Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Amishav - Religious Zionist "discoverer" of "Lost Tribes"

Amishav for the Dispersed and Banished Tribes of Judah and Israel or, more simply, Amishav (http://amishav-onetree.org/) was founded by Israeli rabbi Eliyahu Avichail in 1975 with the encouragement of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, spiritual leader of religious Zionist Judaism, including the settlement of the Gush Etzion bloc adjacent to Jerusalem. The group appears to have been registered as a charity (#580014215) in Israel in 1982. Avichail appointed Michael Freund to run the organisation but they later quarrelled and Freund left to establish Shavei Israel. 

Amishav are especially involved (as are Shavei) with the Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribe(s) of north-east India who are now known as the “Bnei Menashe”. Speaking Tibeto-Burmese languages, before their encounter with Christianity they were animists who practiced ritual headhunting. When the first Christian missionaries arrived in the 1890s they associated their believed ancestor, Manmaseh, with the Biblical Menasseh, son of Joseph. They converted to Christianity. A second wave of evangelism, from Wales, in the early 20th Century sought to extinguish indigenous customs.  A wave of Revivalism in the 1920s created a more syncretic belief system. They took a literal view of the Bible, adopting Biblical Jewish customs. By the 1970s members of the community had adopted a pseudo-Jewish identity. When Rabbi Avichail arrived in the 1980s - unqualified as a historian, ethnographer or anthropologist - he declared them to be “Bnei Menashe”. The chances of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo being descended from Jews is probably zero.

Amishav are not involved with the ‘crypto-Judaism’ or the bnei Anusim movement but are important to the development of Shavei Israel. One website costs their bringing 40 members of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo to Israel at both US$18,000/year and US$32,000/year.Their budget is only around 5% the size of Shavei's, so are inevitably overshadowed by the larger organisation.

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