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History of Bnei Menashe Judaism



Daniel Thangkholun Lhungdim (z"l)

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Daniel Thangkholun Lhungdim was born in 1940 at Molnom Village, Churachandpur District, Manipur, India (erstwhile British India). He was the pioneer among the Bnei Menashe (commonly referred to as Kuki, Chin, Mizo, and Zomi) to study in-depth the Menashe tribe and their origin and root as one of the lost tribes of Israel.

Mr. Lhungdim began his research work on the Menashe tribe around 1960. The nascent period of awareness about Judaism came in 1960 when the Christian publication of the Old Testament is made available to the Bnei  Menashe.[it should be noted that the popularity of the Christian faith in North East India bestowed the Bnei Menashe a new dimension of hope to reclaim their true identity]

And with the Bible at their disposal, many Bnei Menashe households started initiating a new chain of thoughts - vis-à-vis the practice of their faith due to the many similarities between ancient Israelites’ practice and their current customs, culture, and tradition.

As more and more people get interested in and on the Jewish religion, by the early1960sa number of people began exploring more on the lost tribe theory. And thereafter they were made aware of the many similarities between the laws and customs of their forefathers with those written in the bible.

And T . Daniel Lhungdim (along with his research associates Samuel Sumkhothang Haokip and Yosef Jangkhothang Lhanghal) published "ISRAEL IHIUVE" literally “We are Israel” in 1974. It is noteworthy to mention that this work was the result of their decade-long systematic research on the lost tribes of Israel beginning in the early 1960s.

T. Daniel Lhungdim, a thinker and poet was headmaster of Gandhi Memorial High School in Molnom, Churachandpur (Manipur). His deep thirst and passion to find the root of Manmasi led him to follow Judaism and was arguably one of the first to start Judaism in North East India. The research work he undertakes on "Lost tribe theory" and the different ideologies he advances gave rise to misunderstanding and clash of views with close kinsmen. The Judaism faith he champions created a new social milieu that is uncongenial for him, and finally having no better choice, he left his home and his job in the school in 1968.

Abandoning home, the wandering scholar was provided shelter by his next of kin, Mr. David Jamkhosem Lhungdim, the then chief of Gelmol village in Churachandpur. T . Daniel was fortunate enough to be in the company of the chief who shares the same opinion on faith. The chief rekindle his spirit by encouraging him to continue his research work and also pledged to sponsor him on his project. At that time in Gelmol village, some families had initiated wearing Jewish religious skullcaps and hence the village was also among the first place in Churachandpur to observe semi-Judaism.

Thereupon T . Daniel was able to embark on his research field trips to Calcutta and Bombay, visiting libraries and meeting people in the later part of1960s. In the year 1974, three people met in a photo studio called "The Lion Photo Studio". They were respectively: (1) T . Daniel Lhungdim, (2) Jangkhothang Joseph Lhanghal, (3) Sumthang Samuel Haokip, the three-man were doing research on the Bible and the origins of the Kuki tribes, the fruit of their research work was the publication of the book titled "Israel Ihiuve" (we are Israel), it was an instant success and became the talking point for Kukis in Manipur.

The studio was founded in 1971 in New Bazaar Churachandpur. It was later renamed Judean Photo Studio in 1976.


In North-East India, Judaism originated in Manipur from the town of Churachandpur. From this small town, the light of the original Abrahamic religion "Judaism" humbly spread incognito outside the town to other parts of North East India and then to the Chin states of Myanmar (then Burma).

As noted above, since the early 1960s, with the initiation of the Sabbatical movement, some households in Old Gelmol Village started wearing Kippah (skull cap).  The establishment of the first religious-based Jewish organization Manipur Jews Organisation was followed by the founding of yet another organization namely United Jews of North East India (UJNEI). Though these organizations derived their religious doctrines from the Torah, still their core beliefs were based solely upon the “savior Jesus”

The Year 1973 saw yet another trip by T.Daniel to Calcutta and Bombay. He was now accompanied by Israel Ginjamung Suantak. Upon his return to Manipur Mr. Lhungdim brought three messages with him from Bombay- 1) Judaism is the religion of the Jews, 2) Circumcision is obligatory for Jewish males and also for converts, and 3) Jews do not believe nor recognize Jesus as the Messiah.

In February 1976 on the bidding of the UJNEI, T.Daniel made yet another trip to Bombay, and there with the generous support of a Jewish lady philanthropist Mrs. Esther Immanuel, Mr. Lhungdim along with Moshe Yitzchak Gin Vaiphei and his family underwent Brit milah (Jewish male circumcision) the Brit was performed by Dr. B. Kollet a highly trained in the field of circumcision.

When Mr. Lhungdim returned from Bombay that same year (April 1976)which coincides with the intermediate days of the Passover (Khol Hamoed Pesach), he brought home with him Sefer Torah,(The Torah Scroll)Tallith,(Prayer Shawls)Tefillin, (Phylacteries), prayers books and Jewish Halachic books, etc.

It could be said that only after his return from Bombay that specific year Judaism religion could and started to be observed practically for the first time by the Bnei Menashe according to (at least the general laws of) the Jewish religion.

It should be noted that it was his enthusiastic and untiring work that connect the Bnei Menashe with other Jewish communities of the world. He built the bridges for the Bnei Menashe community and was always in contact with the Bnei Israel in Bombay and with Rabbi Efraim Eleazri Z"l, the then Chief Rabbi of the Indian Jewish community, and through this connection, eligible youngsters were able to learn Judaism and professional vocation and training at ORT Bombay.  

Even though he did not merit to see the land of Israel which he cherished all throughout his life, his wife Rivka Lhungdim z"l and his three daughters Rakhel Wisky, Esther Shatz, and Nira Haokip all merited along with their respective families to live in the Promised Land.


May his blessed memory continues to be a blessing evermore!

Note: For those who are interested to know more about the life of the late Daniel Thangkholun Lhungdim or want to know about his decade-long correspondence with the Indian communities in India (namely Bombay and Calcutta), can contact the Shivtei Menashe community in Sderot, Israel or visit their website.

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