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Showing posts with label india. Show all posts
Showing posts with label india. Show all posts

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Bnei Menashe-A Lost Tribe of Israel

Claiming descent from Menashe (or Manasseh), the Bnei Menashe are a community of Jews living in the eastern state of Manipur in India, and over the borders in neighboring Bangladesh and Myanmar. Though they hadn't lived in the Levant area for more than 2000 years, these people are slowly making their way back to Israel, and reclaiming their Jewish religion and heritage.

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Bnei Menashe heading to Israel.
To understand the Bnei Menashe, you have to understand a bit of Jewish history. After the death of King Solomon, his son, Rehoboam, took the throne. Rehoboam was a bit of a dick, so United Israel had itself a little war. Ten tribes, under the leadership of Jeroboam, split away from Rehoboam, leaving him with two. These two kingdoms became Israel and Judah respectively. With the tribes of Levi¹, Judah, and Benjamin in the Kingdom of Judah.

So time went on, and in about 722 BCE Assyria conquered the Kingdom of Israel, enslaving it's people, and deporting them to other parts of Assyria. Judah was left alone, and most modern Jews claim their descent from those Judean tribes.

So when Assyria fell in 612 BCE, the Menashe escaped. Leery of being enslaved again, the Menashe went east, avoiding major cities. They went so far east, that in 240 BCE, they ended up in China. They started in Tibet, but later moved to the city of Kaifeng. Unfortunately, while in China they were enslaved again. The Bne Menashe were forced to assimilate, and killed in large numbers. Not being down with that, a number of them escaped to live in caves. They were safe in their caves, but in 100 BCE they were expelled from China. That's when the majority of them settled in the Manipur-Myanmar-Bangladesh region.
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Kingdoms of Israel and Judah in the 800 BCEs
The Menashe lived in this region for several thousand years without too much disruption. They intermarried with the locals, and adopted some local beliefs, but maintained many of their traditional religious practices, such as a festival where unleavened bread was eaten, and songs about crossing through a large body of water that split in two.

In 1894, Christianity arrived. Recognizing their own oral history in some of the tales from the Old Testament, many of the Menashe adopted Christianity, and practiced for nearly 100 years.

However, in the 1950s some of the Menashe started to question if their ancestors had practiced Christianity at all. Further research lead to the idea that their ancestors may have been Jewish instead of Christian, and while this was just fine with some of the Menashe, several of the Menashe decided to reclaim their Jewish past. They applied to join the new state of Israel, but were denied because they just weren't Jewish enough.

However, in the latter half of the twentieth century Israel changed its tune. While the Menashe are still required to undergo halachic conversion, they are now allowed to immigrate freely to Israel. In April of 2016, DNA testing proved that the Bnei Menashe share Jewish ancestry.

¹"Wait, that's three tribes!" you say. Well, kinda. the Levites were the designated priests of ancient Judaism, so the were set apart from the whole 12 tribes thing. If you include the Levites, there's actually 13 tribes: Ephraim, Manasseh, Levi, Judah, Simeon, Ruben, Issachar, Asher, Dan, Gad, Benjamin, Naphtali, and Zebulun.

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Does Push for India's 'Lost Tribe of Menashe' Signal New Interest in Far-Flung Jewish Communities?
Over 100 Members of Indian 'Lost Jewish Tribe' To Make Aliya
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With DNA Tests, Mystery of the 'Lost Tribe' of Indian Jews Finally Solved

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Damn, Girl-Lakshmi Bai

Rani (Queen) Lakshmi Bai is often called the 'Joan of Arc of India', and with good reason. At just 22 years old she seized control of the kingdom of Jhansi, and spearheaded a revolt against the British. Like Joan, Lakshmi's life was short, but she certainly caused the English a lot of trouble.

Image result for Lakshmi BaiLakshmi was the daughter of a scholar and a king's adviser. She was raised with the young men of the court, and in addition to learning the usual school subjects, she was also trained in combat. She was, by all accounts, a lovely and intelligent young lady, and the age of fifteen, she married Raja Gangadhar Rao, Maharaja of the kingdom of Jhansi.

The couple were married for about ten years until Gangadhar died of illness. They had no surviving children, and so they had adopted a young cousin, Damodar Rao, as their own, and the throne passed to Damodar, despite the fact that he was only five years old.

Enter the English. The English had a policy at the time of stealing every bit of land they could. It was no different with Jhansi. In a move reminiscent of the Romans dealings with Boudicca, the English refused to recognize Damodar as being the rightful heir, and they moved in to take control. Lakshmi was granted a pension of 5,000 rupees a month, and Damodar was allowed to keep his palace, but control of Jhansi had ceded to the enemy.

Now, as you might imagine, the Indians were non too pleased with this arrangement. Big shock, I know. The Indians weren't very fond of having the British in their country in general, but then the English went a step too far, or the Indians thought that they did.
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See, the English had enlisted thousands of sepoys, or native Indian soldiers, both Muslim and Hindu. When their superior officers introduced the Enfield Cartridges, the soldiers balked. They had heard rumors that the cartridges were greased with beef and pig fat. As the soldiers had to put the cartridge in their mouth to tear off the end before they could load it in the gun, they would be getting a small amount of beef or pork in their mouth, and, as you may no, beef and pork are serious no-nos in Hinduism and Islam respectively.

So the sepoys were being difficult. And by 'being difficult' I mean they were in revolt. To add to that, local revolutionaries in Jhansi had risen up and killed all the English civil servants and their families. This is when Lakshmi took control of the situation.

The narrative splits into two parts from here. Some sources claim that Lakshmi took instant control of the situation, and started hacking away at the English. There were even rumors that she'd started the revolt in the first place. Other sources claim that she took control of Jhansi in the name of the English, and asked them what to do. They never got back to her, so she just did what she wanted until the English pitched a fit a few months later.

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The statue of Lakshmi at Jhansi
Here is where the story comes back together. The English soldiers marched on Jhansi, and besieged the fort where Lakshmi was living with her adopted son. Lakshmi commanded her soldiers as well as the rebels, and though they held the fort for a long time, they eventually had to escape.

From there they fled east to Gwalior. There had been skirmishes along the way, and by this point Lakshmi's forces were tired and few in number. In a last ditch effort against the English, Lakshmi tied her son to her back, armed herself with two swords, and plunged into battle. It was in this battle that she was killed.
 Today Lakshmi is remembered as a brilliant Indian queen who fought for freedom from the English. She is revered by the Indians, and her statue watches over Jhansi to this day.

Encyclopedia Britannica
Maps of India
History Net
The Famous People