Saturday, 17 September 2011

The Hebrew chronicles of Jews of Cochin

The scribe dried the parchment and took his ink box to prepare new ink and he started scribing their history, he started with their forefathers history and reached present time events and as days went he recorded their daily events and happenings, and that was passed down to generations to generations with new parchments sewn to…

Compiled in different periods from different places surviving many treacherous situations it finally reached Kerala all the way from Judea, Assyria and Yemen, and it found its destiny but those celebrated days were turned to miserable again when Portuguese stepped into the Jew town of cochin… from there the picture is unclear was it burned or survived by any copies if yes where is it????

 It is about the “Hebrew chronicles of Jews of Cochin”, (ספר הישר sefer ha yashar,  this particular book have no link with the religious book or Rabbinical treaties ) always an interesting topic to the people who learn about Cochin Jewish history deeply. How it became popular among the scholars of Germany?

We are in clear ambiguity about this book, what was it?

According to me this has to be considered as a conceptual factor. Where there exists different idea about this book.

In Prof. Nathan Katz's book, “Who are the Jews of India” he mentions about sefer yashar, as the communities chronicles, of Jews of Cochin. Which is a Historical record, but it is also mentioned that it was destroyed among many other books, when Portuguese burned Paradesi synagogue in 1662 A.D.
Even mentioned that the Jews of Cochin explains to Moses de Paiva, in 499 C.E another large group of Jews had arrived, but “they could not say from which part of the world they had came, as the knowledge they have is much confused because of the loss of the book name sepher Ayashar…..

This incident took place in happened in 1686, exactly 24 years after the destruction of the Paradesi synagogue.

But “In the year 1757, a Jewish Christian, whose name was Leopold Immanuel Jacob Van Dort, obtained access to the “Hebrew record” kept by the Jewish Rabbi of Cochin, of which he made an epitome. Maecellus Bles, a director of the Dutch East India Company, visited that part of the world about the same time. The Dutchman was a person of acute observation, keen discernment, and of a very curious disposition. He was, moreover, in the habit of noting down in his diary every interesting incident coming in his way. On his return home, whilst in the isle of Ceylon, he met with Van Dort, who furnished him with a dutch translation of the above mentioned document, which Maecellus Bles inserted in his journal. After the death of the worthy gentleman, his MSS. Fell into the hand of celebrated preacher of The Hague, Rutz by name, who was a good Orientalist, and therefore took a particular interest in the narrative referring to Cochin. He at once set about obtaining more information on the subject, and by the means of a rich Jewish banker of the Hague-well known Boaz- he contrived to forward, in the month Of November, 1787, a letter of inquiry to the son of Ezekiel Rahabi, but kept an account in Boaz’s bank. However, before Rutz received any answer, he translated it into German, and sent it, on the 25th of September, 1789, to Eichhorn, for insertion in his “Universal Library of Biblical Literature,” which Eichhorn did in 1790. It exited a good deal of interest at the time. Naphtali Hirtz Wizel (Wiesel), as soon as it printed- before it was even published- translated it into Hebrew, which was published in מאסף of the same year: but no proper investigation was instituted, the excitement subsided and subsequent travelers furnish us with scanty, we had almost said with worthless, information.
(The star of Jacob, edited by Moses Margoliouth, Incumbent of Glasnevin, Dublin.)

The question is which was this Hebrew Record, subjected by Van Dort???

Was this is the same historical record Sefer Ha Yasher which survived the fire or a copy of it?

Where is MSS Van Dort’s Dutch Translation?

These questions are some seeds that I am sowing to the mind of the people…..
(To find out the answer for these questions first and foremost thing to be done is to fetch details about Van Dort and Maecellus Bles,  for this I had contacted Cultural Anthropologist Dr. Bauke Van Der Pol, who is researching on Dutch legecy for several years but he couldn't fetch details, But Malayinkil Gopalan Krishnan who owns a website named Dutch in Kerala, he had forwarded my mail to Dutch embassy. Hope I will get the reply soon.)

Eichhorn’s German translation and the Weisel’s Hebrew translation has got maximum attention. Scholars like Meir Bar Ilan had done studies and written papers on that in Hebrew. But below given quote shows that even a history record existed till the arrival of Dr. Buchanan in 18th century.
(The Christian journal, and literary register, Volume 10, 1826, page 100)
 “On the 15th of April when he (Thomas Fanshaw Middleton 1769-1822 ) was preparing to leave Cochin Napthali Rottenberg, the Jew, called upon him with copy of the Jewish Plates and had much conversation with him. He said that they had an “Account of their arrival in that country after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus”: but that it was lent to Dr.Buchanan, who carried it away with him.”
And it is believed that Buchanan had deposited all the manuscripts fetched from India in Cambridge university library and it is still there. (But the authorities from Cambridge University says they don’t have any such books mentions about the history of Jews of Cochin in their possession)

As this text is also not available next data is history of Cochin Jews by Claudius Buchanan in his book “Christian research in Asia: with notice of the Translation of the scriptures into the Oriental Languages,” but when we compare the abstract of Van Dort’s Dutch abstract of Hebrew record and Buchanan’s history it proves that the sources were different. Buchanan’s history is similar to the history provided by the Ezekiel Rahabi, and other later Cochin Jews. Van Dort’s abstract is an exception where the history is mentioned as,

“In the ninth year of Hoshea, King of Israel, came Shalmaneser , King of Assyria and carried away the Israelites captive, and made them dwell in Halah, Habor, by the river Gozan, and in the cities of Medes. In the year 894, Shalmanazer the third sent as a present to Puurawoo, King of Teman ((as per the translator it is Mocha, But Prof.Meir tells it isYemen), four hundred and sixty families of jewish captives: whom on their arrival there, the king ill-treated, and dealt with as slaves.”

“Later the Jews from Yemen were expelled and they fleed to Puna and Gujarath, Van dort then explains about the arrival of Rabbi Joseph (Joseph Raban) with 72 families to India. He then mentions about Sheram Perimal (Cheraman Perumal), copper plates and about Joseph Hallegua (Son-in-law of Ezekiel Rahabi), and about a land of 16 miles of circumference in the name Batekar, (possibily talking about Anjuvannam) granted by the King to Joseph their Rabbi, which was still in possession of Joseph Hallegua the present Nasi (Prince).

“Also mentions Joseph Hallegua preserves two epistles, which King Ahasuerus (as is to be found in the Book of Esther) sent respecting their the affair of Haman and Mordecai, and they are written in Tamuly (Tamil) language. The descendants of the aborigines of Malabar, who go by the name of Caieryns or Cannaryns, have still in their pagodas or their idol temples, copies of those letter…”

These are some points from the abstract of the Hebrew chronicles, from German as it stands in Eichhorn’s work. This piece of information had got attention because of the above mentioned interesting facts clustered in Van Dort’s Dutch abstract.

Even though it is a finalized fact that the sefer ha yasher had destroyed in fire in 1662 AD, according to me it would have survived by a copy of it which served as the historical source for Van Dort to make a Dutch translation or an Abstract of it. Or else which was the historical record Van Dort translated ?

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