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History of the Jews in Pakistan

Jews were a small religious group in Pakistan.[1] Various estimates suggest that there were about 1,000 Jews living in Karachi at the beginning of the twentieth century, mostly Bene Israel Jews from Maharashtra, India.[2] A smaller community of Jews also lived in Peshawar. The Bene Israel Jews of India were concentrated in Karachi.[3] According to Bene Israel human rights lawyer, Levi M. Sankar, there are no indigenous Jews remaining in Pakistan.


  • 1881–1947 1
    • Karachi 1.1
  • 1947–1968 2
  • 1969–1999 3
  • 2000–present 4
  • Additional information 5
  • Jewish Graveyard in Karachi 6
  • Jewish Life in Pakistan 7
    • Antisemitism in Pakistan 7.1
    • Jewish Lifestyle 7.2
    • Recognition of Israel and peace process 7.3
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Sources 10
  • External links 11


According to the 1881 census, there were 153 Jews in Sindh province.[4] By 1919, this figure had risen to about 650.[5] By 1947, there were about 1,500 Jews living in Sindh with the majority residing in Karachi. Most of these Jews were Bene Israel and they lived as tradesmen, artisans, poets, philosophers and civil servants.[6]


A variety of associations existed to serve the Jewish community in Pakistan including:

Built in 1893,[9] by Shalome Solomon Umerdekar and his son Gershone Solomon. Other accounts suggest that it was built by Solomon David, a surveyor for the Karachi Municipal Committee and his wife Sheeoolabai. The synagogue soon became the center of a small but vibrant Jewish community. A member of this Synagogue, Abraham Reuben, became a councilor in the Karachi City Corporation in 1936.

  • Young Man's Jewish Association

Founded in 1903 and whose aim was to encourage sports as well as religious and social activities of the Bene Israel in Karachi.

  • Karachi Bene Israel Relief Fund

Established to support poor Jews in Karachi.

  • Karachi Jewish Syndicate

Formed in 1918 and whose aim was to provide homes to poor Jews at reasonable rents.


At the time of the Partition of India and Pakistani independence,[10] some 1300 Jews remained in Karachi, most of them Bene Israel Jews observing Sephardic Jewish rites.[11] The first real exodus of Jewish refugees from Pakistan to Bombay and other cities in India came just prior to the creation of Israel in 1948 when Jew hatred spread to Pakistan.[12] By 1953, fewer than 500 Jews were reported to be in all of Pakistan. [13]


Magen Shalome, the Bene Israel's only synagogue in Karachi founded under the British Raj, was demolished in 1988 to make way for a shopping plaza by order of General Zia-ul-Haq shortly after the Bene Israel community in Israel petitioned for its maintenance and use as a historical or other community center.[14]

Dan Kiesel, a Jew of German origin, was employed as a physiotherapist by the Pakistan Cricket Board from 1995-1999. His appointment brought some controversy, as Pakistani politicians questioned the hiring an Israeli Jew in the Senate of Pakistan.[15]


Most of the Karachi Jews now live in Ramla, Israel, Mumbai, India and Toronto, Canada and built a synagogue they named Magen Shalome after the Pakistani Synagogue in Ramla. Developments in the Middle East peace process led to the first high level meeting between Israeli and Pakistani foreign ministers. The foreign ministers of both countries met publicly for the first time in Istanbul, a diplomatic breakthrough brokered by Turkey.

Rachel Joseph, the last Bene Israel Jew of Pakistan, left Karachi for Israel. There are no Bene Israel Jews remaining in Pakistan.

The term "Yehudi" and its variants remains a word of serious derision when directed at a Bene Israel or anyone else as noted by Reverend John Wilson, one of the founders of University of Bombay (now University of Mumbai). The Bene Israel's prayers include intercessions on behalf of Her Majesty as in several Commonwealth countries.[16]

In general elections 2013, it was reported 809 adult Jews enrolled themselves as voters.[17]

Additional information

Historic records show that the Jewish community in British India were enthusiastic supporters of Israel and Zionism that, in its broadest sense, calls for the self-determination of the Jewish people and a sovereign, Jewish national homeland.

