Synagogue is the house of prayer of the Jews; they are consecrated spaces used for the purpose of prayer, Tanakh reading, study and assembly. A synagogue is not necessary for worship; the Halakha(Jewish law) holds that the communal worship can be carried out wherever 10 jews assemble.
At present there are 33 synagogues in India. Although many are no longer functioning, and they are all in various stages of preservation. These buildings dating from the mid 16th century through mid 20th century once served the three distinct Jewish groups namely the ancient Cochin Jews, Bene Israel and Baghdadi Jews.
The Paradesi Synagogue is one of the seven synagogues in Kerala and the only one still functional.
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The synagogue is located in Mattancherry near Fort Kochi. Both Fort Kochi and Mattanchery hold a very important place in the books of history. It around 13 km from Ernakulam town, and one can reach the synagogue via the ferry or by road from the town.
The synagogue was constructed in the year 1568 and is one of the seven synagogues of the Cochin Jewish Community or the Yehudan Mappilar people.
'Paradesi' means foreigner, and the synagogue is called so as it was built by Spanish-speaking Jews, some of them are from families exiled from Aleppo and other West Asian locations.
The Yehudan Mappilar formed a very prosperous trading community of Kerala and they controlled a major portion of the worldwide spice trade. In 1568, the Jews constructed the Paradesi Synagogue adjacent to the Mattancherry Palace, on the land given to them by the Raja of Kochi.
The original synagogue was built in the 4th century in Kodungallur or Cranganore(anglicised name) when the Jews had a mercantile role along the Malabar coast. When the community moved to Kochi in the 14th century, a new synagogue was built.
The first synagogue was destroyed in the 16th century by the Portuguese persecution of the Jews and Nasrani or St Thomas Christians. The second one was built under the protection of the Raja of Kochi in Mattancherry, in 1568 during the Portuguese rule of Cochin which is the present structure.
PC : Deepujoseph
The Paradesi Synagogue had three classes of members namely White Jews or Paradesi Jews, who were the descendants of Sephardi from Spain, Portugal and Netherlands.
The second were the Black Jews or Malabari Jews, who were allowed to worship but were not given full membership. The third was Meshuchrarim, who were a group of freed slaves, they had no communal rights and no synagogue of their own.
PC: Wouter Hagens
The Paradesi Synagogue is the only functioning synagogue in Kochi with a minyan(a quorum of ten men over the age of 13 required for traditional Jewish public worship). Alongside the traditions followed by Hindus, the worshippers or anyone entering the synagogue must enter barefoot.
The synagogue is open to the public as a historic attraction, by paying a nominal fee. The ticket seller is the last female Paradesi Jew of childbearing age.
The synagogue is closed on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and also on Jewish holidays.
PC : Jean-Pierre Dalbéra
The large main hall grabs your attention with its display of rare antique objects which adds on to the grandeur of the place. The open windows make the sight of the chandeliers and lamps more attractive.The glass chandeliers belong to the 19th century and were imported from Belgium.
The floor of the synagogue itself is a wonderful artwork, the floor is paved with hand painted blue willow patterned floor tiles. The ceramic tiles were brought from China in the 18th century by Ezekiel Rahabi, a renowned Jewish businessman.
Pc : Robin Klein
Each tile is different from one another in its design and always captures the admiration of the visitors. A valuable possession of the synagogue is the copper plate that belong to the 4th century with inscriptions in Malayalam.
Outside the synagogue, one can see the cemetery of the jews, who once lived here and an 18th century clock tower, which was restored during 1998-99 and indicates the time accurately.
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Morning: 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM
Evening: 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Photography is not permitted inside the synagogue, visitors are requested to be dressed modestly while visiting the synagogue as it is a place of worship.