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The Bene Israel ("Sons of Israel", also the "Shanivar Teli" caste (Saturday Oil Presser caste) or "Native Jew Caste")[3] are a community of Jews in India. It has been suggested[4] that it is made up of descendants of one of the disputed Lost Tribes and ancestors who had settled there centuries ago. In the 19th century, after the people were taught about normative (Ashkenazi/Sephardi) Judaism, they tended to migrate from villages in the Konkan area[5] to the nearby cities, primarily Mumbai,[4] but also to Pune, Ahmedabad, India; and Karachi, in today's Pakistan.[6] Many gained positions with the British colonial authority of the period.

In the early part of the twentieth century, many Bene Israel became active in the new film industry, as actresses and actors, producers and directors. After India gained its independence in 1947, and Israel was established in 1948, most Bene Israel emigrated to Israel, Canada and other Commonwealth countries and the United States.

Between 1948 and 1952, some 2,300 Bene Israel immigrated to Israel.[28] In India, the Bene Israel and other Jews lived in urban areas, however in Israel they were settled into Between 1948 and 1952, some 2,300 Bene Israel immigrated to Israel.[28] In India, the Bene Israel and other Jews lived in urban areas, however in Israel they were settled into development towns.[29] Several rabbis refused to marry Bene Israel to other Jews, on grounds that they were not legitimate Jews under Orthodox law. Between 1952 and 1954, following sit-down protests and hunger strikes by Orthodox Jews, the Jewish Agency re-patriated 337 members of the Bene Israel community back to India; though most eventually returned to Israel years later.[30][31]

In 1962, authorities in Israel were accused by articles in the Indian press of racism towards the Bene Israel.[32][33] In the case that caused the controversy, the Chief Rabbi of Israel ruled that before registering a marriage

In 1962, authorities in Israel were accused by articles in the Indian press of racism towards the Bene Israel.[32][33] In the case that caused the controversy, the Chief Rabbi of Israel ruled that before registering a marriage between Indian Jews and Jews not belonging to that community, the registering rabbi should investigate the lineage of the Indian applicant for possible non-Jewish descent, and in case of doubt, require the applicant to perform conversion or immersion.[32][33] The alleged discrimination may actually be related to the fact that some religious authorities believed that the Bene Israel were not fully Jewish because of inter-marriage during their long separation.[34] Between 1962 and 1964, the Bene Israel community staged protests against the religious policy. In 1964 the Israeli Rabbinate ruled that the Bene Israel are "full Jews in every respect".[25][35]

The Report of the High Level Commission on the Indian Diaspora (2012) reviewed life in Israel for the Bene Israel community. It noted that the city of Beersheba in Southern Israel has the largest community of Bene Israel, with a sizable one in Ramla. They have a new kind of transnational family.[36] Generally the Bene Israel have not been politically active and have been of modest means. They have not formed continuing economic connections to India and have limited political status in Israel. The community despite being in Israel for many generations has maintained many of their traditions from India such as Malida and wedding rituals such as mehndi.[37] Jews of Indian origin are generally regarded as Sephardic; they have become well integrated religiously with the Sephardhim community in Israel.[38]

Religiously, the Bene Israel adopted the devotional singing style Kirtan from theie Marathi Hindu neighbors. A popular Kirtan is one based on the Story of Joseph.[39] Their main traditional musical instruments are the Indian Harmonium and the Bulbul tarang.[40]

Members of Bene Israel also settled in Britain,[41] and North America, mostly in Canada.[42]

Notable people