The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

A Scottish Missionary, a Jerusalem Emissary and a Native Maskil: A Hebraic Encounter in Bombay 1860

My presentation concentrates on three individuals of significantly different backgrounds and their vicarious encounter in Bombay 1860. The three were Scottish Missionary John Wilson, Ashkenazi rabbinic emissary Jacob Sapir and a local Hebraist named Joseph Ezekiel Rajpurkar. Whereas the relationship between the Scottish missionary and the local Hebraist has been studied from the vantage point of India`s Bene Israel Community and its unique road to Hebrew literacy, Sapir`s writings on this community are often construed as a Halakhic ethnography. My presentation will dwell on the entangled histories of these approaches and zoom in on Rajpurkar`s role as the native agent uniquely positioned to jell them together. My talk will also chart the respective courses of action undertaken by these three individuals concerning the Bene Israel, specifically in the colonial context of British India.