Groups claiming affiliation with Israelites

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Following the fall of the northern Kingdom of Israel in about the 720s BCE to the Assyrian Empire and the southern Kingdom of Judah in 586 BCE to the Babylonian Empire significant numbers of Jewish and pre-Judaic Israelite communities began to exist outside of the Land of Israel. These communities came into existence as a result of Jews and Israelites 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. Although 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.

It is generally accepted that the Jews and the Samaritans are descendants of the ancient Israelites.

Affiliation claimed in membership with the Jewish people[edit]

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 many 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 or Israelites, especially from the more recent "rediscovered" ones, are difficult to ascertain.

While many groups have been able to show their Israelite 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 Israelite descent, with lineage proven, recognized as Jews[edit]

Cochin Jews[edit]

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.

Hebrew inscription at the Synagogue in Cochin.

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 Israelite descent, with lineage proven, not recognized as Jews[edit]

Knanaya Jews[edit]

See: Knanaya

Claimed Israelite descent, with lineage unproven, recognized as Jews[edit]

Bene Israel[edit]

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.

The Bene Israel claim a lineage to the kohanim, descendants of Aaron.[1][2]

Genetic analysis shows that the Bene Israel of India "cluster with neighbouring autochthonous populations in Ethiopia and western India, respectively, despite a clear paternal link between the Bene Israel and the Levant."[3]

Beta Israel[edit]

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.

Bnei Menashe[edit]

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 Israelite descent, with lineage unproven, not recognized as Jews[edit]

Bene Ephraim[edit]

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.

Isars[edit]

Isars (or Isaric Christians or Bnei Makir) comprise a small ethnoreligious group in America and Indonesia that claims descent from the Byzantine Samaritan Diaspora communities that settled along the Adriatic Sea, specifically those of Dalmatia; thus, like Samaritans, they believe themselves to be descended from the sons of Joseph. They also refer to themselves as Na?orin (a dialectal Aramaic word for Samaritans), and use a Hebraic hybrid form of Aramaic in their liturgy. In contrast to their supposed Samaritan forebears, Isars practice the Christian religion, but their Christianity reflects a mixture of Jewish, Samaritan, and various Christian traditions. They also claim descent from Hebrew peoples who migrated from the Caucasus and from Persia into eastern and central Europe, some of whom may have had ties to Khazarian Jews.

Black Hebrew Israelites[edit]

The Black Hebrew Israelites, or Black Hebrews, are groups of African Americans 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 descended from the Israelites. The Bible claim of the descendants of African slaves in America is specifically based on the prophecy in Deuteronomy 28:15-68.

Lemba[edit]

See also: Lemba people

As recounted in Lemba oral tradition, the ancestor of the Buba clan "had a leadership role in bringing the Lemba out of Israel" and eventually into Southern Africa.[4] The genetic study found that 50% of the males in the Buba clan had the Cohen marker, a proportion higher than in the general Jewish population.[5] While not defining the Lemba as Jews, the genetic results confirm the oral accounts of ancestral males originating from outside Africa, and specifically from southern Arabia.[6]

More recently, Mendez et al. (2011) observed that a moderately high frequency of the studied Lemba samples carried Y-DNA Haplogroup T, which is also considered to be of Near Eastern origin. The Lemba T carriers belonged exclusively to T1b, which is rare and was not sampled in indigenous Jews of the Near East or North Africa. T1b has been observed at low frequencies in the Bulgarian and Ashkenazi Jews as well as in a few Levantine populations.[7]

Recent research published in the South African Medical Journal studied Y-chromosomes variations in two groups of Lemba, one South African and the other Zimbabwean (the Remba). It concluded that "While it was not possible to trace unequivocally the origins of the non-African Y chromosomes in the Lemba and Remba, this study does not support the earlier claims of their Jewish genetic heritage." The researcher suggested "a stronger link with Middle Eastern populations, probably the result of trade activity in the Indian Ocean."[8]

Non-Jewish groups with proven Israelite lineage[edit]

Samaritans[edit]

Samaritans, once a comparatively large, but now a very small ethnic and religious group, consisting of about 700 people[9] living in Israel and Samaria. 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. DNA tests have resulted in evidence the Samaritans are of Israelite origin. Y-DNA haplogroup studies have concluded the majority of Samaritan men have a variation of the Cohen gene an Israelite genetic signature found on the Y-DNA of Jews with the tradition of being patrilineally descendant from Aaron the brother of Moses. Samaritans also retain ancient Israelite traditions that predate Judaic customs and the Oral Law. The Samaritan Pentateuch is preserved in a Paleo Hebrew derived script that predates the Babylonian exile and further lends credence to the Israelite lineage of the Samaritans. 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 while they do not regard themselves as part of Judaism, Samaritans do consider Jews to be fellow Israelites and view themselves and Jews as the two authentic houses of Israel. 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,[10] 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 have regarded them as a sect of Judaism. The advent of genetic studies, the discovery of the Paleo-Hebrew script, and textual comparisons between the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Masoretic Text all have made it very difficult to refute the Israelite origin of the Samaritans, causing the majority of the Jewish world in modern times to view the Samaritans as an authentic Israelite group.[1][2]

