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.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

First Certificate of Portuguese citizenship

It is reported that the first certificate of Portuguese citizenship for a Sephardic Jew has been issued. One Internet source has unofficially named the recipient as Daniela Ruah. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/sephardic-descendants---american-former-model-is-the-first-to-obtain-the-certificate-288184911.html

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Portuguese Nationality for Sephardic Descendants

Portugal's Sephardic nationality law has been published. An Ashkenazi rabbi in Porto, guided by an Ashkenazi beit din in London, will decide if you are Sephardic enough!

2015 - The Year of Sephardic Genealogy

Late 2014 saw online skirmishing between two different approaches to Sephardic genealogy. On one side were Sephardic genealogists and academics demanding that genealogy be evidence-based. On the other was what we can describe as Ashkenazi 'Sephardic experts' who seek to understand the Sephardic experience through traditional fictional Ashkenazi representations of Sephardim. What the second group may have lacked in evidence was more than compensated by their numbers.

2015 will be an interesting year for Jewish genealogy.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

New YouTube channel

Sephardic Genealogy has a new YouTube channel. Original content will be posted in the next couple of weeks, once I get a microphone!

Friday, 14 February 2014

Sephardic Spanish Nationality

The FCDE - the organisation of Spanish Jews - has published a statement on Sephardim receiving Spanish citizenship. Effectively they are saying that everything is provisional and that they are waiting instructions from the Spanish government on how to judge whether someone is eligible for a passport.

The Spanish Government seems to be confused. They believe:
  • There are 3.5 million Sephardim. I would guess there is a fraction of that number assuming we classify 'Sephardim' as Jews of Iberian origin who belongs to a Sephardic synagogue of that origin. If we are being more lax, then I have seen estimates that there are 17 million Brazilians of Sephardic origin.
  • There are Sephardic surnames. Not true. There are Spanish and Portuguese surnames used by Sephardim.
  • That Sephardim come from Spain. Yes, people did, but a Sephardic identity only developed after 1492. Prior to that, Jews will have identified with their city or region.
  • That Sephardic history in Spain ended in 1492. There is a whole tourist industry now re-vamping the old Jewish Quarters of cities. The 16th to 18th Centuries - the main Inquisition period - is erased from their consciousness.
  • That 21st Century morality must be applied to people living in the 15th Century.
  • Sephardim speak or spoke Ladino. Not true. Ladino was a language that evolved amongst the Eastern (Ottoman) Sephardim. Portuguese was the lingua franca of the Western Sephardim, although many also spoke Spanish.
  • That it is possible to prove genealogy. I am probably unusual in having genealogy back to Spain, but this is to ancestors who escaped in 1700. 
  • That Sephardim are a cohesive group originating in Spain. Not true. Other Jewish communities were absorbed by the Eastern Sephardim.
  • There is a difference between Spanish and Portuguese Jews. Probably most Jews in Portugal in 1493 had recently arrived from Spain, but a substantial number were Portuguese natives.
  • That the history is clean cut. It isn't. Perhaps a proportion of the ancestors of the Western Sephardim DIDN'T leave Spain in 1492. They kept their assets, and slipped out later.
  • Sephardim have been yearning for Spain. Not true. It's a foreign country. Many of our ancestors were actively involved in fighting the Spanish Empire and undermining its economy.
  • Sephardim can be identified. Well, no. Is someone - like me - with a Spanish surname, born into a Sephardic congregation but also with Ashkenazi ancestors, considered Sephardi by their terms? There is a famous Sephardic family called Eskenazi ('Ashkenazi'). Do we count them? What about descendants of Sephardim who later settled in eastern Europe, for example a branch of the Mendoza family who changed their name to Mendelevitch?
  • In a simple 'Exodus'. Yet the descendants of many 1492 exiles later returned to Spain.
  • Somehow the modern Spanish - probably most of whom now have some Sephardic ancestry - should apologise to us, many of whom probably have some non-Jewish ancestry
  • One group of people who weren't alive or involved in the event should apologise to another group of people who weren't alive at the time, or involved (or, in some cases, aware that these events had happened).

I have seen it suggested that there is Sephardic DNA. This is not true. For example, I have impeccable Sephardic lineage, family members burnt alive etc, but my DNA is probably indistinguishable from most Spaniards or west Europeans.

Part of me wonders if even Spanish philo-Semitism springs out of the ferocious anti-Semitic tradition of the Spanish Catholic Church. Maybe Prime Minister Rajoy and his friends believe we are all rich and own America! Some (admittedly stupid) Spaniards on Twitter are suggesting Sephardic visas are an indication of Israeli hegemony. Why Israel would want Jews to live elsewhere is not discussed. Lets see if the initiative stokes anti-Semitism in Spain.

Spain has about 25% unemployment and is facing the richest region declaring independence. Surely they have more serious priorities than nostalgic fantasies. Presumably the outcome of all this nonsense will be several thousand Israelis and Turkish Jews getting passports so they can settle in Britain or Germany, if they choose.

And, of course, what about descendants of Muslims expelled from Spain?