Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 5

Hand drawn map by Rigaborte Bonne, 1780

As Jews in the Roman and Byzantine empires faced varied degrees of Christian persecution, a group of Jews on the southern Malabar coast of India found a quiet, prosperous life as artisans and spice traders. The first group of Cochin Jews is said to have arrived in India in the days of King Solomon (500 BCE), as merchants or as one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Other stories suggest they were exiled by King Nebuchadnezzar or fled Assyrian takeover. Some left Jerusalem at the destruction of the Second Temple by Romans in 70 CE for Cochin to join the already existing community there. 

The Hindu rulers of southern India welcomed this small Jewish minority and granted them religious and community autonomy. In an era where political contracts were inscribed on bronze tablets, the fourth ruler of Maliban, Bhaskara Ravi Varma, bestowed two brass tablets to Joseph Rabban on behalf of his people. The tablets granted to the Jews the village of Anjuvannam, 72 free houses, the rights to worship freely, build synagogues, own property “without restriction”, seek and approve marriages within their faith, and named Rabban and his male descendants as Prince of the area with the salary of a pocket principality. The flowery language of the tablets stated this beautiful friendship should last, “so long as the world and moon exist.” 

The direct Rabban line died out, and a succession dispute between two Azar brothers of a secondary line was interrupted by invasion from neighboring principalities from the north. The Jews of Anjuvannam relocated to the newly created port of Cochin in 1341, no longer protected by the rights of the bronze tablets (but preserving the relics all the same.) In 1492 when European troubles we will get to later in this series caused severe hardship for Jews in Spain, the Cochin Maharajah offered these Sephardic Jews protection as well. Syrian Jews persecuted by Christians there also came as refugees to India. 

These new arrivals came to be known as Paradesi “foreigners” or “white Jews” for their lighter complexion, while the more established community became known as Malabari or “black Jews” (though to Americans their complexion would appear more olive or brown). The two communities had some growing pains as they adjusted to one another’s approach to Judaism. Cochin Jewsh did not celebrate Hanukkah or follow Rabbinical Judaism, both of those being established in Israel after the Malabar Cochin settled in India. They also sang all their prayers and had no prohibition against women singing these publicly. 

Over the centuries even as India was under Portuguese, Dutch, and British rule, the local Indian rulers of Cochin always protected the Jewish minority. One maharaja even permitted Jews to build their synagogue inside his palace grounds, not thirty feet from his own private Hindu temple. Today the largely Muslim population of Cochin features shops that proudly display the Star of David with the word “Shalom!” as greeting for the scant 26 remaining Jewish residents, almost all elderly citizens, called “uncle” and “auntie” by their neighbors. 

Western news outlets that visit Cochin, where synagogues and Jewish cemeteries threaten to outnumber Jewish people, misinterpret the situation. The think this is a sad story: a dying race, a dying people. But the Jews of Cochin did not disappear. After more than 2,000 years in India, more of it in neighborly peace than in antisemitic fear and loathing, they were able to go home. In 1948 when the modern state of Israel came into being the Cochin Jews began to makje aliyah to Israel. By the 1980s the majority had moved. Today there are over 7,000 Cochin Jews in Israel. 

“Some people write the Cochin community of Jews is dying.  They don’t realize that a root from that tree is shooting up in Israel and starting to blossom. As long as we keep up some of our traditions, I hope that this community will never die.” 

– Ruby Daniel, Cochin Jewish author 

Further reading

My Jewish Learning – Cochin Jews

Jews in India – Cochini Jews 

Jews of Malabar (a blog run by a Cochin Muslim local and calligraphy translator working to preserve Judeo-Malayan scriptures of the synagogues) 

Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 4

In 351 the Jewish population of Palestine found an opportunity amidst chaos to make a bid for greater freedom. By that time Constantine I had died; his nephew Constantius II had killed off all but two of his sons so that and his brothers could rule; one of those brothers had died attacking the other; the second brother had died putting down a usurper: and now Constantine’s son Gallus had been called back from exile to be made Caesar of the East. 

After Constantine no single emporer ruled it as a whole entity, instead dividing it by halves to be administered as eastern and western empires. Modern historians refer to the East Roman Empire (part or all of modern Turkey, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Libya) as the Byzantine Empire for convenience sake, in distinguishing it from the West (part or all of modern Tunisia, Algeria, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, and England). They would have thought of themselves of Roman however, despite their Constantinople (Byzantine) capital. 