Palestinians[edit]

Genetically the Palestinians, Jews, and Samaritans all descend from the same stock of Semitic people who lived between 2000 and 3400 years ago in Palestine. Palestinians have the Cohen gene in high frequency which is an Israelite genetic signature found on the Y-DNA of Jewish men with the tradition of being descendent from Aaron the brother of Moses. Palestinians also retain some Hebraic customs such as circumcision after one week, mourning for the dead seven days, and the lighting of candles at grave sites all of which other Arab cultures do not practice. By the time of the Maccabean revolt and Roman occupation of Syria and the Levant the Canaanite, Philistine, and Edomite inhabitants of Palestine had disappeared and by that time Palestine was inhabited solely by Jews and Samaritans. Tsvi Misinai has suggested that about 85% of Palestinians in Judea and the Galilee are descendant from Jews.

Affiliation claimed independent of membership with the Jewish people[edit]

In Christianity[edit]

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[edit]

Main article: 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.

Mormonism[edit]

According to the Book of Mormon, Lehi was an ancient prophet who lived around 600 BC (1 Nephi 1:4) He was an Israelite of the Tribe of Manasseh (1 Nephi 5:14, Alma 10:3). Lehi and his family lived in Jerusalem in the Kingdom of Judah under the reign of King Zedekiah (1 Nephi 1:4). Lehi also held other property, perhaps outside the city of Jerusalem (1 Nephi 2:4). Some have suggested that he was a merchant. Lehi had at least six sons: Laman, Lemuel, Sam (2 Nephi 1:28), Nephi (1 Nephi 1:4), Jacob, and Joseph (1 Nephi 18:7); and at least two daughters (2 Nephi 5:6), who were not named in the Book of Mormon. Lehi's sons are said to be characteristically Ephrathite,[citation needed] 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 (1 Nephi 2:2-3; 16:7-9). Together, Lehi led them south down the Arabian Peninsula until they reached a fertile coastal region they named Bountiful (1 Nephi 17:1-5). There, they built a ship, and sailed across the ocean to the Americas(1 Nephi 18:6, 1 Nephi 18:22-23). Lehi's sons Nephi and Laman are said to have established themselves and to have founded Israelite nations: the Nephites and the Lamanites (Jacob 1:13-14).

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.[1][2][3]

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.[11] 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.[12] They believe that certain Old Testament passages[13] 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.[14]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Feldman, Marc. "The Genetics of the Samaritans and Other Middle Eastern Peoples."
  2. ^ a b Goldstein, David B. Jacob's legacy: a genetic view of Jewish history. Yale University Press, 2008.
  3. ^ Doron M. Behar, Bayazit Yunusbayev, Mait Metspalu, Ene Metspalu, Saharon Rosset, Jüri Parik, Siiri Rootsi, Gyaneshwer Chaubey, Ildus Kutuev, Guennady Yudkovsky, Elza K. Khusnutdinova, Oleg Balanovsky, Ornella Semino, Luisa Pereira, David Comas, David Gurwitz, Batsheva Bonne-Tamir, Tudor Parfitt, Michael F. Hammer, Karl Skorecki & Richard Villems (8 July 2010). "The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people". Nature (466): 238–242. doi:10.1038/nature09103. Retrieved 12 August 2014. 
  4. ^ "The Lemba, The Black Jews of Southern Africa", NOVA, Public Broadcasting System (PBS), November 2000, accessed 26 February 2008
  5. ^ Parfitt (2002), "The Lemba", p. 49
  6. ^ Parfitt (2002), "The Lemba", p. 50
  7. ^ F.L. Mendez et al., "Increased Resolution of Y Chromosome Haplogroup T Defines Relationships among Populations of the Near East, Europe, and Africa", BioOne Human Biology 83(1):39–53, (2011)
  8. ^ Soodyal, H (2013). "Lemba origins revisited: Tracing the ancestry of Y chromosomes in South African and Zimbabwean Lemba". South African Medical Journal 103 (12). Retrieved 9 May 2014. 
  9. ^ As of 2006
  10. ^ Kammp, Antony, The Israelites: An Introduction, Routledge, 1999, p.38
  11. ^ Guide to LDS scriptural references on Israel
  12. ^ ibid
  13. ^ Isaiah 2:2-4, 11:10-13
  14. ^ ibid