Bene Israel - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Bene Israel, as Jews, believe in one all-powerful God. Their beliefs, for example with respect to afterlife, were also influenced by Hinduism.

Religious Practitioners. The task of guiding the Community in religious matters was traditionally entrusted to three leaders from three particular families. Their positions were Inherited over several generations. By the nineteenth century, Cochin Jews from south India served among the Bene Israel as teachers, cantors, and ritual slaughterers. The Bene Israel never had any rabbis or priests ( cohanim ) themselves.

Ceremonies. When first "discovered," probably in the seventeenth century, the Bene Israel were found to be practicing circumcision and the dietary laws as prescribed in the Bible; they observed many Jewish festivals and recited the Shema, the confession of the Jewish faith, at every ceremonial occasion. From the nineteenth century, they began to come in line with the religious customs of other Jews. Today they practice Judaism like other Jews, although certain rites, such as the prewedding mehendi (henna) ceremony, are clearly influenced by Hindu custom.

Arts. Bene Israel sing and dance as other Maharashtrians. They also act out special kirtan (religious singing) of distinctly Biblical character, in which they sing about and act as Old Testament figures.

Medicine. Bene Israel believe in the efficacy of scientific medicine; some also receive homeopathic treatment.

Death and Afterlife. The Bene Israel believe in an afterlife, influenced both by Hindu and Jewish belief. The dead are buried according to Jewish custom in a special Jewish cemetery. If a person has committed suicide, he or she is buried just outside the walls of the cemetery.

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