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Gathering of the Chennamangalam
Jewish community, 1952
Chennamangalam synagogue
after restoration
Wooden relief over a door in the
Chennamangalam synagogue
Jewish Community in a Village in Kerala
The Jews of Chennamangalam
A tombstone outside the recently restored synagogue in Chennamangalam
has Hebrew letters inscribed, which are clearly visible, with the words "Sara
bat Israel"
Sara, the daughter of Israel
. The Hebrew date corresponds to
1269, making it the oldest Hebrew text in India. How did this Hebrew
writing reach the quiet, verdant village of Chennamangalam?
The Jews of Cochin have lived on the Malabar coast for centuries, some say
from the time of King Solomon. Others claim that the Jews arrived in the
first century A.D. after the
destruction of the Second
Temple. In a popular
Christian tradition, St.
Thomas arrived on the
Malabar coast and was
invited to the wedding of
the daughter of the King
of Cranganore. There, St.
Thomas sang a Hebrew
bridal song which none of
understand, except a
Jewish flute girl. After the
wedding, St. Thomas
retired to the Jewish quarter in Cranganore, where he took up residence.
This local Christian narrative confirms the existence of Jews on the Malabar
coast as early as the first century. Local tradition also has it that in 1341,
after the harbour of Cranganore silted up, the Jews moved from Cranganore
to Chennamangalam and other centres.