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E-Pao! eSSAY - Mizo-Kuki's Claim Of Their Jewish Origin.

Mizo-Kuki's Claim Of Their Jewish Origin:
Its impact on Mizo society

By:- Isaac L. Hmar *



"My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill.
They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them
"
- Ezekiel 34: 6.

Claming to be the lost tribe of Israel by various tribes around the world is not stupor nor unreasonable as there was a historical event at a time when the Jews were suppressed to extend from disrespected minority in the Christian and Islam world. As a result, the Jews were scattered around the world and the 10 tribes of Israel are still believed to be missed till today.

According to II Kings 15 (Old Testament): "In the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglath – Pileser king of Assyria and took Ijon, and Abel –beth –mah 'a chah , and Jonah, and Kedesh, and Hazor, and Galilee, and Gentile, all the land of Naphtali, and carried them to captive to Assyria."

Therefore, 1500 years after the tribes of northern Israel were supposedly exiled from their homeland in ancient Palestine and across African and Asian continents; dozens of different ethnic groups have recently made claims to be descent from the 10 lost tribes of the kingdom of Israel.

Some of them have an indigenous tradition of Israelite ancestry while others get the idea of their Jewish connection from Christian missionaries who noticed some similarities between their customs and ancient Judaism. The most interesting groups among them include the Ethiopians of Ethiopia, the Pathans of Afghan-Pakistan border, the Kashmiris of Kashmir (India), the Chiangmins of Chinese-Tibetan border, the Ibos and Lembas of Africa and the Bnei Menashe (Shinlung tribes) of North East India.

ITS ORIGIN: The Israelites, who had been lost and scattered around the world, believed that God would surely bring them back to their homeland. Prophet Ezekiel foretold this event in the book of the Holy Bible.

Thus, for more comprehensive perceptive on the lost tribe, let us briefly study the history of Israel to see how they were misplaced and lost. Some historians believed that the 10 lost tribes of Israel disappeared after they crossed the Sambatyon River.

This is a reverberation of the legend that the 10 lost tribes who were exiled by the Assyrians in the 8th century B.C.E. from which time they lost touch with the rest of the Jewish people - are to be found beyond the Sambatyon River which is a torrential, rushing river all the days of the week, apart from the Sabbath.

However, historians were unable to make out the exact location and site of the river, and of course, the picture of the Sambatyon River put forward by scholars was sharply diverse and puzzling.

One Roman historian Gaius Secundus(AD 23-79) commonly known as Pliny the Elder, asserted that the river happened to be very deep and the flowing water current was burly while Sabbath was approaching nearer. As a result, they could not proceed to their land and started scattered at different places. The most important question is: who are the 10 lost tribes of Israel?

When King Solomon passed away, his kingdom began disintegrating. However the ten tribes of Isreal like Reuben, Simon, Isakar, Zebulon, Manasseh, Ephraim, Dana, Napthalia, Gada and Ashera continued to occupy Shekim and Nablas in the northern part of Samaria where they established the kingdom of Israel. In 722-21 BC, the Assyrians occupied the territory immediately north of what is today's Syria, Iraq, and Turkey and they continued to build their empire.

Following World War I, when the British took over the lands formerly ruled by the Ottoman Empire, they sent their archeologists to the Middle East and took many local ancient treasures to the British Museum. You can see there the Meshy Stone which depicts the tribute paid by King Jehu of the northern kingdom of Israel to Shalmanaser III, king of Assyria.

You can also see a relief from the walls of the magnificent palace at Nineveh, Assyria's capital city. That palace belonged to King Sennacherib, and the relief shows the siege of the Israelite city of Lachish; it was conquered by Sennacherib, who then boasted about it on his palace walls. The British stripped the relief from the Nineveh palace and brought to the British Museum.

In II Chronicle 5 it is written thus, "And the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul King of Assyria, and the spirit of Tilgath-Pilneser King of Assyria, and he carried them away, even the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, and brought them unto Halah, and Haber, and Hara, and to the river Grozan, unto this day."

