Bnai Menashe

In one of the most romantic episodes of Jewish history a tribe in eastern India, in the tribal state of Mizoram, have been accepted as one of the “lost tribes” of Israel. They call themselves Bnai Menashe, the sons of Menashe.
After they were first “discovered” only a few years ago, a few of them managed to find their way to Israel. They lobbied the Israeli Government and various individuals, and eventually an organization called Shavei Yisrael, that deals specifically with so-called “lost Jews,” such as the Anusim (Marranos) of Spain and Latin America, the Ethiopians, and the Bnai Israel of India, took up their cause. The first reaction to these oriental looking Jews was skepticism, but when the Cheif Rabbinate sent a delegation to India to investigate the Bnai Menashe there, they came to the conclusion on the basis of their customs and beliefs, that they were indeed a remnant of a lost Jewish tribe.
Following such contacts, many Bnai Menashe underwent orthodox conversion, and then applied to emigrate to Israel as Jews under the Law of Return. At first the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption, known for their rigorousness in upholding orthodox interpretations of Jewish law prevented their aliyah. But, after two years of legal proceeedings and appeals, finally the Government intervened and gave permission for those who had been converted to come. Yesterday the first 50 arrived and another 50 followed today. Altogether there are 7,000 of them wanting to come. If their aliyah succeeds and it looks as if they are highly dedicated Jews, then maybe many more of their native tribes will want to follow.
These “lost” Jews are quite distinct from the Pathans, a subdivision of the Pashtun tribes, who are the major group in Afghanistan and the largest minority in Pakistan. While many of the sub-tribes of the Pashtuns trace their origin to King Saul, some of the sub-tribes consider themselves “children of Israel” and related to one of the “lost tribes.” One of the major distinctions from the Bnei Menashe is that at the same time the Pathans are devout Muslims, usually Sunni, and are fiercely independent and have in many cases resisted control by national governments. While it is a very touchy subject, nevertheless, some anthropologists who have investigated the matter have come to the conclusion that some of their customs date back to Jewish origins. While few of them have indicated an interest of rejoining the Jews and moving to Israel like the Bnai Menashe, if they did it could be a very difficult situation, because there are millions of Pathans, and noone quite wants to open this particular Pandora’s box.


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