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July 30, 2007

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Nice overview of the Jews in India. There was a story some years ago on a "lost tribe of Israel" in Imphal, Manipur.

Tongkhohao Aviel Hangshing is the leader of the Benei Menashes in Imphal. "We are Benei Menashe, because we belong to the Menashe tribe," he says. "Menashe is the son of Joseph, who was one of the 12 sons of Jacob. So we are the lost tribe of Israel." Mr Hangshing says for thousands of years they did not know they were lost. "We found out only 27 years ago." (Continued...)

I found the last two sentences above quite amusing. Hundreds of them have left India for Israel. Hard to fathom such tenacity of religious identity and allegiances. Right wing Israeli Jews seem to be encouraging this emigration "to boost the population in areas disputed by the Palestinians."

"One of Israel's chief rabbis has recognised an Indian tribe as lost descendants of ancient Israelites... According to the community, the Bnei Menashe are one of the lost 10 tribes of Israel who were exiled when Assyrians invaded the northern kingdom of Israel in the 8th Century BC. (Continued...)

Anna commented on the B'nei Menashe phenomenon too. There apparently is quite a concerted effort to "discover" lost tribes of Jews in various tribal areas of Asia and Africa. The effort clearly is to boost the Jewish population in Israel in order to maintain a foothold in an otherwise unequal fight in fecundity with the Palestinian Arabs.

What I don't understand and have never found a clear reference to, is whether the Menashes like the Bene Israelis were indeed practicing some clearly recognizable Judaic traditions "before" they were discovered by Christian missionaries or by Israel. I know that the Bene Israelis in the 1940s and 50s had a very hard time convincing the Israeli Orthodox rabbinate of their Jewish roots. On the other hand, the Menashes, most of whom were Christians as I read the story, got converted, accepted and packed off to Israel with unusual alacrity.

Ironically, if common myths, legends and even local lore are to be believed, the lost tribes of Israel are most likely to be found in Kashmir and eastern Afghanistan, most of whom are now Muslims, the Kashmiri Hindus having fled the area for the most part.

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