TRIBES OF ISRAEL
LOST & FOUND / ANCIENT & MODERN
Rabbi Yaakov Kleiman
(Use with permission only)
TRIBES 'R US
Will They Return?, Tribes - Social
II. LEGENDS OF THE LOST TRIBES
Beyond the Sambatyon, World Travelers,
Tribes of the Future, Lost Tribes
III. TRIBES NOT LOST
Yehuda/Judah - Kingship, Levi - Temple
IV. ANCIENT EXILE COMMUNITIES
- Assyria, Babylonia - Iraq, Persia -
V. TO THE FOUR CORNERS OF THE EARTH
CENTRAL ASIA: Pathans of Afghanistan, Kurds,
Bukharia, The Khuzar Kingdom
JEWS IN THE EAST: China, Japan,
Jews of India, The Shinlung
- Bene Menashe
OUT OF AFRICA: Ethiopian Jewry,
VI. THE TRIBES OF EXILE
VII. TRIBES COME HOME
VIII. BIBLICAL (TANACH) QUOTES
I. TRIBES 'R US
The Tribes of Israel are
historically the descendants of the twelve sons of the Patriarch Jacob,
who was also known as Israel. Each of Jacob's twelve sons was
the father of the Tribe bearing his name. Joseph, Jacob's firstborn
son of Rachel, was given a double portion through his two sons, Ephraim
and Menashe, becoming independent Tribes.
When the Hebrews left Egypt,
they left as Tribes. When they camped at Mt. Sinai, they camped as
Tribes. When they entered and settled the Land of Israel (approx.
1300 BCE), they settled as Tribes.
Each Tribe had its allotted
portion of the Land and for many generations there was little "intermarriage"
among them. Each Tribe had its flag, its colors, its particular tasks,
and even its unique personality traits. Zevulun was on the
seashore and engaged in commerce. Yissachar concentrated on
full-time Torah scholarship. Members of the Tribe of Dan were
known to be quick to seek judgement in court. Menashe had cattle;
Asher produced oil. The Tribe of Yehuda (Judah) provided
the kingship and national leadership. The Tribe of Levi was
responsible for the Temple Service and spiritual instruction.
With the construction and
dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem by King Solomon, son of King
David, the nation was united. However, this unity was short-lived.
The generation after Solomon saw the division of the nation into two
sovereign entities. The Southern Kingdom consisted mainly of the Tribe
of Judah, with Benjamin and the Levi'im. Jerusalem
was its center. In the North - the breakaway kingdom of Yisrael,
later called Samaria - consisted of the ten remaining Tribes,
including two and a half tribes on the east bank of the Jordan.
This situation of civil
conflict and closed borders lasted until the attack by the Assyrian
invaders from the north, who first conquered the Tribes of Gad,
Reuven and half the Tribe of Menashe. They then conquered
the other Northern Tribes and exiled them to the north and east, and
in what historians believe to be 721 BCE.
Besides the Biblical statements
describing the exile of the Ten Northern Tribes by the Assyrians (Chronicles
5:26, Kings II 18), there is significant historical and archeological
evidence of such a forced migration. Hebrew references were found
in the Nimrod Palace in northern Syria, as well as in Mede - ancient
Persia - and in northeastern Iraq from that period, approx. 700 BCE.
Assyrian wall-reliefs show Israelites being marched into captivity.
Josephus, the Jewish-Roman historian of the first century CE, describes
Israelite Tribes living beyond the Euphrates river in inaccessible
lands to the East.
Will They Return?
The Talmud discusses whether
the Ten Tribes will ever return. There are two opinions, based on
the Torah source "…and He will send them to another land as today"
(Devarim 29:27). The first claims that the Tribes will, in
the future, return: As the night yields to the day, so too they will
come from the darkness of exile to the light of return. The second
opinion is that they are not destined to return: Just as a day, when
it is over, is gone, so they are gone forever. A compromise opinion
holds that if their descendants repent and change their rebellious
ways, they will return. Even the opinion that they will not return
means to return en masse, as a unit. Individuals of all the Tribes
were mixed among the remnants of the population of Judah, and
their descendants will also return with the final redemption.
Based on the many Biblical
statements and prophecies, the existence and return of the "Lost Tribes
of Israel" has been seen as a sure sign and perhaps a necessary prerequisite
for the final redemption and the Messianic age.
Interest in the "Lost Tribes"
has not been confined to Jews. It has become an almost universal concept.
Groups in Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Iraq, Persia, China, Japan and in
various places in Africa, have either claimed descent from the Lost
Hebrew Tribes, or have been suggested by travelers or researchers
for that distinction. It has even been suggested that some North and
South American Indians, as well as the origins of the British people,
could be traced to the Lost Tribes of Israel.
The "Tribes of Israel"
in the widest sense includes the ancient Jewish exile communities,
which developed in the Near East. Also included are descendants of
Jews scattered and cut off from the main body of the Jewish people,
found in far-flung places in the world.
The concept of Lost Tribes
could also refer to non-Jewish groups who display some Jewish customs
and traditions. Some of these communities have no Hebrew language,
no "Jewish texts" and very little Torah theology. Some groups can
show direct Jewish lineage, measurable to some extent now through
modern genetic analysis, but many do not. They do have a sense of
identification with the Jewish people, and a sense of belonging to
the Tribes of Israel, though very broadly defined.
Tribes - Social and Spiritual
The nation of Israel, from
their earliest history as a people, were organized as Tribes.
The word for tribe in Hebrew
is shevet. Another often-used term for an Israelite Tribe is
matteh. These words have a similar primary meaning of a "staff"
or "rod," for example as a shepherd's staff or as the scepter
of a ruler. The term indicates a united, cohesive social organization.
The Jewish Nation can be
considered an association of Tribes, bound by ties of kinship and
origin, with a common purpose and destiny maintained over generations.
A Tribe is basically endogamous
- that is, its members marry and have children with partners from
within the group
In Biblical times there
was a specific hierarchy of the Tribe's subdivisions.
The family is the most basic
unit of the Tribe. The unit above the individual family is the beit
av - the father's house. Many fathers' houses comprised the mishpacha
- the extended family. These served as a mishmar or ma'amad
- the Temple service divisions, which were comprised of thousands
of men. The total of the extended families made up the Tribe, and
the Tribes made up the Nation.
