Monday, 17 August 2015

Indian Jews: Building Bridges between India and Israel

By Kait Bolongaro, Deutsche Welle, August 17, 2015

As India and Israel ramp up trade, Jews of Indian origin are viewed as the key to forging closer ties. New Delhi has a plan to foster closer connections between Israelis with Indian roots and their ancestral homeland.
Political leaders in India and Israel are strengthening their economic and political ties with an unexpected cultural connection: their shared community of Indian Jews.
There are about 80,000 Israelis with Indian origins, while an estimated 5,000 remain in India, according to the Indian Embassy in Tel Aviv.
New Delhi has a plan to foster closer cultural connections between the Israeli descendants of Indians and their ancestors' country of origin.
"We hope to have a package tour to Jewish heritage sites in Mumbai and elsewhere by early next year," said Jaideep Sarkar, India's ambassador to Israel, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
Sarkar announced the project in front of more than 3,500 Jews of Indian origin at the third National Convention of Indian Jews in Ramla, Israel, last Thursday.
"We want to tell the world proudly about the rich Jewish life in India," Sarkar said. "With your efforts, we are working to preserve the Jewish heritage in India."
Building Indian-Israeli ties
New Delhi and Tel Aviv formally established diplomatic ties in 1992, 45 years after the official founding of Israel.
Efforts to further develop this political and economic relationship have intensified under the current leadership of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Since Modi took office in 2014, India has become the largest customer for Israeli military equipment. The world's largest democracy opted to purchase Rafael's Spike anti-tank guided missiles over the American model of Javelin missiles, a deal worth $525 million (472 million euros). The two states even are set to establish a joint aerial defense system.
The leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is also set to become the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel.
New Delhi and Tel Aviv are in the midst of negotiating a free trade agreement. In 2014, bilateral trade was worth $4.5 billion.
Jewish communities in India
Though the first physical record of Jews in modern-day India comes in the form of 1,000-year-old copper plates, oral tradition dates their arrival their to over three millennia ago.
India is home to three ancient Jewish communities: the Bene Israel, centered in and around Mumbai; the Baghdadi Jews, near Calcutta; and the Cochin Jews, around Kerala. Another group, the Bnei Menashe, from the northeast, was recognized as one of the Lost Tribes of Israel in 2005.
According to Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi, an assistant professor at India's Gautam Buddha University, Jews have flourished as one of the Hindu-dominated country's many religious minorities.

"The only Jews who didn't come to Israel with baggage of sad memories were Jews from India," Aafreedi told DW. "They cherished their memories of the country."
The majority of India's Jews made their aliyah, or migration to Israel, after India became independent from Britain in 1947.
According to Aafreedi, each community left for their own reasons including Zionism, marriage partners, better economic prospects and fears of life without the privileged status held under British rule.
Preserving Indian Jewish identity
By supporting events such as the National Convention for Indian Jews and expanding Jewish heritage tourism, India's government is strengthening diplomatic relations through identity.
"The important thing is to continue what you began so well and pass on the spirit and idea behind the convention to the next generation," Sarkar said at last week's event. "The house of Indian Jewish unity has a strong foundation. Now we have to build upon it."
Projects around India are trying to kindle the memory of the dwindling Jewish community. One such project is Recalling Jewish Calcutta, a digital archive striving to document the remainder of a once-influential Baghdadi Jewish community whose population has fallen to fewer than 20 people.
Aafreedi believes that programs like the tour of Jewish heritage sites in India are important to preserve Indian Jewish identity.
"This is certainly a very good step because the first generation migrants continue to have a great love of India, the country they left, but the second generation doesn't have the same sense of bonding with India," he told DW. "This [program] can renew the bond that the first generation feels and can ignite that feeling also among the second and third generation of Indians in Israel."
Indian Jews in Israel may be the key to ensuring the memory of India's once-thriving communities survives as members continue to emigrate or pass away.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Australia Lecture Tour of Indo-Judaic Studies Scholar

Indo-Judaic Studies Scholar, Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi, Assistant Professor of History at Gautam Buddha University, India, will be a Visiting Fellow at the University of Sydney from August to December 2015 supported by Endeavour Research Fellowship awarded by the Government of Australia. He will be resident at Mandelbaum House, Darlington. During his stay there he would be available for lectures in Indo-Judaic Studies on a number of themes listed below. He does not expect any honorarium but would greatly appreciate if his travel expenses (local or within Australia) could be covered and also hospitality provided should he be invited outside Sydney. 

His lectures have been well received in Austria, Australia, India, Israel, Switzerland, the UK and the US. One can read the feedback to his lectures here: Here are the Youtube links to a couple of his lecture videos:

One can read more about him here: May of his publications are available here:
 Following are his lecture themes:

1. THE INDIAN JEWISH COMMUNITIES: India is home to three Jewish communities, two of which, the Bene Israel and the Cochini, have lived in the country for more than two millennia. The Baghdadis, who came not just from the city of Baghdad but from the entire Middle East in the decade of 1830s made significant contribution to India’s commerce and cinema. While the Bene Israel Jews remain in complete isolation and cut off from the rest of the world Jewry, the Jews in Cochin not only enjoyed great privileges but also continued to maintained links with Jews across the world for centuries, as revealed by their letters discovered in the Cairo Geniza. The lecture tells the stories of these three communities and explains the Jewish exodus from India in spite of the fact that it is the only country where they never faced persecution.

