Groups claiming affiliation with Israelites are groups which trace their descent from the ancient Israelites. The most significant events which propelled large numbers of Jewish and pre-Judaic Israelite communities out of the Land of Israel were the fall of the northern Kingdom of Israel in about the 720s BCE to the Assyrian Empire and the southern Kingdom of Judah in 586 BCE to the Babylonian Empire, but there have been other events and periods when Israelites left the Land, either as individuals or in groups. These diaspora communities came into existence as a result of Jews and Israelites fleeing the land before the onslaught of invading forces, because of forced deportations, or enslavement, and sometimes voluntarily. Some families or whole communities have had to move from one country to another because of persecutions, and some just ceased to exist. Although some form of contact had been maintained between most of the main Jewish communities in the diaspora over the millennia, contact had been lost with some communities, which came to be regarded by the mainstream communities as lost.
As a result of the isolation of some communities, the practices and observances have diverged in some respects. Several groups of people from diverse parts of the world have claimed an affiliation with or descent from the ancient Israelites. Some claim such affiliation on the basis of affinity to the Jewish people, while other groups claim such affiliation independently of such affinity.
Since the establishment of the State of Israel, affiliation to the Israelites is raised in the form of "who is a Jew?", which arises in the context of an individual's or group's request to immigrate to Israel under that country's Law of Return.
It is accepted that the Jews and the Samaritans are descendants of the ancient Israelites.
Jews came to Kerala and settled there as early as 700 BCE in order to trade. Cochin Jews, also called Malabar Jews, are the descendants of ancient Jews who settled in the South Indian port city of Cochin. They traditionally spoke Judæo-Malayalam, a form of the Malayalam tongue, native to the state of Kerala, in India. Several rounds of immigration of the Jewish diaspora into Kerala, led to a diversity among the Cochin Jews.
Some sources say that the earliest Jews were those who settled in the Malabar Coast during the reign of Solomon, and after the Kingdom of Israel split into two. They are sometimes referred to as the "black Jews." The Paradesi Jews, also called "White Jews," settled later, coming to India from Middle Eastern and European nations such as the Netherlands and Spain, and bringing with them the Ladino language. A notable settlement of Spanish and Portuguese Jews (Sephardim) starting in the 15th century was at Goa, but this settlement eventually disappeared. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Cochin received an influx of Jewish settlers from the Middle East, North Africa and Spain.
An old but not particularly reliable tradition says that Cochin Jews came in mass to Cranganore (an ancient port, near Cochin) after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. They had, in effect, their own principality for many centuries until a chieftainship dispute broke out between two brothers in the 15th century. The dispute led neighboring princes to dispossess them. In 1524, the Muslims, backed by the ruler of Calicut (today called Kozhikode), attacked the Jews of Cranganore on the pretext that they were tampering with the pepper trade. Most Jews fled to Cochin and went under the protection of the Hindu Raja there. He granted them a site for their own town that later acquired the name "Jew Town" (by which it is still known).
Unfortunately for the Cochin Jews, the Portuguese occupied Cochin during this same period and they indulged in persecution of the Jews until the Dutch displaced them in 1660. The Dutch Protestants were tolerant, and the Jews prospered. In 1795 Cochin passed into the British sphere of influence. In the 19th century, Cochin Jews lived in the towns of Cochin, Ernakulam, Aluva and Parur.
The Bene Israel claim a lineage to the kohanim, descendants of Aaron. According to Bene Israel tradition, the Bene Israel arrived in India in the first century BCE after a shipwreck stranded seven Jewish families at Navagaon near Alibag, just south of Mumbai. The families grew and integrated with the local Maharashtrian population, adopting their language, dress and food. They were nicknamed the śaniwar telī ("Saturday oil-pressers") by the local population as they abstained from work on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath.
Genetic analysis shows that the Bene Israel of India "cluster with neighbouring autochthonous populations in Ethiopia and western India, respectively, despite a clear paternal link between the Bene Israel and the Levant."
Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews or Falasha) have a tradition of descent from the lost tribe of Dan. Their tradition states that the tribe of Dan attempted to avoid the civil war in the Kingdom of Israel between Rehoboam, son of Solomon and Jeroboam, son of Nebat, by resettling in Egypt. From there they moved southwards up the Nile into Ethiopia, and the Beta Israel are descended from these Danites.