The genealogical principle
of origin from a common ancestor constitutes the basis of the Tribes'
cohesiveness and its system of authority. Communal living and communal
wandering are characteristic of a Tribe, as are common customs, dress,
foods, language or dialect and shared symbols.
Beyond the physical dimension
of the Tribes of Israel is a metaphysical level of the Tribes. Each
Tribe represented and manifested a unique spiritual quality and power.
Together, the twelve individual units created a transcendental whole.
The 12 Tribes match to
the twelve months of the year, to the 12 signs of the Zodiac, and
to the Kabbalistic sefirot.
The names of the Tribes
were arranged on the jeweled breastplate of the Kohen Gadol,
the High Priest, as he performed the Temple service, symbolizing unity
from diversity - and thereby accessing the Divine Presence.
In the Bible, the Jewish
People are referred to as "the Tribes of God." Among non-Jews, Jews
are seen as "the Biblical Tribe."
II. LEGENDS OF THE LOST TRIBES
Beyond The Sambatyon
The most common legend
of the Lost Tribes is that they are located beyond the river Sambatyon
(Sabbaton). This extraordinary river is reported to flow with rocks
and stones. Its fierce flow halts only on the Sabbath.
Throughout the centuries,
various citings of the Sambatyon have been reported. One creative
explanation is that the Sambatyon may be the Bosphorous Straits
near Istanbul, leading to the north and northeast. It changes current
regularly, making it passable only at intervals. Some travelers have
speculated that it is located in mountainous Asia. Others report its
location in Arabia, fifty days' desert journey from Aden.
Metaphorically, the river
Sambatyon represents the separation of the Lost Tribes of Israel
from the awareness of mainstream Jewish communities for thousands
Legends as to the existence
of the Lost Tribes and their whereabouts were often based on travelers'
reports. One of the earliest of these legendary travelers was Eldad
HaDani, of the Tribe of Dan, who in the ninth century claimed
to be from an independent Jewish state in East Africa, which he claimed
was the home of some of the Lost Tribes of Asher, Gad,
Naftali and Dan. His travels took him to Persia, where
he claims he traveled beyond the Sambatyon River. There he
claims to have encountered the Tribes of Yissachar and Zevulun.
He described the Tribe of Reuven as living in peace and prosperity
beyond Mt. Haran. The kings of Mede and Persia ruled over them, and
they spoke Persian and also Hebrew. He further narrated that the Tribe
of Ephraim and half the Tribe of Menashe dwelt in the
mountains near Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. He claimed to have found the
Tribe of Shimon and the other half of the Tribe of Menashe
dwelling in the land of the Chaldeans. The story ends with Dani
and his group settling down in the land of Cush - Ethiopia.
In the 12th century, Benjamin
of Tudela, a Spanish Jew, traveled throughout Greece, Asia and North
Africa. He wrote in his diary a long description of the Ten Tribes.
He states that he had encountered in the town of Nishapir in Persia
members of the Tribes of Dan, Asher, Zevulun
and Naftali, who were governed by their own prince, Yosef of
Markola. He also claimed that the Jews of Khaibor in Arabia are from
the Tribes of Reuven and Gad and Menashe.
David Rubeni, in 1524,
claimed to be a Prince of the Jewish Kingdom of Haber in central India.
He dressed in flowing oriental robes and a turban, representing himself
as ambassador of the Lost Tribes. He received audiences with national
leaders and created much interest in the Jews of faraway lands. He
brought the existence of the Cochin Jews of India for the first time
to the knowledge of European Jewry.
Tribes of the Future
Many legends of the Lost
Tribes relate to the future fate of the Jewish nation and the world.
Based on Biblical passages, Midrashic literature paints scenarios
of mass return of Jews to the Land of Israel preceding the coming
of the Messiah and of further ingathering by the Messiah himself.
The word "Messiah," "the
redeemer," is derived from the Hebrew word mashiach meaning
"anointed to serve as king." He reestablishes the kingdom, being from
the line of David of the Tribe of Judah. Gentile nations will
bring their Jewish inhabitants back to their homeland in Israel.
Messiah and Eliyahu
HaNavi (Elijah the Prophet) will sort out unknown lineages and
reestablish Tribe identity
. According to the prophecy
of Ezekiel, the Land of Israel will once again be divided into tribal
regions, with the renewal of the Temple service in Jerusalem. At this
time, unity will once again reign as the House of Judah and
the House of Israel will be at peace in their land. And the
Divine Presence shall once again rest upon the Nation. ( Yirmiyahu
31,  Ezekiel 37)
Lost Tribes and Halacha
Torah law, defines "Jewishness" as being determined by the mother's
Jewish status. If a person's mother is halachically Jewish,
then the child is Jewish - even from a non-Jewish father. The father
determines the child's Tribe status. These days, that is whether he
is a Cohen, Levi or Yisrael - which includes
Yehuda and all others.
The various groups of peoples
who have developed off the mainstream of World Jewry have intermixed
with local populations and being out of contact with normative Judaism,
have not followed the marriage and divorce procedures necessary to
keep their lineage in order.
Having Jewish customs,
Jewish names or even "Jewish genes" may indicate Jewish roots, but
not Jewish halachic status. To acquire official Jewish status,
such people require a halachic conversion, which involves Torah
study, commitment to observance and a ritual bath (mikveh).
III. TRIBES NOT LOST
There is much discussion
of the Lost Tribes. What about the Tribes that did not get lost? Which
are they? The Tribe of Yehuda (Judah) and the Tribe of Levi.
The Tribe of Judah
The Tribe of Judah
was the leading Tribe and the most populous of the Southern Kingdom.
The majority of the survivors of the destruction of the Temple were
from Judea. Thus, the entire Hebrew nation came to be known as "Jews"
. The patriarch of the Tribe,
Judah son of Jacob, was a leader among his brothers. He was blessed
by his father that "The staff and rod shall never pass from him."
This indicates that Kingship and authority are his inheritance. The
line of King David is the royal line of Yehuda. Kings of the Davidic
line ruled during the First Temple period. Communal leaders and Torah
decision-makers have been appointed from the Tribe of Yehuda
throughout the generations.