2. TRADITIONS OF ISRAELITE DESCENT AMONG CERTAIN MUSLIM GROUPS IN SOUTH ASIA: The South Asian Muslim groups of Pathans, Kashmiris, Qidwais, and Bani Israil, in spite of being antagonistic towards Jews, Israel, and Zionism, claim Israelite descent, which is seen by some scholars as an attempt on their part to distance themselves from their pre-Islamic polytheistic past by fabricating fake genealogies ascending to the founders of Semitic monotheism, the supposed patriarchs, accepted by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. Their antagonism towards Jews stems from the negative interpretations of Quranic references to Jews and also from the Arab-Israel conflict. The religious Jews who take their claims seriously are those who perceive themselves as Jews as part of a larger group of Israelites, which also includes people who according to them have descended from the Lost Tribes of Israel. Unlike the B’nei Menashe from northeast India, these Muslim groups have no desire to migrate to Israel. However, many religious Jewish organizations are keen on penetrating into their world and persuading them to do so. The involvement of religious Jewish organizations with these claimants of Israelite descent in South Asia can have some interesting ramifications for Jewish-Muslim relations and the world at large. 

3. THE JUDAIZING MOVEMENTS IN INDIA: There are seven groups in India that claim Israelite descent. Of these, the two that have started practicing Judaism were previously Christian. Thus, the Judaising movements among them are seen by anthropologists as byproducts of Christianity. While the four groups that have not yet started following Judaism are all Muslim. Although they have had traditions of Israelite descent for centuries, yet they refuse to embrace Judaism or even migrate to Israel, unlike the Christian turned Jewish groups in India. There are certain religious Jewish organizations that have been actively involved with the Christian turned Jewish groups since the last two decades, and have also been instrumental in facilitating the emigration to Israel of a number of members of one of the two groups. They now long for the emigration to Israel of the other Indian claimants of Israelite descent as well, as they believe that the dawn of the messianic era depends on the return of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Their involvement with such groups in India can have great ramifications for world politics.

4. JEWISH CONTRIBUTIONS TO INDIAN CINEMA: The Indian Jewry, notwithstanding, its miniscule numbers, played a crucial role in the Indian cinema in its infancy and managed to make its mark in the Indian film industry, the largest in the world that produces more than nine hundred films annually, at the rate of three films a day. It would bring the awareness of Indian Jewish actors to the fore; and give them their due in terms of recognition, both informed and ungrudging. The lecture promises to significantly advance our understanding of the remarkable contributions Jews have made to the richness and variety of India's collective cinematic legacy. The lecture would be a critical appraisal of the work of India's Jewish film-actors, directors, producers, writers, journalists and film-personality-biographers, and would also consist of their biographies.

5. JEWISH CONTRIBUTIONS TO INDIAN LITERATURE:  Although resident in India for more than two millennia, Jews remain India’s smallest religious minority. They have produced literatures in Marathi, Hindi, Urdu and English. In fact, the person considered father of India’s modern English Poetry was a Jew, Nissim Ezekiel.  Yet their literature never attracted the attention that the writings from other marginalised groups in India did, when it comes to subaltern studies. The lecture attempts to explore whether at all the pang of marginalisation gets reflected in the writings of India’s Jewish litterateurs and also tries to bring into sharp focus the contributions made by Jews to the collective multilingual literary heritage of India.

6. A CULTURAL PROFILE OF INDIAN JEWS: A detailed study of Indian Jewish culture as reflected in literature, art, cinema, dance and music. Biographies of Indian Jewish writers, poets, painters, sculptors, actors, musicians, dancers, sportsmen and journalists, and a critical appreciation of their works. A comprehensive inquiry into the influence of India's predominant Hindu culture on Indian Jewish creativity and vice versa. An honest assessment of the Jewish contributions to Indian culture.

7. JEWISH-MUSLIM RELATIONS IN SOUTH ASIA: An exploration of Muslim-Jewish relations in South Asia and how the South Asian Muslim attitudes towards Jews affect the Muslim-Jewish relations across the world. The South Asian Muslims make up the biggest Muslim population in the world. What shapes their perceptions of Jews would be investigated. The lecture explores the historical and contemporary relations between the Muslim and Jewish communities of South Asia. Dr. Aafreedi draws on his ongoing research to provide examples of both Muslim-Jewish amity and areas of conflict. He explores the impact of India’s foreign policy with respect to Israel and explain why he is convinced that work amongst Muslims and Jews in South Asia may be pivotal to the betterment of Muslim-Jewish relations across the globe.

8. SARMAD - THE JEWISH SUFI OF INDIA: Sarmad is undoubtedly one of the most complex, abstruse, yet interesting characters of history. A towering intellectual, a great linguist, a sensitive poet, a divine Sufi, a Jewish theologian, a nudist, a gay, a globetrotter, a merchant, a metaphysical fusionist, a philosopher, a naturist, an Indophile, a lover, and a martyr – he was all this and much, much more. The subtleties, complexities and intricacies of this extraordinary mind remain largely unexplored and hidden from public view. He enjoys a special place in history for his divine madness, which made a deep impact on successive generations across countries and nations. Little wonder, if he remains a subject of interest to this day!

