A ‘Lost’ Tribe of Israel Returns Home
October 7, 2020 9:41 AM
Rabbi Allen S. Maller
Shalom, I offer the following ‘sign’ for your readers. Rabbi Allen Maller
A ‘Lost’ Tribe of Israel Returns Home
By Rabbi Allen S. Maller
Most Christians have heard of the ‘ten lost tribes of Israel’. In reality they 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 Ethiopia, India and China are a good example of remote Jewish communities, who in the Middle Ages became detached from the body of Israel and were forgotten, until they were rediscovered in the 19th century.
Now, a group of ‘lost’ Jews from India 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 home.
The Bnei Menashe Indian Jewish community says that over many centuries the tribe travelled through Persia, Afghanistan, Tibet, China and on to India, where it eventually settled in the north-eastern states of Manipur and Mizoram.
In 2005, an Israeli Chief Rabbi officially backed the Bnei Menashe’s claim to be Jewish. This led to a wave of immigration from India to Israel; and about 1,700 of the 7,200-strong Bnei Menashe community arrived in Israel. The flow stopped in 2007, when Israel stopped giving visas to the Bnei Menashe due to objections from some ultra-Orthodox Rabbis.
Israel’s decision a several years later to reverse that policy has paved the way for the remaining Bnei Menashe members to migrate.
A source close to the prime minister’s office gave two reasons for the change in Israeli policy. Some of the donors to Shavei Israel, an organization that seeks to repatriate ‘lost’ Jewish communities, are also donors to Netanyahu.
And, several fundamentalist Christian groups that support Prime Minister Netanyahu also pressured him strongly because they believe that the return of the remnants of the ten lost tribes is a necessary part of the coming Messianic Age.
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.
Then the difficult problems 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)
In 1948 only 6% of a global Jewish population of 11.5 million lived in Israel. Today 45% of the world’s 14.7 million Jews reside in the Jewish state. Soon, most Jews will live in the Jewish homeland.
Truly amazing things are happening in our generation if we would only open our eyes.
Allen S. Maller is an ordained Reform Rabbi who retired in 2006 after 39 years as the Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, California. His web site is: www.rabbimaller.com. He blogs on the Times of Israel.