The Kingship of Israel
was promised to the line of David of the Tribe of Yehuda, and
prophesized to be an inheritance forever, as written in the prophet
Jeremiah 3:17: "Thus says God: I shall never cause to cease
from the line of David a man to sit on the Throne of Israel … forever."
The longed for redeemer,
the Melech HaMoshiach, the "Messianic king" is from the line
of David, and he will reestablish the Davidic kingly dynasty. There
are Jewish families, from both Ashkenazi and Sefardi
traditions, which claim they can trace their lineage back to King
With the destruction of
the First Temple and the loss of Jerusalem, the remnant of the Jews
were exiled to Babylonia. There they were given much religious and
cultural autonomy. They established a Torah-based society and maintained
In later centuries, many
of the Babylonian Jews settled in the Magreb - northern Africa.
These communities, which are today the Iraqi and Moroccan Jews, show
great genetic similarity, having maintained their ancient Hebrew lineage.
The Tribe of Levi
The Tribe of Levi
is unique. Levi, the third son of the patriarch Jacob with his wife,
Leah, was chastised for his quick anger. Yet, his descendants turned
that zealousness to good, as they repeatedly stood up for values and
The Tribe of Levi
was chosen to perform the Temple service and to be the spiritual guides
and instructors of the nation.
The Levites camped closest
to Mt. Sinai at the receiving of the Torah and maintained that closeness
to the holy precinct as the Tabernacle traveled in the midst of the
Tribes through the desert and into the land of Israel. The
Levites did not have an inherited portion in the land. Rather, they
were allotted 42 Levitical cities, carved out of the territory of
the other Tribes. The Levites received ma'aser - the tithing
of grain and produce - from the populace as their income.
One particular family of
the Tribe of Levi, the male descendants of Aharon, brother
of Moses, were chosen to be the Kohanim - priests, the Temple
officials of the nation.
The Kohanim were
responsible for the daily functioning of the Temple and they themselves
performed its most holy duties. The Kohen Gadol - High Priest
- was the head of an extensive administration, which supervised all
aspects of the service. Kohanim were sustained by 24 gifts
and like the Levites received tithes from the people.
Numerous statements in
the Torah and the Prophets promise that particularly the family of
the Kohanim, the seed of Aaron, will never be lost.
Amazingly, recent discoveries
in molecular genetics, the study of DNA patterns, indicates that most
present-day Kohanim have identical genetic markers and are
indeed direct descendants of a common ancestor who lived approximately
3,300 years ago, the period of Aharon HaKohen. (See: Kohanim
The Talmud relates that
the first Tribe to be purified in the future will be the Tribe of
IV. ANCIENT EXILE COMMUNITIES
The modern Jewish People
consists of many and varied communities, all sharing a common heritage,
belief system and destiny. These communities have developed, in geographically
diverse regions, over approximately 2,000-2,500 years of exile from
the land of Israel.
The oldest communities
are those where the first exiles arrived: Ashur - Assyria,
Babylonia - Iraq, and Persia - Iran. Jewish communities have existed
there for more than two millennia, maintaining their cultural and
religious identity throughout.
The Bible relates the early
history of these exile communities. The story of Purim, described
in the Megilla of Esther, occurs in the fifth century BCE in
Persia. The burial sites of Esther and Mordechai are still venerated
in Shushan, Iran. Aram Sova, the ancient community of Aleppo, Syria,
possessed the most antique Torah scroll in existence.
In Babylonia the exile
was relatively comfortable and most Jews remained there even with
the re-establishment of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. A dynamic
Torah community developed there over many centuries, producing the
Babylonian Talmud in approximately 500 CE.
The Talmud, based
on the Mishna, is the compilation of the Oral Law. Beside Halacha
- Jewish Law - it includes far-ranging discussions on all aspects
of life. The learning of Talmud allows a person to mentally
enter the world of the most distinguished rabbi / scholars of Israel
and Babylonia. The study, analysis, teaching and living by the Talmud
was the main intellectual and spiritual lifeblood of the Jewish Diaspora.
After the Destruction of
Second Temple, and the complete dispersal of the Jewish population,
Babylonian Jewry became the mainstay of Jewish continuity. Until approximately
1,000 CE, Jewish leadership and scholarship was centered in Babylonia.
The Jews of Yemen
Yemen, located at the southern
tip of the Arabian Peninsula, has been the home to a Jewish population
since the time of the Destruction of the Second Temple and possibly
earlier. Land and sea routes led to Yemen from the Land of Israel,
as well as via the Persian Gulf from Babylonia.
There is evidence of a
Jewish kingdom of Himyar, as Yemen was known in pre-Islamic
days. Jewish influence on the local Bedouin Arabs was significant.
The advent of Islam in the seventh century, and the spread of the
Moslem Empire, did not deflect the Jews of Yemen from their religion.
The Jews of Yemen survived
as a distinct tribal entity for more than twenty centuries. The "Epistle
To Yemen," written by Maimonides in the twelfth century indicates
the contact they maintained with mainstream Jewish communities, particularly
in North Africa.
The Jews of Yemen cultivated
a deep Messianic hope and unshaken faith in redemption. In the 1950s,
Operation "Magic Carpet" airlifted nearly their entire community of
over 50,000 to Israel
V. TO THE FOUR CORNERS OF THE EARTH
The Pathans of Afghanistan
The Afghan tribe known
as Pathans inhabits eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border.
They are Sunni Moslems with a population of millions, who retain to
this day an amazing tradition of their descent from the Tribes of
Jews have lived among these
tribes from pre-Islamic times. Their tradition is that they derive
from King Saul of the Tribe of Benjamin. Early Jewish settlements
influenced local Afghan tribes, spreading to them Jewish beliefs and
customs - until the coming of the forced Moslem conversions in 662
CE. Pathans maintain Pashtunwali as their legal system, similar
in part to the written Torah and different from Islam.
Patani oral tradition,
as well as scrolls of genealogy, held among their tribes, testify
to a connection to the ancient Israelites. Many of their tribal names
are similar to the Tribes of Israel, such as: Rabani,
Haftali, Asuri, etc. Some Pathans call themselves
Beni Yisrael - "Sons of Israel." And they look distinctly Semitic
- most with full beards, and some with sidelocks. Some perform male
circumcision on the eighth day after birth, wear a Tallit-like cloak,
and some families light candles on Friday night.
