Some 7500 people claiming to be the descendents of the tribe of Menashe are returning home to Israel later this year. They currently reside in North East India, in the land mass that lies between Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Bangladesh.
The Tribe of Menashe, along with 9 other tribes, were led into slavery around 721 B.C.E., after the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians, the superpower of that day, under Sargon II.
The southern kingdom of Judah was spared after the entire Assyrian army under King Sennacherib, was mysterious wiped out while laying siege to Jerusalem. The Bible attributes it to Divine intervention, as spoken about in the Book of Kings and Isaiah. The Bible says an Angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers at Jerusalem after Hezekiah prayed in the temple. The independent Kingdom of Judah lasted until it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.. The Jews returned 70 years later and rebuilt the temple. They continued on until they lost their land after a brutal series of wars with the Romans. The survivors were enslaved and over time dispersed to the four corners of the world. Today, close to half the Jews of the world have returned home to the modern State of Israel.
Videos about the Bnei Menashe are posted at the bottom.
According to a Bnei Menashe website:
The oral history of Bnei Menashe that was passed down for 2,700 years describes their escape from slavery in Assyria to Media/Persia. From there they moved on to Afghanistan, mostly through less-traveled areas, ever on the lookout for kings or powerful people who might drag them back to slavery. From Afghanistan they traveled toward Hindu-Kush and proceeded to Tibet, then to Kaifeng, reaching the Chinese city around 240 B.C.E. The Bnei Menashe believe that while in China their ancestors were enslaved yet again. During their years there, large numbers of the Israelites were killed and their assimilation started. These events caused the Israelites to flee and live in caves. The group was expelled in 100 C.E. and their “leather scrolls” were confiscated and burned. At that point different groups went in various directions. Some went down the Mekong River into Vietnam, the Philippines, Siam, Thailand and Malaysia, while some of the Israelites moved to Burma and west to India. Till today, some people refer to these people as “Shinlung” the “cave dwellers.” Today, the descendants of those Israelites who settled in India and Burma have different names depending on where they live. Some are known as Shinlung, some Kuki, Mizo, Lushai or Mar. In 1894, Christian missionaries arrived to the Manipur area of North East India, intent on converting the local population. The Kukis, having been brought up with an oral history of their link to their ancestor “Manmaseh” and other stories, recognized some of the Bible stories. They eventually converted to what they thought was the religion of their ancestors and began practicing Christianity. One Bnei Menashe song, which had been handed down and carried throughout their travels,describes part of the Exodus from Egypt:
In 1951, a Pentecostal minister named Tchalah had what he believed to be a prophecy from God. He was told that his people must return to their original land and the religion they came from, before the war of Armageddon. Additional prophecies led him to write to the Knesset, but the fledgling State of Israel did not invite Bnei Menashe home, nor did Tchalah’s movement grow significantly. About 20 years later, some Kukis who were dissatisfied with Christianity started researching the origins of their religion and realized that they were not descended from Christians, but from Jews. They discovered that their tradition of being the “children of Manmaseh” actually referred to the tribe of Menashe. Small numbers started to learn and practice Judaism. During the process of their research and return to Judaism, contact was made with Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail in Jerusalem. Rabbi Avichail – founder of Amishav, an organization dealing with the dispersed of Israel – took a strong interest in this small but dedicated group. Evidence of their Jewish roots is very strong with customs such as performing circumcision on the eighth day following birth, honouring levirate marriages, offering sacrifices on altars and wearing shawls that resemble the Talit. Despite this evidence, rabbinic authorities determined that the status of these “cousins” to be that of “safek Jews.” Since their Jewish status is not known for sure, they require conversions to be considered Jewish.
Times of India – AIZAWL: At least 7,500 Mizo Jews from Mizoram and Manipur will migrate to Israel, which they refer to as their Promised Land, this year.
“Preparations for a mass migration to the Promised Land are on. The lost tribes from the northeast will go to Israel in the later half this year after their peers from South America migrate to that country,” said Jeremiah Hnamte, one of the leaders of the Aizawl-based Bnei Menashe, a community that claims to be descendants of one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel who were sent into exile by the Assyrian Empire over 2700 years ago.
While most of the Bnei Menashes, who would migrate to Israel this time, are from Manipur, a litlle less than 3,000 will be from Mizoram. Hnamte, whos owns the premises where the ‘Mikveh’ or a pond for Jewish Spiritual bath is situated in the Zuangtui Industrial Estate near Aizawl, said the Bnei Menashes would only be formally converted to Judaism after they reach Israel.
Earlier, Rabbis from Israel visited the Mikveh where they baptized a number of believers. Zaithanchhungi, a Mizo researcher, said the Bnei Menashes had once migrated to the two northeastern states after travelling through China and were still following the Jewish culture and traditions in many ways.
In 2005, the Shavei Israel, Israel’s chief Rabbinate and the highest religious authority of the lost tribes, officially recognized the Bnei Menashes as descendants of Israel. Following this, a huge number of Mizo Jews from Mizoram and Manipur migrated to Israel. It claims to have brought about 1,700 Bnei Menashes to Israel so far.
Shalem Gin, a Mizo Jew, has already become the first person from his community to occupy the position of an officer in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). Shalem, 20, who immigrated to Israel from Mizoram in 1995, received the rank of second lieutenant. He joined the IDF in 2009 and enlisted in the Engineering Corps where he finished near the top of his class in his commanders course.