Judaic Tour in India
14-nights, across the West, South and North of India

India is perhaps one of the only country in the world where there has never been any ant-Semitic sentiments expressed by the local communities. Jews continue to live and prosper in India, though with a population of only 6,000.

India has a legacy of four distinct Jewish groups: (a) the Bene Israel, (b) the Cochin Jews, (c) the Sephardic Jews from Europe, and, (d) the "Baghdadis" from Iraq.

Without conclusive evidence, it is claimed that the Bene Israel ("Sons of Israel") descended from Galilee oil-pressers shipwrecked 2,000 years ago off the Bombay coast. The survivors settled there and became farmers and coconut-oil pressers-shanwar telli (literally, "Saturday oil men" because they did not work on Shabbat). Having lost all written guidelines for practicing Judaism, the Bene Israel lived peacefully and kept the rituals they remembered: certain laws of kashrut, circumcision, Shabbat and reciting the Shema (which became an all-purpose prayer).

Since the mid-18th century Baghdadi Jews were trading from the Persian Gulf to Surat, the trading center on the west coast of India. It was only in the next century that they began to settle in Bombay and Poona. In the 18th Century the Bene Israel were "discovered" by the Baghdadi Jews who recognized them practicing a few outward forms of Judaism. Teachers from Baghdad and Cochin taught them mainstream Judaism in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Jewish merchants from Europe traveled to India in the medieval period for purposes of trade, but it is not clear whether they formed permanent settlements in south Asia. First reliable evidence of Jews living in India comes from the early 11th century. It is certain that the first Jewish settlements were centered along the western coast. Abraham ibn Daud's 12th century reference to Jews of India is unfortunately vague.

The "Sephardic Jews" came to India from western European nations such as Holland and Spain. A notable settlement of Spanish and Portuguese Jews starting in the 15th century was Goa, but this settlement eventually disappeared. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Cochin had an influx of Jewish trader-settlers from the Middle East, North Africa, and Spain.

There is very little reliable information about the origin of Kerala Jews or “Cochin Jews” or "Black Jews". One belief is that 10 Jewish families released from jail by a Persian king came in 605 BC. Another group must have followed in 586 BC when Judea was defeated by Babylon.

The Jews of Cochin claim that they came to Cranganore, Kerala after the destruction of the Temple in 70 BC. They had their own principality until a dispute broke out which led to their fleeing to Cochin under the protection of a Hindu Raja who granted them a site for their own which later acquired the name "Jew Town" (by which it is still known). Unfortunately for them, the Portuguese occupied Cochin at the same period and persecuted them until the Dutch displaced them in 1660, and then the British displaced the Dutch in 1795.

Starting in Bombay, we will visit all major centers of Judaism in India, visit Synagogues and meet Jewish leaders. We will observe their unique customs and traditions and see historic sites important to Judaism.

Day 1 Depart USA.

Day 2 Depart Europe. Midnight arrival at Bombay. Spiritual Journeys representative will meet you and transfer you to the hotel. Overnight: Hotel Taj Mahal.

Day 3 Bombay. Morning at leisure. Afternoon tour of Bombay city. In the evening visit Gate of Mercy Synagogue or Juni Masjid established 1796. The street on which the Synagogue stands was named Samaji Street in His Honor and is at present known as Samuel street. The Synagogue celebrated its centenary in the year 1896 and then renamed Shaar-Ha-Rahamim. Overnight: Hotel Taj Mahal.

Day 4 Bombay & Pune. We will leave Bombay early in the morning by train for Pune. Afternoon city tour of Pune, now an important commercial city but once the capital of the Maratha and the Pehwas Empires. Overnight at hotel: Le Meridien

Day 5 Pune & Bombay. Morning, visit Ohel David Synagogue, established in 1867, built by the Sasoon family. Also visit Succath Shelmo Synagogue established in 1921, the foundation stone of which was laid in 1919. Late afternoon depart by train for Bombay. Overnight: Hotel Taj Mahal.

Day 6 Bombay & Ahmedabad. Visit Knesseth Eliahod Synagogue (also known as Fort Jewish Synagogue), established in 1884 by Mr. Jacob Sasson in memory of his father. Evening depart by air to Ahmedabad. Overnight: Taj Residency.

Day 7 Ahmedabad. Morning, city tour of Ahmedabad, founded in 1411 by Ahmed Shah. By the year 1600 AD Ahmedabad was considered to be the finest city in India until Delhi arose. Later visit Magen Abraham Synagogue established in 1933 by Dr. Solomon. Overnight: Taj Residency.

Day 8 Delhi. Morning depart by air to Delhi. Time free to enjoy the facilities available at the luxury hotel or shopping. Overnight: The Oberoi.

Day 9 Delhi. Tour of Old and New Delhi. Afternoon visit the Judah Hyam Hall established in 1956 in response to the small Delhi Jewish Community who used to hold prayers in their residents. Also prayers for the high holidays were held in the house of Mr. Baruch B. Benjamin, the First President of the Jewish Welfare Association, New Delhi. The hall also serves as a center for Jewish and interfaith studies. Overnight: The Oberoi.

Day 10 Agra. Leave at dawn by train, to return late at night, again by train. Overnight: The Oberoi.

Day 11 Calcutta. Morning depart for by air for Calcutta. Afternoon visit Neveh Shalome Synagogue established in 1825, the first Synagogue in Calcutta and rebuilt in 1911. Also visit Magen David Synagogue, built by Mr. Elias David Joseph Esra in memory of his father, Mr. David Joseph Ezra who died in 1882. This is the largest Synagogue in the east. Overnight: Oberoi Grand.

Day 12 Calcutta & Madras. Morning tour of Calcutta. We will visit the Eden Gardens, New Secretariat, High Court, Jain Temple, Chowringhee Museum, Mother Theresa’s Convent, New Market, Victoria Memorial and the Race Course. Late afternoon depart by air to Madras. Overnight: Hotel Taj Coromandel.

Day 13 Madras. Full day city tour of Madras visiting Fort St. George and St. Mary’s Church built by the British East India Company in 1653. A Church within the Fort was consecrated in 1680. Visit also the High Court, the San Thome Cathedral and the Marina Beach. Overnight: Hotel Taj Coromandel.

Day 14 Madras & Cochin. Late morning depart by air to Cochin. Visit Jew Town and the Pardesi Synagogue. This Synagogue was built by Samuel Castiel, David Belila, Ephrahim Sala and Joseph Levi. It stands on the grounds of the Maharaja of Cochin’s residence. It is the first Synagogue which came into existence in the commonwealth and is one of the oldest in the world. Overnight: Brunton Boat Yard.

Day 15 – Cochin & Bombay. Morning city tour of Cochin visiting the Cochin Harbour and Mattancheery Fishing Nets. Afternoon depart by air for Bombay. The rest of the day at leisure. Late evening or early morning of Day 10 transfer to the airport in time to board flight for your return. Overnight: Hotel Taj Mahal.

Day 16. Arrive Europe (morning) or USA (evening).

Registration: Please contact us for costing your particular tour.

Additional Information: Spiritual Journeys, Inc., 262 Upland Road, Cambridge, MA 02140. USA. E-mail: Ph: 508-358-4267.

Further reading: Who Are the Jews of India? Nathan Katz, University of California Press, Dayember 2000. Hardcover. ISBN: 0-520213-23-8.