The tradition of descent
from the Tribe of Benjamin has been especially strong among
the Jews of Kurdistan. Their ancestors were likely exiles from Samaria,
and later from Judah. The Judeo-Aramaic vernacular, known as
Targum, is still spoken by Kurdish Jews. It is substantially
the same language used in the Talmud, which was compiled in
approximately 500 CE in Babylonia.
Kurdistan never attained
political unity or sovereignty, being split into two main parts: Persian
Kurdistan to the east, and Turkish Kurdistan to the west. With the
creation of Iraq, many Kurds fell to Iraqi rule, and many Jews, at
that time, immigrated to Israel.
The Jews of Kurdistan were
among the only Jewish exile communities to have preserved its agricultural
tradition throughout the ages. The entire community immigrated to
Israel in the early years of the State. These included Jews from the
city of Mosul, located across the river from the ruins of the ancient
Assyrian capital of Ninveh, identified in the Jewish tradition as
North of Iran and Afghanistan,
located on the Silk Road to China, in what is now Uzbekistan, are
the ancient cities of Bukhara and Samarkand. The history
of Jewish settlement in Bukhara particularly, is very ancient.
Artifacts of Jewish culture,
such as Aramaic script dated back 2,000 years or more, have been found
in the area. The main surviving community of Bukharian Jews can now
be found in the Bukharian quarter of Jerusalem.
The Khuzar Kingdom
Jewish legend, supported
by historical evidence, relates the conversion to Judaism by the King
of Khuzaria - a Crimean Turko-Asian empire in the 700s. R.
Yehuda HaLevi used this event as the backdrop for his book The
Kuzari, explaining Jewish belief and philosophy. The Khuzar
kingdom flourished and survived perhaps as long as four centuries,
until its defeat by Russians and Mongol hordes. There is a question
as to whether Khuzar descendants contributed to European Jewry.
Recent genetic research may help to resolve this origin issue.
THE FAR EAST
The Jewish settlement in
China has always been shrouded in mystery. There is some evidence
that during the Hun Dynasty - second century BCE - Jews, coming
mostly from Persia, settled in various locations, particularly in
the city of Kaifeng-Fu, on the Yellow River, the capital of
Hunan Province, in western China.
The small Jewish community
enjoyed the protection of the Chinese rulers, prospering yet maintaining
their ancestral customs. Though they dressed like the Chinese and
spoke Chinese, they prayed in Hebrew. In 1163, a new synagogue was
constructed in Kaifeng-Fu, and in the fifteenth century it
was renovated - both times at government expense. Though the synagogue
remains, there are virtually no indigenous Jews in China today.
The Chiang Min tribe
in western China, near Tibet, maintains a tradition of connection
to the ancient Israelites.
It cannot be said precisely
when Jews first arrived in Japan. It is possible that some Jewish
silk merchants came to Japan from China in the second century CE.
Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch Jews traded in the Far East from the
sixteenth century, coming in close contact with the Japanese.
Some Japanese believe that
the Yamato clan leadership was descended from the Lost Tribes
of Israel. They also believe that the origin of the Hada
tribe is traceable to the Hebrews, believing themselves to be connected
to the maritime tribe of Zevulun.
Among present-day Japanese,
the Makuya movement is a Christian religious sect, which is
strongly Zionistic. Many of them have taken Hebrew names and follow
Jewish observances, believing that they share a common root with the
The Jews of India
There are two distinct
ancient Jewish communities in India. The Cochin Jews of South
India, and the Beni Israel of West India.
The Cochin community
may reach back to Biblical times. The merchant ships of King Solomon
reached ports of the East, returning with spices, precious stones
and rare flora and fauna. The ancient contacts between the land of
Israel and India are supported by the several Hebrew words, which
are common to the Indian Sanskrit and Tamil languages.
The Cochin Jews have a tradition that tens of thousands of
Jews arrived there after the destruction of the Second Temple.
For centuries the Cochin
Jews never lost contact with mainstream Judaism. Their location near
the ports of South India provided opportunities for outside interaction
with travelers and merchants from Europe and the Middle East.
Documents found in the Cairo
Geniza - book depository - indicate that between the 10th and
12th centuries commercial ties existed between Cochin Jews
and Mediterranean communities.
In 1948, the community
of some 2,500 Cochin Jews left to Israel. Presently, less than
100 Jews remain, living a twilight existence near the only functioning
The origins of the Beni
Israel Jews of West India are somewhat obscure. According to their
tradition, their ancestors arrived by sea from the north, becoming
shipwrecked and established the community near Bombay. For centuries
they lived in isolation, until the middle of the 18th century, when
they were discovered by a Cochin Jew, David Rahabi.
The Beni Israel
had maintained many vestiges of Jewish practices - Shabbat
and Holidays, some laws of Kashrut, and the prayer Shema
Yisrael. Although they are Indian in appearance, speak an Indian
language, and have been influenced by the surrounding culture, they
have nonetheless maintained a quite separate existence from the other
Indian groups in the area. Today the Beni Israel are the only
sizable Jewish group in India. Several thousand of them still live
in and around Bombay, though most have immigrated to Israel.
The Shinlung -
In the mountainous region
which lies on both sides of the Indian-Burmese border dwells the Shinlung
Tribe, or as they call themselves, the Bene Menashe - sons
of the Tribe of Menashe. They believe themselves to be descendants
of the exiled Tribes who traveled east. Their origin story is that
from Central Asia they migrated to the Tibet region and then into
southern China, dwelling in caves. From China they immigrated to the
Burma-Indian highlands centered in Manipur and Mizaram, where they
have lived for centuries.
Their collective memory
is that they are of Israelite descent. Their religious practices are
different from surrounding peoples. Their tradition includes many
Biblical aspects such as levirate marriage (a brother marries his
deceased brother's childless wife), agricultural tithes, incest prohibitions,
burial rather than cremation, and celebrating three major annual festivals.
