July 16, 2024
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July 16, 2024
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Lost Tribes of Israel and America’s First Jews

Have you ever wondered what happened to the descendants of the Sephardic pioneers who first settled North America in the colonial period? Undoubtedly, many assimilated and have become part of the melting pot that is America, but wouldn’t it be interesting to find out if there are still any identifiable Jewish descendants out there today?

Mordecai Manuel Noah (July 14, 1785, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania–May 22, 1851, New York) was the most important Jewish lay leader in New York in the early 19th century, and the first Jew born in the United States to reach national prominence. Noah was a proud Jew of mixed Sephardic-Ashkenazic parentage and a tireless advocate for his people throughout his career. He wrote several books and pamphlets wherein he expresses a great interest in Jewish history including the story of the Lost Tribes and what might have become of them.

He shared the belief that some Native American “Indians” were from the Lost Tribes of Israel, on which he wrote the “Discourse on the Evidence of the American Indians being the Descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel” in his “Discourse on the Restoration of the Jews.”

Noah can also be characterized as a proto-Zionist. One of his most ambitious and far-out ideas was to create a safe haven—a Jewish state of sorts on Grand Island on the Niagara River in New York!

Currently, there is a tour guide in Israel named Rabbi Henri Noah. On his website he claims the famous Mordecai Manuel Noah as his “eclectic” ancestor. But apparently he does not mean it in the literal sense. In an interview for numismaticnews.com he states, “Our family’s ancestry goes back to the 18th century in Germany. One branch immigrated to Holland, and another branch to the United States,” Noach said. “Mordecai Noah descends from this latter branch, while my branch of the family immigrated to Holland in the late 18th century. The bottom line is we are related, but I have not been able to trace the line of common descent.”

Aside from tour guiding, Rabbi Noah is also active in Shavei Israel, an organization that helps “lost Jews” reconnect with their distant Jewish heritage.

In his book “Reinterpreting Indian Ocean Worlds,”’ Stefan Halikowski-Smith writes, “Amishav [now known as Shavei Israel]…organization, dedicated to the finding of…lost tribes, organized an expedition to visit the Pathans as well as the Kashmiris in 1982. One of the delegates was a young rabbinical student called Henry Noach, a descendant of the illustrious Manuel Noah who had been such a strong supporter of the Israelites in America theory. According to the Jerusalem Report, “While visiting the Kashmiri National Museum, Noah met its director, Prof. Hassnain, who asked the young tourist where he was from. Noach replied that he’d come from Jerusalem looking for traces of the 10 tribes. Hassnain became visibly excited. “I’ve waited for you for 30 years!” he said, explaining that he’’d written a book tracing the Israleite origin of the 5 million Kashmiri Sunni Muslims. And indeed the claim to be of Isralite extraction is widespread among Kashmiris.

The theory that the 50-million strong ethnic Pathans of Afghanistan and Pakistan are descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes has a long history.

Several years ago, a Canadian Jewish filmmaker, Simcha Jacobovici, reached the same conclusion. In a video documentary called “Quest for the Lost Tribes” he travels halfway around the world interviewing Indo-Chinese and Bucharian Jews, among others, until he arrives in Afghanistan, then as now a war-torn region. There, he meets with several Pashtun tribesmen who relate to him a tradition of Jewish origin. That tradition and their “unmistakably Semitic faces” leaves Jacobovici with the feeling of certainty that he stumbled upon the real thing.

In 2010, an article in The Guardian claimed that “The Pashtuns have a proud oral history that talks of descending from the Israelites. Their tribal groupings have similar names, including Yusufzai, which means sons of Joseph; and Afridi, thought by some to come from Ephraim. Some customs and practices are said to be similar to Jewish traditions: lighting candles on the Sabbath, refraining from eating certain foods, using a canopy during a wedding ceremony and some similarities in garments.”

I must confess that I too strongly believed in this once and eagerly awaited for science to dispel any lingering doubts.

Several years ago, a DNA study by the University of Chicago was conducted with likely strong indicators that the bulk of the Pashtuns are in fact not of Hebrew or Semitic descent. The report reads in part:

“Two populations, the Kashmiris and the Pathans, also lay claim to a possible Jewish origin. Jewish populations commonly have a moderate frequency of haplogroup 21(20%) and a high frequency of haplogroup 9(36%). The frequencies of both of these haplogroups are low in both the Pathans and Kashmiris so no support of Jewish origin is found, although again this conclusion is limited both by the small sample size available from Kashmir and by the assumption that the modern samples are representative of ancient populations.”

Is that the final word on the subject? Unlikely.

One forensic anthropologist maintained in response that “genetic studies are highly ambiguous, especially when looking for ancient genetic data.”

To be continued…

The author runs Channeling Jewish History and is a writer, researcher and translator. He can be reached at [email protected].

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