How Jews Ended Up in India and China

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Beyond the driving forces of antisemitism and persecution, trading goods has also had a powerful impact on the migration of Jews throughout history. In countries like China and India, the vast network of Jewish traders shaped the path for the wide spread of diverse Jewish communities.

In the 12th century, Jews settled across China in places like Kaifeng, a city on the Silk Road. Trading between China and the West meant Jewish traders could keep up with the global Jewish community while maintaining a place in Chinese society. Though the community thrived for centuries, over time the Kaifeng Jews have largely assimilated and roughly 1,000 members are left in the community today.

In India, the two largest Jewish communities were Cochin Jews and Bene Israel. Cochin Jews arrived as far back as the 1st century through the Roman-Indian trade system, while Bene Israel was started by a group of Jewish traders who settled after being shipwrecked on the coast of Maharashtra, India. As time went on, these communities grew, joined by Jewish traders from Portugal as well as those fleeing persecution from Ottoman Iraq.

Following Israel and India’s independence from British control, most of India’s 25,000 Jews immigrated to Israel, joined by many Jews across Asia. Despite this, both India and China have seen new Jewish arrivals in the 20th and 21st centuries leading to the continued diversity of widespread Jewish communities in the Diaspora.

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