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E-Pao! eSSAY - The Jewish Connection: Myth or Reality.

The Jewish Connection: Myth or Reality

By:- Isaac L. Hmar *



For many years now, there has been widespread belief within sections of the people in the Northeastern states of India in Mizoram, Manipur and neighboring states that the Kuki-Hmar-Mizo group of people inhabiting the area has a historical relationship to 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 on to the next generation by means of the oral tradition. They based their lost connection with the Israelites mainly from the wordings of a song that is sang during the grandest and biggest festival of the Hmar tribe - SIKPUI HLA. 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.

When the veteran Israeli journalist, Hillel Halkin began his hunt for the "Lost Tribes of Israel" four years ago, he thought that claims by a community of Indians on the Indo-Myanmar (Burma) border was either a fantasy or a hoax. The fate of the 10 lost tribes of Israel, after being driven out from ancient Palestine in the eighth century B.C. by the Assyrian conquerors, disappeared into ethnic oblivion, and is now ranked among history’s biggest mysteries. On his trip to the Indian states of Manipur and Mizoram, Halkin was shown texts that convinced him that this group of community, who identify themselves as the Bnei Menashe has roots with the lost tribe of Manasseh.

A native of New York, nephew of Shimon Halkin and a scholar of Hebrew literature, Hillel Halkin is a western secular rationalist. He migrated to Israel in 1970 and gained fame for his book "Letters to an American Jewish Friend: A Zionist's Polemic" (Jewish Publication Society, 1977, out of print), in which he tried to clarify to his friends who remained behind in the United States the motivations for his migration and his devotion to Israel.

Meanwhile, Halkin became a prolific and respected translator of Israel's best writers (Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, Meir Shalev, Shulamit Hareven and even S.Y. Agnon and Haim Brenner) and a journalist. He also served as a correspondent for the Israeli’s weekly - ‘Forward’. He now devotes himself to writing articles and essays for leading American journals, among them Commentary and The New Republic.

In his recent book, "Across the Sabbath River: In Search of a Lost Tribe of Israel" (Houghton Mifflin, 2002), Halkin describes the discovery of the "Children of Menashe" (as those members of the Kuki-Mizo tribes who decided to return to Judaism) and tells how he became convinced of the veracity of their story. He also writes of his prior journey in search of "the 10 lost tribes." This is an echo 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.

Some Israeli Rabbi believes that the descendants of the lost tribes numbers more than 35 millions around the world today and could help offset the sharply increasing Palestinian’s population. As founder of the organization "Amishav" (which mean ‘My people return’), Eliyahu Avichail trots the globe in search of the lost Jews in order to bring them back to their religion through conversion and direct them to Israel.

The group has already brought 700 of the Bnei Menashe to Israel and some thousands more among them are eagerly waiting. Most of Bnei Israelites have been put up in settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which is a centre of hostility between the Israelis – Palestinian. These immigrants, brought back by the Amishav on one occasion sat on the grass during a break from their Jewish studies, singing songs they learned in Manipur and Mizoram about redemption in Jerusalem.

The Israeli government has adopted a bizarre law, which has never been unheard of in other countries. In 1950, it passed the "Law of Return of 1950". According to Section 4B of this law, it plainly explicates who are the Jews; whosoever being born from Jews parents, or either embrace Judaism are permitted to migrate to Israel. But they are to be certified by the spiritual department known as the Rabbinical Court.

Candidly speaking, the historians would question the chief referee, but the decision-maker (referee) is always the Rabbinical Court. The chief of Rabbinical Court has clearly rejected the Mizo’s claim of being the descendants of Mannasseh, one of the lost tribe of Israelite. It instead recognized them as one of the Tibeto-Burman tribes. The Jewish Agency (Aliya Department), which is responsible for the return of the Jews, has also accepted the decision of the Rabbinical Court.

They argued that by saying that, if at all they want to embrace Judaism then they can look into the matter, but they are eligible to be included in "The Law of Return of 1950." For this reason, the Bnei Menashe from Manipur and Mizoram are being aided and funded by Jewish groups in Washington for their settlement in Israel.

When they came to Israel, they were given only tourists visa while others who are accepted in The Law of Return 1950 were given entry visa. Tourist Visa that has validity for only 3 months can be extended for another 3 months while that of the Entry Visa is unlimited. The Law of Return 1950 has been widely extended but strictly served. (Newsweek, July 22, 1991. p54)

According to the finding of the Council of Jewish Federation, America, between1985 to 1990 the Jewish women married out of 52% to the Gentile; whereas in the year 1964 only 9% married to Gentile. Therefore, out of them 60% might share all their code of conduct of Judaism, but all of them were following Christianity. As a result, they were discarded as Israel under the Law of Return 1950.

The Kuki-Mizos who claim to be one of the lost tribes of Israel are being ignored both by the Indian Jews who settled in Kerala, and West Bengal and the Israeli government. Quoted: Israel does not acknowledge the Mizos as Jews, though its Interior Ministry said in July that the government would permit 100 Mizo tribesmen into the country annually as tourists: (Source: Times Asia). Thus most of the Kuki-Mizos, who had migrated to Israel, are through Tourist Visa and the Israeli Interior Ministry recently reviewed this system, and discontinued issuing this entry permit for the time being.

