At the end of the last century Israel transported tens of thousands of Falashas who claim to be Jews and call themselves “Beita Yisrael” from Ethiopia to Israel in two operations – Operation Moses and Operation Solomon. Their numbers in Israel today are estimated to be about one hundred thousand. There is another Ethiopian group, called the Falash Mura who practise Christianity, go to church, marry Christian women, and wear crosses. Some of them are even Christian Orthodox priests. The Falash Mura claim to be descendents of the Falashas whom Christian missionaries converted to Christianity in the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. The Israeli government has been quietly transporting these people to Israel since the 1990s. Almost every month a few hundred Falash Mura arrive in Israel unobtrusively. Their numbers in Israel now amount to twenty thousand and there are thousands more who have been gathered together by the Jewish Agency and other Jewish and Christian organisations in Gondar and Addis Ababa. The number of these people who have been living at the expense of these organisations while waiting to be airlifted to Israel is estimated to be about twenty thousand. This year the Israeli cabinet decided to speed up their transportation to Israel. This decision it seems was prompted by the report which the head of the Jewish Agency presented to the International Interdisciplinary Centre in Hetzellia, at its annual conference, in which he stated that the number of Jews in the world is decreasing. According to this report, fifty Jews are lost to the faith every day. The report also stated that the number of immigrants to Israel, particularly from countries of the former Soviet Union, is shrinking. The decision was made in the light of this background. As many Ethiopian nationals feel resentment about this operation, Israel decided to take these people gradually. According to the Israeli foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, “The Israeli government does not want to embarrass the Ethiopian government by taking its citizens”. But the Ethiopians say that what Israel is doing is damaging the history and the heritage of the country and say if Israel wants to really help these people she can do so where they are. The Ethiopian government for its part has objected to what it views as provocation in its internal affairs and has also cast doubts on the number who are willing to convert to Judaism. In fact some of the Falashas in Israel have disputed the claim of the Falash Mura and have also objected to their transportation to Israel. They maintain that these people are Christians who simply want to escape the life of poverty and destitution in which they live. Even some rabbis have refused to accept their claims. Some members of the Knesset have also objected to bringing so many Christian people to Israel, because they think that so large a number will affect the Jewish character of the country and will harm the fabric of society. But the head of the Jewish Agency has defended the decision to bring them to Israel and said that “The decision was right from humanitarian, Jewish and Zionist points of view and that Israel is not bringing them in accordance with the Law of Return but in accordance with the Family Reunion Law”. In fact some officials say that whether these people are of Jewish origin or not they are going to be converted to Orthodox Judaism on their arrival. Besides the Falash Mura, Israel is also bringing another Ethiopian group called the Qawara who live in the north east of the country. They claim that they are of Jewish origin and want to live in Israel. A few thousand of them are already living in Israel and thousands more are also being transported there by the government. An additional Ethiopian group are called the Gomez whom the Qawara bought as slaves from the Amhara people and converted them to their religion and became part of them. It seems that the transportation of these people from Ethiopia will not be the last one according to the Jerusalem Post newspaper whose correspondent went into the countryside and villages in Ethiopia to investigate. The correspondent found thousands of Ethiopians who claim to have connections with Judaism and want to be taken to Israel. Israel continues to bring these Ethiopians despite the problems those already settled in the country are having such as discrimination and poverty. A recent survey shows that 60% of the Falashas live in poverty and that unemployment among them is at a high rate. In fact it is the highest among Israeli groups. The rate of suicide among this group is also the highest in Israel. Besides, they have begun to reject the culture of Israel and to aspire towards that of Africa and the Caribbean. Some of them have begun to avoid serving in the army. All this it seems is a kind of protest against the discrimination they claim to have experienced. According to a recent survey 43% of Israelis would refuse to marry an Ethiopian or allow their children to do so. Besides the groups from Ethiopia, Israel is planning to transport some tens of thousands of people from tribes living on the borders between India and Myanmar. These people claim to be descendents of Menessah (son of Joseph, son of the patriarch Jacob who founded the Israeli tribes). Israel has already taken a few hundred of these people and put some of them in settlements in the Occupied Territories. Some Israeli rabbis have been sent by the chief Rabbinate to prepare them for immigration. The search for the so called Lost Jewish Tribes by Israel and Jewish Agencies stretches from Latin America through Africa to Asia. But the decision which will open the door wide for immigration is that of the Jewish Agency which allows any Jew by choice (non-Jewish person converting to Judaism) to emigrate to Israel. But Israel of course looks at immigration as an important source of strength in any negotiations with the Arabs and Palestinians. It also wants to offset the demographic expansion of the Palestinians whose numbers, according to statistics, in historic Palestine will be greater than the Jews in a few years time.
