home / special
features / mystery of the ten
lost tribes /
the Ten Lost Tribes|
Burma - Bnei
by Rabbi Marvin
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
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
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.
they became shepherds and idol worshipers. With the conquest of
Islam, they were forced to convert to Islam. Because they 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.
Chinese were cruel to them and enslaved them. 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
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
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
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.
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:
must keep the Passover feast
Because we crossed the Red Sea by
At night we crossed with a fire
And By day with a
Enemies pursued us with chariots
And the sea swallowed
And used them as food for the fish
And when we were
We received water from the rock
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
- The Pathans Kashmir
from "Nihon-Yudaya, Huuin no Kodaishi" by Rabbi Marvin Tokayer,
translated from Japanese by Arimasa Kubo. Following
his ordination, Rabbi Tokayer served as a U.S. Air Force Chaplain in
Japan, and upon his discharge from the military, returned to Tokyo
to serve for many years as rabbi of the Jewish Community of Japan as
well as Vice President and Director of Culture, Religion and
Education for the Jewish communities of the Far East.