These historical facts referred to the date from the 5th or 4th century B.C.E. Tiglath-Pileser and pul (Tiglath-Pileser's Baylonian name) are one and the same Assyrian King, and the tribal territories of Reuben, Gad, and the eastern half of Manasseh were in the areas listed in II King 15, the verse in Chronicles can be discounted as a late conflation of the two passages in the Kings. Setting it aside, then, and supplementing the account in Kings with our knowledge of Israelites and Assyrian history, it is possible to arrive at the following reconstruction:

Firstly, in 734-732 B.C.E some two centuries after the fall of Davidian monarchy the kingdom was disjointed into a northern kingdom of Israel and a southern Kingdom of Judah, most of the north was overrun and invaded by the Assyrians, leaving only its capital city-Samaria, and the surrounding countryside unconquered and expanding their frontiers south and westward.

Secondly, in 726, Tukulti-apil-Essara's son and successor, Sulman-asared V(726-722), called Shalmaneser in the Bible, marched on Samaria and reduced its King Hoshea(730-722) to a vassal. In 722, suspecting Hoshea of conspiring with the Egyptians, he again laid siege to the city.

The battle lasted 3 years. Shalmaneser died before the battle ended and was succeeded by his son Sargon II (721-705), who presided over the fall of Samaria and the final destruction of the Kingdom of Israel in 720.

Thirdly, after both Tiglath-Pileser's and Sargon's conquests, the Assyrians deported Israelites to different regions of Assyria and replaced them with exiles from elsewhere.

The remaining southern kingdom of Judah was ultimately destroyed by a new regional power, the Babylonians in 586. With the fall of Samaria, the northern tribes disappeared. We know no more about them since then. The Bible says nothing about the fate of the Israelites exiled.

IT'S IMPACT ON MIZO SOCIETY: For many years now, there has been widespread belief within some sections of Mizoram and Manipur particularly among the Kuki-Hmar-Mizo group who claim to have a historical relationship with one of the "Ten Lost Tribes" of the Biblical Israelites, namely, the tribe of Manasseh. Although this claim might appear to be far-fetched, many empirical facts seem to support this belief.

However, as this group of people did not maintain any written historical records before the ‘Gospel' reached them, so there are no written documents to support their Israelites' connection. Their cultural and traditional beliefs and practices were passed from generation to generation by means of the oral tradition. They based their connection with the Israelites mainly from the wordings of a song that was sung during the grandest and biggest festival of the Hmar tribe - SIKPUI KUT (Sikpui festival).

This particular song made vivid references to the Israelites at the time of their liberation from the Egyptian bondage, under the leadership of Moses and the events that followed when they crossed the Red Sea. Interestingly, some of the Kuki-Hmar-Mizo traditional and customary practices have similarities with those of the biblical Israelites.

L. Keivom IFS (Rtd) asserts that the "SIKPUI HLA (song of the Sikpui festival) doesn't have any vivid references and connection with Red-sea of the Israelites at the time of their liberation from the Egyptian bondage. However, interestingly, some of the Kuki-Hmar-Mizo traditional and customary practices have similarity with those of the biblical Israelites.

Thus, in 1950 some section of Kuki-Mizo began to contact Calcutta Israeli Consulate to accept them as one of the lost tribes of Israel solely on the basis of the "SIKPUI HLA. In 1971 there was an inquiry from the home ministry regarding the claim made by these people as the lost tribe? Shri(Late) Ngurdinglien Ex-MLA requested L. Keivom who was then having a district training, to translate the SIKPUI HLA into English to verify their claim. Following is the note prepared by L. Keivom;

A Note prepared for the Government of Manipur in 1971 by Mr. L.Keivom

From time immemorial the Hmars used to celebrate during winter season an annual festival called SIKPUI FESTIVAL OR FEAST. In one of the songs of this Sikpui Festival, there is a vivid reference to some happenings in the unknown distant past, which bear similarity to the experiences of the Israelites at the time of their liberation from the Egyptian bondage under the leadership of Moses and the events that followed after they crossed the Red Sea.

