Jews in Maharashtra State get minority status

With the new status, it would become Easier for the Jewish community now to register their marriages, set up educational institutions and to promote their culture

Mumbai: The Cabinet on Tuesday accorded minority status to the miniscule Jewish community in the Maharashtra.

“The decision will benefit students from these communities to avail scholarships from the state government and shall also be able to set up educational institutions,” Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis stated in his tweet while conveying the decision.

With the minority status, the Jews will now be able to enjoy several privileges like other minority communities in the state, a senior official from the state minorities department, who does not want to be identifies, told FPJ. He added that it would become easier for the Jewish community now to register their marriages, set up educational institutions and to promote their culture.

The Jewish community is the seventh community in the state to get the status of religious minority, after Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis (Zoroastrians).

As per the 2001 Census of India, the estimated Jewish population in India was 4,650 out of which 2,466 people are believed to be residing in Maharashtra. In the 2011 Census, the community was enumerated under the category of Other Religious communities and hence the state does not have any official population data of the Jewish community.

Principal Secretary, Minorities Affairs, Jayashree Mukherjee said that the state government does not have any official data as their numbers is very less. She also clarified that the decision will not incur any additional burden on the state exchequer.

The Jews should have been accorded the minority status long back, but somehow they were left out, Mukherjee said. When asked as to why the decision was taken now, she disclosed that a demand from the Indian Jewish Federation was made in 2015 and hence the government accorded the approval.

The government has taken the decision by exercising powers vested in it under section 2(G) of the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission Act 2004, she said.

Sources in the Minorities Affairs department disclosed that with this decision it will now be possible for the government to get official data of the Jewish population in the state.

According to information available from the Jewish community websites and Synagogues in Mumbai and Thane, the Jewish community which identify themselves as ‘Bene Israeli’ are found in Mumbai, Thane city, Pen and Alibaug of Raigad district and in Pune city. Old records suggest that the Bene Israelis first came to coastal village of Nagaon near Alibaug around 1768. The ‘Bene Israeli’ community in the old Kolaba (now Raigad) district was also credited with bringing out one of the first few Marathi periodicals.

Across India, the Jewish community is scattered in Kolkata, Mizoram, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh. The Jews of Manipur and Mizoram identify themselves as BeneMenashe, those in Andhra Pradesh call themselves Bene Ephraim Jews.

The Knesset Eliyahoo Synagogue in Fort is believed to be 150 years old. Besides this the Magen David Synagogue is also located in South Mumbai. There is another old Jewish synagogue in Pen in Raigad district and the Shaar Harahamim synagogue in Thane city. The other prominent Jewish landmarks of Mumbai happen to be the David Sassoon Docks and the David Sassoon Library.

India is one of the few countries in the world where Jews have never faced any type of harassment or persecution. Prominent Jewish personalities who have made India and Mumbai their home include – yesteryear Bollywood late actor Nadira, poet Nissim Ezekiel, another late Bollywood actor of 1920 Ruby Myers alias Sulochana, late Lt Gen J F R Jacob among others.

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