Groups claiming affiliation with Israelites
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Significant numbers of Jewish communities commenced to exist outside of the Land of Israel following the fall of the Israelite northern Kingdom of Israel in about the 720s BCE to the Assyrian Empire and of the southern Kingdom of Judah in 586 BCE to the Babylonian Empire. These communities came into existence as a result of Jews fleeing the land before the onslaught of invading forces, because of forced deportations, or enslavement, and sometimes voluntarily. Some families or whole communities have had to move from one country to another because of persecutions, and some just ceased to exist. Though some form of contact had been maintained between most of the main Jewish communities in the diaspora over the millennia, contact had been lost with some communities, which came to be regarded by the mainstream communities as lost.
As a result of the isolation of some communities, the practices and observances have diverged in some respects. Several groups of people from diverse parts of the world have claimed an affiliation with or descent from the ancient Israelites. Some claim such affiliation on the basis of affinity to the Jewish people, while other groups claim such affiliation independently of such affinity.
Since the establishment of the State of Israel, affiliation to the Israelites is raised in the form of "who is a Jew?", which arises in the context of an individual's or group's request to immigrate to Israel under that country's Law of Return.
- 1 Affiliation claimed in membership with the Jewish people
- 1.1 Claimed Jewish descent, recognized as Jews, with lineage proven
- 1.2 Claimed Jewish descent, recognized as Jews, with lineage unproven
- 1.3 Claimed Jewish descent, not recognized as Jews, with lineage proven
- 1.4 Claimed Jewish descent, not recognized as Jews, with lineage unproven
- 2 Affiliation claimed independent of membership with the Jewish people
- 3 Samaritans
- 4 References
Affiliation claimed in membership with the Jewish people
Until recently, there were many diverse Jewish communities scattered around the world. For the most part, the Jewish communities known to each other over the millennia maintained an at least nominal interaction with one another and together formed what could be seen as the world's wider Jewish community. The network served not only to maintain a certain degree of awareness of the happenings in the disparate communities, including most importantly different religious legal rulings (relating to areas such as marriage, polygamy, conversion, kashrut, etc.), but it consequently also served as a way to validate the status of Jewish membership of one another's communities. However, there were may other scattered communities which for centuries, even millennia, had lost all contact with this main body or network of world Jewry. Their claims as Jews, especially from the more recent "rediscovered" ones, are difficult to ascertain.
While many groups have been able to show their Jewish connection and membership, other groups have not yet done so. Some groups that have only recently been accepted as parts of lost tribes.
The following list compiles some of the groups whose altogether existence or re-emergence has either come to the knowledge of Jewish communities in the last hundred or so years, or whose existence was known but where no formal interaction existed (as limited as it sometimes may have been even within the network). They are divided into those whose claims have been confirmed, and those who have not yet been, and among these, those accepted as Jews and those that are not.
Claimed Jewish descent, recognized as Jews, with lineage proven
According to Bene Israel tradition, the Bene Israel arrived in India in the first century BCE after a shipwreck stranded seven Jewish families from Israel at Navagaon near Alibag, just south of Mumbai. The families grew and integrated with the local Maharashtrian population adopting their language, dress and food. They were nicknamed the śaniwar telī ("Saturday oil-pressers") by the local population as they abstained from work on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath.
Cochin Jews, also called Malabar Jews, are the descendants of ancient Jews who settled in the South Indian port city of Cochin. They traditionally spoke Judæo-Malayalam, a form of the Malayalam tongue, native to the state of Kerala, in India. Several rounds of immigration of the Jewish diaspora into Kerala, led to a diversity amongst the Cochin Jews.
Some sources say that the earliest Jews were those who settled in the Malabar Coast during the reign of Solomon, and after the Kingdom of Israel split into two. They are sometimes referred to as the "black Jews." The Paradesi Jews, also called "White Jews," settled later, coming to India from Middle Eastern and European nations such as the Netherlands and Spain, and bringing with them the Ladino language. A notable settlement of Spanish and Portuguese Jews (Sephardim) starting in the 15th century was at Goa, but this settlement eventually disappeared. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Cochin received an influx of Jewish settlers from the Middle East, North Africa and Spain.
