Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Bnei Menashe ("Children of Menassas", Hebrew בני מנשה) are a small group of Jews from India's northeastern states of Manipur and Mizoram, claiming descent from the Ten Lost Tribes, specifically, from the tribe of Menasseh (Menashe, in Hebrew). They come from the Shinlung tribes, and speak Mizo and Kuki .
The Bnei Menashe have an oral tradition that their forefathers were exiled and enslaved by the Assyrians 2700 years ago, and that they later escaped to the east, eventually arriving in China. This tradition also includes a description of persecutions (1,000 years prior to the advent of the Kaifeng Jewish Community of Kaifeng), which drove their ancestors to the south, as a result of which, they ultimately arrived in the border regions of China, Myanmar (Burma), and India, where they reside today.
The tradition continues that, upon the arrival in the early 1900s, of Christian missionaries, the bulk of the population converted to Christianity, believing the missionaries' message that their ancient prophecies had been fullfilled by Jesus. Today, the majority of the population of this area remains Christian.
In 1951, a local chief named Tchalah had a vision, which he shared with his people, indicating that God had instructed him to direct his people to return to their pre-Christian religion, which he determined to be Judaism, and to return to what he declared to be his people's original homeland, Israel. Several thousand of his followers set out, on foot, to go to Israel, soon thereafter being turned back (mostly for political reasons) by Indian authorities.
Because of their tenuous (and in the opinion of many, only legendary) connection to the Jewish people, those who wish to (re)join the Jewish people are required to undergo an Orthodox conversions, since, while some Israeli rabbis regard their claims as legitimate, many do not; therefore, to satisfy dissenting opinions, every effort is made to ensure that they are accepted according to the strictest interpretation of Jewish law.
As of April 2005, there were approximately 800 Bnei Menashe living in Israel, with an additional 5,000-8,000 remaining in northeastern India and neighboring regions in Myanmar (Burma). As a consequence of the Israeli Rabbinate's recognition of the Bnei Menashe as members of a "Lost Tribe", a beth din (Jewish religious court) is to be dispatched to the region to oversee the formalities of their conversion to Judaism.
Controversy in Israel
Israeli law stipulates that all Jews have a right to immigrate to Israel, receiving full citizenship rights upon arrival. These rights also apply to immigrants who live within the disputed territories of Yesha. Because of the fact that most immigrants from India (as well as from Peru and Ethiopia) were Orthodox, or arrived in Israel and underwent Orthodox conversions, the anti-religious party Shinui has long been opposed to this policy, especially when the majority of such immigrants decide to live in Yesha. This led to the June 2003 edict by Interior Minister Avraham Poraz to effectively deny further immigration to Israel from those three countries. Because of the fact that the immigrants are Andean Indians, black Ethiopians and Orientals, this led to immediate allegations of racism, not only from political opponents, but from Jewish-interest and human rights groups internationally. With the 2005 decision by the Rabbinate, this issue has been rendered moot, at least as far as the Bnei Menashe are concerned: their conversions will be conducted abroad, and they will therefore be recognized as wholly Jewish prior to their arrival.
- Kulanu's Indian Jewish communities page, including a number of Bnei Menashe links
- Shavei Israel, the foremost advocacy group for the Bnei Menashe in Israel (formerly Amishav)
- BBCNews: Mizo 'Jews' seek Israel visas
- BBCNews: India's 'lost Jews' wait in hope
- Arutz Sheva: Rabbinate Accepts Bnei Menashe as Lost Tribe
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