This particular song occupies such an important place that no Sikpui Festival can start before singing it with rapt attention. This fact may therefore suggest that the incident referred to in the song might have been an unusual happening of great consequence in the pages of their national history; otherwise they would not have attached great importance. Following is a rough translation:

While we are preparing for the Sikpui Feast,
The big red sea becomes divided;
As we march along fighting our foes,
We are being led by pillar of cloud by day,
And pillar of fire by night.
Our enemies, O ye folks, are thick with fury,
Come out with your shields and arrows.
Fighting our enemies all day long,
We march forward as cloud-fire goes before us.
The enemies we fought all day long,
The big sea swallowed them like wild beast.
Collect the quails,
And draw the water that springs out of the rock.

2. In one of the Hmar folklores, mention is made of the Great Deluge largely similar to the one mentioned in the Holy Bible but with a slight variation. According to this account, the big flood covered the whole earth except one hillock where all living beings fled to safety. There are unconnected accounts, however.

3. Another Hmar folklore mentions something like the happenings after the Great Deluge: their attempt to build a Tower of Babel and the providential intervention leading to the confusion of the language of the people involving in it.

There is a slight departure from the biblical accounts in this case also. The Hmar folklore talks mainly of the division of language without mentioning the background.

4. Religious particularly sacrificial rites and practices of the Hmars are very similar to that of the Jews in biblical times. The question whether these similarities are accidental can only be a matter of conjecture as empirical study is not possible with our present scanty (mostly hearsay) historical material. One thing however is very clear.

Given the geographical remoteness and the near similarities of their accounts of their national experiences and the commonality in sacrificial rites and practices, the Hmars and the Jews might at one time have either lived together long enough to influence on each other's way of life or they once belonged to the same community.

This missing link will remain the unsolved mystery in their history, a challenging task that so far eludes solution.
However, Keivom believes that this song may be composed after the gospel reached Hmars and know something about the book of Genesis and Exodus, the Israelites at the time of their liberation from the Egyptian bondage, under the leadership of Moses and the events that followed when they crossed the Red Sea.

In February 2003, as per the request from Dr. Karl Skorecki, Jewish Genetic Project, Haifa Technion, Haifa and Hillel Halkin, author of the "Across the Sabbath River: In Search of a Lost Tribe Of Israel," Dr. Lal Dena, Professor, Manipur University, had asked Isaac Thangjom and me (Isaac L. Intoate) to conduct DNA tests among the Kuki-Hmar-Mizo group of tribes.

DNA test was done on Hmar, Kom, Lenthang, Changsan, Lunkim, and Hualngo (Mizoram) .All the DNA samples collected were then sent to Haifa. Results of the test on these DNA samples turned out to be negative and no evidences were found that would indicate a Middle-Eastern origin; the results were all within normal Tibeto-Burmese parameter.

Contrary to the Haifa finding, Tathagata Bhattacharya in The Week (an Indian English Weekly News Magazine) reported that, "DNA tests prove that Mizo people are descendants of a lost tribe of Israel". And recently the chief rabi of the Sephardic Jews, Shlomo Amar, eventually declared members of the 6,000 B'menashe communities in Northeast India as lost descendants of ancient Israelites.

Also some Israeli scholars who are specialized in genetic research have thoroughly studied Mizo-Jewish connection and found that the claim has lacked scientific basis. On top of that, their top genetic scientists have done a DNA test and it has turned out to be negative. The Jewish DNA technicians have also tended to dismiss the findings made by the forensic laboratory in India.

But on March 30, 2005 the Chief Rabbinate of Israel has officially decided to recognize the Mizo-Kuki-Chin people claiming Jewish descent as the lost descendents of Menashe, one of the mythical Lost Tribes of Israel. The Chief Rabbinate is the top authority on this issue in Israel. This decision follows an official team of rabbis who came to Mizoram and Manipur last August to investigate the claims of Lost Tribe ancestry, which has so far been propounded only by extreme Zionist groups like the organization Amishav led by Rabi Eliyahu Avichail.

In response to Rabi Shlomo's announcement, Hillel Halkin comments thus: "I don't think Rabbi Amar and his colleagues' decision was taken on particularly logical or scientific grounds. The Rabbis from Israel who visited Mizoram and Manipur last summer, as well as others, who preceded them, were impressed with the Jewish devotion and intensity of the B'nei Menashe community, and I imagine that they thought: "Nobody who does not have a Jewish soul and Jewish ancestors could possibly behave so Jewishly." This is of course naive, but it was in a way a naive decision, although one that I personally was happy to see.

