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Cochin & Hindu Hebrews: Interesting seeing how many Messianic Jews seem unfamilar with Indian Jewish Believers…

Posted by Gabriel (G²) on November 21, 2010

Shalom,

I was writing this due to how I was in discussion with some other Messianic Jews recently—on the issue of Multi-Culturalism…and something that was brought up at one point was the subject of Indian Jews. It was interesting to consider, seeing how often it has been the case that only those Jews of a European background are discussed/placed at the forefront of the Messianic Jewish world…with that specific cultural viewpoint exalted.  Traveling on the Mission Field/loving to discover new cultures, it has been really fascinating to learn of how Jews in India have lived among the predominant Hindu and Muslim population for millennia….and that there were eras where the Jews were scattered throughout various empires (i.e. the Persians, Greeks, Alexander the Great’s Empire), with the differing customs of those cultures getting involved.

To me, much of it reminds me of how the Jews were in times of Exile—with examples such as Esther and Daniel coming to mind in how they interacted with others for the sake of survival…..

Daniel 1:19-21
17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.

21 And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.

Esther 2

Esther Made Queen

12 Before a girl’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics. 13 And this is how she would go to the king: Anything she wanted was given her to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. 14 In the evening she would go there and in the morning return to another part of the harem to the care of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not return to the king unless he was pleased with her and summoned her by name.

15 When the turn came for Esther (the girl Mordecai had adopted, the daughter of his uncle Abihail) to go to the king, she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested. And Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her. 16 She was taken to King Xerxes in the royal residence in the tenth month, the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.

17 Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins.

Jeremiah 29:6-8 /Jeremiah 29

4 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

“Jews of India.org” is a wonderful place to go for more info……and of course, one can go online/hit up Wikipedia as well on the“History of India Jews”.

There is also the ministry of Indians in Israel , which almost exclusively consist of Indian Jews who migration to Israel upon the formation of the modern state of Israel in 1948. There are now an estimated 85,000 Indians who live in Israel…and they are primarily Cochin Jews and Paradesi Jews of Kerala, Bene Israel of Maharashtra and Baghdadi Jews.

The Indians in Israel have formed several associations, namely Indo-Israel Cultural Association, The Central Organisation on Indian Jews and the Centre of Jewish Heritage.

But when consisdering Indian Jews /Jews of India, its amazing to see how much of the culture around them had images which the locals may’ve contexualized for the sake of spreading the Gospel/demonstrating Biblical truths and ideas within Jewish culture…and alongside that is the reality that for those who’re Indian Jewish, its amazing to see how many parallels there are between Hinduism and Judaism…and for more information, one can go online to an article entitled Judaism – Hindu Customs in the Jewish Community in India

Regarding contexualization/imagery used from the culture one lives in, One person that comes to mind is a Jewish/Indian individual who does art work—and has been coming into more prominence of late in what she shows. Siona Benjamin is an Indian Jewish painter , and her Blue Like Me series has been very intriguing to many. For more info, one can go to Siona Benjamin – My Jewish Learning .

As said there about her:

Born into the Bene Israel Jewish tradition, Benjamin grew up Jewish in a Muslim and Hindu community while attending Catholic and Zoroastrian schools. Living her life at the intersection of multiple faith traditions, as well as moving from Bombay to Iowa for graduate school and then to New Jersey where she is currently based, has made her desire to find “home” a constant preoccupation of her life. The conclusion Benjamin has come to: home doesn’t exist. “In this increasingly trans-cultural world, home is where you place your tent. The world is getting smaller,” she says.

Benjamin’s work reflects this. Drawing from the faith traditions she has lived within, combining them with modern images and stories, Benjamin’s art is truly multi-cultural. “I have always had to reflect upon the cultural boundary zones in which I have lived,” says Benjamin.
……….
……………………..

Siona Benjamin’s work brings together a wide array of sacred and secular images: Lilith, the Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, Indian comic books, lotus flowers, American flags, ballerinas, tanks, IV needles, phylacteries, gas masks. But she does more than just collage American, Jewish, and Indian symbols together. She also rethinks the context and symbolism of those references. For example, in “Finding Home No. 46 (‘Tikkun ha-Olam’)” Benjamin shows a self-portrait of the artist as a seven-branch Menorah, no doubt a Jewish play on the multi-armed Hindu gods. The candleholders are hamsas, and the figure dances beside a snake (the evil inclination?) and a sphinx blowing a horn (shofar?). In casting herself as Shiva–a major Hindu God–Benjamin achieves the same sort of religious nuance that Chagall attains in his “White Crucifixion” (1938), where Jesus’ loincloth is a tallit. By stressing Jesus’ Jewishness, Chagall shows that Jews can “own” the symbol of the crucifixion and it need not only appear in Christian contexts. Benjamin’s Jewish Shiva blends the imagery of the menorah’s arms (representing the days of creation) with the symbolism of Shiva’s arms (which also may have to do with creation).