This article was published in the Return Review, 2005
The Christian population in Japan is small and does not exceed two and a half percent of the overall population of almost one hundred and thirty million people.
Christianity is not new in Japan but has, in fact, been there for centuries. It is possible that because of the difficulties the missionaries faced the number of people who converted to Christianity was not large. As the missionaries were from different denominations so too were the converts.
Many of these Christians are of Protestant denominations and some of them were influenced by Protestant ideas which emerged during the nineteenth century. One of these ideas is the belief in Jewish Zionism ie gathering the Jews together in Palestine.Those Christians who believe in this are called Christian Zionists. The modern Christian Zionist movement flourished in the United States during the nineteenth century and reached Japan through Japanese students who went to study in the United States and returned to Japan bringing Christian Zionist ideas back with them.
Members of this movement number millions of people in the world nowadays but they mostly live in the West and mainly, in fact, in the United States. Those Japanese who adhere to this religious ideology are followers of a sect called Makuya. This sect was founded in Japan in the middle of the twentieth century, by a person called (Abraham) Ekuru Teshema (d.1973). Makuya is now the most famous and also the most active Christian sect in Japan and it is estimated that it has over seventy thousand followers and 100 centres which are scattered between California, South Korea, Taiwan and Hawaii.
There is little information available about the founder of the sect. According to the information that we do have about him he was a merchant and joined one of the Christian movements of the time and became active within it. He embarked on a trip during the Second World War and went to China and Korea. This trip in fact remains a mystery. No one knows for sure what the purpose of this journey was. It is possible that he went there as a Christian missionary but we do not know for certain. There is also another mystery about his life that when he came back from his trip he was sought by the Americans who were occupying the country at this time, and to avoid capture he went up to the mountains and hid himself there until he felt it safe enough to come out of hiding.
It is reported that when he did come out of hiding he claimed that he had heard a mysterious voice telling him to call for the reform of the teaching of the scriptures. He decided to devote himself to this mission and duly abandoned his business. He gave an importance to the Old Testament as well as to the New. As a result he gave much attention and respect to ancient Israel and the God of Israel and called on Christians to go back to the Hebrew origin of Christianity and to give respect to the Jews. He said in the introduction to one of his books “It is necessary that we give a fitting respect to the Jews if we want to understand the true Christianity”. He also called for a deeper understanding of the Jewish faith and Jewish history because he said that it is necessary for a complete understanding of the scriptures. Ekuru Teshema had met some Jewish philosophers like Marrin and had also read Abraham Hatchel, the Jewish philosopher. These philosophers had an influence on him as did Jewish symbols and rituals.
As a result, the sect began to use the Menorah (candelabrum) which is the symbol of the state of Israel, together with other symbols of the Jewish faith. They embroider this symbol on the clothes they use during their ceremonies and they also place it in a prominent position during their worship. The Makuya also celebrate what they call Simhat Makuya similar to Simhat haTorah (the Joy of the Torah) which is celebrated by Jews yearly after they complete the reading of the Torah (Old Testament). The Makuya also sing Israeli popular songs particularly the one called Golden Jerusalem which is related to the occupation by Israeli troops of the city of Jerusalem which they call “liberation”.
These people also consider Saturday as a rest day as the Jews do and light candles and eat a kind of Keshrut (food allowed by Jewish law). They also use a Jewish prayer book and have learned to speak Hebrew, and, perhaps, in order to facilitate their Hebrew studies have compiled the first Japanese-Hebrew dictionary. Members of the sect also use Hebrew personal names as well as their Japanese ones.
The founder of the sect Ekuru Teshema visited Israel for the first time in 1961 and a year later he took some of his followers with him and they stayed in one of the settlements. Since then his followers go there regularly every year. Some of them stay there for quite some time to learn about agricultural techniques and they also learn the Hebrew language. While they are there they put on a garment coloured with blue and white (the colours of the Israeli flag) and go around the streets in Jerusalem holding up the Israeli flag and singing Israeli songs in a way that attracts the attention of passers by.
