Lost Tribe Recognized As Jews After 2,700 Years
The Telegraph (UK) ^ | 9-17-2005 | Peter Foster
Posted on 09/16/2005 5:56:52
PM PDT by blam
India's lost tribe recognised as Jews after 2,700 years
By Peter Foster in Aizawl
With a cry of "Mazeltov" and a Rabbi's congratulatory
handshake, hundreds of tribal people from India's north-east
were formally converted to Judaism this week after being recognised
as descendants of the 10 Lost Tribes exiled from Israel 2,700
A rabbinical court, dispatched with the blessing of Israel's
Chief Rabbi, travelled 3,500 miles to Mizoram on India's border
with Burma to perform the conversions using a Mikvah - ritual
bath - built specially for the purpose.
There were emotional scenes as the Oriental-looking hill people
professed their faith, repeating the oath from Deuteronomy:
"Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One."
Over the next five years up to 7,000 members of the Bnei Menashe
are expected to emigrate to Israel after years of pleading their
case were met with official recognition.
Since the 1950s a small group of tribal people, who live in
the jungle-clad hills that straddle Burma, India and Bangladesh,
have claimed descent from the Lost Tribe of Menasseh, the remnants
of which are said to have found their way to China, Thailand
and north-eastern India.
Their claims gathered force in the 1980s when amateur anthropological
studies purported to have discovered similarities between their
ancient animist rituals and those of Old Testament Judaism.
Although the claims are still treated with great scepticism
by Mizoram's majority Christian population - and have never
been examined by professional anthropologists - the Bnei Menashe
are unshakeable in their belief.
"This is the greatest day of our lives, a wonderful new
life is now beginning for us," said Pe'er Tlau who, along
with his wife and three sons, plans to emigrate to Israel as
soon as formalities allow.
Mr Tlau, an electronics engineer whose father fought for the
British during the Burma Campaign, successfully proved his Jewish
credentials before the rabbinical court, answering detailed
questions on Jewish rituals and observance.
Later, after all the male converts had shown they were properly
circumcised, the families immersed themselves, naked, in the
Mikvah constructed with the help of detailed plans sent from
Twice they dipped beneath the ice-cold water, each time receiving
the blessing of Rabbi Moshe Klein, a senior member of the conversion
authority attached to the office of the Israeli prime minister,
Ariel Sharon. The recognition of the Bnei Menashe by the Chief
Rabbinate was achieved after a decade of lobbying by a Jerusalem-based
group, Shavei Israel, which dedicates itself to finding Israel's
scattered tribes and returning them to Israel.
Michael Freund, the group's chairman, said he believed the
conversions had closed the circle on almost 3,000 years of history
as the Mizo Jews were now able to exercise their right of return
to the Promised Land.
Not everyone in Mizoram is as convinced as Mr Freund, however.
Where he sees "deep and extensive commonalities" between
ancient Judaism and Mizo tribalism, others see Zionist ambition
and plenty of wishful thinking.
Local historians point out that the Mizo tribes were animists
whose oral history and tradition was lost forever when the Welsh
Presbyterian missionaries arrived in Mizoram in the late 1890s.
Dr P C Biaksiama, a former civil servant and academic who has
published several books on Mizo Christianity, says the similarities
have been ''discovered'' by a people who desperately want to
attach importance to their lost ancestry.
"This claim to be Jewish is just a fantasy created by
some 1980s revisionism - and the people's exposure to the Old
Testament. What they describe as 'similarities' are simply common
tribal practices, nothing more," he said.