Showing posts with label myanmar. Show all posts
Showing posts with label myanmar. 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.

Sources
After 27 Centuries of Exile, 102 Bnei Menashe Head to Israel
Bnei Menashe
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
A Long-Lost Tribe is Ready to Come Home
These Incredible Photos Show Members of an Indian-Jewish 'Lost Tribe' Moving to Israel
Who Are We?
With DNA Tests, Mystery of the 'Lost Tribe' of Indian Jews Finally Solved

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Documentary Review: They Call It Myanmar

I'd heard of Myanmar before. I knew it used to be called (or is still currently called--that's still fuzzy) Burma. I knew that the US, along with several other members of the UN didn't recognize the current government (which actually turned out to be incorrect) and I knew that it was in South Asia. That was about it, so watching this documentary was an excellent learning experience for me.

Image result for they call it myanmarThis documentary was put together by a Cornell Physics professor, who also, in his spare time, writes novels, makes films, and assists the US Government in humanitarian work overseas. He was working for an NGO in Myanmar when he made the film. When making this documentary he took advantage of his connections with the locals to interview them about their opinions about the direction of Burmese politics, and to get the opinion of people living in one of the most isolated countries in the world.

So Myanmar, like so much of Southern Asia, was absorbed into a colonial empire, in their case the British Empire. Around 1940 the Burmese government reached out to the Japanese for help liberating them from the English. The Japanese obliged, but they also made things a whole hell of a lot worse, so the Burmese had to call on the English again for help. With the help of the allied powers, the Burmese were able to kick the Japanese out of Burma, and establish their own independent government. All was going well until 1962 when the military took over the running of the government.

After taking power, the Burmese military quickly cut all ties with the outside world. They isolated themselves as a group, making it difficult for normal people to have their voice heard in government. Due to their isolation and some poor economic decisions, Myanmar is now one of the poorest countries in Asia.

Image result for myanmar mapThis film explores the day-to-day life of the Burmese, and what they have to do to survive. Blankets and bedding are pawned in the morning to pay for bus fare, children rarely go to school past the first or second grade, and most laborers make less than $1 USD a day.

But in addition to the extreme poverty, this documentary also explores the strong spiritual life of Myanmar. Myanmar is, essentially, a Buddhist state, and the Burmese are a very religious people. According to the film, many Burmese attribute their poverty to mistakes made in past lives, and try to live better lives by weekly worship.

This is a very interesting documentary, and a good introduction to modern Myanmar. I have to admit, I didn't 100% understand everything that was shown, simply because I didn't know much of the history of post WWII South Asia. There was also a lot of political information in the film, that I didn't summarize here, simply because I wasn't quite sure how to. Which is why if you have a couple hours, and are interested, I would highly recommend watching it.