SHAAR RASON PRAYER HALL (1933; now closed)
Sudder Street
West Bengal, INDIA

This prayer hall has been closed for some decades.  Whereas the mid-rise, mostly residential building and the physical space that it was located in still stands, there is no evidence of the former Jewish house of prayer remaining on its middle level.

Shaar Rason (Hebrew for Gate of Will) Prayer Hall, dating to 1933, was one of the houses of prayer constructed in Kolkata to serve the sizeable community of Baghdadi Jews. These community members had come mostly from Iraq, but some also originated in Iran and from places within the Ottoman Empire. The earliest Baghdadi Jews had arrived on a seasonally or temporary basis in the late eighteenth century, often based in the western Indian port city of Surat. In time, a permanent enclave was formed in Kolkata with others in Mumbai, Pune, and Yangon, Myanmar. The Baghdadi Jews were seeking religious tolerance and the opportunity to succeed in their work and daily lives. The community as a whole became comparatively well-educated and economically comfortable in their adopted cities in India and Myanmar. Kolkata offered the Baghdadis affiliated with this synagogue the chance to become fully practicing Jews and productive citizens of the broader local community.

To serve the needs of business owners working in that area of town, Shaar Rason was opened as a small prayer hall space on an upper level of a mid-rise building containing mostly residential apartments. Shaar Rason along with Magen Aboth (demolished), Neveh Shalome, Magen David, and Beth El together accommodated the Baghdadi Jewish community.

As a result of political and social changes in India that started in the 1950s, India’s Baghdadi Jewish population decreased precipitously. With this change came the decline of synagogue life in Kolkata. In recent decades, Neveh Shalome along with Magen David and Beth El synagogues have remained open, although these congregations are very small and regular prayer services are no longer held at these sites. Today the Baghdadi Jewish population of Kolkata was estimated to number only around twenty people. Kolkata’s extant synagogue buildings continue to be lovingly watched over by dedicated Muslim caretakers who, like the Baghdadi Jews left here, recognize the building as an important religious and civic monument that has been a part of the history and fabric of the Kolkata for many years.


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