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Jewish Community of Myanmar / Burma

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The first record of a Jew in Myanmar was Solomon Gabirol. In 1755 he was a Commissar to the army of King Alaungpaya and it is believed that he may have been present when King Alaungpaya conquered Dagon.

The start of the presence of a semi-permanent Jewish community dates back to the early nineteenth century when Baghdadi Jews stopped in Rangoon while en-route to other destinations seeking fortunes from trade. They were encouraged by the British government to settle there. Many of these families are counted amongst the most prominent early founders of other great communities in places throughout the Far East like Hong Kong and Singapore.

The permanent community was established later and comprised of Baghdadi and Bene Moshe Jews, though these groups internally were in conflict with one another. The Baghdadi Jews enjoyed a position on the top of the social strata within  the Jewish community. Rules were enacted to bar participation by the Bene Moshe in various aspects of Jewish communal life. Overall, in 1881, local census results list the number of Jews as 172; 219 in the 1891 census and 508 by 1901.

Baghdadi Trade Jews in Rangoon Yangon Burma / Myanmar

Estimates of the community in its heyday range from between 1,200 to a high estimate of 2,500. The Jewish population was concentrated in Rangoon though smaller communities grew throughout the country.

The Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue was built in 1896 following a land grant by the British government. It is a white and blue tiled structure, and a clear product of the prosperous colonial-era that it was a product of.

The community once had a collection of 126 Sifrei Torahs and a Talmud Torah. They also had established charitable and communal organisations, including a Boy Scout troop; the Rangoon Committee for the Recognition of Israelâ a Zionist organisation; and a Jewish School. Jews integrated well into life in Burma in the earlier years and Bassein even had a Jewish mayor as did Rangoon.

The community nearly ceased to exist, when during World War II, the Japanese drove out most of the Jewish population which they suspected as being pro-British sympathizers. Some, like Isaac Samuels, were jailed, while others were reportedly killed.

Only 500 community members returned following the war and most of these Jews again fled after the 1962 military-led coup. The former Burmese Jews were then scattered around the world throughout Israel, India, the United States, Australia and England.

Today, the Jewish Cemetery still stands in its original location on 91st Street. There are between 600 and 700 fairly well-kept Jewish graves in this cemetery, giving a snapshot of the personalities that lived in the Rangoon Jewish community. The oldest grave dates back to 1876. Moses Samuels own father, Isaac Samuels who died in 1978, was one of the last Jews to be buried here.

In 1997, the Yangon City Development Committee indicated that the multi-religious graveyards located within the city itself were to be moved to allow for urban planning and development. The plan reportedly was to utilise the Jewish Cemetery land to erect a shopping mall. All burials within the city were ordered to stop. . . . Continued

The Ten Lost Tribes


In the mountainous region which lies on both sides of the border between India and Myanmar (former Burma), lives the Menashe (Shinlung) tribe which numbers between 1-2 million people. They intermarried with the Chinese and look Chinese-Burmas, but the entire tribe is conscious of their Israeli ancestry.
The word Menashe appears often in their poetry and prayer. It is the name of their ancestor and they call themselves children of Menashe (Beni Menashe). When they pray, they say, "Oh, God of Menashe," which is from the name Manasseh, one of the Ten Lost Tribe of Israel. 

According to the history which they state, they were exiled to Assyria in 722 BCE with other Tribes of Israel. Later, Assyria was conquered by Babylon (607 BCE), which later was conquered by Persia (457 BCE), which later was conquered by Greece of Alexander the Great (331 BCE), when the people of Menashe were deported from Persia to Afghanistan and other places.

There they became shepherds and idol worshipers.
With the conquest of Islam, they were forced to convert to Islam. Because they speaking Hebrew they were called the Semitic speakers. Throughout this entire period they possessed a Hebrew Torah scroll which they guarded with their elders and their priest. 

From Afghanistan their migration continued eastward until they reached the area of the Tibetan-Chinese border. From there they continued into China following the Wei River until they reach the central China. They settled there at about 231 BCE. 

But the Chinese were cruel to them and enslaved them. Some of them escaped and lived in caves in the mountainous areas called Shinlung, which became another name for the tribe of Menashe.
They are also called the cave people or the mountain people. 

Menashe people lived in caves in poverty for about two generations but they still kept the Torah scroll with them. But they started to assimilate and have Chinese influences. Later they were banished from their cave area and went west through Thailand and eventually reached the area in Myanmar. 

There they wandered along the river until they reached Mandaley. From there they reached the Chin Mountains.
In the 18th century a part of them migrated to Manipur and Mizoram which are in northeastern India. Generally, they maintained the tradition about their wandering and they realized that they were not Chinese even though they spoke the local language. 

They call them themselves Lusi which means the Ten Tribe ("Lu" means tribes, and "si" means ten).

The Mizo Tribe

The Mizo Tribe untouched by the missionaries, and the source of the Bnai Menashe, have so many ancient Jewish ceremonies and rituals, as circumcision, Sabbath, holidays, etc.

Recently a return to Judaism began. Several thousand people of Menashe decided to observe the laws of the Torah and returned to Judaism. They have synagogues in Manipur, Assam, and Mizoram. There are also those who emigrated to Israel. Thousands long for returning to Israel.

. . . Continued

  • Myanmar: Moses Samuels preserved Jewry
  • Myanmar's Jewish Vote
  • Nathan Katz and Ellen S. Goldberg, "The last Jews in India and Burma", Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jerusalem Letter, n° 101, 15 Avril 1988.
  • Secret Yangon II: The Lost Tribe: ThingsAsian
  • Mydans, Seth "Yangon Journal; Burmese Jew Shoulders Burden of His Heritage " New York Times 7/23/2002