In so doing, Benjamin is perhaps also presenting the artistic version of the talmudic declaration that there are 70 perspectives (literally panim, or faces) to the Torah. By presenting her personal Jewish identity, Benjamin exposes some of the Western stereotypes about Judaism and reminds her viewers that just as there are 70 equally valid interpretations of the Torah, there are dozens of ways to make a Jewish painting. The rabbis did not necessarily have Benjamin’s interfaith enterprise in mind, but just as Jewish art has so often borrowed aesthetic forms from Christian and pagan culture, Benjamin establishes herself as heir to that tradition and adds her own personal touch by using contemporary symbols and references.

For more info, one can go to the following:

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Considering the Work of Siona, it made me ponder how many of Jewish background often feel conflicted in their identities…especially the heritages they were born with are divorced from the cultures they also grew up in….and that are apart of who they are.

For another example, I’m reminded of the struggles of the many Indian Believers in Yeshua who’ve had many battles because they felt that in order to follow the Lord, they had to give up aspects of their Indian Culture.

For some examples of such, here are some articles others can consider:

One can go to Wikipedia and look up Caste system among Indian Christians )–and Missionaries tread warily in India…..as it gives information regarding the cultural aspects of the Caste System and many things which we in the West may not comprehend when looking at the suffering they go through and yet never realizing the dynamics of their cultures….especially in regards to Dalit Christians and other believers being martyred that choose to retain many traditions from their Hindu Roots and the many times they have to make clear to others how Hinduism is not simply a matter of religious matters

To be clear, some other things to keep in mind…as said best by another

Contextualization: Can a Muslim or a Hindu be a Christian

Our host in Chandigarh, who oversees several house fellowships, is contextualizing his work in the local Hindu and Sikh cultures. In other words, elements of Hinduism or Sikhism find expression in the lives of these churches. In saying this, I do NOT mean the people worship false gods–the elements of culture present among them are part of their commitment to Christ, rather than compromising it. This leader is sometimes criticized by ministers from more traditional churches, who would like to see him completely break away from anything having an appearance of Hinduism or Sikhism.

An example of this contextualization is the name by which the believers call their fellowship. They call their community a satsang, which is a Hindu word for a gathering seeking truth. Some say it is wrong to use this Hindu term, arguing that it is a pagan concept. The brothers and sisters we met, though, believe the use of the word helps those of a Hindu background draw near to God. Another example is the use of a coconut for the Lord’s Supper. Coconuts are often incorporated into Hindu worship; therefore, Hindu-background believers break them open and take the flesh and the milk to represent the body and blood of Christ. Something really neat we learned is that, for Hindus, a coconut means fullness of life. So Christ’s body was broken, and through him comes fullness of life.

That I thought was more than on point—though Being involved in/loving things such as Anthropology & loving the research, that may be just me.

For some other interesting tibits to consider when it comes to those Indian Believers….As far as I’m aware in many of the communities in India that’re Jewish have had relative peace/support from amongst others in the nation. In example, because of the region’s tolerance for ethnic diversity–the Indians saw Jews as just another cast–a Jewish community flourished in Cochin for thousands of years, without prejudice or pogroms. The Cochin Jews were accepted by the Hindu rulers, and for the most part lived in a peaceful environment…..and as it turns out, the major reason for this phenomenon is the predominance of the Hindu caste system. Considered their own separate caste, the Jews did not disrupt Indian society. As long as they married and socialized in their own group, which they did enthusiastically, the other castes had nothing to complain about.

And with Indian Jews, their contribution to India’s economy, society and government have been recognized by various historians, writers and the government. And as it is, what’s intriguing is witnessing how (as said before) Indian Jews have never suffered anti-semitism India…..and there’s already extensive amounts of Indians that’ve converted over to Judaism….from Christianity. There was one video I saw on the issue that may be of benefit, called Indian (Mumbai) Doctor converts to Judaism and now live in Kiryat Arba

All of that’s interesting, seeing how both CHRISTIANITY and JUDAISM are Monotheistic/believing in One God (something others often say are reasons for why Hindu Terrorists attack the believers in India)–and yet, the Jewish system is what seems to get more acceptance across the wall.

And of course, one has to be careful even in saying that Christians do not necessarily have acceptance in some instances…..for there has LONG been a strong Christian Prescence in India—especially as it concerns Eastern Christianity (St.Thomas) and those India Christians that’ve been long established…just like the Indian Jews there…all having to deal with the effects of the Hindu Caste System of power/influence.

For more info, some articles one can investigate—one can go online/look up the following:

Also, one can always go to Youtube to find out more on the issue. For some videos one can investigate

Indian Christians accuse police of ‘taking sides’ – 5 Oct 08

CNN TN – Massacre on Christians by Indian Hindus

Its always a trip to see the ways in which the Jews seem connected to other places around the planet even in ancient times—-and there was an interesting article I was able to come across awhile ago that had me thinking–as its entitled “Is There A Connection Between Ancient Indian And Hebrew Language?”. On the issue of the article, some say that the contact between Jews and Ancient India was mostly via Dilmun..and for more info, Bahrain has been inhabited since prehistoric times and several thousand burial mounds in the northern part of the main island probably date from the Sumerian Period of the 3rd millennium BC. It was the seat of ancient Dilmun — a prosperous trading centre linking Sumer with the Indus Valley about 2000 BC. The archipelago was mentioned by Persian — Greek — Roman geographers and historians.