9. THE MARGINALISATION OF INDIAN JEWS: In this analysis of Indian Jews in India and Israel, the concept of marginality is based on their peripheral positioning due to their function of possessing the elements and orientation of two disharmonic cultures, viz., Jewish and Indian, while simultaneously being denied membership from both these cultures. It is important to note that here marginality means partially belonging to both cultures rather than belonging totally to one. An attempt is made to understand the marginalisation of Indian Jews through two angles: how they perceive themselves and how they are perceived by others, viz., Hindus and Muslims in India and by Ashkenazim, Sephardim and Mizrahim in Israel.  The nature of their marginalisation and community identity disintegration is probed through an analysis of the setting in pre- and post-independence India and emigration factors, the positioning of Indian Jewry in contemporary India and Israel in spatial, social, economic and political spheres and community disintegration as reflected in the social institutions of marriage and religion. The lecture also brings into sharp focus the cases of the expression of anti-Semitic feelings among Indians as reported in the Indian Jewish publications and also recent trends in Muslim attitudes towards Jews. It gives a short account of the struggle of Indian Jews for equality in Israel. Along with all this it also tries to explain the alarmingly growing popularity of Hitler among the Indian youth and the absence of Holocaust education and Jewish Studies in India.

10. INDIAN JEWS IN ISRAEL: After the establishment of the modern state of Israel, Indian Jews made aliyah in large numbers. Today there are far more Indian Jews in Israel, around eighty thousand, than in India, around five thousand. The lecture narrates the story of their initial struggle in Israel and how they have prospered there and enriched the Israeli culture and nation through their many contributions.

11. THE TRADITION OF ISRAELITE ORIGIN AMONG PATHANS/PASHTUNS: The Lost Tribes of Israel is a subject that is largely relegated to the realm of myth by academics, though unfairly so, as the desideratum for further research into the matter still remains unfulfilled. Even if it is a myth, it has inspired people from all three Abrahamic religions to undertake long journeys in their search and continues to do so even today. The one group that stands out among all the claimants of Israelite descent across the world because of the innumerable references one finds to its putative Israelite origins in texts written by Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars alike across a millennium is Pathan, also called Pashtun or Pakhtun. What makes the group even more interesting is the fact that in spite of their own tradition of descent from the lost tribes of Israel they refuse to convert to Judaism or to migrate to Israel. Although considered to be best contenders for the status of the lost tribes of Israel by anthropologists like Dr. Shalva Weil of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem they remain antagonistic towards Israel, Jews and Zionism. Attempts to analyze their DNA have been made in the past and are still being made. If the much talked about Israelite connection does get scientifically corroborated it can have interesting ramifications for Jewish-Muslim relations across the world, considering the fact that they are also the people who largely fill the ranks of the Taliban today, people inspired by an ideology considered responsible for 9/11.

12. MALIHABAD - A PATHAN/PASHTUN SETTLEMENT IN INDIA: Malihabad, a small town in Lucknow district of Uttar Pradesh in northern India, is far too well known that its small size warrants. What makes it such a special place is not just that it enjoys the distinction of being the mango capital of India, but also the presence of Pathans there, about whom legends abound, and the great Urdu poets that it has produced. Since late it has attracted lost tribes enthusiasts because of the tradition of the Israelite origin of the Pathans there. Two attempts have already been made to genetically confirm their Israelite descent through DNA analysis at University College London, UK and at Haifa Technion, Israel.

13. THE PARADOX OF THE ABSENCE OF ANTI-SEMITISM AND THE POPULARITY OF HITLER IN INDIA: It is a paradox that in a country that has never known anti-Semitism and where it remains largely unknown even today, Hitler is gaining popularity, as manifested in the increase in the sale of his autobiography by fifteen percent in just a decade, the release of films in various Indian languages with the eponymous protagonist as the namesake of Hitler, the recent popularity of the name Aryan as a first name among Indians. Although Jews have been resident in India for more than two millennia, yet most of the Indians are ignorant of their presence among them. This is another paradox, which is explained by the small numbers of Jews. Yet another paradox is that in spite of a continuous Jewish presence in the country for more than two thousand years, India refuses to teach about them, whereas in the neighbouring China, which does not even have any Jewish community of its own other than the recently discovered Kaifeng Jews, Jewish Studies are flourishing at ten of its universities. There are a number of reasons for it which the lecture highlights.

14. INDIA'S RESPONSE TO THE HOLOCAUST: India’s response to the Holocaust was ambivalent in nature. Although anti-Semitism has been unknown among the Hindus of India, who make up around eighty-five per cent of the Indian population and the British, who ruled India at that time, were not against Jews, yet only two thousand Jews from Nazi Europe managed to get asylum in India, as it was made mandatory for them to give proof of guaranteed employment in India before being allowed entry. This was done keeping in view the Indian Muslim attitude towards the issue. The Indian Muslims were critical of the ongoing Jewish migration to Palestine (now Israel) and sympathetic to the Arab movement against it. It is a matter of enquiry as to what role did the posture of the Indian National Congress on this matter, which is understood to be somewhat indifferent and muted, play in determining the British policy regarding Jewish refugees. It is important considering the fact that for most of the time independent India has been ruled by the Indian National Congress, the political party that decided not to have relations with Israel for four decades. How far did Subhash Chandra Bose’s pro-Nazi attitude influence the Indian National Congress’s policy also needs to be investigated. Many among the European Jewish refugees and migrants were intellectuals who made great contributions to India’s cultural life, viz., composer, conductor, pianist and musicologist from Germany, Walter Kaufman (1907-84), one of the great literary editors, film critics and film script writers, besides being an essayist, raconteur, friend and critic of great writers, Willy Haas (1891-1974), academic and scholar from Germany, Alex Aronson (1912-1995), and a teacher and a linguist from Germany, Margaret Spiegel (1897-1968), among others. There is also an instance of about six hundred and thirty-six Polish children, some of whom were Jewish, and twenty-two guardians finding asylum in the principality of Nawanagar (now in Gujarat), not all at the same time. A treaty signed between the Polish Government in Exile in London and the Soviet Union led to the efforts to create an army of the Polish Prisoners of War. Some of their families were then permitted to accompany them out of Russia and it was as part of this that the Polish children, orphans or half orphans, found refuge in Jamnagar. The British helped the displaced Poles find asylum across the world. However, they decided not to offer them refuge in British India, but in the Indian princely states, which were in subordinate alliance with them. There was also a much larger camp in Valivade in Kohlapur State (now in Maharashtra).