Constantine had made Christianity the official state religion, charged Jews special taxes not simply for the maintenance of synagogues and Jewish schools but for the state as well, and otherwise lowered the status of Jews, but Constatius was far worse. Distracted by more bids for his throne and a less competent emperor than his uncle, he paid less attention to the welfare of minority religious ethnic members. He allowed open violence from Christian citizens, antisemitic proselytising before angry mobs, and the destruction of Jewish temples and synagogues. Hate crimes were rising.

Under the leadership of Isaac of Sepphoris, a small group of rebels starting in the town of Diocesarea first took control of a garrison, securing the weapons they would need. The Jewish revolt spread from there to two other towns, Tiberius and Diospolis. Caesar Gallus dispatched his senior military officer to carry out his orders: slay the rebels, even the children. (As recorded by Jerome in the Chronica, 15-21; Theophanes.) “Through the murders of many thousands of men – even those too young to pose a threat – Gallus suppressed the Jews.”

Gallus would be executed for treason in 354 and his half brother Julian would become sole emperor in 361. Known to the Christian world as Julian the Apostate he was the last non Christian emperor of Rome, a neoplatonic pagan. In 362 he signed a Tolerance Edict once again affording Jews some marginal legal protection (and encouraging schisms within the Christian faith.) In 363 he ordered that the Jewish Temple be rebuilt. The Jewish people were themselves somewhat ambivalent about the project as it didn’t align with their own prophecies, but generally regarded Julian well. The Temple effort was abandoned following an earthquake in Galilee which Christians attributed to divine intervention. 
Further reading 

American Museum of Natural History Petra Earthquake 

Julian the Apostate and His Place in History

An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors 


Jewish Persecution 1 CE – Today, part 3

‚ÄčEastern Greek speaking Christians and western Latin speakers had already begun to diverge somewhat on practice and beliefs. A key point was the exact nature of Christ’s divinity. Was he truly God the Father’s equal, or merely First among His creations? The language barrier complicated the dispute. One point they found they could agree on was hatred of their Jewish neighbors. In fact, 4th century Christians imagined they were persecuted by Jews for their belief in a Messiah who had already come. 

“The fact that any active persecution of Christians by Jews was a thing of the past by the second century made little impression on the pious mind. Jewish responsibility for the Passion of Christ was the fact uppermost in the minds of ecclesiastical writers. When contemporary Jews or contemporary events in Jewish history were described, the preoccupation of the church fathers with the ancient day of sorrow made them merge the present with the past in wild anachronisms and attach the opprobrium connected with the Jews of Christ’s time to their fourth century descendants.”  

The Persecution of Jews in the Roman Empire (300-428), James Everett Seaver, University of Kansas Publications, Humanistic Studies #30 (1952)


At the First Council of Nicea in 325, Constantine presided over bishops from his vast empire as the established the beginnings of church orthodoxy, resplendent in robes of purple and gold. Contemporary Christians had objected to the Jewish lunar calendar and how it did not align with a solar calendar for some time. A unified Julian solar calendar was chosen, further divorcing Roman Christians from their Jewish contemporaries, one that moved Easter to the following Sunday from the Jewish Pesach (Passover) Festival. 

By this quarter point in the fourth century, the collective charge of deicide – murder of a god – was clearly established against the Jewish people and widely held by the Christian bishops of Rome. The emperor himself did not vote in the religious council modeled after the Senate, but observed the proceedings with royal records keepers. After the Council, Constantine wrote a letter to the bishops who had not been able to attend to inform them of the decisions of their peers. Deicide and antisemitism come through strongly in his discussion of Easter. 

“[I]t seemed very unworthy for us to keep this most sacred feast following the custom of the Jews, a people who have soiled their hands in a most terrible outrage, and have thus polluted their souls, and are now deservedly blind.”

Further reading
Life of Constantine, Book III
Catholic Encyclopedia

Jewish Persecution 1 CE – Today, part 2

Trajan Decius was the Roman emperor from 249-251 CE, and the first of many emperors for more than half a century to persecute Jews and Christians as official policy. He required members of minority religions to make public sacrifices, offerings, and statements of faith to Roman gods, on pain of death. Some Christians were particularly eager to be martyred for their faith, often seeking out Roman inquisitors to prove their devotion to Christ even in the face of imprisonment and torture.

