Groups claiming affiliation with Israelites

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Groups claiming affiliation with Israelites are groups which trace their descent from the ancient Israelites. The most significant events which propelled large numbers of Jewish and pre-Judaic Israelite communities out of the Land of Israel were 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, but there have been other events and periods when Israelites left the Land, either as individuals or in groups. These diaspora 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 accepted that the Jews and the Samaritans are descendants of the ancient Israelites.

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

Cochin Jews[edit]

Hebrew inscription at the Synagogue in Cochin.

Jews came to Kerala and settled there as early as 700 BCE in order to trade. 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 among 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.

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 unproven, recognized as Jews[edit]

Bene Israel[edit]

The Bene Israel claim a lineage to the kohanim, descendants of Aaron.[1][2] According to Bene Israel tradition, the Bene Israel arrived in India in the first century BCE after a shipwreck stranded seven Jewish families 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.

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 Jews or Falasha) have 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 Rehoboam, son of Solomon and Jeroboam, 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]

Banu Israil[edit]

See also: Banu Israil

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.

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, descendants of the slaves in places like Brazil, Madagascar and the Caribbean are descended from the Israelites. (Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ is one group making this claim.[4])


Main article: Knanaya

Igbo Jews[edit]

See also: Igbo Jews


Isars (or Isaric Christians) 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.[5] Like the Samaritans from whom they claim descent, they believe their ancestors originated from the northern tribes of Ancient Israel, mainly from the tribe of Manasseh, the son of Joseph.[6] They refer to themselves as "Nòṭrey-Ḁisara" (נטרי-איסרא/ࠍࠈࠓࠉ-ࠀࠉࠎࠓࠀ), meaning Keepers (or Samaritans) of the Bond, often shortened to "Isars" in English. Their liturgical language is a Hebraic hybrid form of Aramaic that is written in three different scripts: Latin, Standard Hebrew, and Samaritan Hebrew.

It is thought that their progenitors migrated from Samaria to Rome during the 5th and 6th centuries AD, settling in ancient Salona and later converting to Christianity. At least one Samaritan epitaph has been discovered in that region, indicating that there was indeed a Samaritan presence in Dalmatia during that time period.[7] Their near-complete assimilation to the surrounding Roman/Croatian people led to the loss of most of their Samaritan heritage, save only a family surname derived from an Aramaic word for one who is tied to a commandment or law, referring to the Torah. Only recently has a restoration effort taken shape, an important part of which was the core family's relocation to Indonesia,[8] the world's largest Muslim-majority nation. Isaric Christianity reflects a mixture of Jewish, Samaritan, and various Christian traditions. Isars also claim direct matrilineal 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.


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.[9] A 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.[10] 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.[11]

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.[12]

Recent research published in the South African Medical Journal studied Y chromosome 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."[13]

Non-Jewish groups with proven Israelite lineage[edit]


Samaritans, once a comparatively large, but now a very small ethnic and religious group, consisting of about 700 people[14] 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,[15] 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]

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

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.


The Latter Day Saint movement 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.[16] These religious denominations derive from a movement started by Joseph Smith, 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.[16] They believe that certain Old Testament passages[17] 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 also has a prominent role in the last days and during the Millennium.[16]


  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 (7303): 238–242. doi:10.1038/nature09103. PMID 20531471. Retrieved 12 August 2014.  horizontal tab character in |author1= at position 16 (help)
  4. ^ "'Ready for War'". Intelligence Report. Southern Poverty Law Center. Fall 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-22. 
  5. ^ "The Samaritan Update" (PDF) (Vo. XII - No 5, p 8). May–June 2013. 
  6. ^ Peralejo-Bonifacio, Rica. "Volcanoes, Surnames, & Tribe of Manasseh (April 29, 2012)". Wanders & Wonders. 
  7. ^ "Greek Inscriptions (Central Greece, Salona)". The Packard Humanities Institute. PHI. 
  8. ^ "A.B. The Samaritan News" (1167-1168, p 5). A.B. Institute of Samaritan Studies. July 2014. 
  9. ^ "The Lemba, The Black Jews of Southern Africa", NOVA, Public Broadcasting System (PBS), November 2000, accessed 26 February 2008
  10. ^ Parfitt (2002), "The Lemba", p. 49
  11. ^ Parfitt (2002), "The Lemba", p. 50
  12. ^ 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)
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ As of 2006
  15. ^ Kammp, Antony, The Israelites: An Introduction, Routledge, 1999, p.38
  16. ^ a b c Guide to LDS scriptural references on Israel
  17. ^ Isaiah 2:2-4, 11:10-13