The Jews, Israel, and India

Click here to read an interview with Nathan Katz, professor of religious studies at Florida International University, who has specialized over the past twenty years in the Jewish communities of South and Southeast Asia. He observes that there are so many interactions between Jews, Israel, and India that a new academic field of Indo-Judaic studies has developed, with the Journal of Indo-Judaic Studies extant since the mid-1990s. Katz, an Indologist, entered this field in 1986-1987 when he and his wife lived in Cochin with a Jewish family. From The Jews, Israel, and India:

There are several Indian-language loan words in the Hebrew Bible. In the Book of Kings when the First Temple is being built, some of the terms like ivory, linen, apes, and peacocks are clearly from North or South Indian languages. There are a few Mishnaic references as well

“A most interesting reference is found in Flavius Josephus. When he is describing the fall of Masada, he has Elazar say – after arguing for the martyrdom and getting nowhere – ‘Consider the Hindus who don’t know God from Sinai. They have no fear of death because of their great faith and they know the soul to be eternal. If they can be so fearless in the face of death, should not we be? When they go to their death they are cheerful and even take notes and presents from the living to their ancestors in Heaven.’ This argument won the day.

“Philo of Alexandria also makes an interesting observation when he sees an Indian yogi imprisoned by the Greek armies that went to India. The prisoner was a great philosopher. The Greeks said, ‘We’ll give you everything. Please come to Greece and teach us.’ And the swami, the holy man, said, ‘No, I don’t want to leave my people and my religion. I will stay in India.’ Despite every effort to get him to assimilate and come to Greece and join that culture, he remained part of Indian culture. Philo used that – which is ironic because he was very Hellenized – as a model of fidelity toward one’s own culture and religion against the overwhelming appeal of Greek culture at the time.”

In general, Indian perceptions of both Jews and Israel is very positive, affectionate, and with much idealization.

An important field of Indian-Israeli cooperation is security. Indians feel that they are victims of terror. Many perceive the Palestinian violence as another head of the same Islamic fundamentalist dragon.

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