In the early 1900's English
missionaries converted the Shinlung to Christianity. However,
since the 1950's, following a revelation to Mela Chala - a local farmer
and mystic - that the Shinlung were truly the lost biblical
Tribe of Menashe and soon they would be gathered to their ancestral
homeland, many have begun to reactivate their Jewish connection.
Although thousands of Shinlung
acknowledge their tribal legend of Israelite descent, most remain
in India living as Christians. Five thousand or so have made a full
return to Judaism, observing Shabbat, Kashrut and circumcision.
These Bene Menashe are deeply Zionistic, with a strong love
for Israel and a desire to live in the "Promised Land."
In recent years, hundreds
of these Asian-looking people have returned to Israel, undergone a
full-halachic conversion and have been integrated into settlements
throughout the country.
The Ethiopian Jews
Perhaps most well-known
of the claimants of Lost Tribe status are the black Jews of Ethiopia,
formerly known as Falashas.
There are a number of theories
about the origins of the Ethiopian Jews. One is that after the Exodus
from Egypt they broke off and made their way down the coast of Africa
to Ethiopia. Another is that they emigrated from Israel after
the time of the destruction of First and Second Temples. Their origin
tradition is that the Queen of Sheba (Ethiopia), upon meeting
King Solomon, converted to Judaism and bore him a son, Menelik. They
believe that they are descended from the Hebrew notables sent with
Menelik from Jerusalem to Ethiopia at that time.
The Falashas - which
means "stranger" - maintained a separate cultural identity from their
neighbors. Their Judaism is based on the Written Torah only, as they
lacked all sources of the Oral Law. Their sacred texts are not in
Hebrew, but written in Ge'ez - the Amharic language. Due to
religious persecution, the community moved inland to the region of
Gondar, becoming a semi-autonomous Jewish kingdom. Their over
1,000 year history includes victorious wars against other local tribes.
Their heroes include leaders named Gideon and the Jewish queen Judith.
For centuries Christians have persecuted and attempted conversion
of the Falashas.
Throughout their history,
in their liturgy and customs, they have expressed a longing for Zion
and the land of Israel. The entire community was airlifted
out of Africa to Israel in the early 1990's. Some rabbinical authorities
have considered them to be remnants of the Tribe of Dan.
In something of a reenactment
of the Exodus from Egypt, thousands of Ethiopians trekked for miles
to reach the border and their flight to freedom and full citizenship
in Israel. Within hours these traditional tribal people of Africa
were transported into the modern world. Not only had they never seen
an airplane before, but they had never seen stairs that lead up to
the plane! Over 20,000 Ethiopian Jews have been welcomed home to their
Located in South Africa,
particularly in the region known as the Venda, live a group
of black Africans who claim descent from the ancient Hebrews. These
are the Lemba. Though converted to Christianity, they maintain
some Jewish-style practices including circumcision, Shofar
(with a rhinoceros horn) and a degree of Kashrut - not eating
meat with milk, nor pork. Their tribal emblem is an elephant within
the Star of David.
Though some believe they
are related to the Ethiopian Jews, the main Lemba origin legend
is that they are descendants of the Hebrews who emigrated from Israel
to Yemen, and from their legendary vanished city of Sana'a,
possibly in Yemen, across the straits to the east coast of Africa
to Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Lemba elders believe
firmly that they are Jewish by lineage, if not by practice. Among
the Lemba, the senior clan is the Buba, which some say
means "from Judah." Buba is believed to be the early founder
of the tribe. These men have different skin coloration and facial
features than other Africans.
Genetic studies on the
Lemba have indicated that they are of a different ethnic origin
than their African neighbors. There is a definite Semitic contribution
to the Lemba. A particular Y-chromosome haplotype (a combination
of unique DNA markers) which occurs among Jewish men and especially
among Kohanim was also found in a significant percentage of
Lemba men, and particularly among the Buba clan. This
indicates that some of the male lineage of the Lemba may indeed
have a source among the Hebrews, most likely derived from Yemenite
Jewish males, many centuries ago.
Mormons believe Native
American Indians are a lost tribe of Israel whose ancestors
were Hebrews and sailed to the Americas before the fall of Jerusalem
in 586 BCE.
An evolving doctrine in
Christian Zionism and Messianic Judaism, based on a new interpretation
of scripture, holds that most true Christians are descendants of the
Lost Tribes of Israel.
Some Protestant believers
still endorse a popular theory of the Reformation that the English
are a lost tribe of Israel and so God's "chosen people."
Some 2,000 African-American
expatriates from Detroit and Chicago, who now live in Dimona in the
Negev, believe they are descendants of the biblical Tribe of Judah.
TRIBES OF EXILE
For the first millennium
after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE, the center
of World Jewry was Babylonia. Starting from the end of the eighth
century, Jewish settlements began to develop in faraway places.
By the year 1,000 CE new
communities had developed in North Africa and Spain and northwestern
At this time, World Jewry
began to develop into two distinct exile communities, each based on
its common geographical location and cultural influence, and rabbinical
The Sefardim - broadly
defined - include some originally from Spain, and also include North
Africans, and Mizrachim - Middle Eastern Jews. These communities
lived under Islamic religious and social control.
The Ashkenazim developed
in northern Europe, first in Western Europe and later in Eastern Europe
- under Christian domination.
Ashkenazic and Sefardic
Jews are much more similar than different. Both maintained strict
observance of halacha - Jewish law - based on the Torah and
Talmud, and rabbinical teachings. The two communities by virtue
of a 1,000 year cultural separation developed some differences which
distinguish each, such as some slight physical distinctions, spoken
language and Hebrew pronunciation, dress customs, cuisine, music and
various religious customs.
However, despite 1,000
years of cultural isolation and more than 2,000 years since the exile
from the land of Israel, both the Ashkenazic and Sefardic
communities have a nearly identical genetic profile - indicating a
common origin in the Middle East and very little intermarriage with
non-Jewish host communities during the entire Diaspora experience.
Ashkenaz is mentioned in
Genesis and Chronicles as the son of Gomer, who is the
son of Yafet, who is the son of Noah. Gomer is known as Germania,
and Germania of Edom is Germany. Thus, the area of Europe
where Jews first settled became known as Ashkenaz and its inhabitants,
As early as 900 CE, small
Jewish settlements formed into a community with unique cultural patterns
and communal organization as well as an independent rabbinical leadership.
