Hinduism and Judaism

Hinduism and judaism

by Jayaram V

Hinduism and Judaism are world's two oldest religions. The two religions never interacted until modern times, and developed independently in their respective milieus. It is said the King Solomon used to get some merchandise from Indian traders including the wood used in building their temple. The languages spoken by the Jews and Indians also developed independently with fewer common words, unlike Sanskrit and other European languages.

However, we can discern some vague coincidences between the two. For example the originator of Judaism is considered Abraham and of Hinduism Brahma. Abraham's wife was Sarah, and Brahma's consort is Saraswathi. When Moses met the God on the mountain, God described Himself as "I am I am." The expression is very similar to "Aham Brahmasmi" or "Aham Atma." Both religions in ancient times approved of animal sacrifices. The comparison ends here.

The Hindu theories of creation and origin of the universe is much more complex than the Genesis mentioned in the Old Testament. Judaism is a strikingly dualistic religion, whereas in Hinduism the relation between God and individual souls range from monism to qualified dualism. Hinduism originated and developed entirely in the Indian subcontinent. Until recent times, the Hindus never left their homeland, except for trade or travel.

For the ancient Indians the subcontinent was a world in itself, and Vedic tradition did not approve of people going abroad. In fact, in Hinduism, until the educated middle-class Indians began traveling to the West, traveling abroad was a taboo. In contrast, for most part of their history the Jews stayed out of their homeland. They kept wandering from place to place in search of a home, from Egypt to Babylon to Persia to Europe and Asia, where they remained as immigrant communities until the state of Israel was formed after the second World war.

Hindus worship numerous gods and goddesses, each as an independent entity as well as an aspect of the highest God, while Judaism is a confirmedly monotheistic religion. While Hinduism provided a fertile ground for the emergence of Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, Judaism provided the background for the emergence of Christianity and Islam. There is an argument by some scholars that the vengeful and wrathful God of early Judaism was a prototype of Shiva, known as the destroyer in Hinduism.

Probably Zoroastrianism, which thrived in Persia served as the connecting link between Hinduism and Judaism because both share some common features with it. For example, both Zoroastrianism and Judaism believe in God as the creator and ruler of the world, God vs. Evil, eternal heavenly life, eternal damnation, sinful nature of worldly existence, and Judgment Day. Hinduism also has some similarities with Zoroastrianism such as existence of multiple divinities, names of common deities, tussle between divine and demonic forces, use of Sanskrit, importance given to fire and purity, yajnas, occupation based social classes, etc.

Persecution of Hindus

Hindus and the Jews are probably the most persecuted and discriminated religious communities in the world. However, comparatively, the Jews suffered more from persecution than the Hindus. Persecution and discrimination of Hindus began in the medieval period after the Slave Dynasty was formed in Delhi in the 12 Century AD. It continued during the Mughal rule and assumed a more civilized form under the British. The British did not directly persecute Hindus, but they did discriminate against them and ill treated them on various grounds, while they kept a stranglehold upon the country's economy and resources and allowed the Christian missionaries to carry out their negative propaganda against native traditions. The British devised an education system which aimed to create a servile middle class that served their interests without challenging them, and allowed the continuous drain of Indian wealth to fuel the industrial economy of the British empire. So strong was the system they devised that even today you can feel its influence upon people's mindset in independent India.

It is estimated that under the Muslim rule, including the Mughal period, over 100 million Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs were massacred or tortured and killed in India by various Muslim rulers for their religious beliefs. By all means, it is the biggest holocaust in the history of the world. The Tughlaks and Khiljis reduced Indians to such penury that even the richest of the Hindus had to do menial jobs in the Muslim households. Hindu women were forcibly taken, married and converted to Islam while their fathers, brothers and male relatives were killed, forcibly converted or driven in to penury. After each victory in a battle against the Hindu rulers, the Muslim kings acted with great savagery against the Hindus and spared none from destruction and pillage. The Bahamanis who ruled in the South comprising the newly formed Telangana state and its adjoining regions had a target of killing at least a 100000 Hindus every year as a punishment for their refusal to convert. The destruction would have been much more but for the brave resistance showed by the Rayas in the Andhra-Karnataka region and the Marathas in the Maharashtra and adjoining regions.