In February 2003, Hillel Halkin with a team of Israeli and Americans doctors planned to return to India to conduct genetic tests on the Bnei Menashe and to scientifically determine if their ancestors hail from the ancient Palestine. But due to security and bureaucratic reasons from the Indian side, their plans had to be changed. In this regard, 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 in Manipur University, had asked Isaac Thangjom and Me (Isaac L. Intoate) to conduct DNA tests among the Kuki-Chin-Mizo group of tribes.

The test covered Hmar - 50, Thiek (Hmar) - 50, Kom - 50, Changsan - 50, Lunkim - 50, Lenthang - 50, and Hualngo/Chhakchhuak (Mizoram) - 50. 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 normative Tibeto-Burmese parameters.

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". Lalchhanhim Sailo, President of Chhinlung Israel Peoples Convention (CIPC), it is alleged, has initiated these DNA tests conducted by the Kolkota-based Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL). Dr. P.C Biaksama, a Mizo Historian, questioned the authenticity and reliability of the CFSL’s findings and asked the authorities to show the original documents of the DNA findings.

It is believed that, either Tathagata might have told Sailo about the CFSL's testing before its publication in The Week, or that some person who works at the CFSL might have possibly leaked the story to Tathagata. There is an apprehension that it might have been either Kashyap or Maity, the two scientists who worked on the said DNA project at CFSL, Kolkota.

In fact, the DNA test by the CFSL, Calcutta was under the 9th plan of Indian government under the minority cell. During 2002, 300 Mizo DNA was collected for database purposes in collaboration between Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL), Mualpui, Aizawl and Central Forensic Science laboratory (CFSL), Kolkota. It is said that these 300 DNAs were collected mainly from KVM School, Durtlang and Mary Jones School, Chandmari in Aizawl (Mizoram).

Controversial as it is, it now becomes essential to confirm whether the findings of a Kuki-Uzbeki-Jewish DNA relationship by the CFSl in Kolkota are in fact correct. If it is confirmed, it will prove the Kuki-Hmar-Mizo claims of being one of the lost tribe of biblical Israelites. And that the Kuki-Mizos lived at some point of time in Central Asia as part of a community from which Central Asian Jews descended, which can further mean that they migrated through this area on their way from ancient Palestine to Northeast India! Interestingly, Uzbekistan is in fact quite near both Kabul and Khotan, the two places in Central Asia, as mentioned in Hillel’s book, "Across The Sabath River: In Search of the Lost tribe of Israel".

In connection with this DNA related issues, I am regularly in touch with Hillel Haikin through emails and he told me that they wanted to re-evaluate the findings of the CFSL, Kolkota. But what draws more of our attention is that the CFSL’s findings may have changed the status of Bnei Maneshe (Kuki-Mizo) Israelites. On one occasion, I asked Halkin as to whether the Law of Return in Israel (1950) could be applicable to them now. Hillel Halkin replied that, "In answer to your question about the "Law of Return," let me explain to you, as I've explained to many other Kukis and Mizos, that this has NOTHING to do with any actual or theoretical DNA findings.

The fact that some Kukis have distant Israelite ancestors is historically fascinating and emotionally exciting; it does NOT affect their status in the eyes of Israeli law, for which there is no such category as belonging to a "lost tribe." The Law of Return refers only to Jews and defines a Jew as someone who has had at least one identifiably Jewish grandparent or who has converted to Judaism. Being a member of a "lost tribe" does not make you Jewish according to Jewish or Israeli law any more than millions of Christians living in Spain are Jewish because 500 years ago their Jewish ancestors converted to Christianity at the time of the expulsion of the Jews in 1492.

It may very well be that, if a genetic link between some Kukis and ancient Israel has been definitely established, thus proving that there is a historical connection between the "Children of Manmasi" and the ancient tribe of Manasseh, Israeli public opinion will be more favorable toward the B'nei Menashe, and it will become easier for them to get visas for Israel; they would still, however, have to convert to Judaism in order to be recognized as Jews and granted Israeli citizenship."

It was Mr C. Lalremliana, who has been working with Forensic Science Laboratory, Mualpui, Aizawl who did the collection of 300 Mizo DNA. The samples were from Hmar, Lushei, Paite , Kuki, Gangte, Pawi, and Mara which indeed covered all the leading tribes of Mizoram. Now the even most important thing is to find out the whereabouts of Mr C. Lalremliana. Perhaps, through him we could somehow establish the clan groups who possessed the three Uzbek-Jewish haplotype. So that DNA can be re-collected for re-experimenting and re-testing at Haifa Technion, Israel.

Dr.Karl Skorecki, Director Jewish Genetic Project, Haifa Technion, Haifa, Israel had spent the last month-and-half trying to get with the CFSL on additional information on the findings, so that they can re-evaluate the claims made in their paper and news magazine. Unfortunate till date, they have not, for whatever reasons, provided any of the clarifications that he had requested.

Their silence cast a spell of doubt on whether the CFSL really has real proof that the Kuki-Mizos has gene affinities with the Middle Eastern or Central Asians. The claim published in their paper can be interpreted in different ways, and without more details on the precise haplotypes or DNA mutations that they claimed to find, there is no way of determining that they are indeed right!


Isaac L. Hmar writes regularly for e-pao.net .
He can be reached at isaac_intoate@yahoo.com
This article was webcasted on March 13th, 2005


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