Jewish communities spread first westward and later eastward, all embracing
Ashkenazic customs and culture, within the dominant Germanic
and Slavic Medieval Christian society.
The earliest Jewish settlement
in Europe most likely migrated north from the Mediterranean area.
Merchants traveled early trade routes, finding economic opportunity
in northern Europe. The early settlements along the Rhine River of
Mainz, Worms, and Speyers became centers of Jewish immigration. By
1100 CE there may have been as many as 20,000 Jews living in the region.
Crucial to the development
of these communities was the rabbinical leadership. Rabbenu Gershom
(960-1030), born in Mainz, is known as the father of Ashkenazic
Jewry. He and his rabbinical court established social and halachic
decrees, which founded the community on solid Torah basis.
Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben
Yitzchak) (1035-1100) was the premier Biblical and Talmudic commentary.
He founded the line of Tosafos commentators and thereby set
the tone of Jewish scholarship for centuries to come.
The conditions under which
the Jews of Europe lived were difficult and often threatening. It
is a wonder how the small community survived and developed under such
When Patriarch Jacob prepared
to face his vengeful brother Esau on his way back to the Land of Israel,
he did three things:
1) He prayed to God for
favor and protection.
2) He attempted to buy his way out of trouble with gifts.
3) He defensively divided his family to ensure at least partial survival.
And thus did the children
of Jacob maintain themselves in the exile of Europe.
The Crusades, a fanatical
Christian revival movement of the 11th and 12th centuries, brought
terror and destruction to numerous Jewish communities in the Rhineland
of France, in Germany and even England, as this rabble marched to
purify the Holy Land of the infidels: Moslems and Jews.
Forced conversions, blood
libels, segregation and discrimination, impoverishment and expulsion
was the fate of Jewish individuals and entire communities.
The Talmud was burned
publicly in Paris in 1242. Jews were expelled from England in 1290
and from France in 1306.
From the 1300's Jews migrated
in large numbers eastward, mainly to Poland. The Polish royalty and
nobility saw the Jews as useful economically and welcomed their settlement.
Jews served as middlemen
in the feudal system. The nobleman landowners leased use of their
fields to the peasant-serfs with a Jew as the overseer, debt collector
and enforcer. Jews were encouraged to serve as moneylenders, borrowing
and lending at outrageous rates. Jews were also active in the lumber
and the liquor businesses. Most Jews lived in poverty in small villages,
barely making a living.
The Jews did not envy or
admire the local non-Jewish population. There was little assimilation
or acculturation. Jews maintained a dynamic religious life with Torah
study and mitzvah observance the mainstay of their lives. "More
than the Jews kept Shabbos, the Shabbos kept the Jews"
By 1600 the Ashkenazim
were numerically and culturally the most significant Jewish community
in the world. An independent Jewish "Council of the Four Lands" served
the semi-autonomous Kehilla (community). Besides their religious
commitment, the communities of Central and Eastern Europe were united
by the Yiddish language. Yiddish is mainly based on a dialect of low
German, mixed with Hebrew and local vocabulary. It is written in Hebrew
script. It spread eastward with the Jewish population. Yiddish became
virtually the exclusive language of European Jews for some 500 years.
In the mid-17th century,
the Cossacks of the Ukraine and the local Polish peasantry revolted
against the feudal conditions imposed by the Polish overlords. The
Jews bore the brunt of their murderous fury. Hundreds of thousands
were massacred. Church persecution and local enmity were a constant
threat. Many Jews moved west, renewing former settlements in Germany
The destruction of society,
the economy and the civil authority as Poland was partitioned by its
neighboring powers, left the Jews scattered and powerless. However,
their numbers continued to increase and they began to settle newly
opened territories such as the Ukraine. There too they faced pogroms
and economic restrictions.
Against this dark social
background there developed mass false Messianic movements, raising
people's expectations of imminent redemption and leaving them broken
when they failed to materialize.
In the mid-1700's a spiritual
renaissance developed. In the southern provinces of Poland the new
movement of Chassidus, based on the inspiring teachings of
the Baal Shem Tov, attracted the masses. In Lithuania, to the north,
the Vilna Gaon - Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna - redeveloped the Yeshiva
system, leading a return to rigorous Torah scholarship, countering
the populist Chassidic movement.
By 1800, with the breakup
of the Polish state, most Jews found themselves located in the Pale
of Settlement, an area stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black
Sea, encompassing much of Eastern Europe. Jews from Russia were moved
into the Pale. Physical restrictions were accompanied by decrees
of taxation, conscription, and economic limitations.
But, as in ancient Egypt,
"as they were oppressed so did they multiply." By 1900, near 5 million
Jews were living in the Pale of Settlement.
In Western Europe the winds
of social revolution and liberalism were transforming the status of
Jews from an oppressed community. The so-called "Enlightenment" movement,
promoting secular learning, cultural integration and reform of religion,
caused many to assimilate. At the same time, Eastern European Jewry
generally maintained its religious orthodoxy and cultural integrity.
In the 20th century, Jewish
activism in political movements - socialism, communism, and Zionism
challenged traditional Jewish society and values.
The terrible attempted "Final
Solution" caused 6 million of Europe's Jews to be annihilated, destroying
European Jewish civilization of ten centuries.
In the wake of the Holocaust,
the survivors of European Jewry formed the core population at the
formation of the State of Israel. Forty percent of Israel's early
immigrants were Holocaust survivors. Today, half the Israeli population
is of Ashkenazic descent. Of World Jewry's 13 million-plus
souls, 70% are of Ashkenazic heritage.
Sefard is the Hebrew
word for Spain. The original Sefardim were Jews who dwelt in
Spain. The early Jews in Spain shared a common culture with the Jews
of North Africa, the Mahgreb - Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, etc.
Many Spanish Jews fled there to avoid Christian persecution. The term
Sefardim has come to include all Jewish communities that developed
under Moslem rule and society. The category also includes the Mizrachim
- the Oriental communities located on the eastern Mediterranean and
in the Middle East.
