The Wikipedia article on History of the Jews in India points out that the majority of the Indian Jews immigrated to Israel ("made Aliyah") after the establishment of Israel in 1948:

The majority of Indian Jews have "made Aliyah" (migrated) to Israel since the creation of the modern state in 1948. Over 70,000 Indian Jews now live in Israel (over 1% of Israel's total population).[citation needed] Of the remaining 5,000, the largest community is concentrated in Mumbai, where 3,500 have stayed over from the over 30,000 Jews registered there in the 1940s, divided into B'nei Israel and Baghdadi Jews, though the Baghdadi Jews refused to recognize the B'nei Israel as Jews...

At the same time, Wikipedia points out that Jews in India didn't face substantial antisemitism:

Of the few antisemitic incidents that were reported, most were related to imported antisemitism from Portuguese Catholic colonists and missionaries in the 16th century. Christian antisemitism in India manifested itself through the Goa Inquisition that resulted in the depopulation of the Jews in Goa, and the persecution of South Indian Jews by the Portuguese in Kerala. Many European Jews known as Paradesi Jews were given shelter at the time of the Portuguese inquisition in Kerala.

Although moving to Jerusalem was always considered a religious imperative for devout Jews, most who came to Israel before and after its establishment did so because of antisemitism - in Russian Empire and later the USSR, in inter-war and post-war Europe, and from all over the Middle East and North Africa, in response to the Arab rejection of the creation of the State of Israel. It seems that Indian Jews faced none of these pressures.

  • Interesting fact, whatever it's causes. I hadn't been aware of that.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 3 at 18:44
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    "most who came to Israel before and after its establishment did so because of antisemitism" -- Source for this? I suspect other economic and political factors were equally if not more important in many cases, and it seems almost self-evident that India is such a case.
    – Brian Z
    Commented Jan 5 at 17:56
  • @BrianZ again, we are talking about 1948.
    – Morisco
    Commented Jan 5 at 18:45
  • There was a lot of religious violence and political upheaval in India between 1947 and 1949. It's not hard to imagine that Jews were affected by it, nor that any reports of violence toward or persecution of Jews -- a few tens of thousands in number -- were swamped by the news of the deaths of hundreds of thousands of refugees and the displacement of millions more.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 6 at 2:26
  • @phoog if you can support this by references, please write an answer..
    – Morisco
    Commented Jan 6 at 6:53

2 Answers 2


First of all, India is, like most Asian and African societies, is tribalist. So, even if there is no specific antisemitism, any distinctive ethnic group is isolated. Second, India is a very poor country, so Israel could seem to them more well-off place.

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    This might be the correct answer, but it needs citations to be accepted.
    – Morisco
    Commented Jan 3 at 19:57
  • 6
    considering that israel has a GDP per capita of over $50k (from quick googling, please correct me if I'm using the wrong numbers) India would still seem like a very poor country when compared to Israel - which would be what matters here, I think
    – Syndic
    Commented Jan 4 at 8:14
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    @user103496: You’re mixing PPP figures with nominal figures. The World Bank range you cite is for nominal GNI/GDP; India’s nominal GDP is around $2400, which is in the World Bank’s “lower middle-income”, and 143rd out of 195 countries. On PPP-adjusted GDP India is 125th out of 195 countries. India is certainly much more prosperous than it was 60 years ago, like most developing countries; and there are certainly many countries that are poorer — but it is still very poor. Commented Jan 4 at 9:46
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    @Syndic we are talking here about immigration that took place immediately after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 - it was neither as wealthy as it is today, nor was it certain that it was going to survive in the long term. The economical argument is more suitably for the immigration following the collapse of the USSR in 1990s.
    – Morisco
    Commented Jan 4 at 9:58
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    @Syndic: What matters is when most of the emigration occurred--the past. Hence, my suggestion to change is to was
    – user103496
    Commented Jan 4 at 10:22

Most of the migration in the 1930s to 1960s happened due to the development of religious identity, Zionist sentiments, lack of indian nationalism among some of the indian Jews (who preferred to identify themselves with their British colonial masters, rather than as indians) and doubts about the economic prospects of independent India. (Later migrations were largely influenced by Israel's economic growth outpacing India). Note though that not all the indians Jews migrated to Israel. The richer Jews were also uncomfortable with Nehru's socialist policies in independent India, and most of the affluent indian Jews chose to emigrate to the west instead.

