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|Andhra Pradesh, India|
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The Bene Ephraim (Hebrew: בני אפריים) Bnei Ephraim ("Sons of Ephraim"), also called Telugu Jews because they speak Telugu, are a small community of Jews living primarily in Kottareddipalem, a village outside Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, India, near the delta of the River Krishna. They claim to be Jewish descendants of the Tribe of Ephraim, of the Lost Tribes of Israel, and since the 1980s have learned to practice Judaism.
According to Bene Ephraim tradition, they claim descent from the Tribe of Ephraim, and say that they traveled from Israel through western Asia: Persia, Afghanistan, Tibet and into China for 1,600 years before arriving in southern India more than 1,000 years ago. They made up a history which they say is similar to that of the Bnei Menashe in the northeastern Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur, who received recognition in 2005 from the Chief Rabbi of Israel. (The latter people must still go through a formal conversion process to become citizens of Israel.)
Their leader Shamuel Yacobi went to Jerusalem in the 1980s, he became convinced they were of Jewish descent. Because of the long period in which the people were not practising Judaism, they did not develop any distinctly identifiable Judæo-Telugu language or dialect. (See Jewish languages.)
Since the 1980s, about fifty families around Kottareddipalem and Ongole (capital of the nearby district of Prakasam) have studied Judaism, learned Hebrew, and built a synagogue. They have sought recognition from other Jewish communities around the world. Today Hebrew is being used as a living language rather than limited to liturgy. The community has been visited over the years by a rabbi from the chief rabbinate in Israel to study their tradition and practices. The Chief Rabbi has not recognised the community as being of Jewish descent.
According to the Washington Times in 2006,
"Many think the Bnei Ephraim Jews are trying to escape poverty and that they want to leave this region of Andhra Pradesh where six successive years of drought and crop failure have driven more than 3,000 peasants into debt and to suicide."
Chandra Sekhar Angadi, a social scientist in neighboring Karnataka, said of the Telugu Jews:
“They are among the poorest of Jews in the world. They are desperate for the recognition by Israel’s chief rabbinate simply to be guaranteed a passport from that country where they can lead a much better life — away from this life of poverty and hunger.”
Critics claim that they are just a group of poor farmers and laborers who initially accepted Christianity to improve their social and economic status and now try to do the same with Judaism
- Yacobi, Sadok. "Bene Ephraim of Andhra Pradesh, South India", Kulanu
- "A week with the Bene Ephraim of Andhra Pradesh", Next Year In Mumbai : The Blog, for filming of a documentary on the Bene Israel, 18 March 2008
- Shaikh Azizur Rahman, "Another tribe seeks rabbinical recognition", Washington Times, 1 May 2006, accessed 16 May 2013
- Francisco, Jason L., "Meet the Telugu Jews of India", Kulanu website
- Sussman, Bonita & Gerald., "India Journal", 2007, Kulanu website
- Indian Jews, Kulanu Website index.
- Tudor Parfitt (2002), "The Lemba: An African Judaising Tribe", in Judaising Movements: Studies in the Margins of Judaism, edited by Parfitt, Tudor and Trevisan-Semi, E., London: Routledge Curzon.
- Shamuel Yacobi, THE CULTURAL HERMENEUTICS, an introduction to the cultural translation of the Hebrew Bible among the ancient nations of the Thalmulic Telugu Empire of India.
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