JEWS IN THE CASTE SYSTEM
In modern India the caste system has lost most of its features. The Jews do not see themselves as part of the Hindu caste system, but in the past the Hindus did treat the Jews according to their traditions.
According to orthodox Hindu rules any one who does not belong to the four Varnas (castes) is an outcast and untouchable. It means, all foreigners and non-Hindus are all supposed to be untouchables. But in reality neither all foreigners nor non-Hindus were treated as untouchables. Different religion followers got different status in different parts of India.
The Bene Israels had a different status from the Cochini Jews. The Bene Israels professed oil pressing and they had a status equal to a Hindu caste called Somvar Teli, which also professed oil pressing and were part of Sudra level (see caste system). Some orthodox Hindus treated anyone who wasn't one of them as untouchable and therefore treated the Jews also as untouchables. But even though the Jews in west India had low status there were among them some who were landlords, businessmen and high rank officers in local armies.
The Cochini Jews had higher status. The Jews in Kerala were the business community of Kerala. They even ruled a small principality. They had aristocratic rights, such as use of elephants and sedans. They even had servants whose job was to announce their coming to the streets so that the low castes could move away from their way.
The relations between the Jewish communities of India are sometimes explained as affected by the Indian caste system but these relations can also be explained according to Jewish religious laws. The Baghdadi Jews were much strict about religious laws than the Bene Israel Jews. The Baghdadis did not mingle with Bene Israel Jews. The Baghdadis did not allow marriages between their children and the children of Bene Israel. They did not eat food prepared by Bene Israel and they refused to count the Bene Israel as part of the Minyan (the ten necessary to start a Jewish prayer). Many explain these relations as an influence of the Indian caste system on the Jewish communities. According to this explanation, the Baghdadi Jews referred to themselves as higher caste than the Bene Israel Jews and therefore did not mingle with them. But these relations between the Jewish communities can also be explained according to the Jewish Halacha laws. The Baghdadi Jews who were much strict about Jewish laws and diet did not mingle with the Bene Israels because the Bene Israels were secular Jews and they perceived in Bene Israel Jews as impure Jews.
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