15. SOUTH ASIAN MUSLIM ATTITUDES TOWARDS JEWS, ISRAEL AND ZIONISM: The academics have largely focused on the Arab Muslim attitudes towards Jews, not realizing that the Arabs are only twenty per cent of the world’s Muslim population, whereas South Asian Muslims are almost forty-five percent, with a diaspora larger in size than that of the Muslims of any other region of the world. They were influential in keeping India from having diplomatic relations with Israel for the first four decades of the Jewish state’s existence and are still influential in keeping India from introducing Jewish Studies in its academia. Their proportion in India’s population is only thirteen per cent, yet it the second largest Muslim population in the world. With their huge numbers in their diaspora they are particularly influential in the UK, Canada and the US. The lecture stresses upon their importance and explains why there is a higher chance of success in bringing about a positive change in their attitudes towards Jews, Israel and Zionism , than it is with the Arab Muslims and explains how it can be done.

16. EFFORTS FOR THE PROMOTION OF JEWISH STUDIES IN INDIA: Although India is the only country in the world where Jews have lived in peace and complete harmony with their non-Jewish neighbours for more than two millennia, yet Hitler's popularity is rising at a rapid rate in the country. This rise in Hitler's popularity is not a result of any-Semitism, because that is something which has been largely unknown in India. It can, however, be ascribed to the absence of Jewish Studies in India, where Islamic Studies are available at almost all major Indian universities. The level of ignorance among Indians about Jews is hysterical and the state has been unwilling to introduce Jewish Studies in India, whereas in the neigbouring country China, Jewish Studies are available at ten of its universities. Dr. Aafreedi would speak about his efforts to educate Indians about the Jews, the state of Israel and the Holocaust and to create an awareness of the Holocaust and check its denial or minimisation by certain sections of Muslims, in spite of the adversities involved in doing so.

17. THE USE OF FILMS FOR CREATING HOLOCAUST AWARENESS IN INDIA: Dr. Aafreedi would explain how he has used films on the Holocaust to spread awareness of the Holocaust among the largely ignorant Indians at a time when admiration for Hitler, Nazis and Fascists is on a rise in India, in spite of all kinds of obstacles and adversities, though anti-Semitism still remains largely unknown in India.

18. INDIA’S VARIED JEWISH CONNECTIONS: India is the only country in the world where Jews have lived with their non-Jewish neighbours in complete harmony for more than two millennia. Jews are India's smallest religious minority and Muslims its biggest, and the two have produced beautiful examples of amity, unlike anywhere else in the world. India is home not just to three Jewish communities, viz., the Bene Israel, the Cochini and the Baghdadi, but also to two Judaizing movements, the B'nei Menashe and the B'nei Ephraim, that have emerged during the second half of the twentieth century, and to four such Muslim groups (the Kashmiris, the Pashtuns, the Qidwais and the Bani Israil) about whom there are traditions of their having descended from the lost tribes of Israel. India was also a refuge to more than two thousand Jews during the Holocaust. Jews, in spite of their small numbers, have contributed to all aspects of Indian culture. Indian cinema, the world's biggest film industry, which produces three times more films annually than Hollywood does, in particular, owes a deep debt of gratitude to Jews for almost all its earliest female actors were provided by the community. India is visited by young Israelis in astoundingly large numbers every year and Indian studies are booming in Israel.  Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi will bring into sharp focus the above mentioned varied Jewish connections of India. 

