Members of Bnei Menashe to make aliyah
Group claiming lineage to Lost Tribes of Israel set to immigrate to Israel after undergoing conversion in Nepal by teams from Rabbinical Court
Affinity to land of Israel Photo: Ata Uwisat
Some 7,200 members of Bnei Menashe (“Children of Menasseh”), a group of people hailing from north-eastern India who claim lineage to one of the Lost Tribes of Israel, will make aliyah after converting to Judaism in Nepal.
According to a tradition that has been passed along for generations, the members of Bnei Menashe identify themselves as descendents of the Menashe tribe – one of the 10 tribes that exiled from Land of Israel at the end of the First Temple period.
For the past decade, Shavei Israel Organization, which help Jewish people across the world immigrate to Israel, has been working with Bnei Menashe communities in India and building education centers where they can learn Hebrew and Judaism to help strengthen their Jewish identity and aid those who wish to immigrate to Israel.
The organization, headed by Michael Freund, has also been working with the government in order to convince it to allow all the group members to immigrate to Israel.
Currently, Bnei Menashe operates some 50 synagogues and has an umbrella organization that coordinates between the communities.
Few members of Bnei Menashe have already made aliyah back in 1982 and some 1,250 members visited Israel prior to 2003 with the permission of the Ministry of Interior.
In March 2005 Chief Rabbi of Israel Shlomo Amar recognized the affinity Bnei Menashe members have to the Land of Israel and decided that they must be integrated back into the Jewish people.
However, Rabbi Amar objected letting the members immigrate to Israel prior to converting to Judaism.
Conversion in Nepal
Three years ago, teams of rabbis converted a few hundred Bnei Menashe members in India, however this caused a rift between the two countries after India claimed Israel is involved in missionary activity and religious conversion, which is forbidden by the Indian law.
The proposed solution was to conduct the conversion in a different country. Nepal was chosen because officials in Israel did not think the Nepalese government would object to having the conversions take place on its territory and also because Shavei Israel already holds annual educational and young leadership seminars in the country.
In addition, the route from northeast India to Nepal is fairly short and can be done via trains, and therefore does not pose a logistic obstacle.
According to the plan, members of Bnei Menashe will travel to Nepal in groups of 200-300 people and then undergo conversion by teams from the Rabbinical Court who will be sent specially for the task.
After the conversion process is complete, they will be allowed to immigrate to Israel with an immigrant visa. The government estimated that within one to two years, the entire community can be brought to Israel.
The issue of Bnei Menashe was first brought to the public’s attention in 1996 after members of the community sent an emotional letter to then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which they pleaded for help.
The letter was opened by Michael Freund, an immigrant from the United States who served as an advisor in the Prime Minister’s office and decided to take the matter into his own hands. Today he heads the Shavei Israel organization.