When I was growing up in Sri Lanka during the latter part of the twentieth century , I had not heard of Jews living in this country. In fact the only Jewish person I knew at the time was the mother of one of my friends, a charming lady from Europe who had married her Sri Lankan husband in England and had then come over with him to make her life in Colombo.
So it was with great interest that I came cross an article entitled
‘A Historical Appraisal of Jewish Presence in Sri Lanka’
by Associate Professor Fiona Kumari Campbell of Australia’s Griffith University.
Campbell points out that our island’s strategic position at the midpoint
of the major trade routes between Orient and Occident meant that
from early times it became a point of convergence for trade
and the intermingling of various cultures. Evidence for the presence
of Jewish communities settling down here for the purposes of trade is found
in the writings of the Islamic geographer Abdullah el Idris (1099 – 1166)
and Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela in Spain . The former recorded that the Sinhalese King
(possibly Kasyapa IV who ruled from 858-891)
had a council of advisors which included four Jews, while the l
atter visited various Jewish communities outside Spain and
recorded the size and economic conditions of a community
in Sri Lanka. Some writers, including the English historian
Tennant, claim that the port of Tarshish referred to in the
Torah and the Bible as the port from which King
Solomon’s ships traded in ivory, apes and peacocks is actually Galle.
It was however during Portuguese times that many Jews arrived in Sri Lanka.
Read More: The Jewish Presence in Sri lanka