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Bnei Menashe-  “Descendants of Israel”

August 8, 2005
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The Bnei Menashe claim descent from the tribe of Manasseh, one of the 10 tribes exiled from the Land of Israel by the Assyrian empire over 2,700 years ago. They reside primarily in two Indian states, Mizoram and Manipur, along the border with Burma and Bangladesh.  Over 800 members of the community have made aliyah (immigrated to Israel), thanks largely to the efforts of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), a group that reaches out and assists “lost Jews” seeking to return to the Jewish people.

Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund praised the decision. “This is a momentous day, and we are very grateful to the Chief Rabbinate for the openness and sensitivity that they have demonstrated in addressing the issue of the Bnei Menashe. This is the breakthrough that we have all been waiting for, and, thank God, the remaining 6,000 members of the community still in India will at last be able to come home to Zion.”

Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum, a dayan (rabbinical court judge) and spokesman for Rabbi Amar, said that the decision had come after careful consideration and study of the issue. “The chief rabbi sent a delegation of two dayanim [rabbinical court judges] to India last year to conduct a thorough investigation of the community and its origins. After a thorough review of their findings, it was decided that the Bnei Menashe are in fact descendants of Israel and should be drawn closer to the Jewish people.”

Rabbi Birnbaum added that once various conditions laid down by the chief rabbi are fulfilled, such as the construction of mikvaot (ritual baths) in India and the dispatch of additional teachers, then the Chief Rabbinate will send a beit din of its own to the area to formally convert members of the community to Judaism, thereby allowing them to make aliyah to Israel.

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