Bene Israel

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Bene Israel

Bene Israel or Beni Israel (both: bā´nē) [Heb.,=sons of Israel], Jewish community of India, living mostly in and near Mumbai (formerly Bombay). Many thousands of others have settled in Israel since 1948. According to their own legend, they are descended from Jews who fled persecutions in Palestine in the 2d cent. BC Some scholars believe, however, that they are descended either from Babylonian Jews who migrated for reasons of trade or from Yemenite Jews who fled the persecutions of Mohammad; the latter hypothesis would explain the use of the name Bene Israel, which is found in the Qur'an as a favorable reference to Jews. The Bene Israel are referred to in the travel accounts of Benjamin of Tudela (10th cent.) and Marco Polo (13th cent). When the Bene Israel were rediscovered by Westerners in the late 18th cent. their customs were substantially like those of the Hindus except that they kept the Sabbath and several Jewish festivals and circumcised boys on the eighth day after birth. Wealthy Jews established schools to instruct the Bene Israel in Hebrew and Judaism, and in time their religious practices became similar to those of Jews throughout the world.

See S. Strizower, The Bene Israel of Bombay (1971).

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