Right of Reply: The Bnei Menashe truth

Our history has been long obscured.

bnei menashe 88 (photo credit: )
bnei menashe 88
(photo credit: )
Often when people talk about the Bnei Menashe, as in Amir Mizroch's article ("An ever-expanding pool of would-be immigrants," Jerusalem Post, November 25), they resemble the blind men who emerged with different opinions about what constitutes an elephant, depending on which part of the animal they touched. Finding the truth about this people of Northeast India can't be acquired over a two-day trip. These people have had their tradition intermingled with various modern beliefs which the missionaries inculcated. Its inner essence became hidden, so that short-term visitors only see the outside. The Kukis disliked foreign culture in the past. When Christianity begun spreading its wings among them in the late 19th century, some among the Kukis begun to follow Christianity, establishing the first Christian Baptist church in 1894 at Tujang Vaichong village. The news of the establishment of the church stirred the Kuki leaders of the time to rebel against British rule and the spread of alien tradition and culture, lead to the 1917-1919 Kuki War of Independence. Though hundreds of British soldiers lost their lives, their well-armed army prevailed. Christianity begun to spread like a plague through all parts of Kuki country. But the question is what did these people worship before the advent of Christianity? Christian Kukis would answer what they were taught by the missionaries, i.e. "our forefathers worshiped unknown spirits of the jungle, a snake, or trees and stones." This notion is complete nonsense. Our Kuki forefathers knew the God who is the creator of all and has control over all His creatures. To Him only they offered sacrifices and prayed. The missionaries abolished all these traditions, and an erroneous notion of our heritage was inculcated among Kuki Christian youths. This is the reason why most of the Kuki people today consider their traditions to be against the living God, whom they believe is Jesus, as taught them by the missionaries. NOW WE are trying our level best return to our roots. We want to spread our true national identity and its religion to all Kukis no matter where and what he is. This is not considered proselytizing another people, which is against Jewish law, as Amir Mizroch noted. So long as we don't teach Judaism to gentiles who are not from the Kuki tribes, we are not violating the Law of Return. Rather, it is a mitzva to teach the Kukis who they are and whom they should worship. There is nothing political or against the law in bringing back these lost tribes to their roots. I have been back in Manipur twice as an emissary to teach Judaism among the Kukis, pointing out the connection of our customs, culture and traditional belief with those of the Jewish tradition. Some became excited about the connection to the exclusion of all else. Therefore I explain to them the importance of Halakha for living a truly Jewish life, which is the most important goal after learning our true identity. Many have come back to their Jewish roots and embraced Judaism in this manner, one of the reasons for the tremendous growth in number of Kukis now practicing Judaism The Kuki love for the land of Israel did not begun with the missionaries. There is an ancient traditional belief that the Kukis will one day return to their land. While tradition does not mention the name of the land, when the Kukis read the Bible brought by the missionaries, some said that its laws were very similar to what had been practiced in the past. They begun investigating the matter in the latter half of the 20th century, and eventually discovered the true identity of our people and of its religion - Judaism. The Amishav and Shavei Israel organizations take great care not to bring Christian Kukis to our land. We who live here are cautious not to bring over our Christian relatives unless they have fully accepted the 13 principles of Jewish faith and live life according to Halacha. I hope all the Kukis will one day return to our roots with the help of God. The writer is about to publish a book on the Bnei Menashe and their Jewish origin, based on the talmudic and midrasic teaching that are at root of the ancient tradition of the Kukis.