Head of Jewish community Rabbi Ezekiel Issac Malekar
Head of the Jewish community in New Delhi. He is the Honorary Secretary of the Judah Hyam Synagogue at Humayun road in New Delhi. Rabbi Ezekiel Isaac Malekar is a scholar of Judaism, a human rights activist and the Former Deputy Registrar (Law) with the National Human Rights Commission in India. He has authored many articles and has been actively involved in inter-faith activities since 1980. He has also attended more than 2000 National and Inter-national conferences and seminars and represented Judaism.
I met Rabbi Ezekiel Issac Malekar on March 29, 2019 at the Synagogue on Humayun Road. This is my conversation with him.
What is one core principle that unites all the followers of your faith (either the faith as a whole or this particular sect of the faith)?
Rabbi Malekar said Judaism believes in the unity and oneness of the universal creator which is exemplified in the prayer “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Blessed be His name, whose glorious kingdom is forever and ever.” It believes in the brotherhood of humanity as we are all children of the same God.
How did you decide to become a priest? Why ?
Rabbi Malekar explained that after completing his undergraduate studies and graduated in Pune, where he
studied law. He came to Delhi while working in the government and worked in various jobs including working with 5 chief justices of India until he became a Jewish Priest. He explained that it was not simply a ‘decision’ but rather a passion and urge he had from his childhood. As a young child, he always wanted to know more about religion and even went to study in Israel to know more about religion. He told me that being a priest was not a job for him as he did this out of love and passion. He said that this theory applies to anyone who pursues something, they should do so out of love and passion rather than temptation for money and power.
What was your first experience (experience of a union with God)?
Rabbi Malekar said that the basic tenets of every religion state that God is one. God is said to be the
manifestation of one power. Rabbi Malekar explained that we are children of the Almighty and therefore there is no inferiority or superiority and we are all equal. He explained that it was Man who created the inequality that prevails in the world now. He believes that everyone is an image of God and therefore when we come across anyone, we are experiencing God in some form. He explained to me that religion is how to behave in day-to-day life and is a list of rules and ethics that brings one closer to righteousness. He also spoke about Rabbi Hillel who when asked said that the Golden Rule of the Torah is “what is hateful to you, do not do to others” He also explained to me that parents are partners of the Almighty in creating a human being and therefore must be honoured in order to fulfil one’s obligation to God. This is the 5th commandment mentioned in the Ten Commandments.
What objects are employed during religious ceremonies and what is the significance of each?
One of the basic of the ceremonial objects used during holidays is a Hanukkah lamp (hanukkiya), it has nine holders for wax candles or cups for olive oil. Eight holders are used for the ritual; the ninth is raised or separated from the others and is used to light the other eight.
The skullcap (kippa in Hebrew) is an external indicator of the Orthodox Jew. It may be crocheted with designs, religious motifs and (in the case of children) the wearer's name. It is often worn by men during religious ceremonies. A type of fringed garment worn by men is the "tallitot" or prayer shawl - a blanket-sized rectangular mantle with fringes attached to its corners. Tallitot are usually white and made of wool, cotton, or silk. Many are striped, mostly in black, some in blue. The fringes are made of four ordinary strands tied in a prescribed way. Tallitot may have ornamentation at the corners and at the neck lining.
In the synagogue, the main ceremonial object is the Holy Ark, which may take the form of a simple
wooden cupboard or an elaborate ornamental closet. Arks are often raised, to be approached by stairs,
and embellished with representations of the Ten Commandments
What is the purpose of life?
Rabbi Malekar began by saying that we human beings are all gifts of God and we must remain healthy and happy in life. God does not wish to see difficulties and sorrow in someone’s life. He quoted the Gitanjali to explain the purpose of life and its essence in all religions -
Go not to the temple to put flowers upon the feet of God,
First fill your own house with the Fragrance of love...
Go not to the temple to light candles before the altar of God,
First remove the darkness of sin from your heart...
Go not to the temple to bow down your head in prayer,
First learn to bow in humility before your fellow men...
Go not to the temple to pray on bended knees,
First bend down to lift someone who is downtrodden.
Go not to the temple to ask for forgiveness for your sins,
First forgive from your heart those who have sinned against you!
We must first make ourselves, our family and friends happy and then make the community and society happy.
We must also remember that our life is precious and we must utilise it to benefit society.
What is your view on death and what comes after it?
Rabbi Malekar said that when someone dies, the Jewish faith wishes that ‘may his soul rest in peace’. There is no belief in reincarnation, it is believed that the soul has only one life. It is believed that all the good and bad actions are repaid when the soul and body are living and not after death. It is believed that salvation comes to those who perform good deeds and thus we must make use of the life that we get.
What are some essential daily activities of practitioners of your religion?
Saturday, Jews observe “Sabbath”, this is the day of no work and rest. Sabbath starts on sunset on Friday and ends in the evening on Saturday. They typically attend Synagogue on Friday night for a prayer service. The prayer service is followed by a special and festive meal.
‘Kosher’ is a set of rules which defines what Jews can eat (which is considered proper), these are very complex and detailed which cover all aspects of food. For example, animals who chew their cud like goats, sheep, cattle, deer are considered kosher (proper to eat), other mammals like pigs, camels and hare are not. Devout Jews offer prayers three times a day. Jewish people are supposed to perform the mitzvah, which literally means “commands” (to follow the divine commandments), in a more practical sense it means to do good deeds
Do you think younger people are less religious? Can you comment on why this is so?
Rabbi Malekar began by saying that it is incorrect to blame the younger generation as it is the older generations that are custodians of the religion and are responsible for misleading the youth. He explained to me that religion and politics are two sides of the same coin; however, religion is being misused to gain power and authority. He stressed the importance of religion’s role in one’s day-to-day life by saying that it is not something that should be kept in the freezer and defrosted once in a while, rather, it should be a part of our daily life. Unfortunately, religion, especially in India, is being misused due to which the younger generation is being misguided.
Why is there evil in the world?
Rabbi Malekar explained that there is evil in the world due to human tendency. He believes that evil is born within one’s soul that is restless. He inquired - “What is evil?” to which he answered - Mercilessness, hatred, insensitiveness, accusations, scarce in love, intolerance embody the evil that exists in the world and all such feelings arise within the human being itself. Evil arises from one’s mindset and can be rectified by meditation, prayer and doing good and charitable deeds.