Jews came to Kerala and settled there as early as 700 BCE in order to trade. An old, but not particularly reliable, tradition says that Cochin Jews came in mass to Cranganore (an ancient port, near Cochin) after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE They had, in effect, their own principality for many centuries until a chieftainship dispute broke out between two brothers in the 15th century. The dispute led neighboring princes to dispossess them. In 1524, the Muslims, backed by the ruler of Calicut (today called Kozhikode), attacked the Jews of Cranganore on the pretext that they were tampering with the pepper trade. Most Jews fled to Cochin and went under the protection of the Hindu Raja there. He granted them a site for their own town that later acquired the name "Jew Town" (by which it is still known).
Unfortunately for the Cochin Jews, the Portuguese occupied Cochin during this same period and they indulged in persecution of the Jews until the Dutch displaced them in 1660. The Dutch Protestants were tolerant, and the Jews prospered. In 1795 Cochin passed into the British sphere of influence. In the 19th century, Cochin Jews lived in the towns of Cochin, Ernakulam, Aluva and Parur.
Claimed Jewish descent, recognized as Jews, with lineage unproven
Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jewish) or Falasha that has a tradition of descent from the lost tribe of Dan. Their tradition states that the tribe of Dan attempted to avoid the civil war in the Kingdom of Israel between Solomon's son Rehoboam and Jeroboam the son of Nebat, by resettling in Egypt. From there they moved southwards up the Nile into Ethiopia, and the Beta Israel are descended from these Danites.
They have a long history of practicing such Jewish traditions as kashrut, Sabbath and Passover and for this reason their Jewishness was accepted by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Israeli government in 1975.
They emigrated to Israel en masse during the 1980s and 1990s, as Jews, under the Law of Return, during Israel's Operation Moses and Operation Solomon. Some who claim to be Beta Israel still live in Ethiopia. Their claims were formally accepted by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and are accordingly generally regarded as Jews.
The Bnei Menashe is a group in India claiming to be descendants of the half-tribe of Manasseh. Members who have studied Hebrew and who observe the Sabbath and other Jewish laws received in 2005 the support of the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel in arranging formal conversion to Judaism. Some have converted and emigrated to Israel under the Law of Return.
According to their oral tradition, along with the rest of the tribes of Israel, the Bnei Menashe were exiled to Assyria (722 BCE). Assyria was conquered by Babylon (612 BCE), which later was conquered by Persia (457 BCE), which later was conquered by Alexander the Great of Greece (331 BCE), from here they were deported to Afghanistan.
They couldn’t settle in Afghanistan, so from there they headed east until they reached the area of the Tibetan-Chinese border. They finally settled in China in 231 BCE.
This is when they realized that they probably should have stayed in Afghanistan, because the Chinese were extremely cruel to them and enslaved them. A sizable portion of them managed to escape and went into hiding from the Chinese in mountainous areas called Sinlung, which later became another name for the Tribe of Menasseh. Another name that they are commonly called are "cave people" or "mountain people". They were in hiding for two generations, during which they lived in extreme poverty, having almost no personal belongings, although they kept the Torah Scroll with them the whole time. Gradually, they started to come out of hiding, and they eventually started assimilating and picking up Chinese influences, however, because of their morbid experiences in China, they decided to leave. They set out west, through Thailand and eventually reached Mandalay, a city in Myanmar. From there they reached the Chin Mountains. In the 18th century a part of them migrated to Mizoram and Manipur which are located in North-East India.
However, with the arrival of Christian missionaries in the area, the whole community was converted to Christianity and all of their written history was destroyed. Today, there are an estimated 2 million people who can be considered Bnei Menashe, however, only about 9,000 of them returned to Judaism.
Claimed Jewish descent, not recognized as Jews, with lineage proven
See: Lemba people
Claimed Jewish descent, not recognized as Jews, with lineage unproven
The Bene Ephraim, also called Telugu Jews because they speak Telugu, are a small community of Jews living primarily in Kottareddipalem, a village outside Guntur, India, near the delta of the River Krishna.
