April 18, 2024
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April 18, 2024
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Is that a yarmulke on the man standing? Does that Indian to his right have peyot?

As everybody knows, the first Thanksgiving was at Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts in 1621, when the Wampanoag Indians1 joined the pilgrims for a festive meal of thanks to the Lord for the harvest. Or was it?

The Jewish people have been giving thanks for well over 3,000 years—as commanded in the Torah—and it is a tradition that is carried on until today. When the Beit HaMikdash was standing, a person who survived a potentially life-threatening situation—e.g., crossing a desert or a sea, imprisonment or serious illness—brought a korban todah, a thanksgiving offering, to express his gratitude to God for saving him.2

So, let’s examine this Thanksgiving. There is a theory that I have been tracing that at least one, maybe two of the “lost tribes” of Israel settled in the Americas—Gad as North American Indians and Reuven as Seminoles. Another theory is that many of the Pilgrims were Jews leaving England. (Note the yarmulke in the picture!) Now we have Jews leaving England meeting Jews in America—is that peyot on the Indian next to the man standing?—and what do you think they would do? Have a meal together!

How did they get here?

The most dominant theory is that they crossed the Bering Strait into North America and became Native Americans.3 Over time, these people broke into tribes.

A common trend among Native American tribes was the fact that people weren’t interested in time for the sake of time itself. There were no clocks or calendars. And so, time was told by the ebb and flow of tides, by the ripening of the strawberries, by the sun’s position in the sky, by watching stars rise and fall, or by knowing when the bears wake from hibernation.

Native Americans followed the lunar cycle. The first signs of skywatching among the Native Americans are rocks and bones that have scratches that corresponded with the lunar cycle. Lunar cycles were named after what was happening at the time. For instance, one tribe named one lunar cycle “laying geese” and another cycle “coming caribou.”

Native Americans as Jews.4

The first thought of Native American Jews that I had was that the Mayans and Incas believed in circumcision. Who in their right mind would do that unless it was a religious thing? Then every morning they arise early and pray “to the Sun God.” Well in the U.S., so do we Jews—except we say we are facing east to the land of Israel. And they believe that there is but one God who created all that exists, i.e., heaven and earth!

The Lakota Sioux tribe believes that before creation Wakan Tanka (supreme being and creator) existed in a great emptiness called Han (darkness). Feeling lonely, he decided to create companions for himself and he formed the Sun (Wi), Sky (Skan), Earth (Maka).5

Every tribe of Native Americans worshiped a creator—Manitou—supreme ruler and master of life. Some tribes had different names for God,6 e.g., Hahgwehdiyu (Iroquois); Tirawa (Pawnee); Apistotookii (Blackfoot); Tsohanoai (Navajo); and Inti (Inca). They also had different references to what we know as Satan—Hahgwehdaetgan, God of Evil (Iroquois) or Malsumis, Cruel, Evil God (Abenaki). And they had other spirits who were with them through their day, much like we have when we do the bedtime Shema and ask Hashem to have Michoel, Gavriel, Uriel and Rephael surround us for comfort.

Another custom is niddah, which as we know, has the general meaning of “to make distant,” e.g., separate from others for 11 (Sephardi) or 12 (Ashkenazi) days. American Indian women in niddah live in a separate small house which serves as a place for personal reflection as well as a space for learning from women elders. Indians often view menstruation as a time when girls and women are spiritually powerful, and is also believed to be a time when young women can have visions.

Many Native American cultures traditionally honor women while in niddah. The general reasoning is that if everyone could bleed (sometimes profusely) without dying for days on end, they must be tapping into otherworldly powers. To them it indicated that a woman in niddah was holy; she was purifying herself and she was spiritually powerful. Because of these beliefs, women in niddah were often looked upon as spiritual leaders who could aid tribes with unique guidance and advice.

Some tribes have customs that show the connection between Native Americans and Judaism. Among the Cherokee tribe, they carried an ark into battle, celebrated seven feasts, kept the seventh day of rest, had cities of refuge, and didn’t eat pork.

Additional Proof.

A curious incident that drew considerable attention and “proved,” at least to some, that Native Americans had ancient Israelite origins unfolded when tefillin (phylacteries) were “discovered” in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in the early 19th century. Their discoverer wrote that this “forms another link in the evidence by which our Indians are identified with the ancient Jews, who were scattered upon the face of the globe, and to this day remain a living monument, to verify and establish the eternal truths of Scripture.”7

In 1860 stones with Hebrew inscriptions were found in ancient Indian burial mounds near Newark, Ohio.8 The letters on the Decalogue stone appear to be very early Hebrew. The story unfolded over many months and was followed closely by various Jewish publications and intellectuals.

What do you think?

So this Thanksgiving, ponder the idea that the Native Americans were part of the lost tribes of Israel. As added proof, think of what the Europeans coming to America did to these poor people—driving them out of their land, housing them on reservations only until gold was found, at which time they were moved again; mass executions in the Indian wars and other such horrors. What we call today “antisemitism”!

George Matyjewicz is a Jew by choice, having been converted in 2005 by the Beis Din of Maysharim. He is a frequent author of many articles of interest, both general articles and some specific to clients. He has been researching Native Americans for decades and confirmed via “23 and Me” that he has American Indian blood. He may be reached at [email protected].

1 Native Americans is the politically correct term, but I will use Indians also.

2 Leviticus 7:12-15

3 https://www.windows2universe.org/the_universe/uts/amtribes.html

4 One of the first books to suggest the Native American Lost Tribe theory was  “The Hope of Israel (1650)” written by a  Dutch rabbi, scholar, and diplomat Manasseh ben Israel.  A year later the best seller “Jewes in America, Or, Probabilities that those Indians are Judaical” by Thomas Thorowgood .

5 https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/wakan-tanka

6 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Native_American_deities

7 https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/native-americans-jews-the-lost-tribes-episode/

8 https://drloihjournal.blogspot.com/2018/11/is-a-native-american-tribe-one-of-the-lost-tribes-of-israel–lets-explore-the-possibility-of-jewish-native-americans.html

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