They have a long history of practicing such Jewish traditions as kashrut, Sabbath and Passover and for this reason their Jewishness was accepted by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Israeli government in 1975.
They emigrated to Israel en masse during the 1980s and 1990s, as Jews, under the Law of Return, during Israel's Operation Moses and Operation Solomon. Some who claim to be Beta Israel still live in Ethiopia. Their claims were formally accepted by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and they are accordingly generally regarded as Jews.
The Bnei Menashe is a group in India claiming to be the descendants of the half-tribe of Manasseh. In 2005 members of the Bnei Menashe who have studied Hebrew and who observe the Sabbath and other Jewish laws received the support of the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel in arranging formal conversions to Judaism. Some have converted and emigrated to Israel under the Law of Return.
According to their oral tradition, along with the rest of the tribes of Israel, the Bnei Menashe were exiled to Assyria (722 BCE). Assyria was conquered by Babylon (612 BCE), which later was conquered by Persia (457 BCE), which later was conquered by Alexander the Great of Greece (331 BCE), from here they were deported to Afghanistan. They couldn’t settle in Afghanistan, so from there they headed east until they reached the area of the Tibetan-Chinese border. They finally settled in China in 231 BCE.
This is when they realized that they probably should have stayed in Afghanistan, because the Chinese were extremely cruel to them and enslaved them. A sizable portion of them managed to escape and went into hiding from the Chinese in mountainous areas called Sinlung, which later became another name for the Tribe of Menasseh. Another name that they are commonly called are "cave people" or "mountain people". They were in hiding for two generations, during which they lived in extreme poverty, having almost no personal belongings, although they kept the Torah Scroll with them the whole time. Gradually, they started to come out of hiding, and they eventually started assimilating and picking up Chinese influences, however, because of their morbid experiences in China, they decided to leave. They set out west, through Thailand and eventually reached Mandalay, a city in Myanmar. From there they reached the Chin Mountains. In the 18th century a part of them migrated to Mizoram and Manipur which are located in North-East India.
However, with the arrival of Christian missionaries in the area, the whole community was converted to Christianity and all of their written history was destroyed. Today, there are an estimated 2 million people who can be considered Bnei Menashe, however, only about 9,000 of them returned to Judaism.
The Bene Ephraim, also called Telugu Jews because they speak Telugu, are a small community of Jews living primarily in Kottareddipalem, a village outside Guntur, India, near the delta of the River Krishna.
The Bene Ephraim trace their observance of Judaism back to ancient times, and recount a history similar to that of the Bnei Menashe in the northeastern Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur. They adopted Christianity after the arrival of Baptist missionaries around the beginning of the 19th century.
Since 1981, about 50 families around Kottareddipalem and Ongole (capital of the nearby district of Prakasham) have learned Judaism, learned Hebrew, and have sought recognition from other Jewish communities around the world. Because of the very recent re-ëmergence of this community, and also because of the current overwhelming emphasis on the use of Hebrew as a living language, rather than merely as a liturgical language, the impact of Hebrew on the daily speech of this community has not led to the development, as yet, of a distinctly identifiable "Judæo-Telugu" language or dialect. (See Jewish languages.)
The community has been visited over the years, by several groups of rabbis, who have thus far not seen fit to extend the same recognition to this community as that recently extended to the Bnei Menashe.
Black Hebrew Israelites (also called Black Hebrews, African Hebrew Israelites, and Hebrew Israelites) are groups of African Americans who believe that they are descendants of the ancient Israelites. Black Hebrews adhere in varying degrees to the religious beliefs and practices of both Christianity and Judaism. They are not recognized as Jews by the greater Jewish community. Many choose to identify as Hebrew Israelites or Black Hebrews rather than as Jews to indicate their claimed historic connections.
As recounted in Lemba oral tradition, the ancestor of the Buba clan "had a leadership role in bringing the Lemba out of Israel" and eventually into Southern Africa. A genetic study found that 50% of the males in the Buba clan has the Cohen marker, a proportion higher than that which is found in the general Jewish population. While not defining the Lemba as Jews, the genetic results confirm the oral accounts of ancestral males originating from outside Africa, and specifically from southern Arabia.
