In the land of the lofty Himalayas, the majestic Taj Mahal, and the fabled Shangri La, stands the newest STAR-K office in Mumbai, India. Kashrus is no stranger to this exotic country, located just west of China, the home of STAR-K’s Far East office.
Legend has it that in 175 B.C.E., the ancestors of Bene Israel fled persecution in Palestine. Seven couples were cast ashore and survived when their ship was wrecked on the Konkan peninsula, south of present-day Bombay (renamed the ethnic Mumbai in 1996). Isolated in their villages, these agriculturists and oil pressers (called shanwar telli, literally, “Saturday oil men” because they did not work on Shabbos), remained unaware, until the 18th century, of the two other groups of Jews which had settled in India—the Cochin Jews and the Baghdadi Jews.
The Cochin Jews claim that their ancestors arrived on the southwest coast of India, near Cochin, in 72 A.D., fleeing the Roman’s destruction of the second bais hamikdash. In the 10 century C.E., the king of Malabar granted certain rights and privileges to the Cochin Jewish community leader, Joseph Rabban. This charter is written on two copper plates, which is displayed–to this day–in the Paradesi Synagogue. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Cochin had an influx of Jewish settlers from the Middle East, North Africa and Spain. In a type of caste system, the Cochin Jews were organized into three groups. Two of them, the Paradesi (or “White Jews”) and the “Black Jews” have their own distinct communities and shuls. The third group, made up of the Meshuhrarim, freed slaves, had no shul of their own, and until today have no communal rights.
The Baghdadi Jews fled persecution from such native lands as Iraq, Syria, and Iran as early as 1796, and settled mainly in Calcutta and Bombay. They became more of a presence in 1832, when David Sassoon established residence in Bombay and began a commercial and philanthropic dynasty that drew Jews from throughout the Ottoman Empire.
At its height, the Jewish communities in India maintained 35 shuls, and Bombay’s Jewish population, alone, numbered 35,000. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, however, a majority of the Cochin and Baghdadi Jews immigrated to Israel, as well as to the U.S., England, and Australia. Today, there are half as many shuls throughout the country—mostly in Mumbai, where the Jewish population has dwindled down to a few thousand.
Levi Solomon Jacob will head STAR-K’s newest office. Rabbi Jacob holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. He studied in Yeshivos in Yerushalayim and there developed strong ties with Rabbonim from both Israel and Europe who provided training in kashrus supervision. Through Rabbi Jacob’s tireless efforts, Mumbai presently has a shechita, a mikveh, and Torah study programs.
“With Levi Solomon Jacob heading our new India office we have a uniquely qualified individual who is well versed in both the requirements of kosher law and the local languages and culture,” says Rabbi Avrohom Mushell, STAR-K Kashrus Administrator, and overseer of STAR-K’s Far East and India offices. “Rabbi Jacob has dedicated his life to enhancing Torah values in the Mumbai community. We are excited that he will be working with us to make kosher more accessible for Indian manufacturers.”