On one of his visits to Israel Ekuru Teshema met the former president of Israel, Zalman Shazar, and explained to him how he had come to the conclusion that the Japanese are the descendents of the ancient lost tribes of Israel. He wrote a book on the subject called “The Ancient Diaspora of the Jews and the Tribe of Hada” in which he identifies the ancient Japanese tribe of Hada with the Jewish tribe of Judah and he suggests that they came to Japan during the third century AD.
During the Israeli-Arab war in 1967 Ekuru sent some of his followers to fight on the side of Israel and one of them was wounded during this war. After the war Ekuru went to Israel with a delegation to offer his congratulations to Israelon its victory and he and the delegation went round Jerusalem singing and praising Israel and carrying a banner with the words “Congratulations on a Greater Jerusalem”. They said that their joy was beyond description because of the conquest of Jerusalem. In this year Ekuru Teshema’s name was inscribed in the Israeli Golden Book which contains the names of people (usually non Jews) who have helped or help Israel in different ways.
Several times the sect has invited General Uzi Narkees who led a military unit to the east part of Jerusalem during the 1967 war to visit Japan. They call him the liberator of Jerusalem. Every year they also go to Israel to celebrate Independence Day together with the Israelis. They organise demonstrations from time to time in support of Israel and when the Japanese Red Army attacked Ben Gurion airport killing and injuring several people, Ekuru Teshema went at the head of a delegation to offer his condolences. In 1972 Ekuru had thousands of his followers demonstrate in Tokyoin support of Israel. This was the first demonstration of this kind in Japan.
During the years when Israel was demanding that the former Soviet Union let Jews leave the country, members of the Makuya sect were praying in their churches which face Russia for the release of the Soviet Jews.
Although this sect is basically a Christian sect it still practises some rituals which are not common in Christianity. One of these rituals is walking on fire bare-footed, which they call hiwatari. Although this is something practised by other Japanese groups, the Makuya sect gives it a different meaning. It says “It is an expression of sincerity towards the God of the Torah (Old Testament) and as such the fire does not hurt the people who walk on it and does not burn them because their faith is strong and their belief is solid. While they are performing this ritual they gaze at a huge Jewish Menorah (Candelabrum) which is normally placed in a prominent position and they also sing songs of the Zionist Palmakh gang (the gang which fought the Arabs before the establishment of Israel). This is one of the aspects of the influence of Zionism on them.
The other ritual they practise which has no connection with Christianity is standing under freezing water for some considerable time. They read Hebrew prayers while performing this ritual which they call Mesauji. This ritual is also practised by other Japanese people and it may be of Japanese origin. This practice, it is said, lifts the spirit and purifies the mind.
The members of the Makuya sect usually marry among themselves and do not marry outside. These people are probably influenced by their belief that they are descendents of the so called lost tribes of Israel and so are following Jewish practice. On this subject the founder of the sect has written a book as we have mentioned above.
It is worth mentioning here that this belief is not unique to Ekuru but some other prominent Japanese Christians also believe in it. Among them is Ashimoro Kanzo (d.1930) who was a priest and graduate of an American university. Kanzo was also a Christian Zionist who wrote many books and articles on the subject. Nikada Juji (d.1939), also a Christian Zionist, was likewise a priest who founded a small Christian sect. In one of his books he said that Japan would help the Jews to occupy Palestine. This sect gave help to some of the Jewish refugees who went to Japan during the Second World War.
Among other prominent Christian Zionists who have all written books on aspects of the subject are Oyabe Zenichiro (d.1941) who had a Ph.D from the United States, Yanibara Tadwa (d.1961) a disciple of Kanzo who was a former president of Tokyo University, Yoshiro Sikay (d.1965) who was a graduate of Oxford University in Semitic and Eastern Languages and Anasa Weji (d.1970.)
It is possible that these people were influenced in their idea of the relationship between the Japanese and the Jews by the Scottish missionary Norman McLeod who wrote a book on this subject which was published in 1875 with the title “Epitome of the Ancient History of Japan”. The book found popularity among some Japanese who believed its content and among whom were the priests and scholars I have mentioned above.
The belief of Christian Zionists in Japan in the Jewish origin of the Japanese people still has adherents in that country and in more recent times a prominent Japanese scholar, Arimasa Kubo, has written many articles on this subject and has also created a website devoted to it. He has also translated “The Biblical Hebrew Origin of the Japanese People” by Joseph Eidelburg which is the latest book to be published on this theme. This continuing belief among these Japanese scholars in the Jewish origin of their people shows how enduring this idea actually is, as this desire to trace and identify the lost tribes of Israel has extended as far as those distant islands.
