Lot : 180

Polemic of Indian Congregation Bene Israel Anthology of historic documents regarding the

Start price: $5,000
Est. Price: $6,000 - $8,000

Polemic of Indian Congregation Bene Israel

Anthology of historic documents regarding the religious status of Congregation Bene Israel of India

Includes a letter with the original question dispatched by the leaders of the Jewish community in Bombay to Rabbanim in Eretz Yisrael and Bagdad as well as other historic material regarding this multifaceted issue.

Both the original documents and copies included in this historic collection were compiled and edited by Rabbi David Suleimen Sassoon, and several of the copies appear in his handwriting. The anthology includes important material that preceded the Rabbinical ruling regarding this subject:

1. Original letter by congregational leaders to Rabbis in Jerusalem, signed by Rabbi Moshe Haim Gorg, primary cantor in Magen David Synagogue, and Rabbi Yehezkel Haim Sassoon, gabbai in Magen David Synagogue. Both letters are identical and bear original signatures.

2. Original letter by the above congregational leaders to Rabbis in Bagdad.

3. Response of Bagdad Rabbis: Rabbi Yaakov Chaim son of the Ben Ish Chai and dayanim of the Beit Din.

4. Response of Jerusalem Rabbis.

5. Letter from Ashkenazic and Sephardic Rabbis of France from 1870, calling upon their brethren to reach out to the members of Congregation Bene Israel and not to reject them, as long as they commit to observe all Torah laws.

6. Letter from Rabbis in Teveria, 1870, with similar message.

7. Original letter to Rabbis in Jerusalem regarding what is the correct text in a Sefer Torah in Parshas Noach (this followed a case of a scribe who wished to amend the text traditionally inscribed in Sifrei Torah in Bombay). The letter is signed by both the above chazzan and gabbai.

#1, 2, 7 are original letters, handwritten on thin rice paper.

#3, 4 are typewritten with handwritten corrections.

#5, 6 are copies handwritten by Rabbi Sassoon.
24 sides. Page size: 22 cm. Bound in red fabric. Original: Sassoon Manuscripts #519.

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Congregation Bene Israel in India
Congregation Bene Israel in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India is one of the oldest known Jewish communities in India. Rabbi Abraham Farissol in his late 15th century Iggeret Orcḥot Olam (Epistle of the Paths of the World) notes that this congregation descends from the Ten Lost Tribes.
Centuries later, a dispute arose regarding the Jewish status of this congregation and their marital customs. The source of these polemics was the fact that although their marriages were carried out in accordance with Jewish law and tradition, they did not observe laws of gittin, yibum or chalitzah.
In 1914, leaders of the Jewish community in Bombay appealed to their Rabbinical contemporaries in Bagdad and Eretz Yisrael regarding this complex question, and the latter strongly responded that “It is forbidden to marry them, and this prohibition applies eternally.”
However with the passage of years, as members of the Bene Israel community began emigrating from India to Israel, the issue was revived, and the majority of Rabbis permitted them to marry Jews following a personal investigation into their familial lineage. (It should be noted that prior to the original ban against marrying into Congregation Bene Israel, a great deal of information regarding their culture and lifestyle was lacking. One significant example is that, according to the testimony of Rabbi Yaakov Sapir, the congregation observed a custom that a woman who separates from her husband returns to her father’s home and does not remarry.)

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