One of the leaders of the Jewish community, Abraham Reuben, who was elected the first Jewish councillor on the city corporation in 1919, wrote to acting Belgian Consul in Bombay and Head of Zionists in Bombay (Mr Israel Cohen, the secretary of the World Zionist Organization in 1921, described him as unofficial head of Zionists in Bombay). Reuben expressed, on behalf of Bene Israel community of 650 people living in Karachi, entire sympathy with Zionist movement. The community would decide on forming a branch association of Universal Zionist Organization when it had more information, and he therefore requested more details about the movement, suggesting that he might also meet Zionist representatives when he was in London the following May.

Reuben wrote at his letter head, president of the All India Israelite League. Later, Karachi Community of Jews appointed Reuben to proceed to the Holy Land to report on the practical possibilities of Zionism.

In May 1936 Abraham Reuben, vice president of the Karachi Jewish community, has inquired whether Bene Israel were permitted to settle in Eretz Israel.... Joseph Sargon reassured him that there were no restrictions on Bene Israel immigration.[18]

Israel Goldstein a rabbi, author, Zionist leader and one of the founders of Brandeis University, highlighted the absence of the rule of law as the reason for the Jewish Community of Karachi's exodus to Bombay, India as refugees in his book My world as a Jew (p. 20–21) in following words,

A dozen years of independence had failed to instill more than lip service to the ideals of democracy. Corruption was still rife.... Grim poverty was widespread and visible in the shantytowns and hovels occupied by the indigenous population and by hordes of Muslim refugees from India. Pakistan's refugee problem was then certainly the largest in the world, as a result of the 1947 partition, which had taken place against a welter of indiscriminate butchery.... American support for Israel also aroused indignation in this overwhelmingly Muslim country.
From Burma, we flew on to Karachi (in 1959).... We received a warm welcome from the local Jewish community. On the evening after our arrival in Karachi, some 250 of the 400 souls whom it comprised, including young people and school children, assembled in Magain Shalome Synagogue, which had been erected in 1893. The meeting was followed by a reception in an adjoining hall, where the president of the congregation extended greetings. We were happy to learn that many of the young people were going to Israel, by way of India, in order to train in hakhsharot for agricultural settlement there. A remarkable high spirit was maintained by the community, which had a great asset in the Israeli shaliah, who taught Hebrew to adults and children alike.

He continued his narration regarding the concerns for the future of Jews in Pakistan,

Their cantor led the singing of Israeli songs, and the evening concluded with Hatikvah. I was impressed by the fact that Hatikvah, the Zionist and Israeli national anthem was sung with the windows the hall wide open—despite the unfriendly Muslim environment." However, as cited by Mr. Goldstein: "the leaders of the Bene Israel community had no confidence in the future. They could not forget how, following the proclamation of Israel's establishment in 1948, local agitators had led a riotious mob into the synagogue, where the Holy Ark and Torah scrolls were desecrated and acts of vandalism took place."

Many Jewish refugees promptly left for India, whence they proceeded to Israel and other countries. Numerous news accounts also cite violent acts of antisemitism committed by Muslims against Jews in Karachi and other cities in Pakistan during the partition period.

The Jewish community of Karachi were definitely forced to leave Karachi as refugees because of increasing antisemitism especially by Muslim religious leaders across Pakistan and muhajirs arriving from India. To help and care for the Olim (Migrant to Israel), the Jewish agency maintained offices in Bombay, India where such Jewish refugees first arrived from Karachi.

The original Ark and podium were stored by a non-Jew in Karachi; a Torah scroll case was taken by an American Jewess to the U.S. In 2004 she donated synagogue registers covering the period 1961–1976 to the Ben-Zvi Institute Library in Jerusalem.[19] Two silver Kiddush cups from Magain Shalome were donated to the Museum of the International Synagogue at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York in honour of the memory of the late president.

Jewish Graveyard in Karachi

The Jewish Bene Israel Graveyard remains in the larger Mewa Shah Graveyard in Karachi.[20][21]

Jewish Life in Pakistan

Antisemitism in Pakistan

Antisemitism is rife in Pakistan today. The massive demographic influx of Mohajirs from British India before partition and the creation of Israel and the consequent Arab–Israeli conflict worsened Jew-hatred as witnessed by the 1948 Muslim occupation and eventual destruction of Karachi's Magane Shalom synagogue.

Jewish Lifestyle

Pakistan's Bene Israel maintain Sephardic Jewish rites as modified by several cross-cultural celebrations.

