Egorova & Perwez, “The Jews of Andhra Pradesh: Contesting Caste and Religion in South India”

This summer, Oxford published The Jews of Andhra Pradesh: Contesting Caste and Religion in South India, by Yulia 9780199929214_140Egorova (Durham University) and Shahid Perwez (Durham University). The publisher’s description follows.

What does it mean to be Jewish in contemporary world? This book casts a new theoretical light on this question by exploring the Bene Ephraim community of Madiga Dalits from rural Andhra Pradesh, India, who at the end of the twentieth century declared their affiliation to the Lost Tribes of Israel. Yulia Egorova and Shahid Perwez present an engaging and sophisticated ethnographic account of this community and argue that by embracing the Jewish tradition the Bene Ephraim have both expanded conventional definitions of ‘Who is a Jew’ and found a new way to celebrate their Dalit heritage and to fight caste inequality.

The Jews of Andhra Pradesh focuses on the life of the community in the village, but also explores a wider range of ethnographic sites, including Israel and the USA, where it discusses how the time old Lost Tribes tradition is embraced today by groups and organization which support the Bene Ephraim and similar communities that declared Jewish descent in the twentieth century. Egorova and Perwez demonstrate how the example of the Bene Ephraim can throw light on a wide range of issues in national and international politics, such as the caste system and social mobility in India, the conflict in the Middle East, the rhetoric of the ‘war on terror’, and debates surrounding the Law of Return in Israel. The book will be of interest to scholars of Jewish and South Asian Studies as well as to general readers.