North Africa experienced
significant Jewish settlement in the 9th and 10th centuries. Great
rabbinic leadership established Torah centers, becoming independent
of the former center of Babylonia. Early great Sefardic rabbis
include Rabbenu Chananel, who wrote a pioneering commentary on the
Talmud and Rabbi Yitzhak Alfasi of Fez, Morocco, whose early
codification of the Talmud became a foundation of halacha.
Moshe Maimonides, (Rambam), the greatest Jewish thinker of his age
(1138-1204), lived in Spain and later in Egypt.
Jews of the early second
millennium saw the west as a land of opportunity. Economic possibilities
and a moderate Islamic regime appealed to many, especially from the
Babylonian community, which was in decline from the age of the Geonim.
Newly established religious centers and leadership allowed immigration
without fear of compromising observance.
The 10th and 11th centuries
were a "Golden Age" for Jewry in Moslem Spain and North Africa. Jews
were among the cultural leaders and intellectuals of the period. They
excelled at science and medicine, literature and philosophy, and commerce.
The Jews of Spain were
caught in the bloody religious struggle between Islam and Christianity.
The ascension of the fanatical Almohads of Morocco in 1141
ended the relatively tolerant period which allowed Jewish communal
development. Many Jews fled the sword of Islam north to Christian
Spain where they found temporary respite and advanced in social status.
Jews under Islam were given
Dhimi status - made to feel second-class but protected as "people
of the book." Often separate neighborhoods - the mehilla -
housed all the town's Jews. Depending upon the fanaticism or tolerance
of the particular ruling faction was the fate of the Jews. Though
riots, murders and discrimination were not uncommon, the level of
communal violence against Jews never reached that of Christian Europe.
With the strengthening
of the Catholic Church in the 1400's, Spanish Jews faced persecution,
theological disputations, forced conversions and expulsion. Many Jews
outwardly converted to survive. To reinforce the sincerity of these
conversos - also called marranos - the Church launched
the Inquisition, using torture and death as a means of religious persuasion.
In the midst of this fundamentalist
frenzy the Catholic king issued orders of expulsion to all the Jews
of Spain, on the 9th of Av, 1492. Many found temporary refuge in neighboring
Portugal, but there too they were compelled to undergo forced conversion
and later, expulsion.
With the terrible expulsions,
Spanish Jewry scattered to various locations. In Europe they settled
primarily in the Netherlands or Italy. Many returned to Islamic lands
of North Africa and the Middle East. The Ottoman Empire was particularly
welcoming, and many Jews settled in Greece, Turkey and the Balkans.
The port of Salonica in
Greece became a center of the transplanted Sefardic culture.
A Sefardic Diaspora was created - a dispersion within a dispersion,
looking to Eretz Yisrael as its homeland, but having been indelibly
impressed by its centuries of sojourn in Spain. As many as 250,000
Jews migrated in this period of the 1500's.
The language of the majority
of these Sefardic exiles was Ladino - Judeo-Spanish. The language
is comprised of Hebrew and Turkish vocabulary with a Spanish base.
The script originally was Hebrew.
As a consequence of the
Spanish exile, many particularly spiritually minded Jews returned
to the land of Israel. The community in Safed produced the
great Kabbalist known as the Ariz'l and the great Halachist
Rabbi Yosef Caro, the author of the Shulchan Aruch (the "set
table of Jewish laws"). This work became the standard for all World
Jewry, accepted with annotations by the Ashkenazic community
The Moslem world had until
the Middle Ages been the vibrant heart of World Jewry, but with the
decline of their host countries, the Jews of the region also declined.
As late as the 16th century World Jewry had been divided roughly 50/50
between the Sefardim and Ashkenazim. By 1900 Sefardim
constituted less than l0% of World Jewry, mainly as a result of a
low birth rate and negative immigration into their communities.
With the defeat and dismantling
of the Turkish Ottoman Empire after World War I, many Jews emigrated
from Greece and Turkey.
The Holocaust reached Sefardic
Jewry in Holland, Italy and the Balkans. The Jews of the major Greek
city of Salonica, which at one time was nearly half Jewish, were totally
With the creation of the
State of Israel in 1948 and the Arab enmity that it enraged, the Jews
of the Moslem world, long tolerated, were in great danger. A major
rescue movement was launched to bring these communities to Israel.
Thus exile communities which had lasted for two millennia came to
an end in a few short years with their massive immigration to Israel.
In Iraq (Babylonia), where
there were 150,000 Jews in 1948, as few as 100 live there today. In
Morocco, a community of 300,000 in 1948, there are now a few thousand.
Algeria had 115,000 and Tunisia had 100,000; now there remain a few
hundred, mostly elderly Jews.
Today, in Israel, half
of the Jewish population is of Sefardic heritage. Other significant
Sefardic communities continue in France, the United States
and South America.
In modern Israel the Tribe
distinctions have somewhat blurred in the Israeli melting pot. Sefardi-Ashkenazi
marriages are common. Most communities, however, maintain their unique
cultural customs. This is evident also in the maintenance of religious
customs and practices.
VII. TRIBES COME HOME
The Tribes of Israel
have returned and in a big way. The proof - a visit to modern-day
In 1900 there were approximately
50,000 Jews living in what was to become the State of Israel. In 1948,
there were 630,000 Jews. The Jewish population of Israel in 2000 is
approximately 5.1 million.
The return of the Jewish
People to their ancient homeland after surviving a difficult exile
of over 2,000 years is unique in human history.
The re-created Jewish State
constitutes a rebirth of the Jewish Nation on its land. It created
the opportunity for the amazing ingathering of Jews from all over
the world, and provided a needed refuge for persecuted Jewish communities
The ancient exile communities
of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Yemen have largely all immigrated to Israel.
The Jews at the four corners of the earth have also returned. The
Kurdish Jews, Bukharians, Indian Jews, and all the other groups are
now found in Israel.
The Ethiopian Jews have
been settled in Israel as full citizens. The Shinlung - Bene
Menashe also have a growing community in Israel.
Amazingly, the past few
years has seen the release and return of Russian Jewry to Israel -
an immigration of nearly one million people.
and Sefardim are alive and well in Israel. The Israel experience
has blended the communities, yet each maintains its unique heritage.