More recently, Mendez et al. (2011) observed that a moderately high frequency of the studied Lemba samples carries Y-DNA haplogroup T, which is also considered to be of Near Eastern origin. The Lemba T carriers belonged exclusively to T1b, which is rare and was not sampled in indigenous Jews of the Near East or North Africa. T1b has been observed at low frequencies in the Bulgarian and Ashkenazi Jews as well as in a few Levantine populations.
Recent research published in the South African Medical Journal studied Y chromosome variations in two groups of Lemba, one South African and the other Zimbabwean (the Remba). It concluded that "While it was not possible to trace unequivocally the origins of the non-African Y chromosomes in the Lemba and Remba, this study does not support the earlier claims of their Jewish genetic heritage." The researcher suggested "a stronger link with Middle Eastern populations, probably the result of trade activity in the Indian Ocean."
The Samaritans, once a comparatively large, but now a very small ethnic and religious group, consist of about 700 people currently living in Israel and Samaria. They regard themselves as the descendants of the tribes of Ephraim (named by them as Aphrime) and Manasseh (named by them as Manatch), the sons of Joseph. DNA tests have resulted in evidence which proves that the Samaritans are of Israelite origin. Y-DNA haplogroup studies have concluded that the majority of Samaritan men have a variation of the Cohen gene, an Israelite genetic signature found on the Y-DNA of Jews with the tradition of being patrilineally descended from Aaron, the brother of Moses. the Samaritans also retain ancient Israelite traditions that predate Judaic customs and the Oral Law. The Samaritan Pentateuch is preserved in a Paleo-Hebrew derived script that predates the Babylonian exile and further lends credence to the Israelite lineage of the Samaritans. Samaritans adhere to a version of the Torah, known as the Samaritan Pentateuch, which differs in some respects from the Masoretic text, sometimes in important ways, and less so from the Septuagint. the Samaritans do not regard the Tanakh as an accurate or truthful history. They regard only Moses as a prophet, speak their own version of Hebrew, and while they do not regard themselves as a part of Judaism, the Samaritans do consider Jews to be fellow Israelites and they view themselves and Jews as the two authentic houses of Israel. Less archaeological work has been performed on investigating the direction and the regions of the post-Assyrian exile largely because those enthusiastic in pursuing this path of research usually lack skills while archaeologists lack funds, contrary to the situation in Israel where the period of the Judges has been to some degree substantiated by physical finds, and because the interest in pursuing this subject is seen as a semi-mythical pursuit at the edge of serious research. Usually the lack of archaeological evidence has been explained by the assimilation theory which proposes that the exiled Israelites adopted so many of the traits of the surrounding cultures and that any unearthed artefacts cannot be linked to them with any certainty.
Since 539 BCE, when Jews began returning from Babylonian captivity, many Jews have rejected the Samaritan claim of descent from the Israelite tribes, though some have regarded them as a sect of Judaism. The advent of genetic studies, the discovery of the Paleo-Hebrew script, and textual comparisons between the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Masoretic text all have made it very difficult to refute the Israelite origin of the Samaritans, causing the majority of the Jewish world in modern times to view the Samaritans as an authentic Israelite group.
Claims of descent from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel have been made by a variety of non-Jewish groups. These groups include Pashtuns (see Theory of Pashtun descent from Israelites), the British (British Israelism), Kurds, the Japanese, and many others.
Members of the Latter Day Saint movement believe that through baptism and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost, they become "regathered" as Israelites, either as recovered from the scattered tribes of Israel, or as Gentiles adopted and grafted into Israel, and thus become part of the chosen people of God. These religious denominations derive from a movement started by Joseph Smith, and almost half of all members live in the United States; the movement's members do not strictly believe that they are ethnic Jews as such, but rather that the term Israelites can be used to refer to members of many different cultures, including Jews. They believe that certain Old Testament passages are prophecies implying that the tribe of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) will take a prominent role in the spreading of the gospel to all scattered Israelites in the last days, and that the tribe of Judah also has a prominent role in the last days and during the Millennium.