The Ten Tribes: Burma

In the mountainous region which lies on both sides of the border between India and Myanmar (former Burma), lives the Menashe (Shinlung) tribe which numbers between 1-2 million people. They intermarried with the Chinese and look Chinese-Burmas, but the entire tribe is conscious of their Israeli ancestry.

Among the tribe of Menashe we can see the custom of animal sacrifice in the same way which had been done among the Ten Tribes of Israel.

The word Menashe appears often in their poetry and prayer. It is the name of their ancestor and they call themselves children of Menashe (Beni Menashe). When they pray, they say, "Oh, God of Menashe," which is from the name Manasseh, one of the Ten Lost Tribe of Israel.

According to the history which they state, They were exiled to Assyria in 722 BCE with other Tribes of Israel. Later, Assyria was conquered by Babylon (607 BCE), which later was conquered by Persia (457 BCE), which later was conquered by Greece of Alexander the Great (331 BCE), when the people of Menashe were deported from Persia to Afghanistan and other places.

There they became shepherds and Idol worshipers. With the conquest of Islam, they were forced to convert to Islam. Because of their speaking Hebrew they were called the Semitic speakers. Throughout this entire period they possessed a Hebrew Torah scroll which they guarded with their elders and their priest.

From Afghanistan their migration continued eastward until they reached the area of the Tibetan-Chinese border. From there they continued into China following the Wei River until they reach the central China. They settled there at about 231 BCE.

But the Chinese were cruel to them and made them as slaves. Some of them escaped and lived in caves in the mountainous areas called Shinlung, which became another name for the tribe of Menashe. They are also called the cave people or the mountain people.

Menashe people lived in caves in poverty for about two generations but they still kept the Torah scroll with them. But they started to assimilate and have Chinese influences. Later they were banished from their cave area and went west through Thailand and eventually reached the area in Myanmar.

There they wandered along the river until they reached Mandaley. From there they reached the Chin Mountains. In the 18th century a part of them migrated to Manipur and Mizoram which are in northeastern India. Generally, they maintained the tradition about their wandering and they realized that they were not Chinese even though they spoke the local language.

They call them themselves Lusi which means the Ten Tribe ("Lu" means tribes, and "si" means ten).

Israeli Customs Among the Tribe of Menashe

According to the history which Menashe people state, when they were banished from their cave area they lost their Torah scroll when or perhaps it was stolen or burnt by the Chinese. But the priests of the tribe of Menashe continued to hand down their tradition orally including their ritual observances until the 19th century.

They had kept the custom of circumcision, which when it became difficult was no longer practiced but they blessed the child in a special ceremony on the 8th day. They also had holy days which were very similar to the Jewish days, and even practice levirate marriage where the younger brother had to marry the older brother's widow to keep the name within the family.

The following poem accompanied them throughout their migrations. It is a traditional song about the crossing of the Red Sea which was written by their ancestors. This is the English translation:

We must keep the Passover feast
Because we crossed the Red Sea by dry land
At night we crossed with a fire
And By day with a cloud
Enemies pursued us with chariots
And the sea swallowed them up
And used them as food for the fish
And when we were thirsty
We received water from the rock

This content is similar to the experience of Israelites written in Exodus. The people of Menashe call their God Y'wa, which is similar to God's Biblical name.

In every village they had a priest whose name was always Aaron, the brother of Moses and the first Jewish priest. One of his duties was to watch over the village. There were two priests in the larger villages.

The priesthood was passed down only by inheritance. They were involved with worshiping and the offering of sacrifices. The priest wore a tunic and a breastplate and an embroidered coat fastened with a belt and a crown on his head. And they always sang about Menashe at the beginning of each gathering.

In case of illness the priest was called to bless the sick person and to offer sacrifice for his recovery. The priest would slaughter a sheep or a goat and smear the blood on the ear, back and legs of the sick person while reciting verses from the Torah at the same time, similar to Leviticus 14:14.

For the atonement of sins a goat was offered in an altar just as it was in the ancient temple and the blood was sprinkled on the horns of the altar and the meat was eaten by the people. Yom Kippur was observed as a day of atonement once a year same as among Jews. The holy vessels of the priest were not made of metal but of clay, cloth or wood.

Special ceremonies were held by the priest in the case of certain illnesses. This is a form of atonement carried out with a bird the wings of which were sacrificed and the feathers thrown in the wind. In the case of leprosy the priest would offer a bird in the field.

It is also apparent that they practice idol worship and had superstitions regarding spirits and demons. They also believed in reincarnation but at the same time they believed in a God in heaven to whom they would turn in times of trouble.

I met this group in the jungles of Burma in 1963 or 1964 and I can describe their offerings and sacrifices as exactly the same as was offered in the Bible.

The Mizo Tribe

What is so amazing to me that in Burma, the Mizo tribe, untouched by the missionaries, and the source of the Bnai Menashe, have so many ancient Jewish ceremonies and rituals, as circumcision, Sabbath, holidays, etc. and this group must be studied seriously. I think the Israeli universities should send a team of scholars, historians, anthropologists, biologists, rabbis to study the Mizo in Burma. I will gladly join them.

In 1854 with the arrival of the first American missionary, V. Petigrore of the Baptist Mission, the church was established. In 1910 more missionaries came and they established churches in their area of northern India. As a result, the tribal priest lost his stature and the community was subjected to Christian influences and pressure. With the spread of Christianity along the land, they were again subject to great pressures and many of their religious articles were then thrown away or burned by the British and American missionaries between 1854-1910.

Recently a return to Judaism began. Several thousand people of Menashe decided to observe the laws of the Torah and returned to Judaism. They have synagogues in Manipur, Assam, and Mizoram. There are also those who emigrated to Israel. Thousands long for returning to Israel.

 
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