Thursday, 2 June 2016

A hidden Hebrew etching found in the pillars of Jew street, Parur

Pillars intact...

Two columns which marks the entrance to the Jew Street of Parur, is erroneously depicted as the symbol of their cliquishness even though they were close to other communities of locale. It is even believed that the King of Travancore ordered to erect those pillars. But the historians and antiquarians were always puzzled about the origin and existence of it.

One pillar intact....

Muziris heritage project headed the renovation of the standing pillar and re-establishment of the other one which had fallen years back, A Hebrew and English etching was found which was hidden under the plaster all these days….it had nailed the issue with a final answer.

Pillar during the renovation...

The Hebrew inscription found in the still standing pillar is “ עירוב‎‎ ” and that of English is “ERUB”. The literal meanings of the Hebrew word are “mixture, blending, amalgamation or intermingling”

Hebrew inscription as seen on the pillar.

These are not just two Columns which mark the entrance or gateway of the Jew Street, but an aid to keep up their ritual and tradition. It is misnamed as “eruv/ erub”, which is named after its epithet, than the name of the object itself. It acts as a device for removal of difficulties on applying the precepts for Sabbath and other holiday rests. It creates a symbolic enclosure that allows observant Jews, to carry objects outdoors on the Sabbath. In ancient times, an eruv would combine multiple residences into a walled courtyard, but in modern times, rabbinic interpretation allows such an enclosure to be accomplished by creating symbolic wall or fence continuously around an area.

Thus, confirmed that the pillars are not just a gateway to mark the entrance but a ritual enclosure.

Such a set of pillars existed in Jew Town of Cochin too. It is even mentioned by Moses Pereira Da Pavia (1686 AD) in his report Noticias dos Judeos de Cochim “All living in one street with their Herub (Eruv) is fixed with two pillars of stone crossed by an Iron bar,” it shows that it was an old tradition among the Jews of Malabar.

I remember Gamliel Salem’s once explained to me, During Sabbath it is forbidden to carry something, such as a prayer book from one’s home along the street and to the synagogue, and food from one house to other. To the Jews of Cochin the solution was an "Eruv", the reason behind building the Jew town in such a manner where most of the buildings touch each other is to create that symbolic enclosure.... Gammy uncle remembered that there were two pillars at the entrance of the Jew Town in Mattancherry, and a string is tied covering the entire space and touches synagogue too which makes the entire town symbolically one enclosure. …..any detach in the building is solved by this eruv. He explained to me that he had seen some people touching the prayer book to the string and walk along to the synagogue and vice versa. The tradition was stopped post Aliyah, as the buildings in the Jew town were sold to non-Jews. Later the pillars demolished for some reason...

In modern world were the communities in the civilized societies are the fights for setting eruv, here in the God's own country it was built with no disputes....

Friday, 15 January 2016

Jewish King of Shingly and the Spanish poet...

A calligraphic representation the Rabbi Nissim's poem by, Thoufeek Zakriya

A 14th century poem נאמר שירה "Nomar Shirah" (Let us sing a song) by a Spanish Jew, ends like this 

I travelled from Spain,                   מספרד הלכתי נסעתי       
I has heared of the city of Shingly,  עיר שנגולי שמעתי          
I longed to see an Israel King,          ישראל מלך תאבתי        
Him, I saw with my own eyes.                  אותו יראו עיני                

Prof Nathan Katz, mentions in his book  "In the fourteenth century, Rabbi Nissim ben Reuben (1310? - 1375?) of Spain not only made his way to Shingly, but composed a song to commemorate his visit. The song has been preserved in Cochin song books and is chanted on the secnd day of Shavu'oth"

About the poet

Rabbi Nissim ben Reuven of Girona, Catalonia (נסים בן ראובן) also refered as RaN (ר"ן) was believed to be born in 1310 A.D or 1320 A.D and died in 1375 A.D 1380 A.D. He was an influential talmudist and halakist, Head of the Yeshiva ( Jewish religious school) probably Kehillas Yaakov shul of Barcelona, court Physician, an astronomer, a poet and one among the last great Spanish medieval Jewish scholars. 

He was the greatest Halachic authority of his generation, queries were sent to him from throughout the Jewish diaspora.  

His best-known work is his commentary and explanation of Isaac ben Jacob Alfasi ha-Cohen's "Sefer ha-Halachot ". Rabbi Nissim wrote a commentary on the Talmud. The commentary is oriented toward practical decisions as opposed to theory. The commentary has been printed only on some tractates, the rest exists in manuscript or has been lost.

Other works include, Responsa, a recently published commentary on the Bible, a work of philosophy, and a collection of sermons ("Derashot Ha'RaN").

Torah inscribed by Rabbi Nissim ben Reuven conditionally donated to the Kehillas Yaakov shul in Barcelona in the year 1336. now in the Israel’s National Library 

Who was the Jewish King of Shingly?

Not much is known about the Israeli (Jewish) King of city of Shingly (modern day Kodungallur) but reading all the available information we could come to a conclusion that the Israel King, would be Joseph Azar, who was the descendant of Joseph Rabban. And supposed year of their meet is no later than 1340 A.D and this happened in the Jewish principality of Anjuvannam.

Some points which concrete this claims are:

  • Anjuvannam was the Jewish principality in the vicinity of Shingly which was having a leader equal to a King or Prince, inherited by the Copper Magna Carta received by Joseph Rabban.
  • The coinciding timeline of the Rabbi Nissim and Joseph Azar
  • Joseph Azar is supposed as the Prince or the head of the principality of Anjuvannam.
  • The troop/ principality of Anjuvannam was dispersed after 1340 A.D after the disputes between the brothers.

This Jewish King is believed to have finally ended up in Cochin, and the construction of the first synagogue of Cochin, Kochangadi synagogue is attributed to him. 

Moses pereira de paiva gives his account in Noticias dos Judeos de Cochim , that he had seen the tomb of Joseph Azar in Cochin. And also gives details of the descendants of Joseph Azar, who was residing in Cochin then. 

Eben Sapir, by Jacob Sapir
Who are the Jews of India, by Nathan Katz.