The Bene-Israel

Language: Marathi, Religion: Judaism, Estimated population: ?.

It is not known when the Bene-Israelis first came to India. Oral tradition states that they were shipwrecked off the Konkan coast and settled in the Kolabah district of Maharashtra. They claim to be descended from Jews who escaped persecution in Galilee in the 2nd century BC. Although they lost their religious books, forgot Hebrew and gradually assimilated into the local culture to become a caste of oil pressers (teli), they retained their dietary restrictions and the practises of circumcision and the observation of the Sabbath. They were distinguished from other caste telis and called Shanivari telis, because of their observation of Sabbath on Saturdays (Shanivar).

This village identity was eventually transformed when they came into contact with the Cochin Jews. Once they emigrated to Bombay, contact with the Baghdadi Jews and the worldwide Zionist movement transformed their cultural identity. In spite of a large emigration to Israel, there is a remaining population of Bene-Israelis in Bombay.

Among well-known members of this community in modern day Mumbai is the poet Nissim Ezekiel.

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