Sinlung /
07 February 2010

Bnei Menashe - The Lost Tribe

Bnei Menashe In Northeast India, in the land mass that lies between Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Bangladesh, there lives a small group of people who have been practicing Judaism for more than 27 years. They have not taken on a "new" religion.

These people, in fact, have returned to the religion of their ancestors. They call themselves Bnei Menashe, descendants of the Tribe of Menashe, one of the ten lost tribes.

Also known as the Sinlung, the Bnei Menashe relate their history of exile from the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C. across the silk route finally ending up in India and Myanmar.

The story of these people is an amazing one. After thousands of years of exile they have rediscovered their roots and are returning to Judaism. The Bnei Menashe ("Children of Menasseh", Hebrew בני מנשה) are a group of more than 9,000 people from India's North-Eastern border states of Manipur and Mizoram who claim descent from one of the Lost Tribes of Israel.

The claim appeared after a Pentecostals dreamt in 1951 that his people's pre-Christian religion was Judaism and that their original homeland was Israel. Linguistically, Bnei Menashe are Tibeto-Burmans and belong to the Mizo, Kuki and Chin peoples (the terms are virtually interchangeable).

They are called Chin in Burma. Depending upon their affiliations, each tribe refers to itself as Kuki, Mizo, Zomi or Chin. It is however more common for people to identify themselves by their sub-tribe, each of which has its own distinct dialect and identity. The breakaway Judaic group was named Bnei Menashe by Eliyahu Avichail because they believe that the legendary Kuki-Mizo ancestor Manmasi was Menasseh, son of Joseph. According to the Book of Genesis, the first son of Joseph and Asenath.

Asenath was an Egyptian woman whom Pharaoh gave to Joseph as wife, and the daughter of Potipherah, a priest of On. (Genesis 41:50-52) Manasseh was born in Egypt before the arrival of the children of Israel from Canaan. (Genesis 48:5). Jacob, Joseph's father, adopted Joseph's two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, to share in Jacob's inheritance equally with Jacob's own sons. (Genesis 48:5) He is counted as the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Manasseh, one of the twelve Israelite tribes. Jacob also blessed Ephraim over his older brother. (Genesis 48:20).

Manasseh had a son, Asriel, with his wife; and Machir with his Aramean concubine. (1 Chronicles 7:14) Manasseh is etymologically derived from the root נשה , which means to forget, and goes on to argue that it refers to Joseph forgetting his troubles and his father's household, on account of the actions of God. Other scholars maintain that the name is of Egyptian rather than Hebrew origin.

The Legend

Prior to their conversion to Christianity in the 19th Century, the Chin-Kuki-Mizo were headhunters and animists who migrated in waves from East Asia until they settled in northeastern India. They have no written history but their legends refer to a beloved homeland they were driven away from called Sinlung/Chhinlung.

Anthropologists and historians believe that it was located in China's Yunnan province and that the Tibeto-Burman migration from there began about 6000 years ago. National Geographic's Genographic Project plans to sample the gene pool of northeastern Indian tribes which may shed definitive light on their origins.

The Bnei Menashe believe that the traditional Mizo-Kuki harvest festival song "Sikpui Hla (Sikpui Song)" which features events paralleled in the Book of Exodus, such as enemies chasing them over a red-colored sea, quails , and a pillar of cloud is clear evidence of their Israelite ancestry. Translation of the lyrics: “

While we are preparing for the Sikpui Feast (SIKPUIRUOI), “The big red sea becomes divided; As we march along fighting our foes, We are being led by pillar of cloud by day,'' And pillar of fire by night. Our enemies, O ye folks, are thick with fury, Come out with your shields and arrows. Fighting our enemies all day long, We march forward as cloud-fire goes before us. “

The enemies we fought all day long, The big sea swallowed them like wild beast. Collect the quails, And draw the water that springs out of the rock.

The Report in 2007

On 1 April 2007, Michael Freund reported in the Jerusalem Post that the Bnei Menashe claim to have a chant they call Miriam's Prayer. The words of the chant are identical to that of the Sikpui Song and this article is the first known print reference to Miriam's Prayer aka Sikpui Hla.

Freund goes on to report that according to the Bnei Menashe "a century ago, when British missionaries first arrived in India's North-East, they were astonished to find that the local tribesmen worshipped one god, were familiar with many of the stories of the Bible, and were practicing a form of biblical Judaism".