1-Parfitt,Tudor, The Lost Tribe of Israel:The History of a Myth,London 2002
2-Eidelberg,Joseph,The Biblical Hebrew Origin of the Japaness People
3-Encyclopedia Judaica,Year Book 1977-8,Makuya
William Blackstone was born in a town called Adams in New York State in 1841. At this time the U.S. was going through a religious revival which was called the Third Awakening. Adams was particularly affected by this revival as it was the home of a famous theologian and preacher, Charles Finney (d.1825) who played a prominent role in this movement. It was said that Blackstone was very much influenced by this atmosphere from his youth and he was ‘born again’ since he was 16-17 years old. He began to attend religious circles and meetings for the study of the Bible and began to be influenced by a movement whose main proponent was John Nelson Darby (d.1882) who was British of Irish origin. Through his intensive study delving into the Bible he came up with a theory which says that the world has to pass through seven dispensations and we are about to enter the seventh dispensation in which Jesus will appear and rule the world for one thousand years (millennium).
But before Jesus reappears there will be many events and disasters which will strike the world and its people such as plague, fire, volcanoes, floods and so on. This would continue for a seven year period which he called tribulation. Then the Anti-Christ will appear to fight the Battle of Armageddon. During this battle Jesus will save the believers personally and he will take them to heaven and they will come down with him when the battle is over and the Anti-Christ is defeated. And this he calls the Rapture. Then Jesus will start his rule from Jerusalem for 1,000 years, a rule which will be characterised by peace and prosperity. Darby also believed that this whole process should include another important element that is the gathering together of the Jews in Palestine which he thought to be necessary for this process to work. This movement is now called Dispensationalism after the seven Dispensations which divide the phases of history.This movement nowadays has a huge following particularly in the United State.
Blackstone became a staunch believer in this theory and began to propagate its principles. In 1878 he published a book called “Jesus is Coming” which sold one million copies and was later translated into 20 languages. Subsequently he left his job as a business man and devoted his life to preaching. He then moved to Chicago and established an organisation called American Messianic Fellowship International. One of his main works in this organisation was to help the Jews to settle in Palestine and for this reason he embarked on a trip to the Holy Land where he met some Jewish emigrants and encouraged them to stay. He praised their work and said to them that their living in Palestine is a blessing to the Ottoman Empire and promised them help. After his trip Blackstone began seriously to gather as many Jews as possible in Palestine as he thought that this would hasten the reappearance of Jesus. Then in 1889 he convened a conference which was attended by Jewish and Christian personalities which was the first time this had happened. This conference was convened under the banner of the past, present and future of the Jews.
At the end of the conference the participants declared that the Jews should be helped to emigrate to Palestine and found their national home and they demanded that the American government use its influence and prestige with other countries to treat Jewish communities better. They also demanded that the Russia about whose treatment the Jews were complaining, should “lift its hard hand from these people” and the participants sent a letter to the Tsar to that effect.
In 1891 Blackstone presented his famous memorandum to the President of the United States, Benjamin Harrison. The memorandum was entitled “Palestinefor the Jews”. In it he defended the Jews and deplored their condition in Russiawhich he described as miserable.
He began his memorandum by asking the question “What should be done for the Jews of Russia?” and the answer he gave was “Why do not we give them Palestine back”. He quotes several verses from the Old Testament which he thought prophesised their return to Palestine.
And in order to help the Jews to go to Palestine and to found a national home he suggested to the President and his Foreign Minister that they start a political action in order to implement this idea and to convince European countries and empires to convene an international conference “To look at the condition of the Jews and the possibility of helping them to live in Palestine and remove their suffering”.
He also said in the memorandum “That the time has come for the Christian nations to have compassion on the Jews and to take them back to their land”. He also suggested that the Ottoman Empire be compensated for Palestine with the participation of rich Jews in this project.
Blackstone signed the memorandum in his capacity as Chairman of the Jewish Christian Conference with four hundred and thirteen personalities who also signed with him. Among them were congressmen, judges, heads of churches, industrialists and editors of newspapers and included John Rockefeller and W McKenally who subsequently became President of the United States and who was assassinated during his second term of office.
