Discovering the Passover traditions of India's largest Jewish community - Food - Haaretz - Israel News |
Magen David (Baghdadi) Synagogue, Matza Making, 2000. Copyright Shalva Weil. Shalva Weil
Biblical rituals and spicy biryani

Discovering the Passover Traditions of India's Largest Jewish Community

Author Shulamit Shaulker Madnick discovers the near-forgotten practices of her mother's youth in Bombay.

“And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it.” Exodus 12:7

Erica Lyons
Shalva Weil
Shulie Madnick

My mom has vivid childhood memories etched in her mind of visiting Virjoli, a village south of her hometown Mumbai, witnessing members of her Bene Israel community slaughtering a goat for Passover and marking their door posts and lintels with palms dipped in its blood. Virjoli, also known as Satamba, was my mom’s maternal grandparents’ village, where they owned much land and two homes.

Imagine my surprise, after growing up in a predominantly Indian household in Ashdod, living and breathing Indian Jewish culture and food, to only learn about this ritual on my most recent trip back to Israel last month. I had had myriad conversations with my mom and others in the Bene Israel community over the last three decades, yet only discovered this elusive-to-me custom during a Shabbat dinner in March. The stories were flowing out my mother that evening; on any other given day over the years she had been impatient with my questions and puzzled at my interest in the past.

Shalva Weil

The ritual, practiced in the community's native India but not imported along with the immigration to Israel, came from the only book the Bene Israel knew, the Torah. As inscribed: “For I will go through the land of Egypt in that night, and will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt... And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and there shall no plague be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.” Exodus 12:12-13.

“The Bene Israel, the Indian Jews, and the Beta Israel, the Ethiopian Jews, were the only two Jewish communities in the Diaspora who continued the ritual, which otherwise completely ceased to exist with the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E.,”  noted Dr. Shalva Weil, a senior researcher, in an interview at her Hebrew University office. The Samaritans also practice the sacrifice custom, pointed out Sharon Horowitz, librarian at the Hebraic Collection at the U.S. Library of Congress.

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