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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Drawing Inferences from work of Walter J. Fischel on the Jewish Asian Diaspora

Notes derived from 2 pieces by Fischel:
  • Leading Jews in the Service of Portuguese India, The Jewish Quarterly Review, 47(1), 37 - 57, year 1956 ; and
  • The Indian Archives: a Source for the History of the Jews of Asia,The Jewish Quarterly Review, 57: 192 - 209, year 1967.
Ceylon is explicitly mentioned as part of a hub of Jewish activities and settlement from 16th cent. onwards. This is significant as usually India stands in for all south asia countries. Fischel mentions that the Jewish communities of Cochin, Bombay etc "are actually the remnants of survivors of a once much wider extent of the Jewish diaspora" (195).

There is a need to guard against assuming that persons bearing certain names of Jewish resemblance as actually Jewish. Merchants working under the various companies VOC, EIC required to register their religious background, ethnic/national affiliation. Common names to look for "joodsche coopman", "judeo", "a jew", "a hebrew", "de raca judaica" etc. Fischel also notes that in the 16th century Jews were employed by the Portuguese as letter carriers, translators, agents. I wonder whether these people travelled to Ceylon or indeed were employed by the Portuguese in Ceylon in a similiar capacity?

Fischel reiterates that the study of Jews in South Asia needs to be correlated with world Jewish history. Despite the fact that the Portuguese used Goa (India) as the base for the launching of the Jesuit missionising activity/and the Inquisition - that Jews nonetheless were valued for their intercultural skills and gained prominance in public life.

Finally, notes for any research:
There is a need to examine Jewish Internal records, e.g. (a) ketuboth (marriage contracts), (b) Mazaboth (Tombstone inscriptions) and (c) Zevaoth (last Wills). Let's go rushing off to the cemetary! Any Jewish burial grounds at Borella????? Fischel indicates that examining marriage contracts have no been that fruitful as most merchants were either lifelong bachelors or 'intermarried' with local (indigenous) women and thus erased from official records.

3 comments:

Time Freedom Fighter said...
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Time Freedom Fighter said...
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Anonymous said...

Fiona, I am so glad you are there to do this research - you wrote me before - Cristina Diaz - the Synagogue was at 77 Steuart Place in Colombo - either Holiday Inn or Hilton demolished it. Have you found any link to Ladinos yet? - so curious - Cristina