The government recently passed a resolution to resume immigration of the Bnei
Menashe, a tribal group from India and Burma who descend from the tribe of
Menashe, one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.
The Bnei Menashe’s Jewish
roots had been recognized in 2005 by Rabbi Shlomo Amar who had ruled that they
must, however, undergo conversion to be recognized as full Jews.
aliya has since then been taken under the wing of the Shavei Israel
organization, which aims at “helping descendants of Jews reconnect with the
people and State of Israel” and facilitate their aliya.
In 2007, after
the organization had brought 230 people from the Bnei Menashe community, to
Israel, their aliya was frozen by the Olmert government after members of the
cabinet, in particular then interior minister, MK Meir Sheetrit, had opposed
“Apparently, there are those in government who think that if they
come to Israel and convert to Judaism, maybe they will vote in future
elections,” Sheetrit told Army Radio on Tuesday.
Michael Freund, chairman
and founder of Shavei Israel, said he had been lobbying the Netanyahu government
on the issue for a few years, as he had in the past worked as an adviser to the
Freund is grateful for the resolution, which was adopted
unanimously by the cabinet and is to allow Shavei Israel to fly a first group of
275 Bnei Menashe to the country.
“This will be the first group we are
bringing in five years,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
Shavei Israel is
expected to cover the cost of the initiative, which includes airfare and part of
the cost of the group’s initial stay in the country. The organization is also
planning on opening a private absorption center where the olim will spend their
first few months in Israel.
During that time, they will have to undergo official
conversion supervised by the rabbinical authorities, in addition to completing a
variety of bureaucratic processes – following which they can be granted Israeli
citizenship and receive the status of olim. They are then expected to move north
to places such as Acre and Kiryat Malachi.
Freund explained that his
organization does not receive government funding but relies on private donations
from American and European Jewish philanthropists and also from the
International Christian Embassy.
“The Bnei Menashe are a blessing to
Israel and the Jewish people,” Freund told the Post, “They work hard, support
themselves and their families, serve in the IDF and raise beautiful Jewish
He added that the “return” of the Bnei Menashe to Israel is a
“miracle of biblical and historic proportions.”
The first group of 275
individuals is expected to arrive to Israel next month. Shavei Israel’s centers
in India are preparing them for the move.
This includes teaching them
Hebrew and familiarizing them with Jewish traditions and life in the
Over the past 15 years, Shavei Israel has brought about 1,700 Bnei
Menashe home, but according to the organization, another 7,000 of them are left
in India and wish to make aliya.