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Rabbis convert India's 'lost tribe of Israel' ^ | 9/27/2005 | Aaron Klein

Posted on 09/27/2005 9:46:08 AM PDT by SirLinksalot

Rabbis convert 'lost tribe of Israel'

Recognize 200 members of group believing it descended from Joseph


Posted: September 26, 2005 11:03 p.m. Eastern

By Aaron Klein 2005

An official delegation of Israeli rabbis arrived in India last week and began converting to Judaism members of a group that believes it is one of the ten "lost tribes" of Israel, jump starting a process many hope will bring the tribe's remaining 7,000 members to the Jewish state.

The Bnei Menashe say they are the descendants of Manasseh, one of biblical patriarch Joseph's two sons, and a grandson of Jacob. They live in the two Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur, to which they claim to have been exiled from Israel over 2,700 years ago by the Assyrian empire, and have been trying the past fifty years to return to Israel.

"The rabbinic delegation is a historic turning point," Michael Freund, chairman of Shavei Israel, the Israeli group that arranged the tour, told WND. "It is comforting to see the words of the prophets are coming true before our very eyes with the journey home to Zion of this lost tribe."

Six rabbis were sent by Israel's Sephardic Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Amar, in conjunction with Shavei to begin converting the Bnei Menashe. The rabbis met with hundreds of tribal members, testing their knowledge of Judaism and assessing their conviction, converting two hundred individuals over 90 percent of those who were interviewed. The candidates rejected were told to continue to study Jewish tradition for reassessment upon the rabbis' next trip.

"The rabbis were incredibly impressed with the Bnei Menashe," said Freund. "They saw for themselves that the group is very serious, and should be integrated into the Jewish nation."

Now officially Jewish, the 200 converts can apply for Israeli citizenship under the country's "Law of Return" law, which guarantees sanctuary to Jews from around the world. The Bnei Menashe are set to receive financial and other aide from Freund's group.

Over the last decade, Shalvei Israel, working with other organizations, brought about 800 Bnei Menashe members to Israel. Many settled in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.

More than 60 lived in Gaza's former Gush Katif slate of Jewish towns, but were expelled with last month's evacuation of the area and are now searching for housing along with other Gaza refugees.

"That these expelled Bnei Menashe are still sticking together with other Gaza refugees shows how deeply they were integrated here in Israel. They see themselves as a part of the Israeli community," said Freund.

Rabbi Amar formally recognized the group as Jews last March. Their return to Israel had been halted in 2003 when then-Israeli Interior Minister Avraham Poraz froze their immigration, prompting Freund to turn to the chief rabbinate so Bnei Menashe members in India can be converted and can return as legally recognized Jews, circumventing the Interior Ministry.

According to Bnei Menashe oral tradition, the tribe was exiled from Israel and pushed to the east, eventually settling in the border regions of China and India, where most remain today.

In the 1950s, a man named Tchelah, the chief of an Indian village, said he had a vision, which he shared with his people, that his community was the lost tribe of Menashe. Most in his town had customs similar to Jewish tradition, but they couldn't explain why. They were told by Tchelach to return at once to Israel and embrace the Jewish faith.

Several thousand Bnei Menashe set out on foot to Israel, but were quickly halted by Indian authorities. Undeterred, many in the village started learning Jewish tradition, and began practicing Orthodox Judaism.

Tchelah's son, Shimon Kolney, was among the Jews brought to Israel by Freund that settled in Gaza.

"The latest events with the chief rabbinate helps so much," said Freund. "In another few years, I am certain the rest of the Bnei Menashe still in India will return home to Zion."