click here to jump to start of article
  • Torah Reading: Tzav
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

Native Americans and the Jews

Native Americans and the Jews

Whether or not Native Americans are one of the lost tribes of Israel, the strange parallels between them and the Jews are intriguing.


In his book, Mikveh Israel, written in 1650, the scholar Menashe Ben Israel suggested that a brand of South and Central American Indians were a remnant of Jews sent to exile by King Assyria and from the ten lost tribes. His theory did not gain popularity among the rabbis of his time.

The notion was revived when James Adair, an Irish trader who lived among the Indians for over 40 years, wrote in his book, The History of the American Indians, published in 1775, “From the most accurate observations I could make, in the long time I traded among the Indians of America, I was forced to believe them lineally descended from the tribes of Israel.”

Adair recorded a number of parallels in cultural practices between the Jews and the Indians. Some examples include: their division into tribes, their appointment of holy priests, their manner of counting the months through the lunar year, their festivals – some which he claimed corresponded with the Jewish calendar, their fasts and religious rites which they believed helped cleanse them of their sins, their laws of uncleanliness and marital separation during a women’s menstrual period, their ritual purification after touching the dead, their cities of refuge, their manner of burial of and mourning for the dead, and their perpetuating the name of a deceased brother through remarriage of his wife.

Adair claimed that the Jews and Indians had similar languages and dialects, with both languages lacking prepositions and formed with prefixes and suffixes. Adair also provided examples of Native American words that are supposedly similar to Hebrew words. In one example, he referred to the word for man in the Indian language as ish or ishie.

Some influential individuals such as William Penn embraced his idea, but others, including Thomas Jefferson, were more than skeptical. In a letter penned to John Adams about Adair’s belief, he wrote, “He adopts all the falsehoods which favor his theory.”

The “Holy Stones”

Another notable incident in the 1800’s that refueled a dying debate was the discovery of the Newark Holy Stones, found in a cluster of Indian mines in Newark, Ohio. Some of the stones were written with the modern Hebrew alphabet, while others were in archaic or Paleo-Hebrew, a language that dates back to pre-Colombian times. The stones contained the name of God spelled out in yud-key-vav-key, an abridged version of the Ten Commandments, and an engraving of what historians believe to be Moses surrounded by ancient Hebrew lettering.

Some years Later, the Los Lunas Dacalogue stone, an 80-ton boulder with an abridged version of Ten Commandments in Paleo-Hebrew, was also found in New Mexico. These discoveries sparked a reaction from both supporters and skeptics alike. While Reform leader Isaac Mayer Wise chose to undermine the stone’s authenticity, Orthodox leader Isaac Leeser sided in favor of the theory. He penned in his paper, The Occident, “The sons of Jacob were walking on the soil of Ohio many centuries before the birth of Columbus.”

Likewise, as many historians and archeologists as there are who see the stones as authentic proofs, an equal number rejects them as hoaxes. None of these stones were tested for authenticity in a lab environment.

Chief Riverwind

Chief Joseph Riverwind, the present tribe leader of the Northern Arawak Tribal Nation of South American and the Caribbean, dismisses the skepticism as ethnocentrism. A descendant of the bnei anusim or crypto-Jews, Riverwind is among the few who believe that Native Americans share ties with the Jews. Chief Riverwind shared his atypical sentiments in an interview with Breaking Israel News. In the interview, he shared and translated a prayer which he believes is reminiscent of the shema prayer: “Shema, shema, nayena, popaska hoya yah” was translated to, “listen, listen, people, as you gather together, we will dance before the creator.”

Chief Joseph Riverwind

Riverwind explained that while among his people, the ancient name for God is Yah Yah, among his wife’s ancestors, the Cherokee, they called God YoHeWaH, a title with striking similarities to yud-ke-vav-keh. “They also carried an ark into battle, kept a seventh day of rest, had cities of refuge, and don’t eat pork," maintains Riverwind.