The Baghdadi Jews in Calcutta and Bombay maintained a very strong sense of community and perpetuated most of the Iraqi Jewish traditions they had brought with them ... Racial separation between Indians and British, which was fostered by the colonial pattern, also affected the attitudes of the paler Baghdadis towards indigenous Indians. The Baghdadis wished to assimilate into British society and to be considered European, both socially and politically. Aside from religious observances, they quickly adopted an English lifestyle. The wealthier Baghdadis wore European clothes and became culturally westernized; poorer Baghdadis, especially women, continued to wear Arab dress ... Baghdadis joined British clubs that excluded Indians, and their commercial establishments were affiliated with the British chambers of commerce. And yet, for all their efforts, they remained–like the Armenians—marginal members of the European community.

Indian independence was not welcomed by most Baghdadis. Having always aspired to assimilate among the Europeans in India, and having spurned identification with Indians, the Baghdadi Jews were not supportive of Indian nationalism. They doubted that they would be comfortable in the new India. After 1947, new economic regulations enacted by the Indian Government restricted imports and controlled foreign exchange, seriously hampering the business of many wealthy Baghdadis. Political changes in the Middle East in the late 1950s and early 1960s closed the markets of Iraq and Egypt to Baghdadi Jewish trade.

With family, connections, and funds abroad, members of the upper classes were free to migrate to countries such as England, Canada, the United States, and Australia. Less affluent Baghdadis who had relatives abroad or who could find a source of livelihood in the West also departed, with a relatively small percentage going to Israel. As the community disintegrated–and, with it, Jewish marriage prospects for children–more left the country. Of what had once been a community of perhaps 5,000 Baghdadis, barely 200 remained in the mid-1990s. (Ref. 1)

The Bene Israelis indian jews were one of the larger indian Jewish groups in India. Since most of them were also well-educated, many worked with British companies and with the British administration. Ironically, it was Christian missionaries trying to convert them, who taught them Hebrew and strengthened their Jewish identity, which was a major factor on why some of them migrated to Israel:

India’s Bene Israel are unique among Diaspora communities because it was a Christian missionary who created — albeit unintentionally — a firm basis for the Bene Israel community’s entry into mainstream Jewry ... Wilson introduced Hebrew as a subject for matriculation and for higher education. He saw in the Bene Israel the biblical “remnant of Israel.” It was Wilson who wrote, in 1838, the first serious account of the Bene Israel and their customs. Already in 1832, he wrote and published in Bombay The Rudiments of Hebrew Grammar in Marathi, “intended for the benefit of the Native Israelites.”

Using Wilson’s book of Hebrew-Marathi grammar as a first step, some pupils became very proficient in Hebrew. In due course, they themselves became teachers of Hebrew, not only in Wilson’s schools but also at the college and university level. These Bene Israel scholars published Marathi translations of classic Hebrew texts, Jewish prayer books, rabbinical commentaries, and sermons. Each Hebrew text was accompanied by a parallel translation into Marathi, for the first time giving the Bene Israel access to a wide range of Jewish texts ... In addition, Bene Israel studied the English language and secular subjects in Wilson’s schools, which opened up a whole new world of knowledge. Most important, their literacy in Hebrew and in English enabled them to communicate and maintain contact with mainstream Jewry.

Two main factors contributed to the community’s dispersal throughout the Indian subcontinent. First of all, during the British period, educated Bene Israel were favored for civil service positions. Second, relatively large numbers of Bene Israel served in the government police services, the army, navy, merchant marine, and (in the 20th century) the air corps. (Ref. 2)

An answer here suggests that India's "tribal mentality" could have been a pertinent reason behind the migration of indian Jews. Ironically, the reality is that the early indian Jewish migrants to Israel were the ones who faced discrimination in Israel and were forced to organise public protests to highlight their plight. In fact, some even went on hunger-strikes to be sent back to India:

Schifra Strizower, an expert on Jewish studies, notes in her book, ‘The Children of Israel: The Bene Israel of Bombay’ (1971) that, “Indeed, in the early 1950s a number of Bene Israel, were unable to come to terms with life in Israel because they explained, ‘there is much discrimination against our community, particularly in jobs and housing; and in any case, we were not properly informed what life in Israel was going to be like.’”