Dr. Aafreedi can be contacted at


Monday, 29 December 2014

פתאני אמיתי הוא מבני ישראל | אליהו בירנבוים

מסע אל הפתאנים חושף קהילה מוסלמית שורשית בעלת מנהגים הקרובים ליהדות המתייחסת אל שבטי ישראל. ולא, הם לא בדרך לכאן
למרות שחקרתי וביקרתי קבוצות רבות של נידחי ישראל, קשה לתאר את ההתרגשות שאפפה אותי כאשר שמעתי מפיהם של שייח'ים ומאמינים מוסלמיים האומרים: "אנחנו צאצאים של באני אישראיל". 1,400 שנה לאחר שהם התאסלמו, עדיין פתאנים רבים יודעים לומר שהם צאצאים לעם היהודי, לא כמיתוס או אגדה בלבד אלא כעובדה היסטורית. כפי שאמר לי פרופ' נברס אפרידי בהודו, צאצא העם הפתאני החוקר את התופעה: "דע לך שפתאני שאינו אומר שהוא מבני ישראל אינו פתאני אמיתי".
במסעי עברתי בין כפרים שונים של הפתאנים, בעיקר במדינת רג'סטן, בטיגריה הסמוכה לעיר ג'יפור, בכפרים שונים וכמובן גם בערים ג'יפור ופושקר. במשך כמה ימים עברתי בין כפרי מוסלמים שונים בדרום הודו ולמרות שכל האוכלוסייה כולה היא של מוסלמים ואין זה מחזה יום יומי לראות אדם מערבי, יהודי וישראלי מטייל שם, הרגשתי ביניהם בבית ובמשפחה.
ניתן לזהות אותיות עבריות בתוך הטקסט. הרב אליהו בירנבוים מעיין בספרי היוחסין עם "בארא הזארי"‎
גלות ראובן
המונח פתאנים (או פשטונים) הוא מושג כללי הכולל את השבטים המוסלמיים שהתיישבו בצפון מזרח פקיסטן ובצפון מערב אפגניסטן. חלק מהשבטים הפתאניים יצאו לגלות והגיעו במאה ה־13 מאפגניסטן לדרום הודו והמשיכו לחיות שם כשבטים נבדלים על פי מנהגיהם. חלק מהפתאנים משתייכים לזרם המוסלמי של הטליבאן הקיצוני.
לפי המסורת של הפתאנים העוברת בעל פה מדור לדור, מקורם בבני ישראל אשר גלו מארץ ישראל ונדדו לאשור ומשם לפרס ולאחר מכן לאפגניסטן. המיקום הגיאוגרפי שבו התיישבו – אזור חייבר בהרי אפגניסטן – דומה לשם חבור שבספר מלכים מוזכר כמקום שאליו גלו שבטי ראובן וגד וחצי שבט המנשה: 
"בִּשְׁנַת הַתְּשִׁעִית לְהוֹשֵׁעַ לָכַד מֶלֶךְ־אַשּׁוּר אֶת־שֹׁמְרוֹן וַיֶּגֶל אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵל אַשּׁוּרָה, וַיֹּשֶׁב אוֹתָם בַּחְלַח וּבְחָבוֹר" (מלכים ב יז, ו).
לפי מחקרים שונים, הפתאנים היו חלק מהעם היהודי עד אשר במהלך תקופה שבין המאה השביעית לעשירית הם אימצו את דת האסלאם. האגדה הפתאנית מספרת שכאשר הגיע חאלד אבן ואליד, הגנרל של צבא מוחמד, אל מלך ששמו קיס וסיפר לו על מוחמד – קיס שעמד בראש קבוצה של שכירי חרב התפעל מדתו של מוחמד והחליט להמיר את דתו ואת דת חייליו. קיס, שלפי המסורת היה מצאצאיו של שאול בן קיש, הגיע לבקר את מוחמד והוא בירך אותו שהוא ועמו יהיו "פתאן" – קרי "המנצחים שלי". כך הפכו הפתאנים היהודים להיות פתאנים מוסלמים והפכו לחלק מצבאו של מוחמד.
הפתאנים מחולקים לשבטים שונים ומעניין ששמותיהם מזכירים את שמם של שבטי ישראל. חלק מהפתאנים משייכים עצמם לשבט ה"אפרידי" המזוהה עם צאצאי אפרים, אחרים עם בני "יוסף זאי", בניו של יוסף. יש הקושרים עצמם ל"מוסא קל", הלא הם בני משה, ואחרים חושבים שהם בני גד: "גאדי זאי". יש פתאנים המשייכים עצמם לשבט ראובן (רבאני) ולשבט לוי (לבאני), אולם רוב הפתאנים רואים את עצמם כצאצאים של שאול המלך.
הפתאנים נחשבים לאנשים חכמים במיוחד בהודו. הם משויכים לקסטות הגבוהות, וידועים כלוחמים טובים, כאנשים בעלי מבנה גוף גדול ורחב וכבעלי יוזמה. אנשים רבים מהם רואים במאפיינים אלו "תכונות יהודיות".
מנהגים יהודיים
למרות שהפתאנים הם מוסלמים המאמינים בקוראן ומקיימים את מצוותיו, הם שומרים על מנהגים שונים שמבדילים בינם לבין שאר המוסלמים ויוצרים זיקה מעניינת עם מצוות ומנהגים של העם היהודי.
הפתאנים נוהגים שלא לאכול בשר גמל למרות שעל פי חוקי האסלאם הדבר מותר. בשר הגמל היה עבור המוסלמים כמו בשר החזיר עבור הנוצרים. כאשר האחרונים ביקשו לבדוק אם אדם הוא נוצרי מאמין או שהוא אנוס, כלומר יהודי בלבו ונוצרי כלפי חוץ, הם נהגו לבדוק אותו על ידי אכילת בשר חזיר. כך גם בעולם המוסלמי, הדרך לבדוק אם אדם אינו אנוס ומסתיר דבר מה הייתה על ידי אכילת בשר גמל. לכן, ההימנעות של הפתאנים מאכילת בשר גמל היא בעלת משמעות, שכן היא נתפסת כמאפיין יהודי. כמו כן הפתאנים נמנעים מאכילת בשר עם חלב יחד. מאחד הפתאנים שמעתי שאם אכל בשר ביום אחד, הוא לא יאכל חלב באותו יום אלא רק למחרת. בדומה, אגב, לאחת הדעות בגמרא בנושא.