The Bene Ephraim trace their observance of Judaism back to ancient times, and recount a history similar to that of the Bnei Menashe in the northeastern Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur. They adopted Christianity after the arrival of Baptist missionaries around the beginning of the 19th century.
Since 1981, about 50 families around Kottareddipalem and Ongole (capital of the nearby district of Prakasham) have learned Judaism, learned Hebrew, and have sought recognition from other Jewish communities around the world. Because of the very recent re-ëmergence of this community, and also because of the current overwhelming emphasis on the use of Hebrew as a living language, rather than merely as a liturgical language, the impact of Hebrew on the daily speech of this community has not led to the development, as yet, of a distinctly identifiable "Judæo-Telugu" language or dialect. (See Jewish languages.)
The community has been visited over the years, by several groups of rabbis, who have thus far not seen fit to extend the same recognition to this community as that recently extended to the Bnei Menashe.
The Black Hebrew Israelites, or Black Hebrews, are groups of people of African Americans situated mostly in the United States who claim to be descendants of the ancient Israelites. They claim that they and many Africans, and blacks in places like Brazil, Madagascar, and the Caribbean are also descended from the Israelites.
The Bible claim of the descendants of African slaves in America is specifically based on the prophecy in Deuteronomy chapter 28:15-68. Although it is clear that many of the passages refer specifically to ancient Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by Rome in 70 C.E., there are other passages that describe a people who have vs.48 'a yoke of iron placed upon their necks; vs. 68; transported in ships; vs. 49; taken to a far away land; vs. 68; sold into slavery and no one could free them; vs. 50; enslaved by a fierce and mean people; vs.49; who speak a strange language; vs. 30; Their women would be raped and they would build homes, but not be allowed to live in them. They would plant and tend crops, but not be allowed to eat them. vs. 41; their children taken from them, sold into slavery and they would be powerless to do anything about these things. vs 48; All of their hard work would be to benefit their masters; vs. 33; very little would be theirs. vs. 48;They would work hard under brutal conditions - thirsty, hungry, naked and poor. vs. 43; Even the 'stranger' among them would surpass them, while they would sink lower and lower. vs. 60; They would become a very sick people. vs. 61; They would be infected by new diseases not even written in the Law. vs. 20; Nothing they would undertake would succeed. vs. 28; They would go insane, blind and totally bewildered by their plight. vss. 65,66,67; They will live in fear for their lives, day and night, because there would no one to protect or defend them. vs. 64; Worse of all, they would worship false gods of wood and stone. - King James Version of the Holy Bible.
The features, highlighted above, of this unique brand of slavery, all of which were experienced by only by those enslaved Africans brought to America beginning in 1619 at Jamestown, Virginia. This profile in prophecy is the basis of their claim to be African Hebrew Israelites, currently in exile. They also believe that their deliverance is nearing, based on another prophecy at Genesis 15: 12-14, where their afflictions would end after 400 years. Meanwhile, the nation afflicting them is being judged by God, then Israel will leave with great substance. Several groups of Black Hebrew Israelites, Black Hebrews and African Hebrew Israelites are attempting to publicize this information worldwide.
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Some Rastas believe that the black races are the lost Israelites – literally or spiritually. They interpret the Bible as implying that Haile Selassie was the returned Messiah, who would lead the world's peoples of African descent into a promised land of full emancipation and divine justice. There are some Rastafarians that believe they are Jews by descent through Ras Tafari, Ras Tafari being a descendant of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba via Menelik I. One Rastafari order named The Twelve Tribes of Israel, imposes a metaphysical astrology whereby Aries is Reuben, Aquarius is Joseph, etc. The Twelve Tribes of Israel differ from most Rastafari Mansions (sects) because they believe that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior, while other Mansions claim that Haile Selassie I is the true God. With his famous early reggae song The Israelites Desmond Dekker immortalised the Rastafari concept of themselves as the Lost Children of Israel. However, sometimes peoples native to Africa are identified with descendants of Ham, whereas the Old Testament of the Bible states that Abraham is descended from Shem. Other Rastafari identitfy as Orthodox Christians.