The descendants of this fractured community who were forcibly converted to Islam mostly under the threat of death and torture now constitute the majority of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. The fanatics in these countries now harbor even greater hostility towards Hindus than the persecutors of their own ancestors. They have forgotten their own history, as they identify themselves with the Turks, Arabs and Iranians, who do not actually show any affinity with them and treat them as inferior since they see in them only their South Asian or Indian identity. Fueled by rigid Islamic beliefs and distorted knowledge of history, they regularly kill and torture the minority Hindus living in their neighborhoods while they do everything possible to keep the tension between India and their own countries alive. It is the irony of life and the way destiny has molded the history of the Indian subcontinent that the descendants of tortured Hindus have become enemies of present-day Hindus. After independence and partition of the country into India and Pakistan, Hindus form the majority in India. Communal passions do flare up India on both sides due to outside interference from Pakistan or Bangladesh, but on the whole communal harmony prevails in the country. Muslims in India are much better than their counterparts in Pakistan, Bangladesh, many developing Islamic nations and even countries like Nigeria where Christians form the majority.

Persecution of Jews

The Jews suffered from discrimination and persecution on a wider scale and for a longer period. While Hindus suffered from persecution in their own homeland, the Jews suffered from it in various parts of the world. I read somewhere that in their long history the Jews were expelled from about 79 countries for their religious beliefs. Going by their history, it may probably be true. We learn from the old Testament and from history that they suffered from discrimination and exploitation in the hands of the Pharaohs in Egypt, who forced them to live as laborers and work in mines and royal construction work. Subsequently they were forced to live as immigrants in Babylon and Persia where they remained loyal to the native kings in exchange for protection. When Judea came under the control of the Seleucid Empire (2nd Century BC), the Greeks forced them to adapt to Greek culture and imposed several restrictions on Jewish practices such as circumcision, Sabbaths, feasts and sacrifices.

In the 3rd Century BC, a large community of Jews lived in Alexandria, where for over three hundred years they had to deal with anti-Semitism from contemporary Greek scholars who considered them pagan and barbarian. The hatred culminated in a large-scale massacre of Jews in Alexandria in 38 AD. The Romans who occupied Israel in the first century AD continued the persecution. Jews were either killed or expelled from various places within the Roman Empire. They were denied the permission to rebuild their temple. The Jews who revolted against the Romans or stood for their beliefs were severely repressed and punished. Even the slightest hint of disloyalty or disobedience invited the worst punishment as it happened in case of Jesus Christ. The persecution of Jews continued and perhaps increased manifold, after Christianity became the state religion of the Roman empire in the 4th Century AD. During this period Jews were barred from civil and military service under various edicts, and their synagogues were either destroyed or converted into churches.

As the Jews migrated to several parts of Europe partly to escape from Roman persecution and partly due to economic necessity, Medieval Europe witnessed yet another wave of anti-Semitism. Jews were killed, expelled or forcibly converted with systematic antipathy and hostility by the nobility and feudal landlords, aided and abetted by the local churches and Christian communities. One of the reasons for the persecution was the common belief held by the Christians that the Jews possessed magical powers, drank the blood of Christian children, and were in league with the Devil. Persecution of Jews in Europe increased manifold during the Crusades starting from the first Crusade in 1096 AD and continued for the next four hundred years, during which hundreds and thousands of Jews were killed or expelled from the places where they lived for hundreds of years. During the Black Death epidemic in the 14th Century, many Christians believed that Jews caused it by poisoning the wells. As a result they attacked Jews, killed hundreds of them, and destroyed their homes and properties. According to one estimate, about a million Jews lost their lives during the four crusades.

After the advent of Islam, Jews suffered from the hands of Muslims also. They suffered from Islamic persecution in Europe also where the Muslims ruled, although comparatively they were better off. However, elsewhere in Muslim states such as Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, they were given the choice either to convert or face death, while decrees were issued to destroy their synagogues.

Persecution of Jews continued in the subsequent centuries. In the 18th Century Russia, Jews were discriminated against and forced to serve in Russian military for 25 years. According to Jewishvoice.org, "Throughout Russia and Ukraine from 1903-1906. Jewish women were raped and beaten, thousands were massacred." In 1905, "600,000 Jews were forcibly moved from the western borders of Russia towards the interior. About 100,000 died" due to exposure or starvation." Persecution of Jews reached its culmination during the second world war when "Some six million Jews, including 1.5 million children, were systematically exterminated simply because they were Jews."

Discrimination of Hindus and Jews continues in various parts of the world even today, where the majority are either Christians or Muslims. In the USA, the Hindu and Jewish communities are prosperous and relatively doing better than other communities, due to the constitutional protection given to all people under the law. Currently, anti-Semitism is very strong in several Muslim countries due to the Israel and Palestine conflict, while hate crimes against Hindu and Jewish people are on the rise in Europe, Russia, and Australia.

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