Race, Religion and the Lost Tribes of Israel:
Bene Menashe Negotiations of Migration and Citizenship
Dr. Yulia Egorova
University of Durham
Wednesday, 28 Oct, 3:15-5 PM
SOAS Main Building, Ground Floor
Room 52 (to the left of the elevators)
Abstract: The Bene Menashe stem from a number of Christian groups of the Indo-Burmese borderland, some of whom back in the 1950s declared their descent from the Lost Tribes of Israel. In 2005 the Bene Menashe became recognized as people of Israelite descent by the then Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, and in 2011 were allowed by Israeli government to continue their migration through conversion. The paper will use the example of the Bene Menashe migration to cast analytical light on different ways in which race and religion co-constitute each other in processes of transnational migration. To do so, I will focus on one specific aspect of the Bene Menashe migration – the way the community has to construct and enact their religious affiliation to be able to become Israeli citizens and to be considered part of the Jewish people by their ‘hosts’. The paper argues that in the case of the Bene Menashe race and religion co-produce each other in ways that reinforce racialized understandings of Judaism and Jewishness, and will suggest that what accounts for this phenomenon is that the opportunities that the Bene Menashe immigrants had in defining their religiosity in Israel were limited by the conditions of their migration, which developed against the backdrop of multiple colonial contexts. In the end, I will reflect on the situation of other ‘emerging’ Jewish communities in India who are in the process of organizing their migration to Israel.
About the speaker: Dr. Yulia Egorova is Reader in Anthropology and Director, Centre for the Study of Jewish Culture, Society and Politics at the University of Durham. Her research interests include Anthropology of Jewish communities, the social aspects of science and biotechnology, and the relationship between science and religion. She recently completed an AHRC-funded project devoted to the Indian Jewish community of the Bene Ephraim of Andhra Pradesh, and a cluster of studies exploring the socio-cultural implications of population genetics with particular reference to South Asia. She is presently developing a new project on Jewish-Muslim relations in the UK.