Affiliation claimed independent of membership with the Jewish people
Based on the New Testament, some Christians claim that Christians are the "new Israel" that replaced the "Children of Israel" since the Jews rejected Jesus. This view is called Supersessionism. Many European settlers in the New World saw themselves as the heirs of those ancient tribes, hence one finds that they named their children and many towns they settled in with names connected to the figures in the Bible. However, other Christians believe that the Jews are still the original children of Israel, and that Christians are adopted children of God but are not the new Israel. This view is a part of dispensationalism.
Ten Lost Tribes
Claims of descent from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel have been made for a variety of non-Jewish groups. These groups include Pashtuns (see Theory of Pashtun descent from Israelites), the British (British Israelism), Kurds, the Japanese, and many others. See the Ten Lost Tribes article for more information on these claims.
According to the Book of Mormon, Lehi (Hebrew לחי Léḥî / Lāḥî "jawbone"; BoM Arabic لاحي Lāḥī) was an ancient prophet who lived around 600 BC ( ) He was an Israelite of the Tribe of Manasseh ( , ). Lehi and his family lived in Jerusalem in the Kingdom of Judah under the reign of King Zedekiah ( ). Lehi also held other property, perhaps outside the city of Jerusalem ( ). Some have suggested that he was a merchant. Lehi had at least six sons: Laman, Lemuel, Sam ( ), Nephi ( ), Jacob, and Joseph ( ); and at least two daughters ( ), who were not named in the Book of Mormon. Lehi's sons are said to be characteristically Ephrathite, though it is uncertain what this means or why this would be.
Shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem, the Book of Mormon reports that Lehi escaped with his family, along with his friend Ishmael and his family, and another man named Zoram ( ; ). Together, Lehi led them south down the Arabian Peninsula until they reached a fertile coastal region they named Bountiful ( ). There, they built a ship, and sailed across the ocean to the Americas( , ). Lehi's sons Nephi and Laman are said to have established themselves and to have founded Israelite nations: the Nephites and the Lamanites ( ).
The Palestinian town of Khirbet Beit Lei ("The Ruin of the House of Lei") is purported to be the location of the ancient home of Lehi, although there is only problematic and circumstantial evidence to support it. Very few FARMS scholars and Mormonism historians will definitively tie the two together because of the lack of evidence.
The Latter Day Saint movement (commonly termed Mormons), believe that through baptism and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost, they become "regathered" as Israelites, either as recovered from the scattered tribes of Israel, or as Gentiles adopted and grafted into Israel, and thus becoming part of the chosen people of God. These religious denominations derive from a movement started by Joseph Smith, Jr., and almost half of all members live in the United States; the movement does not strictly believe that they are ethnic Jews as such, but rather that Israelites can refer to many different cultures, on occasion including Jews. They believe that certain Old Testament passages are prophecies implying that the tribe of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) will take a prominent role in the spread of the gospel to all of scattered Israelites in the last days, and that the tribe of Judah (i.e. Judah) also has a prominent role in the last days and during the Millennium.
Samaritans, once a comparatively large, but now a very small ethnic and religious group, consisting of about 700 people living in Israel and the West Bank. They regard themselves as descendants of the tribes of Ephraim (named by them as Aphrime) and Manasseh (named by them as Manatch), the sons of Joseph. Samaritans adhere to a version of the Torah, known as the Samaritan Pentateuch, which differs in some respects from the Masoretic text, sometimes in important ways, and less so from the Septuagint. Samaritans do not regard the Tanakh as an accurate or truthful history. They regard only Moses as a prophet, have their own version of Hebrew, and do not regard themselves as part of Judaism. Less archaeological work had been performed on investigating the direction and regions of post-Assyrian exile largely because those enthusiastic in pursuing this path of research usually lack skills while archaeologists lack funds, access unlike in Israel where the period of Judges had been to some degree substantiated by physical finds, or interest in pursuing what is seen as a semi-mythical pursuit at the edge of serious research. Usually the lack of archaeological evidence has been explained by the assimilation theory that proposes the exiled Israelites adopting so much of their surrounding cultural traits that any unearthed artefacts can not be identified with them with any certainty.
Since 539 BCE, when Jews began returning from Babylonian captivity, many Jews have rejected the Samaritan claim of descent from the Israelite tribes, though some regard them as a sect of Judaism.
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