Indian state grants minority status to its Jewish community

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara tour the green houses in Gujarat, India, along with Indian Prime Minister Nrenda Modi, on January 17, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

The Indian State of Gujarat granted minority status to its Jewish community.

The decision on Friday makes Gujarat the third state in India to recognize Jews as a minority community.

The recognition means that Jews there “shall get benefits of welfare schemes formulated for religious minority communities within the jurisdiction of Gujarat,” its government said in a statement, according to the Times of India.

Gujarat is home to about 170 Jews, mostly centered in the western city of Ahmedabad. The city also is home to the only synagogue in the state, the Magen Abraham Synagogue, built in 1934.

Gujarat hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to India in January.

Maharashtra and West Bengal are the other states that have granted minority status to their Jewish communities.

India has six official minority communities: Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Parsis, and Jains.

When Israel was established in 1948, India was home to approximately 25,000 Jews, according to the Jewish Agency. Between 1948 and 1979, 24,000 Indian Jews immigrated to Israel and thousands more elsewhere.

In recent years, thousands of people from northeast India claiming to be the descendants of a lost biblical Jewish tribe emigrated to Israel after years of controversy over their connection to Judaism.

The Bnei Menashe say they are descended from Jews banished from ancient Israel to India in the eighth century BCE. An Israeli chief rabbi recognized them as a lost tribe in 2005, and about 1,700 moved to Israel over the next two years and underwent conversion before the government stopped giving them visas.

In 2012, Israel reversed that policy, agreeing to let the remaining 7,200 Bnei Menashe immigrate. As of 2015, some 3,000 members of the Bnei Menashe community had moved to Israel.

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