The discrimination meted out to the Bene Israel was aggravated by the way they were perceived in contrast to other Indian Jews. Unlike the Cochin Jews who were believed to have migrated to Israel for religious reasons, the Bene Israel were thought to have migrated for bettering their material conditions. Considered to be neither Zionists nor religious, the Bene Israelis were perceived to have travelled to Israel for the “wrong motives” unlike the Cochin Jews.

... The biggest insult to the Bene Israel had come when in 1960 the Sephardic Chief Rabbi Itzhak Niss im refused to accept Bene Israel as Jews and forbade them from marrying other jews. Later, on account of a civil rights movement challenging his stance, and due to pressure from the Israeli government and the Jewish community, he had to give up on his decision. (Ref. 3)

A cartoon published by Israeli newspaper Davar on May 19, 1952 shows on the right Indian Jews at the Jewish Agency’s Tel Aviv office, demanding their return to India, and on the left Indian Jews in Mumbai demanding their return to Israel. Illustration: Aryeh Navon

... This was also the era of “the absorption protests.” ... The “Indian Protest” was one of the first demonstrations organized by new immigrants, and it was the first protest charging the Israeli establishment with having a racial bias. On November 8, 1951, a group of newcomers who settled in Beer Sheva wrote the Jewish Agency in Tel Aviv and demanded their return to India within eight days or else they would start a hunger strike. In their letter, they complained of discrimination against their community in employment, housing, and medical care. The group also had serious grievances about education—their children were not admitted to educational settings and they were forced to send them to the mission school, which was open on Saturdays.

... In an extraordinary initiative, the Indian Jews made good use of their skills in English, addressing government ministers, the British Consulate, the American Consulate, the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and the media. They brought their grievances to the international arena, with their story covered by Haaretz and the New York Times. Fearing the impact on the country’s image, Prime Minister Ben-Gurion eventually gave in and in April 1952 sent the 112 Indians back to India at the expense of the Jewish Agency.

... In 1962 the Sephardic Chief Rabbi Itzhak Nissim issued a directive ordering rabbis in Israel to investigate the ancestry of the Bene Israel. Facing difficult conditions in adjusting to their new country and not having any support, doubting their Jewishness was a slap in their faces, since the community saw their Jewishness as a crucial element of their identity and the central motivational factor for immigrating to Israel. Unlike other communities from Eastern Europe and the Middle East, the Indians did not migrate to Israel due to a lack of security. The Indian community and its supporters accused the rabbinate of “racism,” arguing that Jews from affluent Western countries were not subject to such an extensive investigation before being permitted to marry other Jews. Here, too, the Indian community made clever use of lobbying and media pressure and their struggle again made headlines in the New York Times, which followed the case. After a demonstration in August 1964, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol convened a special session of the Knesset to pass a resolution supporting the Bene Israel position and demanding the removal of “every factor producing a feeling of discrimination.”

... Although this case was settled in 1964, the insult and self-doubt affected the community and left a scar among those people who had experienced it at the time ...In addition, the chief rabbinate’s skepticism continued to prevail, and despite official approval, some municipal chief rabbis refused to marry Indians with other Israeli citizens. It dawned on the members of the community that while in India they had not faced official discrimination, it was in Israel where they encountered prejudice toward their ethnicity. (Ref. 4)

(Another interesting fact is that the indian Jews seemed to have been influenced by the castiest culture of India, as the Baghdadi Jews looked down upon the Bene Israel Jews, who looked down on the Cochin Jews!)


  1. The Baghdadi Jews of India
  2. India's Bene Israel Jews
  3. The first Indian Jews in Israel and the racism they faced
  4. Between East and the Middle East: The Integration Story of the Indian Jewish Community in Israel
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    This is a very interesting story but I find it lacking it context: how many of the Jews from India were Bene Israel, how many were from other groups? As it stands, it seems that it only answers the OP partially as it focus only on Bene Israel.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jan 5 at 18:15
  • @SJuan76 Please read the articles linked to in the references. I obviously cannot type the whole history here - the Q asks for the reasons why indian Jews migrated, and I have provided an overview of the major reasons behind it.
    – sfxedit
    Commented Jan 5 at 18:21

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