The prophecy and the promise
of exile and return have been fulfilled before our eyes. The descendants
of the ancient Hebrews are back. The Tribes of Israel have
come home, and the process is continuing.
There is another process
of return which is meant to accompany the physical return of the Tribes
of Israel to their Promised Land - that is a process of spiritual
Jewish identity, preserved
for centuries, is being forfeited by many modern Jews for lack of
Jewish knowledge or feeling. A heritage and a people which have survived
history and contributed so much to the world - as promised and as
prophesized - deserves a serious hearing.
Today's lost tribes of
Israel are not in Afghanistan or the Far East; they are the
Jews getting lost in the suburbs, in the universities, and in the
A movement of spiritual
return to Jewish roots and values is needed to help prevent these
Jews and their descendants from becoming lost from the Tribe.
VIII. BIBLICAL (TANACH) QUOTES
SOURCE #1: Kings II
17:9-12 - Taking Away the Tribes
"And it came to pass in
the fourth year of king Hizqiyyahu, which was the seventh year of
Hoshea son of Ela king of Yisra'el, that Shalman'eser king of Ashur
came up against Shomeron, and besieged it. And at the end of three
years they took it: in the sixth year of Hizqiyya, that is the ninth
year of Hoshea king of Yisra'el, Shomeron was taken. And the king
of Ashur did carry away Yisra'el to Ashur, and put them in Halah and
in Havor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Maday: because
they obeyed not the voice of the Lord their God, but transgressed
His covenant, and all that Moshe the servant of the Lord commanded,
and would not hear them, nor do them."
SOURCE #2: Chronicles
"And they transgressed
against the God of their fathers, and went astray after the gods of
the peoples of the land, whom God destroyed before them. And the God
of Yisra'el stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Ashur, and the spirit
of Tiglat-pilneser king of Ashur, and he carried them away, namely
the Re'uveni, and the Gadi, and the half-tribe of Menashe, and brought
them to Halah, and Havor, and Hara, and to the river Gozan, to this
SOURCE #3: Deuteronomy
29:27 "As it is this day…"
"And the Lord rooted them
out of their land in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation,
and cast them into another land, as it is this day."
SOURCE #4: Jeremiah
31: 6-9 Call Ingathering, Scatter / Gather "
… announce, praise, and
say, O Lord, save Thy people, the remnant of Yisra'el. Behold I will
bring them from the north country, and gather them from the ends of
the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child
and her that travails with child together: a great company shall return
there. They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I
lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a
straight way, in which they shall not stumble: for I am a father to
Yisra'el, and Efrayim is my firstborn. Hear the word of the Lord,
O you nations, and declare it in the isles far off, and say, He that
scattered Yisra'el will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd keeps
SOURCE #5: Ezekiel
37:19-22, 25 Gather Israel from Nations, Dwell in Israel Forever "
…Thus says the Lord God:
Behold I will take the stick of Yosef, which is in the hand of Efrayim,
and the tribes of Yisra'el his companions, and will put them and it
together with the stick of Yehuda to form one stick, and they shall
be one in my hand. And the sticks on which you write shall be in your
hand before their eyes. And say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold,
I will take the children of Yisra'el from among the nations, into
which they are gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring
them into their own land: and I will make them one nation in the land
upon the mountains of Yisra'el … And they shall dwell in the land
that I have given to Ya'aqov my servant, in which your fathers have
dwelt; and they shall dwell there, they, and their children, and their
children's children for ever…"
SOURCE #6: Ezekiel
39:28 Into Exile / Back to Land "
… I am the Lord their God,
who caused them to be led into exile among the nations: but I have
gathered them into their own land, and have left none of them there
SOURCE #7: Isaiah
11:11-12 Recover Remnant, Gather Four Corners
"And it shall come to pass
in that day, that the Lord shall set His Hand again the second time
to recover the remnant of His people, that shall be left, from Ashur,
and from Mitzrayim, from Patros, and from Kush, and from Elam, and
from Shin'ar, and from Hamat, and from the islands of the sea. And
he shall set up a banner for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts
of Yisra'el, and gather together the dispersed of Yehuda from the
four corners of the earth."
SOURCE #8: Isaiah
27:13 Return Lost in Ashur, Mitzrayim to Jerusalem
"And it shall come to pass
on that day, that a great shofar shall be blown, and they shall come
who were lost in the land of Ashur, and the outcasts in the land of
Mitzrayim, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mountain at Yerushalayim."
SOURCE #9: Isaiah
42:5-7 Bring Seed from East, West, North, South "
… I will bring your seed
from the east, and gather you from the west; I will say to the north,
Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring My sons from far,
and my daughters from the ends of the earth; every one that is called
by My name…"
SOURCE #10: Isaiah
49:11 Come From North, West, Siam
"Behold, these shall come
from far: and, lo, these from the north and from the west; and these
from the land of Sinim."
SOURCE #11: Jeremiah
3:18 Return - Yehuda and Yisrael
"In those days the house
of Yehuda shall walk with the house of Yisra'el, and they shall come
together out of the land of the north to the land that I have given
for an inheritance to your fathers."
SOURCE #12: Zachariah
10:9-10 Bring Back / Return to Land
"And I will sow them among
the peoples: and they shall remember me in far countries; and they
shall live with their children, and shall return. And I will bring
them back out of the land of Mitzrayim, and gather them out of Ashur,
and I will bring them into the land of Gil'ad and Levanon…"
The Exiled and the Redeemed
- Itzhak Ben Zvi
The Mystery of the Lost Tribes - Yehoshua Benjamin
The Thirteenth Gate - Tudor Parfit
Lost Tribes in Assyria - Rabbi Avihail
Historical Atlas of the Jewish People - E. Barnovi
DNA Chain of Tradition - Y. Kleiman - Jewish Action, Winter 1999
Decoding the Priesthood - Jerusalem Report - May 10, 1999
The Lost Tribes of Israel - Nova, PBS
Quest for the Lost Tribes - S. Jacobovici - Documentary Film
¨ Map of 12 Tribes in Israel
¨ World Map of exile communities
¨ Names of 12 Tribes on High Priest's breastplate
¨ Faces of various Jews
¨ Photos of ancient sites, Jews from far-away places