Bene-Israel (Beni-Israel), native Jews of India claim “pure” Jewish descent although their language is Tamil and the women wear Hindu dress. For many centuries, the religious customs of the Bene-Israel varied greatly from those of Talmudic Jews. In 1964 the Israeli rabbinate recognized the community as being Jewish.
This ancient community of Jews in India now numbers no more than 20,000 members. Shortly after the destruction of the second Temple in the 1st century CE, the Hindu ruler of the time graciously received some 10,000 Jews.
The arrival of Jews in India and the colonisation of Cranganore or Shingly dates from 72 CE, and results from their expulsion from Persia in the 5th century. From the 5th to the 15th centuries the Jews in Cranganore had an autonomous principality over which a Jewish Prince of their own choice ruled. Until recently a handful of Shingly soil together with a handful from the Holy Land was placed in every Jewish coffin. Even today, certain hymns sung in the synagogues, particularly on Jewish Holy days, are known as Shingly melodies. In 370 CE some 70,000 to 80,000 Jews landed on the coast of Malabar from Majorca, where their forefathers had been taken captive by the Roman Emperor Titus Vespasianus. After 1492, the number of Jewish settlers greatly increased because of the influx of Jews who had been driven out of Spain and other countries of Europe. In 1524, Jews were taking part in the pepper trade and so were attacked by the Moors, who burnt their houses and their synagogues. The Jews were forced to abandon their ancient settlements and escaped to Cochin, placing themselves under the protection of the Rajah of Cochin, a Hindu, who granted them a site on which to build a town and a synagogue. Thus, in 1567, Jew Town was built here, and subsequently the Cochin synagogue in 1568. Then followed 160 of the darkest years in the history of the Malabar Jews, during the occupation of Cochin by the Portuguese. When, in 1661 the Dutch arrived in Cochin, Jews enjoyed a greater prosperity for 132 years under the Dutch. By 1685 there were four synagogues and 128 families residing in Cochin. Then in 1795, the British took over and under them the Jews continued to prosper. The old Jewish settlement in China under the Hung Dynasty was an off shoot of the Malabar Jews. Then when the State of Israel was founded, emigration began on a large scale, for the first waves of which the main incentive was religious sentiment. Further incentives were the opportunities for employment and the need for partners in marriage.