Recognition of Israel and peace process

Israeli politicians and Pakistani Jews in Israel spoke for the Pakistani recognition of Israel and peaceful relations between two countries.[22] Some Pakistani leaders like Pervez Musharraf and human rights activists like Levi M. Sankar also spoke on this issue.

See also


  1. ^ Weil, Shalva. 2010 'Pakistan'; in Norman A. Stillman (ed.) Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World, Leiden:Brill.
  2. ^ Weil, Shalva. 'The Jews of Pakistan', in M.Avrum Erlich (ed.) Encyclopaedia of the Jewish Diaspora, Santa Barbara, USA: ABC CLIO. 2008, (3: 1228-1230).
  3. ^ Weil, Shalva. "Jews of India" in Raphael Patai and Haya Bar Itzhak (eds.) Jewish Folklore and Traditions: A Multicultural Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, Inc. 2013, (1: 255-258).
  4. ^ W. W. Hunter, The Imperial Gazetteer of India, vol XII, Trubner and Co, London, 2nd edition, 1887. Online at:
  5. ^ Joan G. Roland, The Jewish Communities of India: Identity in a Colonial EraPg 149 Limited Preview :
  6. ^ Weil, Shalva. 2009 'The Heritage and Legacy of Indian Jews' in Shalva Weil (ed.) India’s Jewish Heritage: Ritual, Art and Life-Cycle, Mumbai: Marg Publications [first published in 2002; 3rd edn.], pp. 8-21. Weil, Shalva. 2011 'Bene Israel', in Adele Berlin (Ed. in Chief) Oxford Dictionary of Jewish Religion, 2nd edition, New York: Oxford University Press, 131. Weil, Shalva. 2011 'Bene Israel' (616), in Judith Baskin (ed.) Cambridge Dictionary of Judaism and Jewish Culture, New York: Cambridge University Press.
  7. ^ Weil, Shalva. 2011 "The History and Disappearance of the Jewish Presence in Pakistan", International Relations and Security Network (ISN).,0c54e3b3-1e9c-be1e-2c24-a6a8c7060233
  8. ^
  9. ^ Israel Goldstein, My World As a Jew: The Memoirs of Israel Goldstein, Herzl Press, New York, USA, vol 2, Pg 21 Limited preview:
  10. ^ Weil, Shalva. 2012= “The Unknown Jews of Bangladesh: Fragments of an Elusive Community”, Asian Jewish Life, 8:16-18.
  11. ^ Weil, Shalva. 2009 'Bene Israel Rites and Routines' in Shalva Weil (ed.) India’s Jewish Heritage: Ritual, Art and Life-Cycle, Mumbai: Marg Publications [first published in 2002; 3Arts, 54(2): 26-37.rd edn.], 78-89. Reprinted in Marg: A Magazine of The
  12. ^ Weil, Shalva. 'The Jews of Pakistan', in M.Avrum Erlich (ed.) Encyclopaedia of the Jewish Diaspora, Santa Barbara, USA: ABC CLIO.2008, (3: 1228-1230).
  13. ^
  14. ^ Weil, Shalva. 2011 "The History and Disappearance of the Jewish Presence in Pakistan", International Relations and Security Network (ISN).,0c54e3b3-1e9c-be1e-2c24-a6a8c7060233
  15. ^ Weil, Shalva. 2011 "The History and Disappearance of the Jewish Presence in Pakistan", International Relations and Security Network (ISN).,0c54e3b3-1e9c-be1e-2c24-a6a8c7060233
  16. ^ Weil, Shalva. 1994 'The Secular & Religious Elite among the Bene Israel Jews in India', Pe’amim 60: 49-63. (Hebrew)
  17. ^
  18. ^ The Jewish communities of India: identity in a colonial era By Dr. Joan G. Roland
  19. ^ Weil, Shalva. 2011 "The History and Disappearance of the Jewish Presence in Pakistan", International Relations and Security Network (ISN).,0c54e3b3-1e9c-be1e-2c24-a6a8c7060233
  20. ^ "Jewish Graveyard in Karachi Pakistan". Youtube. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  21. ^ "In search of the Jews of Karachi".  
  22. ^ "Israel Today". Israel Today. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 


Above material is based on an article of Prof. Adil Najam of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, published in Pakistan's newspaper The Daily Times. 1

External links

  • Bene Israel graveyard: buried in time or conscience?
  • In search of Jews in Karachi
  • When Jews found refuge in an unlikely place: Pakistan
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