Blackstone attached a letter with his memorandum addressed to the President and his Secretary of State detailing the ideas laid out in his memorandum. In this letter he emphasised that the signatories were only a few but represented a very large number of people who supported the memorandum. He also mentioned in his letter that he had visited Palestine in 1889 and found that founding a national home for the Jews in Palestine was in fact practicably possible and politically acceptable. Again he emphasised the Old Testament verses which indicated the return of the Jews to that country. He also requested the convening of an international conference and stated in the letter “My wish is that the President and his Foreign Minister will have the honour to concern themselves with this great matter and to secure a national home for the Jews through such a conference”.
He mentioned to them that if they did that their deed would be like that of Cyrus II the Persian king who let the exiled Jews go back to Palestine to build their temple. When the President received the memorandum he promised to look at it.
Blackstone also wrote articles emphasising the ability of the Jews to establish a state which could take millions of them and he also mentioned the commercial advantage to the West. In his articles he also stated that the country needed only a government which could prepare it for the emigrants, and said this government should have control over the area of the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque.
He also suggested the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple which in his opinion would encourage the Jews, particularly the Orthodox, to go to Palestine. On this point he is in agreement with the Zionist Christians who likewise call for the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple.
When the Zionist Movement appeared on the world stage at the end of the 19thcentury Blackstone was in touch with its leaders. When the Ugandan option was suggested by Britain to Hertzel, the leader of the movement, after the option of al-Arish was abandoned, Blackstone discouraged him and sent him a copy of the Old Testament marking the verses which he thought prophesised the return of the Jews to Palestine. This copy is now in the Hertzel Museum in Israel.
Blackstone continued to write and give public talks about his ideas regarding the return of the Jews to Palestine and the Second Advent of Jesus and when the book of “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” was published he wrote articles in newspapers criticising the content of the book saying that it was false and accusing those who believed in it of being anti-Semitic.
He travelled to many countries including the Middle East preaching and publicising his book. He also went to China after translating the book into Chinese. During the First World War he published a second edition of his book and it was a best seller at that time because of the events of the war which Christians thought would usher in the Second Advent of Jesus . During this time he submitted his memorandum again to President Thomas Woodrow Wilson and this time it was signed by 80 well-known personalities. He also attached to it a letter in which he stated “I was honoured to get support to submit the memorandum on behalf of the Jews and I am convinced that the development of events indicated that the time is approaching to take a noble decision like the one taken by Cyrus II, King of Persia. I am sure of your sympathy and your desire to help the Jews in their miserable condition and I pray that you will seize this opportunity to secure for yourself and for our nation the blessing which God promised to Abraham and his seed and to show mercy to the Jewish people”.
The memorandum had a very positive reaction among the Zionists of America. This is clear from a letter written by Lewis Brandeis, the leader of the Zionist Movement in the United States, addressed to James Rothschild which states regarding the memorandum “A memorandum was written for this purpose (supporting the Zionist idea) and it was signed by many well-known Christian personalities and it will be submitted to the President at the right time in order to gain more support”. Brandeis also wrote a letter to Blackstone in which he praised his efforts and expressed his great happiness with all his work for the benefit of the Zionist Movement and appreciated the influence which the memorandum had had. Brandeis also said to him in his letter that he considered him the father of Zionism “Because your work preceded that of Hertzel”. Brandeis also considered him as the most important non-Jewish ally of Zionism.
Before he died in 1938 Blackstone left a great amount of money in his will to Brandeis to help the Jews to emigrate to Palestine – Blackstone died in 1938. Some scholars such as Maxwell Koda believe that Blackstone’s efforts and activities on behalf of the national Jewish home played a big role in the emergence of the Zionist Movement. Others say that Blackstone is considered one of the few Americans who played a very important role in establishing a national Jewish home. The newsletter of the Zionist Emergency Committee said on the 50th anniversary of his memorandum “It proposed a real solution like that which Hertzel proposed in his book “The Jewish State” and Blackstone should be considered as the pioneer of political Zionism”. The Encyclopaedia Judaica has an entry on him and in it it praised Blackstone’s Zionist activities and his efforts towards establishing a home for the Jews. It also states that his memorandum might have had an influence on President Wilson in his support for the Balfour Declaration which was issued by the British government in 1917 regarding the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. In appreciation of his work towards this cause, Israel planted a big forest in his name.
The American Messianic Fellowship International which he founded more than a century ago is still functioning particularly in its efforts to help immigrants to Israel. It also has a big website. This organisation calls for the demolition of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in its place.