The Vision

According to the Bnei Menashe, in 1951, a Pentecostalist called Chalianthanga or Mela Chala (the name varies) from Buallawn village dreamt that God instructed him to direct his people to return to their pre-Christian religion, which he determined to be Judaism, and to return to their original homeland, Israel[16].

The Bnei Menashe believe that Chalianthanga/MC and several followers set out on foot through the hilly jungles of North East India towards Israel but had to give up due to the sheer distance and terrain. Despite this setback, the number of believers rose steadily (estimated to have risen by 50% in recent years) and their claims gained wider credence in the 1980s when a self-taught researcher, Zaithanchhungi, purported to have discovered similarities between their ancient animist rituals and those of Biblical Judaism, such as sacrifices

Amishav and Shavei Israel

1979: Amishav (Hebrew for "My People Return"), an Israeli organization founded by Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail and dedicated to locating the lost tribes of Israel, heard about a group in India claiming descent from Israelites.

The Rabbi traveled to India several times during the 1980s to investigate the claims. Convinced that the Bnei Menashe were indeed descendants of Israelites, he dedicated himself to converting them to Orthodox Judaism and facilitating their aliya with funds provided by benefactors such as the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a US-Israeli organization which raises funds from evangelical Christians for Jewish causes.

1998: US-Israeli translator and New York Sun columnist Hillel Halkin travels to India with Rabbi Avichail to meet the Bnei Menashe and writes a widely-reviewed book about it entitled Across The Sabbath River (2002).

The Rabbi eventually steps aside as leader of Amishav in favor of Michael Freund, a Jerusalem Post columnist and former deputy director of communications & policy planning in the Prime Minister's office. Freund goes on to found Shavei Israel. July 2006: In an interview with Northeast Indian magazine Grassroots Options, Hillel Halkin explains the background: "Avichail is today a man in his seventies, and several years ago, persuaded that Amishav needed younger leadership, he ceded his position to an American-Israeli journalist, Michael Freund.

The two (Avichail and Freund) ultimately quarreled over organizational matters, and Freund left Amishav and founded a new organization called Shavei Israel. Both men have their supporters within the B’nei Menashe community in Israel, although Avichail continues to be the more influential and admired figure.

"Kuki-Mizo tribal rivalries and clans have also played a role in the split, with some groups supporting one man and some the other. Because Freund is independently wealthy, Shavei Israel is the better funded of the two organizations and has been able to conduct more activities, particularly in the area of supporting Jewish education for the B'nei Menashe in Aizawl and Imphal".

Freund says that the Bnei Menashe "are a blessing to the State of Israel. They have proved themselves to be dedicated Jews and committed Zionists, and I see no reason why they should not be allowed to immigrate to Israel” July 2005: Bnei Menashe complete building a Mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath, in Mizoram under the supervision of Israeli rabbis in order to begin the process of conversion to Judaism.

Shortly after, a similar Mikvah was built in Manipur. In mid-2005, with the help of Shavei Israel and the local council of Kiryat Arba, the Bnei Menashe opened its first community centre in the Land of Israel.


1 April 2005: Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar, one of Israel's two chief rabbis, accepts the Bnei Menashe's claim because of their exemplary devotion to Judaism.[24] His decision is significant because it paves the way for all Bnei Menashe to enter Israel under Israel's Law of Return. Although the claims of Israelite descent are rejected by most Mizo-Kuki-Chin and called into serious question by some academics, the Bnei Menashe are unshakable in their belief.

Indeed, Bnei Menashe who wish to affirm their connection to the Jewish people are required to undergo Orthodox conversions, and every effort is made to ensure that they are accepted according to the strictest interpretation of Jewish law. In the past two decades, some 1,700 Bnei Menashe have moved to Israel, mostly to settlements in West Bank[25] and Gaza strip (before disengagement). Learning Hebrew has been a great challenge, especially for the older generation, for whom the phonology of their native languages makes Hebrew especially challenging, both phonologically and morphologically. Younger members have more opportunities to learn Hebrew and gain employment as soldiers and nurses aides for the elderly and infirm

DNA Test

April 2005: In a Haaretz article In Search of Jewish Chromosomes in India, Professor Skorecki is quoted as saying the Kolkota geneticists "did not do a complete `genetic sequencing' of all the DNA and therefore it is hard to rely on the conclusions derived from a `partial sequencing, and they themselves admit this".

He added that "the absence of a genetic match still does not say that the Kuki do not have origins in the Jewish people, as it is possible that after thousands of years it is difficult to identify the traces of the common genetic origin. However, a positive answer can give a significant indication".