Chief Riverwind also told Breaking Israel News of the stories that are passed down by trained storytellers that he claims existed from Pre-Colombian times. One story relates how the Creator came to a man called Nuah and told him the world would be covered with water, after which he built a raft to save the future of mankind. A second story he related is how mankind tried to build a tower to the sky and was dispersed by God, reminiscent of the account of the Tower of Babel.

Theory Debunked?

The theory had been relegated to myth once geneticist Simon G. Southerton’s publicized his findings in his book, Losing a Lost Tribe. Southerton recounts his study of the origin of Native Americans based on DNA genetic markers to reveal that the Indians are of Siberian and Polynesian origin. If, as people claim, they are descended from Jews, genetic markers should point in the direction of the Middle East.

Despite the fact that many see this theory as a bygone notion of the past, some scientists, geneticists, and historians continue to quietly study and hypothesize. According to The Jewish Chronicle, Geneticist and Cherokee descendant Donald Yates, genetically tested a group of 67 Cherokee Indians and have found a new gene among one-quarter of them – a gene largely found in the Middle East. In a surprising study recorded in a 2013 National Geographic article, nearly one-third of the Native American genes tested come from the Middle East and Europe, rather than East Asia, as originally assumed.

We may never be able to scientifically prove the true origins of most Native Americans or whether any were influenced firsthand by the Jewish people. Some speculate that King Solomon may have reached America in his three-year trading voyages to bring back exotic animals and gold, possibly influencing the Indians – but it remains a conjecture only. One indisputable fact, however, is the far-reaching impact the Jews continue to have on the world.

March 3, 2018

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 14

(14) Anonymous, March 9, 2018 10:48 PM


A Mormon linguistics professor, Brian D. Stubbs, has made a very strong academic case that one large family of Native American languages (Uto-Aztecan, which includes Shoshone of Idaho on the north to Nahuatl (Aztec) of Mexico on the south) as having strong connections to two strands of semitic languages, as well as Egyptian. Check it out:

(13) Sharon, March 8, 2018 10:15 PM

Sounds like everyone wants to be Jewish

I guess God knows who is and where they are. Its going to be fun to see the truth when the time comes.

(12) Anonymous, March 8, 2018 4:12 PM

Native Americans ARE of Jewish descent.

I lived among the Navajo and the Hopi fro about 8 years. They are the best people in this World. They refer to themselves as "Ashkenazi". They tell a story of a white man who holds the "tablet" which they hold the first tablet, white an holds the second. They await his arrival. The tablets handed down from Hashem on Mt. Sinai? Blessed be He. I believe they are Jews.

(11) Buddy Lee, March 8, 2018 6:46 AM

Cherokee ARE Kohen Gadol Levites

CHEROKEE LEVITES From my research it is MOST plausible that the Tribe of Levi (from which the Eastern Band Cherokees match the DNA of the Kohen Gadol) were so Jewish (in their ways, customs, and language) that the Jews who came from Europe married them as Jews, because else it would have been prohibited. Yes, there are some tribes which have mixed in more with darker nations, however the lightest Natives are Cherokees, and that which is seen on the movies is only a guess at what they are. The pictures you see of Natives are hardly ever the Cherokees of Appalachia because their heritage was hidden for centuries on penalty of death (for it was the law to kill every man, woman, and child Native in KY for 20 years), so any pictures you would have seen of them would have appeared as White as I am now. I know my ancestors and my peoples, and the only way it makes sense in 2 different states, with two different branches, is that the Jews who arrived and changed their names multiple times (because last names were new for them) did find their own while in flight during Diaspora. Haskala conditions and pogroms had deteriorated their ability to remain and even marry in Europe legally, so they set forth. My ancestors were instructed to never talk about their Cherokee ancestry, for fear of death and deportation, but every one of their houses that I have ever known has been burned (but not my own --yet...thank Hashem).

(10) Abagail, March 7, 2018 12:17 AM

What About Testing Choctaw Native Americans......

What about testing Choctaw Native Americans from Philadelphia Mississippi? I think you will be surprised by the results that will prove Jewish ancestry among that specific tribe. ~Abagail~

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment