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The Bene Ephraim (Hebrew: בני אפריים) Bnei Ephraim ("Sons of Ephraim"), also called Telugu Jews because they speak Telugu, are a small community living primarily in Kotha Reddy palem, a village outside Chebrolu, Guntur District, and in Machilipatnam, Krishna District, Andhra Pradesh, India, near the delta of the River Krishna. They claim to be descendants of the Tribe of Ephraim, of the Ten Lost Tribes, and since the 1980s have learned to practice modern Judaism.
|Regions with significant populations|
|Andhra Pradesh, India|
|Related ethnic groups|
Jews, Indian Jews
The Bene Ephraim claim descent from the Tribe of Ephraim, and say that they traveled from Israel through western Asia: Persia, Afghanistan, Tibet and into China for 1,600 years before arriving in southern India more than 1,000 years ago. They hold a history which they say is similar to that of the shift of Afghan Jews and Persian Jewish, Bene Israel, Bnei Menashe in the northeastern Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur, who received recognition in 2005 from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. (The latter people must still go through a formal conversion process to become citizens of Israel.)
During the medieval period they have worked as farm laborers. While practising Judaism, they adopted some Christianity after the arrival of British Baptist missionaries during the early 19th century.
Their leader, Shmuel Yacobi, went to Jerusalem in the 1980s and became convinced they were of Jewish descent. Because of the long period in which the people were not practising Judaism, they did not develop any distinctly identifiable Judæo-Telugu language or dialect. (See Jewish languages.)
Since the 1980s, about fifty families in Kotha Reddy Palem have studied Judaism, learned Hebrew, and built an operating synagogue. They celebrate all Jewish holidays and often use their Torah scroll and read Hebrew.
Today Hebrew is being used as a living language rather than limited to liturgy. The community has been visited over the years by rabbis from the chief rabbinate in Israel to study their Jewish tradition and practices. The Chief Rabbi has to recognise the community as being of Jewish descent. The rabbis have taught today's Judaism and converted many Indian Jews, while some women eventually married to a rabbi family, many married in the past to Jewish people, but not attached to homeland Israel they still must relocate. They have sought recognition from many rabbis around the world. They always practiced their own Caviloth [Oral Traditions and customs] such as: burying the dead, eating cow and beef meat, marriage under Chuppah, observing Shabbat and other Hebrew, Israel and Jewish Festival and maintaining Elders Court System etc..
According to the Washington Times in 2006
Many think the Bnei Ephraim Jews are trying to escape poverty and that they want to leave this region of Andhra Pradesh where six successive years of drought and crop failure have driven more than 3,000 peasants into debt and to suicide.
Chandra Sekhar Angadi, a social scientist in neighboring Karnataka, said of the Telugu Jews:
They are among the poorest of Jews in the world. They are desperate for the recognition by Israel’s chief rabbinate simply to be guaranteed a passport from that country where they can lead a much better life—away from this life of poverty and hunger
There are certain Oral Traditions among Bene Ephraim: traditions known as Cavilah Traditions. There are about 450 ancient halakhic customs, habits and Hebrew Cultural Elements among them that continued since prehistoric times and Exodus. They shared some of those elements with the Ereb Rab Telugu people. Burying the dead, eating kosher animal meat, marriage under chuppah, burial customs, 7 day purification, bar/bath mitzvah, Hebrew words, sayings and many other usages. The Ereb Rab Telugu people re-made Amaravati as their capital today and the Bene Ephraim are hopeful to find their hidden Torah Scrolls, Hebrew literature and ancient valuables when the Government digs out during constructing the new capital for Andhra Pradesh State.
- Yacobi, Sadok. "Bene Ephraim of Andhra Pradesh, South India" Archived 2015-09-10 at the Wayback Machine, Kulanu
- "The Children of Ephraim: being Jewish in Andhra Pradesh". Anthropology Today. 26. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
- Shaikh Azizur Rahman, "Another tribe seeks rabbinical recognition", Washington Times, 1 May 2006, accessed 16 May 2013
- Tudor Parfitt (2002), "The Lemba: An African Judaising Tribe", in Judaising Movements: Studies in the Margins of Judaism, edited by Parfitt, Tudor and Trevisan-Semi, E., London: Routledge Curzon.
- Shmuel Yacobi, THE CULTURAL HERMENEUTICS, an introduction to the cultural translation of the Hebrew Bible among the ancient nations of the Thalmulic Telugu Empire of India.
- Shmuel Yacobi, Manamevaru, Ereb Rab Telugu people and their links with Israel.
- Chilaka Abraham, Ten Commandments Constitution - A Sociological study - A.N. University, Guntur.
- Ministry of Interior, Israel, Rabbi Marvin Tokayer U.S - Letters to Shmuel Yacobi, member of Bene Ephraim Community