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November 17, 1989 - Image 27

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-11-17

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repository of ancient Jewish religious
questions and responsa] that
Judaism was an actively proselytiz-
ing religion in its first millennium. We
know that Jewish Berber tribes cross-
ed the Sahara, and we know that as
late as the end of the 18th century
there was a Jewish tribe south of
Timbuktoo which was loathed and
hated by its Moslem neighbors:'
What is certain is that recognition
by Israel's rabbinic authorities of the
Ethiopian Falashas as part of the lost
Tribe of Dan—and their subsequent
airlift to the Jewish State—has fired
Lemba dreams and expectations.
In his book, "The Thirteenth Gate"
(published by Weidenfeld), Parfitt
records a poignant conversation with
Solomon Sadiki, a Lemba in Soweto:
"Israel takes care of its lost tribes,
is it not so?"
"I believe it is so, Solomon:'
"They rescued the Tribe of Dan

from Ethiopia, didn't they?"
"They did, Solomon:'
"They might rescue us, too!"
"Yes, they might:'
"But our trouble, you know, is that
we have forgotten which tribe we are."
The same cannot be said of the two-
million-strong Shinlung tribe, who in-
habit the remote north-eastern areas
of India and neighboring parts of
Burma and Bangladesh. The Shin-
lung insist that they are descended
from the biblical Tribe of Manasseh,
son of Joseph.
They have many ancient tribal
songs about "Manmasi," the descen-
dants of Joseph, who, they believe,
spent centuries travelling from Persia
to Afghanistan, to China, to Vietnam
and then down into Burma and India.
Like the Lemba, the Shinlung prac-
tise customs that hint strongly at
Semitic roots or influence. Like the
Lemba, too, many of these customs

have been eroded or forgotten under
the impact of Christian missionaries.
Nevertheless, the Shinlung recall
that before the advent of the Baptist
missionaries, their ancestors wor-
shipped a supreme god called
Pathien, practiced animal sacrifice,
slaughtered their meat according to
Jewish ritual and observed Jewish
dietary laws.
Moreover, in keeping with Jewish
law, they circumcised their sons on
the eighth day after birth and wore
a variety of blue and white "tzitzit"
[four-cornered, fringed undergar-
ments worn by observant Jews].
The Shinlung are currently in the
grip of a religious revival that began
20 years ago when a local preacher,
Tanruma of Manipur, predicted that
they would be destroyed if they did
not abandon Christianity and return
to their Jewish roots.
Since then, small synagogues have

Are The Japanese
A Lost Tribe Of Israel?


ome of the most colorful of the
groups claiming descent from
the Lost Tribes of Israel can
be found in Japan, a country which
has been fascinated by Jews,
Judaism and Israel for the past 50
rffidor Parfitt was overwhelmed
by the enthusiasm and the sheer
organizational genius of the two ma-
jor neo-Judaic groups, the Makuya
and the Beit Shalom, which claim
tens of thousands of .devout adher-
ents and which spare no effort to
demonstrate their love of Israel and
He discovered that for many
Japanese, a connection with the
Lost Tribe of Zebulun (Hada) is no
Indeed, the belief that the im-
perial family itself is descended
from the Lost Tribe has given rise
to a compendium of legends, most
notably that the imperial mirror,
which forms the core of the Shinto
shrine of Ise, has Hebrew letters for
the name of God written on its four
Japan's modern anti-Semites,
however, seem to match the coun-
try's philo-Semites in their
Parfitt believes that the key to
understanding the "remarkable and
little studied phenomenon" of
Japanese anti-Semitism is to be
found in a 1904 encounter in Lon-
don between the Deputy Governor
of the Bank of Japan and an
American-Jewish financier, Jacob

