solomon Jacob whose commercial activities from 1795 to 1833 are documented in the Mumbai records. The Arabic-speaking Jewish colony in Mumbai 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 Mumbai 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 Mumbai 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 Mumbai owe their existence to the munificence of the Sassoon family.

Unlike the Bene Israel, the Arabic-speaking Jews in Mumbai 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 Mumbai. A weekly Judeo-Arabic periodical, Doresh Tov le-Ammo appeared from 1855 to 1866 which mirrored their communal life.

Hebrew printing began in Mumbai 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 Mumbai 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. The prosperity of Mumbai attracted a new wave of Jewish immigrants from Cochin, Yemen, Afghanistan, Bukhara, and Persia. Among Persian Jews who settled in Mumbai, 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, Rumanian, and other European Jews to Mumbai, many of whom were active as scientists, physicians, industrialists, and merchants. Communal life in Mumbai was stimulated by visits of Zionist emissaries.

The Jewish population of Mumbai was estimated to be 11,000 in 1968, but a strong emigration movement to Israel was gaining momentum. Mumbai remained as the last major center of organized Jewish life in India. The Baghdad community, which was the leading element in organized communal life, had decreased to some 500 people, the Bene Israel becoming numerically predominant. Over 80% of the Jews were concentrated in two of the poorer districts of Mumbai, 1,500 lived in middle-class suburbs of the town, and another 500 in the best residential areas, Malabar Hill and Kolaba. The small number of European Jews in Mumbai lived exclusively in these districts.

The community, with government aid, supported two Jewish schools, and was served by six Bene Israel and two Baghdadi synagogues. Membership in a particular synagogue seemed to be a function of social, economic, and educational status as well as of religious difference. The umbrella organization, the Central Jewish Board of Mumbai, with which all synagogues, organizations, and institutions were affiliated, served as a spokesman for Indian Jewry as a whole. Similarly, the Mumbai Zionist Association was the representative Zionist body in the country. Zionist activities constituted an important part of communal life, and the Jewish Agency provided direct aid in the form of Hebrew teachers and emissaries. All three of the Jewish periodicals in India were published in Mumbai. Communal activities were further supplemented by a number of youth, welfare, and charitable organizations. The Israel consulate is situated in Mumbai. In 1997 there were 6,000 Jews living in India; most of them in and around Mumbai.
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The David Sassoon Library, Bombay, India 1979-1980
The building of the David Sassoon library,
founded in 1847, Bombay, India 1979-1980.
Photo: Carmel Berkson, Bombay.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, Carmel Berkson Collection)
Image Purchase: For more details about image purchasing Click here, make sure you have the photo ID number (as appear above)

Mumbai-Bombay
Mumbai

Also known as Bombay, the offical name until 1995

The capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra and the proverbial "gateway to India."

Mumbai 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, Mumbai 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 Mumbai to English rule the Jew Abraham Navarro expected to receive a high office in the Mumbai 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 Mumbai 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 Mumbai 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 Mumbai. Their first synagogue in Mumbai 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 Mumbai consisted of Jewish merchants from Syria and Mesopotamia.

Prominent was Suleiman Ibn Yaqub or Solomon Jacob whose commercial activities from 1795 to 1833 are documented in the Mumbai records. The Arabic-speaking Jewish colony in Mumbai 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 Mumbai 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 Mumbai 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 Mumbai owe their existence to the munificence of the Sassoon family.

Unlike the Bene Israel, the Arabic-speaking Jews in Mumbai 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 Mumbai. A weekly Judeo-Arabic periodical, Doresh Tov le-Ammo appeared from 1855 to 1866 which mirrored their communal life.

Hebrew printing began in Mumbai 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 Mumbai 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. The prosperity of Mumbai attracted a new wave of Jewish immigrants from Cochin, Yemen, Afghanistan, Bukhara, and Persia. Among Persian Jews who settled in Mumbai, 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, Rumanian, and other European Jews to Mumbai, many of whom were active as scientists, physicians, industrialists, and merchants. Communal life in Mumbai was stimulated by visits of Zionist emissaries.

The Jewish population of Mumbai was estimated to be 11,000 in 1968, but a strong emigration movement to Israel was gaining momentum. Mumbai remained as the last major center of organized Jewish life in India. The Baghdad community, which was the leading element in organized communal life, had decreased to some 500 people, the Bene Israel becoming numerically predominant. Over 80% of the Jews were concentrated in two of the poorer districts of Mumbai, 1,500 lived in middle-class suburbs of the town, and another 500 in the best residential areas, Malabar Hill and Kolaba. The small number of European Jews in Mumbai lived exclusively in these districts.

The community, with government aid, supported two Jewish schools, and was served by six Bene Israel and two Baghdadi synagogues. Membership in a particular synagogue seemed to be a function of social, economic, and educational status as well as of religious difference. The umbrella organization, the Central Jewish Board of Mumbai, with which all synagogues, organizations, and institutions were affiliated, served as a spokesman for Indian Jewry as a whole. Similarly, the Mumbai Zionist Association was the representative Zionist body in the country. Zionist activities constituted an important part of communal life, and the Jewish Agency provided direct aid in the form of Hebrew teachers and emissaries. All three of the Jewish periodicals in India were published in Mumbai. Communal activities were further supplemented by a number of youth, welfare, and charitable organizations. The Israel consulate is situated in Mumbai. In 1997 there were 6,000 Jews living in India; most of them in and around Mumbai.