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May 23, 2016 5:26 pm

‘Lost Tribe’ of Bnei Menashe to Make Aliyah, Convert to Judaism, by End of Year

avatar by Ruthie Blum

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The Bnei Menashe in northeastern India. Photo: Facebook.

The Bnei Menashe in northeastern India. Photo: Facebook.

Israel is investing millions of shekels to bring hundreds of members of India’s Bnei Menashe community to the Jewish state and oversee their conversions to Judaism by the end of December this year, an Absorption Ministry document waiving the usual procedure for such immigration confirmed, the Hebrew news site Walla reported on Sunday.

According to the report, the document was presented to the non-profit organization Shavei Israel, which has been actively involved in trying to help the Bnei Menashe community from northeastern India move to Israel and undergo official conversions to the religion with which they claim to identify.

What is special about the document – which states that NIS 8.1 million (just over $2 million) will be allocated to bringing 712 Bnei Menashe members to Israel, converting them to Judaism and overseeing the process until they receive the temporary Israeli ID cards given to all new immigrants – is that it also constitutes a waiver of the “tender” procedure normally involved in such operations. The reasons given by the Absorption Ministry for its decision to waive the procedure were that Shavei Israel is familiar with the community; has the capability to undertake the project within a short time frame; and is “the only organization, to the best of our knowledge, that has been dealing with the Bnei Menashe in its country of origin.”

According to Walla, the document specifies that Shavei Israel will be charged with the task of flying the community from India to Israel and handling its acclimatization, including conversion, Hebrew studies and assistance in their absorption into local communities.

Michael Freund, who heads the organization, was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s deputy communications director from 1996-1997. The US-born Ra’anana resident established Shavei Israel in 2002, to bring the “lost tribes of Israel” – wherever they are in the world — back home. These communities are not defined as Jewish under Israel’s Law of Return, but feel they are rooted in the Jewish people. Freund’s organization searches for the offspring of these Lost Tribes and hidden Jews or Conversos. This is how he found the Bnei Menashe.

“India does not look kindly on efforts of missionaries to convert various populations in its midst,” an Absorption Ministry official told Walla, to explain why the Bnei Menashe cannot undergo their conversions prior to making Aliyah. The official, who remained anonymous in the interview, was extremely critical of what he called Freund’s “missionizing,” and attributed his ability to get government funding for the Bnei Menashe to his “ties with Netanyahu.”

The Bnei Menashe say their oral history of 2,700 years describes their escape from slavery in Assyria to Media/Persia. From there they moved to what is now Afghanistan and then to Hindu Kush, Tibet and then, in around 240 BCE, to Kaifeng – eventually settling in the Himalayas, where they tried to preserve their heritage. They practice many Jewish rituals.

While still working in the Prime Minister’s Office, Freund received a letter from the Bnei Menashe, who told him they were descendants of the tribe of Menashe, one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, and appealed to him to help them return to their “Promised Land.”

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  • Sachin Pathak

    I will say thank you Israel for value their descendants.

  • peniel

    wow!!I am beta israeli from ethiopia. i Israelis are good and blessed they don’t forget the remaining of ethiopian jews like the indian israelis. i say thankyou israel!!

  • Greg

    This is just beautiful news. For them and Israel.
    Strange DNA comment from Herr Silverman.

    Considering December 15 news that the early Irish and their decendents originate in the Holy lands one could only posit what his DNA test would say

  • Well, I read Hillel Halkin’s book about the B’nei Menashe and I remain extremely dubious. The description in the article both of the oral history of the B’nei Menashe and their recent practices is highly exaggerated, apart from the likelihood that they are telling their interlocutors what they would like to hear.

    I think the opportunism of Israel–the desire to grow the Jewish, or “Jewish,” population by any means possible–is meeting the opportunism of dozens of Third-World groups who are ginning up a Jewish history so they can immigrate to a First-World country. BTW–the real and undoubted descendants of the Jews and Samaritans of old–are the Palestinians. Let’s convert them!

    • Hey friend,iam Yose from Benei Menashe community.How dare you explain us to be a makeup history. If you want to know more,please come to india and ask our old parents about our oral history.This is really not a makeup history,it is a real history.we have exile for many years and decades,though we live among many different people with different religion,we donot still convert to their religion.Still in india,we live with a Hindu dominate country believer,we donot convert to their religion.

  • This is wonderful news. Many Christians believe we are in the last days.

    • RiverKing

      I mostly agree with your two sentences but I’m having trouble understanding what one has to do with the other.

  • That is AMAZING!!!

  • Nancy Brenner

    This is exciting news! I just read that genetic testing has recently proven that these Indian Jews are one of the lost tribes, which is fascinating. I have great respect for Mr. Freund’s efforts and good works in accomplishing their return to Israel.

    • Hi Nancy Brenner, I am really proud of my Jewish identity.we “The Benei Menashe” is really lost for alot of time, But G-d bless us to manage our identity through oral knowledge though we face a real hardship from different type of people. Still our fellow jews who all convert to Christian need to convert to our forefathar religion,please pray for them.

  • Russell Mollot

    Biblical prophecy is being fulfilled in our times, before our very eyes. The Ingathering from Exile continues.

  • sabine wolf-gilbert

    wonderful story

    lost tribes wonderful to bring them back
    khol a khavot


    • Mark

      Minor correction, hope you don’t mind.

      “Kol Hakavod”

  • sabine wolf-gilbert

    extraordinary story and we can be proud of all those lost tribes

  • roy wise

    Wonderful story; Wonderful man

    • A. Silverman

      What does their DNA say?

      • Ivana Talya Tufakov

        Conversion to Judaism is not about DNA. It is about making a conscious decision to cast one’s fate with the Jewish People, to embrace the values historic values of the Jewish People and to live a life style that others would clearly identify as being Jewish.