Indian state grants Jews minority status

Maharashtra is home to over 110 million people – and more than half of India’s 5,000 Jews, who will finally enjoy special privileges

The Magen David Synagogue in central Mumbai, in a photo taken in February 2014. (photo credit: Joshua Davidovich/Times of Israel)
The Magen David Synagogue in central Mumbai, in a photo taken in February 2014. (photo credit: Joshua Davidovich/Times of Israel)

The Indian state of Maharashtra granted its tiny Jewish community official minority status on Tuesday, a gesture that will help ease religious life in the country’s second-most populous region.

The move comes after the Indian Jewish community, estimated to be around 5,000 members strong, asked the country’s Foreign Ministry for official government recognition as a minority group in April.

Roughly half of India’s Jews live in the western state — which is home to over 110 million people — mostly in the metropolis of Mumbai, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The only other Indian state where Jews enjoy minority status is West Bengal, home to 43 Jews, according to The Indian Express.

Official recognition in India would make it easier for Jews to register marriages, establish educational institutions and practice and promote the religion’s culture, Rabbi Ezekiel Isaac Malekar, the Delhi Jewish community’s leader, told the IANS Indian news service back in April.

Malekar said Jews have been part of Indian society for 2,300 years.

India has six official minority communities: Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Parsis and Jains.

When Israel was established in 1948, India was home to approximately 25,000 Jews, according to the Jewish Agency. Between 1948 and 1979, 24,000 Indian Jews immigrated to Israel and thousands more elsewhere.

In recent years, thousands of Jews from northeast India claiming to be the descendants of a lost biblical Jewish tribe emigrated to Israel after years of controversy over their connection to Judaism.

The Bnei Menashe say they are descended from Jews banished from ancient Israel to India in the eighth century BCE. An Israeli chief rabbi recognized them as a lost tribe in 2005, and about 1,700 moved to Israel over the next two years before the government stopped giving them visas.

In 2012, Israel reversed that policy, agreeing to let the remaining 7,200 Bnei Menashe immigrate. As of 2015, some 3,000 members of the Bnei Menashe community had moved to Israel.

JTA contributed to this report.

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