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Tracking the Lost Tribes

Yerucham Landesman

Rabbi Yitzchak Chinagel's life mission — finding the Ten Lost Tribes — has led to extensive research on the Pashtuns of Pakistan and Afghanistan and a search for the Sambatyon and the Bnei Moshe living beyond it. His research has taken him to China twice, and although both trips were aborted abruptly, Rav Chinagel hasn’t yet given up his quest

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

When he met two Pakistani teenagers at the northern border of China, Rabbi Yitzchak Chinagel was certain that he was about to receive yet another confirmation of a theory of his — something he had long suspected to be the case. Although they looked and acted like Muslims, these teens originated from a town deep in Pakistan — a town where, Rav Chinagel feels certain, hundreds of thousands of descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel live today.

The Ten Tribes were exiled by Sancheriv, King of Assyria, before the destruction of the First Beis HaMikdash, as a Divine punishment for idol worship. But Rashi in masechta Sanhedrin (110b) writes that only that first generation had actually worshipped idols; subsequent generations were righteous. After Sancheriv’s death, says Rabbi Chinagel, substantial numbers decided to move out of the areas in which Sancheriv had forced them to settle, in order to avoid assimilating into the surrounding non-Jewish population.

“There are approximately twenty million ‘Pashtuni’ tribespeople living in Pakistan and Afghanistan today who descend from the Ten Tribes,” asserts Rav Chinagel. “Aside from other proofs, such as traditions and behaviors that are reminiscent of ancient Jewish life, their names — Ravni (from Reuven), Shimani (from Shimon), Livani (from Levi), etc. — make it evident that their ancestors were Jews. Many of the tribesmen carry amulets written by the head of their tribe, which seem likely to contain the text of Shema Yisrael. And they make a concerted effort not to intermarry with the Muslims living in the larger cities of the region.

“The Pashtuns are the largest among the lost tribes that are spread throughout Asia and Africa, but they have retained only some vague vestiges of Jewish life, even though it is clear that they were originally among the tribes of Israel,” Rabbi Chinagel contends. “Others have held onto some fundamental principles of the Torah, but over the years have forgotten numerous concepts and traditions.

“There are other groups who have managed to retain more of their Jewish identity — the Beta Israel from Ethiopia, for instance, who, according to the Radbaz, are descendants of the tribe of Dan. The Beta Israel observed almost all of the practices of Yiddishkeit, with some notable exceptions like tefillin. But they had a Tanach in their own language, and most fundamental principles of Judaism are intact in their belief system. The prophet Yirmiyahu (35) refers to one group as ‘bnei hareichavim,’ who swore to always remain faithful to Jewish life and practice.

“But my investigations have focused primarily on finding a group of people known as the Bnei Moshe, who seem to have a kingdom with a Sanhedrin and proper Torah leadership. This is the tribe that I would like to locate.”

 

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