Basically, this is the same thing that happened with the Ethiopian Jews in the 1970s; then, too, a rabbinical ruling that they were descendants of a "lost tribe" --- that of Dan -- first began to open the gates of immigration to Israel to them. The difference is that the identification of the Ethiopians with Dan was purely fanciful, whereas, as you know, I truly think there is a historical link between the "children of Manmasi" and the biblical tribe of Manasseh.

The fact is that even before this ruling any B'nei Menashe who converted to Judaism by an Orthodox conversion in India could have entered Israel under the Law of Return as a Jew. The problem was that there were no rabbis in India to perform such a conversion. The significance of Amar's decision, therefore, is that the Israeli Rabbinate will now take it upon itself to send rabbis to NE India who can do this.

It will be interesting to see what position, if any, the Indian government takes toward this. As for the Calcutta study, Professor Skorecki, as I've written to you, does not think it was methodologically sound -- which does not mean that its conclusions are necessarily wrong, but simply that they are not fully persuasive at the moment. So far Skorecki has been unable to get the additional data that he needs from the CSFL people.

If we could go back to the schools where the samples were collected and re-collect them, he could analyze them on his own. But it is important to realize that the results are of purely historical importance and have nothing to do with the status of the B'nei Menashe in Israel. The Rabbinate -- and rightly so -- does not recognize DNA testing as having any bearing on the Jewishness of anyone, and from its point of view, DNA results make no difference one way or another".

In April of 2003, P.C Biaksiama was invited to be a resource person for a Presbyterian Church seminar in Champhai, Mizoram. The seminar topic was, "Current teachings that affect church life and that were not in line with normal church teachings" and specifically the claims asserted by an organizations like B' Menasha and Chhinlung Israel People's Convention(CIPC) headed by Lalchhanhima Sailo, that Mizos were a lost tribe of Israel and should be independent of India.

Even though Mr. Lalchhanhima Sailo, President Chhinlung Israel Peoples Convention claimed to be one of the lost tribes of Israel; they did not intend to migrate to Israel like the first group. It is rather a political movement to establish an independent Israeli state in North East India. As David Thangliana, editor of the Mizoram English daily, Newslink, explained, the church felt that, "the establishment of an Israeli identity would turn the people en masse towards Judaism."

This would not be a positive development in its eyes. P.C. Biaksiama later said quite frankly, "I have a big fear because Jesus Christ, a Jew himself, is the son of God. He is the only one who can save human beings from destruction. Unless we believe in Jesus Christ, our future is doomed." P.C Biaksiama is popularly known as ‘defender of Christian faith' and took voluntary retirement from Indian Audits & Account Services and now dedicated his life to The Christian Research Centre, Aizawl, Mizoram.

Interestingly, his first mission was to thwart against B'nei Menashe and CIPC who claimed to be the lost tribe of Israel and indict the image of christianity. The organization Presbyterian Church was becoming quite apprehensive as the issue was not only that of Mizos adopting an Israelite and Jewish identity, but there was also the fear that the Israelite identity movement would rather turn into secessionist movement and destroy the present peace and prosperity in Mizoram.

In her neighbouring states like Manipur and Nagaland, insurgency has been the main causes that push down the standard of living and various developmental works. Thus, in June of 2003, Mr. Biaksiama presented his report on the CIPC before the church elders in the Presbyterian Pastorals of Champhai. He claimed that the CIPC assertions, both about being a lost tribe of Israel and independence were slander and impossible.

PRESENT CONDITION OF B'NEI MENASHE IN ISRAEL: Looking at the present political condition in Israel and Palestine, there may not be a politically neutral activity, for it promises to achieve the ideological goals of the Israeli far-right wing and its settlers' movement. Had several million newly discovered Jews suddenly decided to immigrate to Israel, it will greatly increase the Jewish population of the West Bank and Gaza, and the table in the demographic "War" against the Palestinians would be turned.