The Japanese were at war with
Russia and, desperate for a loan to
fund the fight against their more
powerful opponent, the Japanese
turned to Jacob Schiff. In the after-
math of the Kishinev pogrom, the
Jewish financier was only too
pleased to do anything he could to
harm the Russians, and proceeded
to raise a bond issue of US $200
million, which enabled Japan to,
fight on and, eventually, to win the
"It was this incident!" according
to Parfitt, "that gave the Japanese
the idea that Jews have unlimited
access to money and power."
Japanese anti-Semitism was rife
during the 1920s and 1930s but,
paradoxically, it relented when Jews
sought a safe haven from Nazi
persecution in Europe.
A high-level decision was taken in
Japan to settle Jewish refugees in
Japan's newly-acquired Manchurian
territories. The Japanese authorities
calculated that this plan—the Fugu
Plan — would certainly win Japan
the gratitude and financial clout of
the Jewish powerbrokers, while the
"Jewish newspaper, radio and film
monopoly" would portray Japan in
a favorable light.
The Fugu Plan never material-
ized, but several thousand Jews
were granted a haven by the
Japanese, some of whom nonethe-
less went on to believe that Japan's
defeat in World War II was the
result of an international Jewish
"It seems," says Parfitt, "that

whenever Japanese society feels
itself to be in a state of crisis, anti-
Semitism surfaces:'
He had the opportunity to discuss
these matters with a member of the
Japanese Imperial Family, Prince
Mikasa no Miya Takahito, uncle of
the present emperor and a former
student at London University's
School of Oriental and African
The Hebrew-speaking prince, now
director of the Institute for Middle
East Studies in Japan, agreed that
the Japanese fascination with the
Jews stemmed from the conviction
that Jews were richer, smarter, more
in control of things than anyone
"There are two tendencies, are
there not?" he suggested. "One is
anti-Semitic, the other is philo-
Semitic. But they are both based on
emotional rather than factual
The prince was also well-ac-
quainted with the theory that he
and his family were descendants of
the Tribe of Zebulun, but his own
studies had led him to the conclu-
sion "that the Japanese and the
Jews are quite different and that our
religious systems are quite dif-
"It seems to me that the Jewish
religion is very severe, very strict,
while Shintoism is emotional and
not at all strict!' he told Parfitt. "I
do not believe that the Japanese
people could tolerate such a strict
religion as Judaism."
— Helen Davis




authorities as being part of the Tribe
of Dan.
Like the Falashas, the Lemba also
speak of originating in the city of
Senna "in the north," which has
variously been located on the Nile
River or as Sa'ana, the capital of
modern-day Yemen.
According to the oral history of the
Lemba, their forefathers "crossed the
river" and built "Senna Thro," before
migrating to Zimbabwe, where they
claim to have been the chief archi-
tects and builders of Great Zim-
babwe, whose awesome and myster-
ious ruins intrigue anthropologists to
this day.
While the Lemba themselves are
convinced of their Jewish origins, no
definitive study has been made of
their history or of their claims to be-
ing one of the Lost Tribes. That claim
Will become all the more difficult to
assess as many young Lemba aban-
don their custom of marrying only
within the tribe.
Already, notes Parfitt, many Lem-
ba customs, remembered only dimly
by tribal elders, have been distorted
by the effects of the relatively recent
arrival of Christianity or diluted by
the practices of their dominant Ven-
da neighbors.
During the course of his six-month
attempt to trace the Lemba's path of
migration, Parfitt plunged deep into
Africa, living in African villages, ac-
cepting hospitality as he went along.
He found 200,000 Lemba in Zim-
babwe, where they live under the
authority of a tribal chief, and
another smaller group in Malawi,
where they are mainly brothel-
owners, quite rich, and describe
themselves as "Israelites who believe
in Mohammed!'
He also ventured into Mozambique,
where he discovered a smattering of
Lemba, mostly around a town on the
Zambezi River called, intriguingly,
Despite his extensive research, Par-
fitt is reluctant to pass judgment on
the Lemba's claims to their ancient
ancestry. It is, he believes, possible
that they are the innocent victims of
European romanticism.
The early white explorers, he points
out, had high expectations of discov-
ering a biblical land in Africa—or, at
the very least, of finding some traces
of Solomon and Sheba.
"What," asks Dr Parfitt, "could be
more natural than that they should
impose their ideas on local people
who looked Semitic and who had
some unusual, apparently Semitic,
On the other hand, he concedes, it
is not entirely fanciful to believe that
Jewish ideas filtered down through
Africa—or, indeed, that the Lemba
are the "distant relatives of people
who were either Jewish or strongly in-
fluenced by Jewish ideas:'
"We know from the Cairo Gineza [a

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