Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Abrahamic-Brahmanic Linkages

I have read up on numerous theorists who posit bizarre and often dubious links between the Abrahamic and Brahmanic traditions. Some of the overlapping themes that remain scholarly questionable include: various Semitic-sounding place-names in India that are attributed to Hebraic rather than Arabic roots, particular Hindu castes/communities (Yadavs, Kashmiris) for whom some sort of distant Jewish origin is claimed, and a number of liturgical references in prayers, songs, and scriptures that ostensibly point to common origins. Another common theme for such Indo-Judaic researchers is A-braham's purported a-Brahmanism, which would explain the derivation of his name. Such folks argue that Abraham originated somewhere in the Indo-Aryan homeland and migrated westward towards Canaan because he rejected the precepts of Brahmanism.

These speculations arise in a time when increasing knowledge is being revealed about the history of the 5 groups from India who practice actual Judaism in various ways (Cochini, Bene Israel, Baghdadi, Bnei Menashe, and Bene Ephraim-Telugu) and whose descent from "real" Jews ranges from literal to far-fetched (see link below).

Regardless, in recent years, there has been a tremendous warming of relations between Jews/Israel and Indians/India, with America more or less providing a conduit. The increased linkages have taken on business, tourism, military, and geopolitical dimensions. The extent of these connections is beyond the scope of this commentary, but suffice it to say that relations are more intimate than ever between these two people-groupings, for a plethora of reasons. The end of the Cold War meant a significant shift in alliances, especially with regards to the rise of Islamism. Moreover, the Indian economy liberalized and the Indian government has generally been moving even closer to the US on the global spectrum of geopolitical actors. Aside from the government, I have noticed that all types of Indians have reacted with exceptional glee when I identified my country of origin. So, the connections are intensifying with regards to neo-liberal economic ties, ballooning tourism exchange, and increased cross-cultural understanding.

From a rather basic perspective, many ordinary Indians simply view America as being an incredibly alluring and free land of opportunity, while Americans often see India as curiously exotic.
I will allow Wiki to do all the explaining about the nature of the 5 Indian Jewish communities, since it can do so rather comprehensively: Wikipedia entry on Indian Jews There is also a very profound Israeli obsession with India that I have not fully witnessed due to my lack of time on the tourist circuit thus far. But, there is a multitude of connections on this front that might be much better explained by those who are well-versed on the subject.

One additional area of common interest lies in the priestly caste, which exists in both Hinduism and Judaism. While there is significant difference between Kohens and Brahmins, there is a bizarre linkage between the two traditions. While there are many more vestiges of Brahminical privilege extant in contemporary Hinduism, some features of Kohen status still serve to differentiate and elevate the priests of the ancient Hebrew temple from the commoners. Judaic society was never stratified in the same way as Hindu society has been, but there is nonetheless an ongoing reverence for Kohen lineage within the Jewish tradition, and descent from the mythological-historical figure of Aaron is a major source of pride for modern-day bearers of this (genetic) marker of priestliness. Regardless, the priests of yesteryear retain special distinction in both cultural spheres.

Next, due to the controversy involved in various political issues, I will not delve deeply into the issues addressed in the two news articles below. However, I present them as examples of two opposite perspectives on the contemporary relationship between American Jews and upper-caste Indians. There are undoubtedly various similarities between anti-Brahminism and anti-Semitism, which both have varied avatars.

NYTimes perspective
Dalit Voice perspective

The flagship publication of the American media has an uncritical perspective on what the fiery Dalit Voice terms a rather unholy alliance between American Jews and Brahmins. Brahmins are viewed as being a similar tribe in their way of attaining economic resources and courting political influence, both in India and abroad. The tone of the latter article is rather conspiratorial and incendiary. The divergent stylistic approaches are duly noted, and the irate subaltern journalism is contrasted with the professional, hegemonic U.S. media outlet's confident, bourgeois voice. The connections between Abrahamic and Dharmic faiths nonetheless blur many of the distinctions that were traditionally thought to exist between East and West.

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