מצוות המילה נשמרת אצל הפתאנים באופן שונה מאשר אצל אחיהם המוסלמים. ראשית, הם מקיימים את ברית המילה בשבוע הראשון לאחר הלידה או במועד הראשון שהילד חזק דיו כדי לעמוד במילה (לאו דווקא ביום השמיני). שנית, יש אצלם "סנדק" המחזיק את התינוק בזמן המילה. לרוב הסב הוא הסנדק של נכדו. הסנדק נוהג להניח על ברכיו כרית ועליה מונח התינוק. כמו כן, הברית נחוגה בפאר וברוב עם ולא בצנעה כפי שנוהגים המוסלמים.
הפתאנים מקפידים לקבור את מתיהם בבית קברות נפרד משאר האוכלוסייה המקומית. בעבר הפתאנים נהגו שלא לגלח את פאות הלחיים ולמעשה לגדל זקן. אצל חלק מהם, בעיקר באזור אפגניסטן, אפשר היה לזהות מעין "פאות" בצידי הפנים. כיום רק זקנים או בעלי מעמד דתי בעדה מקפידים על כך.
ספרי יוחסין
אחד הרגעים המרגשים והמרתקים ביותר במסע היה כאשר ביקרנו בכפר ניוונה שברג'סטן, בביתו של "בארא הזארי", מר מוחמד סאדר חן. הגענו לביתו הצנוע בפאתי הכפר, בית שבו מתגוררת משפחתו לדורותיה. לאחר שיחה ראשונית הוא סיפר לנו על ספרי היוחסין של הפתאנים (סג'רה). בספרים אלו נרשמים כל הלידות, הנישואין והפטירות בתוך קהילת הפתאנים. למעשה, לכל משפחה פתאנית יש אילן יוחסין בתוך ספרי היוחסין המגיעים עד אדם הראשון, נח, אברהם יצחק ויעקב ושנים עשר השבטים.
לאחר טקס קבלת האורחים והכיבודים כמיטב המסורת הפתאנית – הוצאת מיטות הבית לחצר כדי לשבת עליהן ושתיית תה ומים מן הבאר – הגיע הרגע המיוחל ומר מוחמד סאדר חן ניגש לביתו והביא מחדר קטן את ספרי היוחסין. הדפים הצהובים והבלויים מלמדים על ההיסטוריה הארוכה שעברה עליהם ועל הפתאנים. מר סאדר חן החל לקרוא בספרים אלו ולטענתו הנוסח הוא שילוב של שלוש שפות, סנסקריט ופושטו בשילוב אותיות עבריות עתיקות. ואכן, במאמץ מסוים ניתן לזהות אותיות עבריות המשולבות בתוך הטקסט. בעיקר האותיות ש', פ' ו־ל'. מר סאדר חן ממשיך לכתוב ולערוך את ספרי היוחסין של הפתאנים בהודו עד היום, כפי שנהוג לעשות גם באפגניסטן.
משפחות רבות מקרב הפתאנים מקפידות עד היום לא להתחתן עם בן זוג ללא בדיקה האם משפחתו מופיעה בספרים אלו והיא משפחה עם ייחוס פתאני. כידוע, האסלאם מאפשר לכל מוסלמי להתחתן עם מוסלמי אחר או עם אדם המאמין בא־ל אחד או שהוא מקבל עליו את אמונת האסלאם, אך הפתאנים המסורתיים לעולם לא יתחתנו עם אישה מוסלמית.
כאשר ביקרתי בכפר טיגריה, פגשתי משפחה פתאנית הממשיכה לשמור באדיקות על המנהגים הפתאניים. הבן הבכור של המשפחה, צעיר בן 16, סיפר לי תוך כדי ביקור בבית הקברות הפתאני שיש לו חברה. שיבחתי אותו על כך אבל הוא נשמע מעט מאוכזב. הוא הסביר לי שהחברה שלו היא הינדית ולא פתאנית ואסור לבחור פתאני להתחתן עם אישה הינדית או אפילו מוסלמית שאינה ממשפחה פתאנית. נכון שגם מנהג זה הולך ונחלש שכן יש התבוללות פתאנית בחברה ההודית והמוסלמית ולכן בני השבט הקימו תנועה בשם "אנג'ומן אל פאתן", שמטרתה להשיב עטרה ליושנה וללמד את צעירי השבט מאין הם באים ולחזק את המורשת השבטית.
ואולם, למרות הקשר ההיסטורי בין הפתאנים לבני ישראל, אני מודה שלאחר שיחות עם מנהיגים, שייח'ים ואנשים אחרים, התרשמתי שהקשר היהודי איננו חלק מהזהות של הפתאנים, ויותר מכך – הם אינם מצפים או מייחלים לשוב לחיק העם היהודי כפי שקבוצות אחרות של צאצאי העם היהודי מבקשות. הזיקה בין הפתאנים לעם היהודי היא בעיקר היסטורית ולמרות היותם צאצאים לבני ישראל הם אינם רוצים לשנות את אמונתם המוסלמית. "בעבר היינו שייכים לבני ישראל, כיום אין אנו שייכים ליהודים", אמר לי אחד השייח'ים. "כיום אנו מוסלמים אף שבעבר היינו מבני ישראל", טען אחד מראשי הפתאנים. למעשה הקשר עם העם היהודי הלך ודעך עם השנים והקשר ההיסטורי לא מהווה עוד קשר רוחני או זהותי. זו הסיבה לכך שלדעתי המחקר והתיעוד של תופעה זו הם כל כך חשובים.
בסופו של מסע מרתק זה אל עבר הפתאנים, מעניין לגלות שגם אם אין בכוונתם לשוב לעם היהודי – מצויים בקצווי עולם, במקומות רחוקים ונידחים גיאוגרפית ובין עמים העובדים לבודהה, אנשים שהם צאצאי העם היהודי.
תודתי נתונה לידידי ורעי אייל בארי, הכותב דוקטורט באוניברסיטת אריאל בנושא "הזהויות המרובות של הפתאנים המיוחסים: בין גנאולוגיה ישראלית, דתיות אסלאמית ותרבות הינדית". הוא היה לי למדריך וחברותא במסע אל עבר הפתאנים בהודו ובלעדיו לא יכולתי לגלות את סודם.

