Lost’ Tribes Of Israel Return Home With More To Come – OpEd


Most people have heard of the ‘ten lost tribes of Israel’. Now, a new group of  ‘lost’ Indian Jews, who are descendants of the Tribe of Menashe, one of the ten tribes exiled from the Land of Israel in 721 BCE by the conquering Assyrian Empire, are returning to the Land of Israel. In March 2005, Israeli Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar officially backed the Bnei Menashe’s claim to be Jewish.

In reality the ten northern tribes of Israel were never lost; they were just submerged among the much larger non Jewish population in the places where they lived, or they moved to distant lands, and over the course of centuries became detached from the main body of the Jewish People; and were forgotten.

The well known Marano Jews, who are the descendants of Jews forced to convert into the Catholic Church in 15th century Spain and Portugal, are a good example of a submerged Jewish population. The Jewish communities in India and China are a good example of remote Jewish communities, who in the 12th  and 13th century became detached from the body of Israel and were forgotten.

Today the Jews of India and China are remembered primarily because, unlike Jews in Europe and the Middle East, the Jews in India and China never were subject to Anti-Semitism or any form of religious oppression.

The Bnei Menashe Indian Jewish community which is in East India, asserts it is one of the ten lost tribes of Israel who were exiled when Assyrians invaded the northern kingdom of Israel in the 8th century BCE. According to its oral tradition, the tribe travelled through Persia, Afghanistan, Tibet, to China and on to India, where it eventually settled in the north-eastern states of Manipur and Mizoram.

A study from Tel Aviv University, Cornell University and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine reveals genetic proof of the Jewish roots of the Bene Israel community which is in the western part of India. According to their oral history, the Bene Israel people descended from the Jewish survivors of a shipwreck on India’s Konkan shore. The exact timing of this event and the origin and identity of the Jewish visitors are unknown. Some date the event to almost 2,000 years ago. Others estimate that it took place in 175 BCE. Still others believe their Jewish ancestors arrived as early as the 8th century BCE.

“We found that while Bene Israel individuals genetically resemble local Indian populations, they constitute a clearly separated and unique population in India,” Waldman says. “The results point to Bene Israel becoming an ‘admixed’ population, with both Jewish and Indian ancestry. The genetic contribution of each of these ancestral populations is substantial,” adds study co-lead author Arjun Biddanda of Cornell. The results even indicate when the Jewish and Indian ancestors of Bene Israel “admixed”: starting about 33 generations (approximately 10-11 centuries) ago.

Ethiopian Jews are another remote community that returned to Israel a generation ago after a separation of over 2,000 years. The amazing 1991 rescue of 15,000 Ethiopian Jews in an airlift lasting less than 48 hours stirred and inspired people for several weeks. Subsequently, the difficult problems that the newcomers faced (similar to those of the 900,000 Russian Jews who immigrated in the 1970’s and 1980’s) occupied the Jewish media. Now both are taken for granted. The miracle has become routine.  

But if you had told the Jews of Ethiopia two generations ago that they would someday all fly to Israel in a giant silver bird, they could only conceive of this as a Messianic miracle.  If you had told Russian Jews a generation ago that the Soviet regime would collapse, and the Soviet Empire disintegrate; while hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews would emigrate to Israel, they would have conceived it only as a Messianic dream.

In our own generation therefore we have seen the dramatic fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “I will bring your offspring from the East (India) and gather you from the (European) West. To the North (Russia) I will say ‘give them up’ and to the South (Ethiopia) ‘do not hold them’. Bring my sons from far away, my daughters from the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 43:5-6) Truly amazing things are happening in our generation if we would only open our eyes.

And 20 years from now, an even more amazing event, the beginning of the return of hundreds of thousands of Druze to their ancestral religion of Judaism. Dr. Najla Abu-Izzeddin, a leading Druze scholar writes in her seminal 1984 book, “The Druzes: A New Study of their History, Faith, and Society,” how the Druze community was formed in the early 11th century “in response to a religious call (da’wa) propagated from Cairo by the sixth Fatimid caliph, Al-Hakim Bi-Amr Allah.

The call went out in the year 1017, “and aimed at universal proselytization (including People of the Book). Missionaries were sent far and wide, and proselytes joined in large numbers”, (especially in the lands of Syria, Israel and Lebanon). But, 4 years later, on the night of 12/13 February 1021 at the age of 35, Hakim failed to return from his regular nocturnal meditation journeys. And a search found only his donkey and bloodstained garments.

Following the mysterious disappearance of  Caliph Al-Hakim, the Druze faced persecution, and in 1043  the elders of the faith ordered a secret one thousand year halt to proselytization. “Since then, the Druze have been an inbred community,” Abu-Izzeddin wrote.

That will all change after 2043 when truly amazing things will happen in the Land of Israel if we keep our hopes high and our eyes open.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

One thought on “Lost’ Tribes Of Israel Return Home With More To Come – OpEd

  • December 16, 2022 at 2:11 pm

    The definition of JEW has changed since meaning a pious person adherent to Judaism.
    To compare an ancient pious people recognized by religious practice to secular Jews and the secular Zionist state seems like a stretch.


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