Perhaps the best way to describe India’s position vis-à-vis Israel is “enigmatic.” For centuries India was unfamiliar with and hence did not suffer from anti-Semitism that has been common to many European lands, past and present. While there were trade and commercial links at least during the Second Temple period, the Jewish arrival on the Indian shores is normally traced to the first century after the Roman conquest of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple and the subsequent Jewish diaspora.
Though not monotheistic Hinduism, the dominant faith of Indians has one interesting similarity with Judaism. Both are non-proselyting faiths and, unlike Christianity and Islam, they are not driven by the missionary zeal to convert the other into their folds. Despite the caste structure, theologically Hinduism is assimilationist by nature, and hence Jews never felt alienated or marginalized in India.
The favorable and accommodative Indian environment, however, contributed to two trends that did not help Zionism in later years. Socio-theological assimilation meant that Jewish particularity was sucked into Hinduism and the Jewish presence in India has always been minuscule. At the turn of the 19th century, there were about 10,000 Jews in India, and the number rose to about 30,000 between the two World Wars. This was primarily due to Jews fleeing Europe after the ascendance of Hitler and taking refuge in different parts of the world, including India. A few of the refugees married Indian leaders and figures and settled down in the country. As per the latest census, there are just over 4,000 Jews in a country of 1.2 billion people.
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