First published on:

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Malihabad Pathans resent linking lineage with Jews

Yusra Husain, The Times of India, Lucknow, December 22, 2014                                                             MALIHABAD: On a foggy Sunday afternoon, the otherwise quite Malihabad bounced to its Pathani vigour as a group of Afridi Pathans sat in the orchard of revolutionary poet Josh Malihabadi and conversed with Rabbi Dr Ari Zivotofsky. It was meant to be a session in which the rabbi would have asked the Afridi Pathans questions about their traditions and history, but he found himself facing questions from youth who were anguished about the constant research on their genetics by Israelis. The questions were not limited to what the Afridi Pathans said were "false claims" trying to find their roots to Judaism, but also included the situation between Palestine and Israel.

Rabbi Dr Ari Zivotofsky decided to visit Malihabad to study the historical ancestry of Afridi Pathans in the region, after his interest was aroused in previous research on the subject. Earlier hypotheses claimed resemblance between certain traditions revolving around the common Semitic customs of Afridi Pathans with those of the Jews, hinting towards a probable connection between the two.

"Five years back when Shehnaz Ali visited us in Malihabad to take DNA samples of the Pathans, she misguided us about the real motive of her research. She told us it was to reaffirm if the Afridi Pathans of present day held the same warrior qualities and other characteristics of their ancestors hundreds of years back. We later got to know that it was to find a link of Pathan ancestry with Jews," complained Ahsan Javed Khan, a raging Afridi Pathan, host to an Israeli scholar visiting the small tehsil, who was in Malihabad researching on Pathan history.

Speaking about his experience of the meeting, Zivotofsky said, "I am not intimidated by their questions but actually surprised with how offended the Afridi Pathans are by this research and how careful one has to be with an apolitical and benign approach." The young men pointed out anomalies in previous research carried out by other individuals and averred that DNA studies done earlier could found no conclusive result. The Pathans also claimed that the research might have a political motivation in case one of the earlier researches was funded by Israel's foreign ministry. "The points raised here have intrigued me to follow up on the research done back then. If no conclusive results were found probably the researches couldn't arrive at the expected results so they didn't publicise them. I would now like to get into those flaws," said Zivotofsky.

In the old Kothi of Khalid Yusuf, belonging to the earliest families of Afridi Pathans in Malihabad, Dr Ari spoke about an oral tradition passed on through generations. "I remember my grandmother telling me that we belong to Bani Israel (Children of Israel) and Ephraim, however this does not mean that we are Jews. Why do Israelis want to trace our ancestry to one of the lost tribes of Israel?" said Asad Yar Khan, taking Zivotofsky around his hometown.

"With the knowledge that I am taking from here, it looks like the theory of Pathans having a link with Judaism is more of an oral tradition, and collecting blood samples will not help anymore. We should look into the books now for the research to come together. It could be a better idea to rephrase the research as 'finding a link between Afridi Pathans and ancient Israel' instead of with Jews, to whom the people here appear to be averse," concluded Zivotofsky.

Seeking Malihabad's Jewish connect

Yusra Husain, The Times of India, Lucknow, December 21, 2014                                                            LUCKNOW: Straight aquiline noses, fair skin colour, chiselled features and a probable connection with the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel could be an addition to the identity of Afridi Pathans who have been dwelling in various parts of the erstwhile Awadh since centuries. In a quest to trace the lineage of exiled Israeli tribes, Jewish scholars from the far-off land of Israel have been guests to Malihabad over the years. Attracting world attention yet again, Malihabad will host Dr Ari Greenspan and Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky from Israel's Bar Ilan University on Sunday, to assist their quest to understand more about Afridi Pathans' historical connection to Judaism based on their hypothesis.

According to legend, ten of the 12 Israeli tribes had been exiled by Assyrian invaders in 721 BC, some of whom settled in India. Afridi Pathans, the supposed descendants of one such lost tribe came to India between 1202 and 1761 AD, making Uttar Pradesh their home amongst various other regions.

Barely an hour away from Lucknow, Malihabad has been home to as many as 650 families of Afridi Pathans, who take pride in their warrior genetics, but are in fact averse to the idea of bearing Jewish roots, if there be any.

The idea of Afridi Pathans tracing a Jewish ancestry grabbed attention when the Indo-Judaic studies scholar, Navras Jaat Aafreedi started working on the subject in 2002. Emphasising his thesis and claiming the lineage of Afridi Pathans to Ephraim, Navras himself an Afridi Pathan, managed to irate his kindred back then while proposing the idea of bearing Jewish roots to them.

In an email communication with Navras, the two scholars have explained how they "would like to understand the history and meet any elders who might hold or remember traditions linking the Pathans to the Jews." It is believed some of the Jewish traditions bear resemblance to the ones followed by the Afridi Pathans.

In 2002, Professor Tudor Parfitt along with his team from the Centre of Jewish Studies, London University had collected DNA samples from the Malihabadi Afridi Pathans. In 2008, Shahnaz Ali, researching on the subject, blood samples collected from the clan, followed by gathering DNA samples in 2009. Result of the research carried out so far has not been made public, but most of the earlier studies worldwide have refuted such claims of heredity.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Is Hitler loved in India?