A BBC News article on the same day, entitled Rabbi backs India's lost Jews reports that "the Central Forensic Institute in Calcutta suggests that while the masculine side of the tribes bears no links to Israel, the feminine side suggests a genetic profile with Middle Eastern people that may have arisen through inter-marriage".

July 2006: Hillel Halkin says "laboratory analysis has shown that, with one or two possible exceptions, they fail to demonstrate any link between Kuki-Mizo haplotypes, or DNA profiles, and haplotypes typical of the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East such as are common among Jews.

In plain language, the study has so far come up with no clear evidence that the Kuki-Mizos, or any part of them, have a biblical “lost tribe” past". He says that in any case, Jewish DNA testing has never been and can never be a requirement in applications for Israeli citizenship.

"My conclusions from my research, expounded at length in my book Across The Sabbath River, are that, although the overwhelming majority of Kuki-Mizos are not descended from the “lost tribe” of Manasseh, small numbers of them probably are. It is this small group that has transmitted certain biblical memories, traditions, and customs to the Kuki-Mizo people as a whole

Timeline (modern)

* 1894 - Christian missionaries commence work among the tribal populations in the territories now known as Manipur and Mizoram. By the 1980s, almost all the population of Mizoram had accepted Christianity; In Manipur, around 30% (this being essentially the proportion of the tribal population of the state)

1951 - A tribal leader named Challianthanga had a dream in which his people returned to Israel, and shared it with his community, which led some members of the tribe to adopt Jewish traditions, combined with faith in Jesus as the Messiah.

1975 - Several hundred Bnei Menashe begin practicing Judaism rejecting the faith in Jesus.

1980's - First contact with Israel made.

* 1994-2003
- with the help of Jewish organizations, 800 Bnei Menashe make Aliyah to Israel, most settle in Jewish settlements.

* 2003
- Israeli Interior Minister Avraham Poraz freezes their immigration indefinitely.

* August 2004 - In response to the Israeli government decision to stop their immigration, Israeli Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar sends a rabbinical fact-finding committee to investigate the Jewish roots of the Bnei Menashe.

* March 2005 - Historic decision is made by Israeli Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, announcing the state of Israel’s recognition of the Bnei Menashe as part of the lost tribe of Menashe, and therefore they can now immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, but only after a complete Jewish conversion, because they have been separated from Judaism for millennia.

* August 2005 - 146 Bnei Menashe are forced to evacuate the Gaza Strip as part of Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan.

* September 2005 - A beth din fully converts 700 Bnei Menashe to Judaism (219 from Mizoram) . An estimated 9,000 people still await conversion.

* November 2005 - Israel agrees to halt converting the Bnei Menashe after pressure from the Indian government. The entire rabbinical team is pulled out of the country.

* November 2006 - First group of 100 Mizoram’s ‘lost Jews’ leave for Israel

* August 2007 - More than 200 Bnei Menasche arrive in Israel

* January 2009 - More than 200 Bnei Menashe make Aliyah.

* January 2010 - The Israeli government announces that the remaining 7,200 can make Aliyah within a 1- 2 year period after undergoing a conversion process in Nepal (extracted from Wikipedia)

For reader information, descendants of Jews are also living in Kaifeng , China since ancient time,like the Arab traders. The lost tribe may be traveling from Asia Minor, to Persia, to China.

The Chinese Jews in Kaifeng may be another lost tribe?....they may also descendant of actual Jewish traders from silk route in ancient time.

Geographically it is possible, as the Bnei Menashe tribe who are Tibeto-Burmans and belong to the Mizo-Kuki-Chin, are originally from China, went southward, then westward to Chin Land. Kaifeng Jews provided part of historical evidence that there were interaction between China, Persian, and Jews; it is possible.....

Note: Readers of the article should be reading with open mind, with neutral view; it is just an article about people, with diversity background who are different from us. Let them decided on their religion, we read our article to know more our human brothers around the world,and become more understanding, and less racial biased.

Related articles:
3. A Long-Lost Tribe is Ready to Come Home, by Stephen Epstein,
4. BOOK: Across the Sabbath River: In Search of a Lost Tribe of Israel (In Search of a Lost Tribe of Israel), by Hillel Halk
5. Manasseh (tribal patriarch), wikipedia (interesting if you want to know the background of Manasseh)
6. Quest for lost tribes 1-10, video can be uploaded at Youtube
7. Ten Lost Tribes, wikipedia


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