Something interesting to consider…

Of course, there are many who even scoff at the concept of Jewish culture somehow getting connected with other places. For the sake of backdrop on where I come from and why I’m fascinated with those who are Indian Jewish, I’m actively involved in a Messianic Jewish fellowship known as “Congregation Mishkan David” , under the leadership of Rabbi Aaron Evans. For more info, one can go to Marietta Daily Journal – Two faiths, one roof. I’m very close with the rabbi there…My older brother/spiritual father in the Lord, who was raised in a Messianic Jewish family, is a former Eastern Orthodox priest and monk–and thus, very big on studying/understanding the Church Fathers, as well Church History. He and I were discussing the other day…and I actually had it to where brought up the same point of how many, be it Jewish or Non-Jewish, often assume that Jews are only those of European Descent…….and act as if those who believe there’s much more beyond that are not truly “Jewish” enough. Of course, he’s both of European Descent and a Sephardic Jew…and thus, the issue hits home strongly for him.

On the issue of Jews of differing cultures/ethnicities, there’s actually a wonderful ministry seeking to deal with such…as one can go online/look up a ministry by the name of Be’chol Lashon.meaning “In Every Tongue”–which is a research and community- building initiative created by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research to support a Jewish people that is more racially, ethnically, and culturally inclusive, both in the United States and around the world. And it goes into exceptional detail concerning the many struggles for those who were of MIXED ancestry and yet, due to stereotypes, they were considered not really “Jewish”.

For one story on the issue, one can go to the following articles/books:

Also, if interested, there’s a solid article on the issue that may interest you—entitled & “Memoirs of a Jewminicana–Multiculturalism….”. The lady over that specific website actually was involved in a video panel of Jews of differing ethnicities—and it was a solid video that I was able to witness not too long ago—as it’s found at the the following:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suWNpeRSuKU&feature=player_embedded#at=131


Also,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DspxwYx30pQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdUVZf3vcWg

Seeing how many Jews treat one another, it seems like nothing more than the reality of happened with the Jews and Samaritans….seeing that there was a deep hatred that existed between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Jews saw themselves as pure descendents of Abraham, while the Samaritans were a mixed race produced when THE Jews from the northern kingdom intermarried with other peoples imported from other nations by the King of Assyria after the exile in order to keep peace (II Kings 17:24). The Jews in the southern kingdom considered Samaratins to be “IMPURE”RACIALLY/refused to recieve help from, even during the rebuilding/return from EXILE. Thus the pure Jews hated this mixed race because they felt that their fellow Jews who had intermarried had betrayed their people/nation…….and the Samaratins had set up an alternate center for worship on Mount Gerizim to parallel the temple at Jerusalem, but it had been destroyed 150 YEARS earlie ( II Kings 17/, Ezra 4 , Nehemiah 2 , Nehemiah 4, etc). As time went on, relations between the 2 groups got progressively worse, even into Jesus’s day..and hence, the reason why Jesus chose to have a Samaritan be the hero of his parable, as he would have been the person least suspected by a Jew to be worthy/capable of anything, Luke 10:27 )…..and moreover, the reason why JESUS HIMSELF WAS INTENTIONAL ABOUT MINISTERING TO Samaritans….like Jesus when he interacted with others like the Samaritan Woman (John 4 )—and going places that were often “forbidden” as with Samaritan territory ( Luke 9:51-53 / Luke 9 )

And so it is with many who Indian Jews—-as many who serve the Lord may not feel like they’re accepted …yet they know Yeshua has taken time to invest in them just as much as He will with other Jews. And even with those Jews who’ve not yet accepted the Messiah as Lord/Savior, it can be difficult enough for a Jewish person to simply come to faith/accept what is said of Yeshua to be true. Why make it even more difficult for them/add another stumbling block to them by saying that they’re not even really “Jewish” & then blowing them off? Really, Its always sad to see the ways in which we can box others in/not appreciate differing ways of expression and culture. It reminds me of something that came to my mind the other day…as I was reminded at work on how often people see life on one level, treating it like flat paper sheets…only meant to write on..and yet not many know how to treat it like Origami, where you can transform it ithrough folding/ sculpting techniques into Works of Art/Breathtaking sculptures ..

And then there’s the inverse of that where we so often we feel we’re living a “CARD Board Box” life, with limits–so we claim “Think Outside the Box”, as if we have to throw away what we know to gain something new. Yet how often do you hear others ask how they can RETHINK/Transform the shape the Box comes in……or when others feel frustrated at others “boxing them in”, not considering that perhaps they’re meant to be another SHAPE/kind of box rather than no shape at all. As an example, one can go online to “Out-of-the-Box Cardboard Art & Sculptures | Design + Ideas “

Just as the Oragami and Cardboard is set up upon the design of taking one substance/transforming it into something else entirely, so it is also with those who are Indian Jews—-for as much as others may not think much of them, they’re truly simply another variation of the same BEAUTIFUL substance that’s inherent in being Jewish. And they can/should be cool with that rather than allowing others to “box” them in/make them feel as if they must look like everyone else to be cool.

Blessings…

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