The Happy Arab News Service

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bnei Menashe

Hillel Halkin about the Bnei Menashe, an Indian tribe claiming to be Jewish:

The Jerusalem Post

Dec. 14, 2006

A great deal of nonsense has been spoken and written about the Bnei Menashe, both by those who are sympathetic to them and by those who are not. Many of their supporters, in the best hyper-imaginative tradition of lost tribe literature, have painted a picture of a group of exiled Israelites, separated from their co-religionists by the Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel in the eighth century BCE, who continued to live Jewish lives for 2,700 years while wandering from the Middle East to southeast Asia, and who are now asserting the identity they have always had.

Many on the other side have painted a counter-picture of a gullible group of Asian yokels who have been talked into believing that they descend from an ancient Israelite tribe by wild-eyed rabbis and nefarious settlers out to solve the demographic problem by importing millions of make-believe Jews.

It's hard to say who is being more delusory. The Bnei Menashe of the Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur along the Burmese border are not country bumpkins, and no one talked them into anything. They belong to a Tibeto-Burmese ethnic group, the Kuki-Chin-Mizo, that has one of the highest literacy and educational levels in India, and their original interest in Judaism was an indigenous development that had nothing to do with outside intervention or assistance.

The Judaism they practice, as anyone knows who has visited them in India, is sincere, dedicated, and - thanks largely to the efforts of a single Jerusalem rabbi who took them under his wing many years after the inception of their movement - thoroughly based on modern Israeli Orthodoxy.

. . .

An organized Jewish community first appeared in northeast India in the 1970s, and its early membership came entirely - as much of it still does - from disaffected Christians. In fact, it was the Christianization of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo by British missionaries, who introduced them to the Hebrew Bible, that first made them aware of certain intriguing parallels between biblical religion and their own pre-Christian rituals and traditions.

To some - I happen to be one of them - the very fact that certain customs, beliefs, stories and names that we know from the Bible survived for millennia among the descendants of a group of exiles from the land of Israel who ended up merging with a Tibeto-Burmese people in a far corner of Asia, thousands of miles from where their ancestors started their wanderings, is enormously exciting. Others may shrug. We can't all be romantics when it comes to history.


I think that the mere fact of them having one of the highest literacy and educational levels in India should be the first reason to suspect the Bnei Menashe of being Jewish . . .



Back to HappyArabNews

Proclaimed un monstruooo muy monstruoso at 6:42 PM