Academic journal article German Quarterly

Studies Of Indian Jewish Identity

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Studies Of Indian Jewish Identity

Article excerpt

Katz, Nathan, ed. Studies Of Indian Jewish Identity. New Delhi: Manohar, 1995. 203 pp.

At first glance a book on "Indian Jewish Identity" that has no direct link to the field of German literature or culture appears to be of limited interest to scholars of German. The introduction and the seven articles of this edition, most of which were first presented in a panel on "Indian Jewish Identity" at the 1990 meeting of the American Academy of Religion (10), describe and analyze three distinct, "microscopic" (117) Jewish communities in India. Part one deals with the Jews of Cochin, a port in Southern India, part two with the Bene Israel Jews living in and around Bombay, and part three is devoted to the Baghdadi Jews who came during British colonial rule and settled in Bombay, Calcutta, and Rangoon (today in Burma). Part four, entitled "Indian Jewry Since Independence", consists of only one contribution, which summaries the findings. As a whole, the essays give a historical overview, assess the communities' current and future prospects, and explore "how Indian Jewish experience modifies how we understand Jewish identity in general" (2). This question is, however, very much at the heart of German Studies, and although the individual articles do not address the impact of the Holocaust on India's Jewry, they provide intriguing insights into three distinct Jewish cultures that developed under very different conditions than those known in Germany or other European countries.

India's Jews apparently existed "in the palpable absence of anti-Semitism" (1), but unfortunately the reasons and causes for this unique historical situation are not explained in any detail. An article devoted to this crucial problem could have provided an important analytic framework for the exploration of Indian-Jewish cultures undertaken in this book. As interesting, erudite, and compelling as the materials presented on these communities are, what I found most fascinating were not the practices and customs in themselves, but the concrete examples of cultural mixing, hybridity, and exchange they provide. Issues that are currently at the forefront of Cultural Studies, namely the perception of identity as inherently in flux and permeable, find a concrete expression in the lives of these peoples.

Cases in point: In their article "The Ritual Enactments of Indian-Jewish Identity of the Cochin Jews," Nathan Katz and Ellen S. …

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