Bene Israel - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. In a manner not surprising to anyone familiar with the literature on caste, the Bene Israel were incorporated into the caste system. Although they themselves did not subscribe to the Hindu religion and mystic beliefs, they referred to themselves and were regarded by others as a caste. Caste features not only influenced external relations with non-Jews but also pervaded Jewish life internally in India. Thus the Bene Israel were divided into two jatis or subcastes called "Whites" and "Blacks," or Gora and Kala. The White Bene Israel claimed direct descent from the seven couples who landed on the Konkan Coast, while the Black Bene Israel were said to be the descendants of unions between Bene Israel men and non-Bene Israel women. Until the twentieth century, Gora and Kala neither intermarried nor interdined: their relationship was characterized by their belief in the concept of pollution. As late as the 1970s a weak distinction between Gora and Kala was reported to have been preserved in very limited Bene Israel circles, but with the breakdown of caste, particularly in urban surroundings, jati divisions have lost much of their significance.

Political Organization. There never was a single Bene Israel leader, but different factions supported different social and charitable causes. The Stree Mandel, established as a women's organization, is still active today, even in Israel. The Home for Destitutes and Orphans was established in 1934. During the twentieth century, sports clubs, Zionist organizations, and credit associations were set up, and many were carried over to Israel. The Bene Israel also published a large number of communal periodicals.

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