Puja Awasthi, The Indian Republic, August 20, 2014

When Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao labelled himself ‘Hitler’ (he reportedly lauded himself as ‘Hitler’ for thieves, the corrupt and ‘to stop injustice’ at a press conference) he was displaying a trademark Indian ambivalence towards Adolf Hitler- a man responsible for the death of six million European Jews and of millions of other non Aryans.

The Indian attitude to Hitler is on display every time the name is used for one who is little more than a strict disciplinarian- a popular case in point being comparisons of one’s mother-in-law to the mass murderer. At worse, it signifies a dictator and could thus be used as an adjective for that particularly harsh college principal. The name pops up in serials- there was one named ‘Hitler didi’ which drew flak in the west for stroking memories of a man universally reviled (see here and here) and in cinema- ‘Hero Hitler in Love’ was a 2011 Punjabi movie that received a bumper opening while the Mithun Chakraborty starrer ‘Hitler’ (1998) portrayed the protagonist as a man of staunch principles. A more recent cinematic outing- ‘Gandhi to Hitler’ (2011) was decried for painting the man as a lost hero of India’s struggle for Independence (see here) while Hitler memorabilia, including his autobiography Main Kampf, continues to grow in sales (see here). In 2006, a Mumbai restaurant was forced to change its name from the ill advised ‘Hitler’s Cross’ (see here) while in 2012, a clothing store named ‘Hitler’ in Ahemdabad drew considerable anger (tellingly the owner of the unfortunately named store said that he had picked the name in memory of his grandfather, a strict disciplinarian who the family referred to as ‘Hitler’).

Navras JaatAafreedi, Assistant Professor at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Gautam Buddha University (GBU), Greater NOIDA, puts down this offensive insensitivity to ignorance about Jews (of which there are just 5000 in India) and the blacking out of Holocaust studies in India. For the first Aafreedi gives the example of being handed a book on ‘juice’ when he asked for one on ‘Jews’, and for the latter he says, “Studying the Holocaust has far reaching repercussions. You would then have to study other genocides, for instance the anti Sikh riots of 1984 and Gujarat riots of 2002 among others”.

An Indo Judaic Studies researcher, Aafreedi’s efforts towards raising awareness on the Holocaust have included the country’s first ever Holocaust Films retrospectivein South Asia in 2009, with screenings at the University of Lucknow and Ambedkar University in Lucknow.  Yet he is driven to despair every time he asks his young students what they think of Hitler. “Not a single hand goes up when I ask who has a poor opinion of Hitler”, he says.

In 2012, Anuj Kharb, a Masters student of Development Studies at the GBU worked on a paper titled, “The parameters of popularity among Indian Youth” and discovered that Hitler scored high on patriotism, discipline, work ethics and leadership. This was not the case with other dictators like Mussolini who in fact had zero recall value to Kharb’s subjects. While Kharb admits to some knowledge of the Holocaust, he does not shy from justifying Hitler’s deeds. “Hitler wanted to be an artist. Yet when he joined the army and saw how Germany had been trampled over after World War I, he struck back. Love for the nation is above all other kinds of love. Today, other countries are trying to crush India. It is natural for the youth to want a leader who is dominating”, he explains.

Nathaniel Currier, who did a project on the rise of the popularity of Hitler, with particular reference to Tamil Nadu as part of the five week South India Term Abroad program in 2013, came back less fascinated than Kharb. As he writes in the opening pages of his study, comparing the resurgence of Jospeh Stalin’s popularity in India with the Indian Hitler fan club, “…political frustration is one of the biggest factors leading to Hitler’s Indian rise in popularity….. Hitler for them is a borrowed history. India can feel no “nostalgia” for Hitler’s reign like the people of Russia can for Stalin. Instead, there seems to exist a growing desire to adopt his legacy as their own; a desire spurred on by multiple factors and guided by an inclination by the youth to escape their own past, rather than feel nostalgic for it”.

As for Hitler’s admirers, Currier puts them in two categories- the first who admire him without any grounding in facts, the second who have read some History and base their liking on his perceived qualities as a strategist, management style and oratory skills. The concluding line of Curreir’s study is ominous: “Hitler’s rising popularity is more than a humorous oddity. It represents a shift in the collective consciousness of India’s youth that could potentially effect the direction of India itself”.

It is the admiration of the first category of fans that is most difficult to counter for it could flow from something as ephemeral as Hitler’s choice of the swastika as the symbol of his Nazi Party which is interpreted as great service to Hinduism. Writing in the April 2014 issue of Asian Jewish Life, Aafreedi (quoted earlier) delves into the admiration of the Hindu nationalists for Nazis and cautions against the “…propaganda unleashed by the Hindu Right, the Islamophobes in India. They continue to project Hitler as a hero with the aim of developing an acceptance for Nazi-like practices that they would like to adopt…”.

Old RSS hands however counter such contentions. Dharm Narayan Avasthi, the patron of the organisation’s education wing Bhartiya Shikshan Mandal, for instance, dubs it as “mere conjecture”.
Yulia Egorova, senior lecturer in Anthropology at Durham University who is the co-author of The Jews of Andhra Pradesh: Contesting Caste and Religion in South India says of the widespread ignorance of Hitler’s atrocities on Jews and a rise in Hitler’s popularity, “This is a worrying deterrent to India’s image as a tolerant country”.

It is a worry, no country with world ambitions, can ignore.