Cochin Jew - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Cochin Jews believe in one deity. Their religious observances conform in every way with the Jewish norms established by the halacha (Jewish legal code), and they kept contact with mainstream Judaism through many generations. At the same time, since they were fully integrated into Kerala society, they were influenced by many Hindu practices and beliefs (e.g., the emphasis upon purity of descent, the wedding customs and canopy, and the "asceticism" associated with Passover preparations). Reportedly, the Cochin Jews have never suffered from anti-Semitism at the hands of their Hindu neighbors.

Religious Practitioners. The Cochin Jews never had any rabbis, but several men served as shochetim (ritual slaughterers) and hazanim (cantors) both for their own communities and for another community of Indian Jews, the Bene Israel in Bombay.

Ceremonies. Both the "White" and the "Black" Jews perform their ceremonies separately in their own synagogues and homes. However, the ceremonies are similar and distinctly Cochini, reflecting both local Hindu and Christian influences. Both groups build a manara, or aperion, for the wedding, usually at the groom's house. After a ritual bath the bride receives a tali, an Indian pendant, in imitation of local Nayar practice. The groom and bride dress in traditional wedding dress. The groom enters the synagogue on a white carpet—a custom apparently observed by "Black" and not "White" Jews—and sits near the podium until the bride's procession arrives. The groom himself—and not a rabbi, as in other Jewish communities—actually announces his betrothal and marriage to his bride.

Arts. Daily prayers were chanted according to the shingli custom, a unique version of the standard Jewish prayers. In addition, the Cochin Jews have a large number of folksongs that they sing regularly. Some are sung at weddings, some are lullabies, and some specifically recall the return to Zion. In 1984 the Cochin Jews in Israel staged a huge pageant relating in song and dance the story of their emigration from India and their integration into Israeli society.

Death and Afterlife. The Cochin Jews believe in an afterlife, influenced both by Jewish and Hindu beliefs. Their dead are buried in Jewish cemeteries.

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