In 303 Emperors Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius, and Constantius issued a series of edicts restricting the religious rights of Jews and Christians. This era is known in the Christian faith as the Great Persecution, an isolated era of history rather than its theme, and many sainted martyrs are venerated for resisting Roman persecution. The Roman empire at that time stretched across the Mediterranean and up into Britain, which was not yet an independent country but a farflung Roman trading outpost state, where enforcement of religious laws was minimal and sporadic. 

Emperors Constantine I, also known as Constantine the Great, and Licinius signed the Edict of Milan in 313. This legalized Christianity across the whole of the Roman empire, stretching from modern day Spain through north Africa across the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. After a period of shared power among emperors, Constantine defeated his fellows to become the sole emperor of Rome in 324. When he did so, he made Christianity the official state religion. 

Constantine’s mother Helena was Christian and, more politically important, several important bishops were. Constantine was said to have had a vision of the Christian cross (or the sun god Sol Invictus) before his military success at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 317. But from the signing of the Edict of Milan, the fortunes of Christians in the Roman empire improved, and Jewish persecution increased once again. 

In 324 as sole emperor, Constantine I moved the capital of the empire from Rome to Byzantine and changed the name of that city to Constantinople, after himself. Today it is called Istanbul and is the capital city of Turkey. His empire was now larger than ever, entailing the Latin and Greek speaking Christian world of the early 4th century. Constantine called bishops from every state of his vast empire to the First Council of Nicea (in what is now Iznik, in the Bursa province of Turkey). This grand council was intended to settle theological disputes in Christendom and create a unified theology and organized hierarchy of clergy. 

Further reading: 
A Noble Death: Suicide and Martyrdom Among Christians and Jews in Antiquity
Eusebius, Life of Constantine, Book III
Catholic Encyclopedia

Jewish Persecution 1 CE – Today, part 1

I don’t even read my comments. It’s amazing what that does for mental health, especially on a post like this. Your antisemitism will not be published. It won’t even be looked at. No one will ever read it. 

I am a Zionist. I am a person who believes in the proposition that Jewish people have an unqualified, inalienable, fundamental right to defend themselves from annihilation, pogroms, and Holocaust; and I recognize that their own state has so far been the only proven effective solution. I know this opinion is not popular on the Left, but neither is modern history. A shallow, counterfactual understanding of the Israeli Palestinian conflict which erases all other actors from the story is more readily embraced than a thorough examination of two thousand years of Christian culpability. I aim to correct whatever small portion of that I can. 

Renaming Israel to Palestine was a colonial move by the Romans in antiquity

The Jewish people are originally historically from the Levant, modern day Israel. After his reign King Solomon’s vast territory was broken into separate kingdoms of Israel and Judea. Israel fell to Assyrians in 722 BCE, and Judea became a Roman protectorate in 63 BCE. By 6 CE, Judea was a Roman province, with no independence. By the first century, there were five million Jews in the Diaspora (“scattering “) or outside of the homeland, already outnumbering those living at home. This has been the continual state of the Jewish people for the past two thousand years. 

There was an uprising for Jewish independence lasting four years from 66-70 CE before Roman forces could suppress it. In the end Rome burned Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple to the ground. Only an outer portion of the Western Wall still stands to this day, and is considered one of the holy sites of Israel. The land’s name was changed to Palestine, and several Greek and Roman settlements were established there. Jews were reduced, but never pushed out entirely, maintaining an unbroken, ceaseless presence in Jerusalem, the Negev Desert, and east of the Jordan River for 3,300 years. 

But they did not have a homeland. The Romans sold the majority of their Jewish defeated foes as slaves and executed most of the rest. First Assyria conquered Israel, then Babylon conquered Judeah, then Rome destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. It was a process that took centuries, and Jews resisted though greatly outnumbered throughout. The destruction of the Second Temple, commissioned by Ezra and Nehemiah, was spiritually and psychologically potent. And it completely changed how Judaism was practiced. 

