Bnei Menashe: India’s Jewish “Lost Tribe” comes across tough times in Israel

Bnei Menashe: India’s Jewish “Lost Tribe” comes across tough times in Israel
  • Hanoch Haokip, who belongs to the Bnei Menashe tribe, claims that his tribe is one of the lost tribes of Israel, with a Jewish lineage
  • These people who belong to Bnei Menashe live in the West Bank of Israel, where they are treated with contempt and have to face racism
  • There is the Shavei Israel, who aid the immigration of these Bnei Menashe members along with the Jewish Agency

Hanoch Haokip belongs to a small tribe of indigenous people in East India. He claims that he is the descendant of one of the lost tribes of Israel, with a Jewish lineage. Even though ethnographers are not entirely sure of the claim, Haokip is certain. He made that clear in an interview in Akko town of Israel, his current residence. He said that they were time and again questioned by the rabbis of Israel during their official conversion.

The Haokip family. Image Source :

"Of course, you understand that the rabbinate, the government, needs to do these things," said Zeev Wagner, a member of an Orthodox social welfare group associated with Shavei Israel, to This organisation is responsible for bringing Haokip and other members of his group to Israel, right after they had claimed to be a part of Israel's lost tribes.

Haokip seemed worried about the influence of Israel's secular society on his young children. He says that the government should try to bring them closer to their culture and how they often are confronted with racism. Haokip stressed on the fact that he identified with Zionism and he had come there along with his people to become Jews and not Israelis.

The Akko tower, where families like that of the Haokips live. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Jewish Agency which is the organisation widely known for arranging for immigration for the Jews sided with the Shavei Israel for the Bnei Menashe immigration. The Shavei Israel is accused of exploiting the Bnei Menashe people and settling them down on the Jewish West Bank where they consider the group as illegal since they derive their support from Israel.

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The major portion of the Bnei Menashe residents in the Jewish Western Bank is made up of youths whose parents are absent. Thus they have to work long hours and become easily exposed to drugs and alcohol. Haokip believes that about 90% of Bnei Menashe youth have "lost their way" basically because they are confused about which culture they should follow.

Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail. Image Source :

Originally, the Bnei Menashe identified themselves as descendants of one of the sons of Joseph. Their culture is about 2,700 years old. Some of the distinct groups of this tribe are Mizo, Kuki and Chin peoples, a conglomerate of different tribes speaking various dialects of Tibeto-Burman languages. It was about 400 years ago that this community came to settle down in Manipur and Mizoram in India. In India, they were converted twice. Once when Christian missionaries forcefully converted many people into Protestant Christians and then again when they were encountered by an Orthodox rabbi from Jerusalem, Eliyahu Avichail. He was the one who coined the name "Bnei Menashe" for them and encouraged their return to Judaism.

The members of the Bnei Menashe entering Israel in 2006. Image Source :

In the early 2000s, the immigration issue of the Bnei Menashe become very prominent and was backed by certain religious groups. In 2006, a huge number of the tribe came to Israel. Michael Freund has declared the group to be "seed of Israel" meaning that they are a group whose religious identity does not recognise them as Jewish but their proven links to Jewish ancestry has given them the right to immigrate to Israel. But again, in 2015, a report by Judy Maltz, a Haaretz reporter said that the Bnei Menashe have no proof of their connection to a Jewish ancestry.

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Since 2005, no organisation had supported the immigration of Bnei Menashe. "For a country struggling to find potential new sources of immigration," Freund had explained to Forward, "groups such as the Bnei Menashe and others like them might very well provide the answer."

The Bnei Menashe people were greeted heartily by Israel upon their arrival in 2006. Image Source :

Several genetic examinations have been done to find out the truth about the origin of Bnei Menashe. Karl Skorecki had conducted such a resource and had found no evidence that would link them to the Middle east origin. Further study was conducted in India where the Bnei Menashe's claim was proven true. However, the Indian Centre has been accused of being careless with the DNA sequencing. But Karl Skorecki had admitted that sometimes it becomes impossible to identify a group with their ancestors when thousands of years have passed in between.

Goita, lighting a candle. Image Source :

Many of the orphaned children of the Bnei Menashe community have said that their adoptive Israeli mothers take very good care of them and have saved them from an unhealthy lifestyle. "Since arriving at the age of 8, I've learned to connect with the land, to have the confidence to fulfil and defend the promises of Zionism," said Goita to the "This is something that we were always yearning for back home in India." He appreciates how social workers like Beit Miriam celebrate "Roots Night" for them to remember their cultural and religious heritage.

Shimrit Zentusawn Ngaihte, who is a 20-year-old Bnei Menashe member, is sad about the fact that she has a very limited vocabulary of Hebrew. So, in order to become better at her mother tongue, she had petitioned the government to increase their tenure of the Hebrew language classes from five to eight months. As the Bnei Menashe community continues to grow in Israel, with more and more immigrants coming in, this step taken by Shimrit has become essential.

-This article is modified by Aitreyee Sengupta, an intern at NewsGram.