Indeed, those members of the Kuki-Mizo who have been duly converted to Judaism and made Aliyah have gone to live exclusively in Gaza and the West Bank. The prime minister of Israel Ariel Shaorn has recently approved the evacuation of the illegal Jewish settlements in Gaza and the settlers and their supporters are extreme right-wing-Zionists whose fanatical views are not shared by many Israelis. The Kuki-Mizo migration is also being financially supported by American fundamentalist Christians who are eager to hasten the so-called ‘War of Armageddon'.

Now the B' Menashe(Kuki-Mizo) residing in Gaza are likely to face another exile, and this time at the hands of the Israeli government. Shimon Colney, a resident of Gush Katif said "It has been a long journey for all of us. This is our land. Jewish land. Now they want to kick us out and we will be forced from our homes and our lives once again".

The slate of Gaza's Jewish communities is scheduled for evacuation on the coming Aug. 15 as part of prime minister Ariel Sharon's withdrawal plan. Colney is also a member of the "B'nei Menashe," from Mizoram who believes they are the lost descendants of Manasseh, one of biblical patriarch Joseph's two sons, and a grandson of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel.

Hamas, the strongest freedom fighter in Palestine now fire an average of three rockets or mortars per day at Gaza's Jewish communities. As the August evacuation is approaching nearer, the rocket and mortar attacks are expected to increase exponentially. So Palestinian terror groups will ultimately drive Israeli settlers from Gaza, security analysts contend. Critics worry that the Gaza evacuation will be seen as a reward for Palestinian terrorism and argue territories evacuated by Israel will be used by Hamas to stage attacks against the Jewish state.

"It's not easy now with all the rockets and mortars," said Daniel Hmar, 68, a resident of Neve Dekalim for 6 years. One B'nei Menashe member, Donald Benyamin, 26, was hit in December by a mortar when he was in his room, typing on computer, when a mortar burst through the roof and landed right next to him. He was knocked unconscious and he spent four months in the hospital with pretty bad wounds. He suffered mostly flesh wounds and returned home in May. He now has a few scars, but has made a complete recovery.

When asked if the experience has made him bitter about living in Gaza, Benyamin replied, "Not at all. This is my home." The Gaza withdrawal plan has also affected some B'nei Menashe financially. Benyamin's uncle, Sharon Benyamin, 42, owns greenhouses and says his business is going downhill. "I am losing a fortune because of the evacuation. I can't afford to put the money down this year to plant all the vegetables if we're going to be uprooted from our homes in August." Benyamin says he only planted chives this season, and not his usual array of fruits and vegetables, including cucumbers and tomatoes, which take longer to harvest.

According to community leaders, most Katif greenhouse owners this season planted their usual quotas of produce. "I planted it all," said Anita Tucker, one of the pioneer farmers of Gush Katif. "I'm not going anywhere. This is Jewish land and it will always be Jewish land. There have been so many plans to give up Gaza, but they never go through." Unlike most others, Benyamin says he is making plans for the evacuation. "We're still in the process of working out the logistics. I'll have a place to go. You have to think practically. I hope it doesn't happen, but I have a family. I need to prepare for the worst."

Most of the members of B'nei Menashe live in a cluster of apartments and houses in Neve Dekalim, a large Katif community. They have mostly integrated with the rest of the local Jewish population. However, after 10 years in Gush Katif and a journey of nearly 3,000 years to arrive here, the tribe is now slated to be expelled next month with the rest of Gaza's Jewish population.

"It is very painful," said Colney. "My father envisioned us returning to our homeland. Of all the things we were expecting once we got to Israel, the one thing we could never imagine was to settle down only to be expelled again." And one of the prominent member of B' Menashe, Mr. Sella said, "We have faith in God. Whatever is meant to be will be? But I don't believe the evacuation will take place. I hope it won't."

*** A paper presented at the national seminar on Land Problem and Ethnic Crisis in N.E.India sponsored by the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of South East Asia, Kolkata, 27-28, July, 2995


Isaac L. Hmar, a research scholar at Dept. of History M.U, writes regularly for e-pao.net .
He can be reached at isaac_intoate@yahoo.com
This article was webcasted on August 08th, 2005


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