Jewish scholarship was traditionally oral, and worship and atonement featured sacrifices in the Temple. It was not just a pretty building or a nice building, it was a necessary building and religious life revolved around it. After its destruction competing sects and schools of thought vied for supremacy. In the end, two remained. One was Rabbinical Judaism – a new way of following G-d through written Torah scholarship and prayer in Synagogues, by the keeping of mitzvah and following of traditions. Temple sacrifices would no longer be required. 

The other sect to survive the suppression and persecution and attempted eradication of Judaism was the Early Christian Church. 
Part 2 coming tomorrow. 

Further reading: 
Jewish Wikipedia
Jewish Virtual Library
Strong’s Concordance Online
Zondervan Biblical Maps Online

Bad News and Nightmares

This post is about every depressing horrid world ending thing happening in the news and how hopeless I feel, and the Holocaust. It’s all bad.

Image source unknown

Every morning I wake up from another Holocaust nightmare. I taught myself how to forget my dreams years ago, as studiously as others strive to remember. I can’t recall the details or what comes before, just the moment of waking. Yesterday it was the words, “It’s not safe to be Jewish.” Today it was the image of a big gray building whose sinister purpose I knew. I feel the Holocaust rising around me. 

I am not the only one haunted. People are already dying. Two men died and another was critically injured last weekend in Portland defending girls from a racist assault. Another young man died hours after his high school graduation while defending his friend from misogynistic street harassment. A 16 year old girl brutally murdered her Uber driver, seemingly in cold blood. But these weren’t the first deaths of this new murderous era of hate. They were the latest. 

There was the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando last June 12th, in which 49 people were killed, the largest mass murder of LGBT people in the history of the United States. Then there was the fire that destroyed the makeshift workspaces and homes of the artists living in an Oakland warehouse known as the Ghost Ship last December. 36 people died from the combined forces of capitalism, racism, homophobia, and indifference. No gunman was required to snuff out their lives. 

2016 was the deadliest year on record for trans women, the most likely of all LGBT demographic groups to be murdered, and 2017 is not looking better. Four transgender women were murdered in a single week. This was matched with proposals for bathroom bills criminalizing the public presence of transgender people (but especially trans women) in sixteen states, as well as the successful passage of such a law in North Carolina. 

There have been nearly 150 bomb threats made to Jewish Community Centers in 2017 alone, to 48% of all Jewish Community Centers in the country, from Florida to Alaska. Preschool classes have been evacuated, again and again. Jewish people cannot afford to ever take these threats as pretend. Too often they are not. According to the Anti Defamation League, there was an 86% increase in antisemitic incidents in the first quarter of 2017 from 2016, and even that saw a one third increase from the year before. 

The anti immigrant rhetoric and legislation have had real world consequences. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are choosing “low hanging fruit” like parents and taking their children to school, not criminal gang members to detain and deport, purposefully invoking terror in immigrant and Latinx communities and tearing apart families. The “childcare facilities” we are placing them in are ghettos and concentration camps, and the conditions sometimes kill them. If an undocumented intimate partner violence victim reports abuse, legislation that once protected them from deportation is now used against them. 

There is more but I should not need to go on. We are not living in the lead up to a holocaust. We are living in the opening chapters. Trump has already been elected. He is in power. The brown shirts are slitting throats already and the GEO Group is busily constructing for-profit camps. It looks this disorganized and chaotic and messy in real life. The grand events only form a cohesive narrative and timeline afterward. I promise you, this is history in the making and we are living it right now. We are no longer in the preamble. This has started.  The time is now. 


The very first word I identify with,
is Wimp.

The second label I know fits me,
is Smart.

My grandma tells me I am
“good as gold”
when I don’t get in the way.

The first time we move
I embrace the chance
to change my name, my identity.

I’m a tomboy now, a softball player.
I have short hair and I don’t own skirts or dresses.

Another move, another name change, another makeover.

I am alternative, sporty, punk, goth, beachy, and raver. I try on identities like outfits, looking for one that fits me.

I feel like a poseur, an imposter, a fake.

“Be yourself'” peole say, as if I knew who that was, one million costume changes later.

Now my longest running role is winding to a close, years ahead of me. I won’t play the part of Mother to a Young Boy forever, and I don’t know who I will be next.

I thought my identity crisis years were over in high school.

I guess not.