Michael Freund: Our goal is to bring all Bnei Menashe to Israel

Founder, chairman of group that lobbied for aliya of Indian "lost Jews" says large scale aliya has not happened due to their halachic status as gentiles.

October 20, 2013 01:41
2 minute read.
Bnei Menashe in India

Freund with a Bnei Menashe youth in India 311. (photo credit: MICHAEL FREUND)

Following last week’s cabinet decision to allow the immigration of nearly 900 members of the Indian Bnei Menashe community to Israel, Michael Freund, the founder and chairman of the Shavei Israel organization that lobbied for their aliya, told The Jerusalem Post that he wishes to see the entire community come to Israel soon.

“Our goal is to bring all the remaining members of the Bnei Menashe community here to Israel as quickly as possible,” Freund said during a telephone interview on Thursday.

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The Bnei Menashe, Shavei Israel believes, are “descendants of the tribe of Manasseh, one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel who were exiled by the Assyrian empire more than 2,700 years ago.”

While the Chief Rabbinate does not consider the Bnei Menashe to be Jewish according to Halacha, the members of the community consider themselves to be of Jewish ancestry and “committed Zionists and observant Jews” whose goal “is to return to the land of their ancestors,” Freund remarked.

According to Freund, the lost Jews are unable to convert in India and have come to Israel in small groups at irregular intervals to convert here. A large scale aliya has not been undertaken due to their halachic status as gentiles, Freund explained.

“The rabbinate requites them to undergo a process of conversion,” he said.

“Back in 2007 we brought a group on aliya with the permission of the Interior Ministry,” Freund said. “It was the Olmert government at the time and the interior minister then decided to freeze the aliya, to shut it down, and I then spent the next five years lobbying the government. Two years ago the [authorities] passed a resolution in principle calling for resumption of the aliya of the Bnei Menashe and then last year the government cabinet passed a decision in October to restart the aliya and it gave us permission to bring 270 Bnei Menashe to Israel. We brought that group in December and January.”

All told, some 2,000 members of the Bnei Menashe have arrived in the county since the 1980s, and “there are still about 7,000 in India waiting to come and now we will be bringing 900 of those 7,000 here so they’ll still be another over 6,000,” Freund explained.

According to Freund, last week’s cabinet decision allows 200 Bnei Menashe to be brought by the end of the year, 400 in 2014 and another 300 in 2015. All of the immigrants will be housed in a private absorption center run by Shavei Israel and will then be settled around the country.

“Our goal is to bring all the remaining members of the Bnei Menashe community here to Israel as quickly as possible.

We are working hand in hand with the government and whatever decision they make on the pace of the aliya are the terms that we will work under,” he said.

“Obviously, from my vantage point, I would like to see the Bnei Menashe make aliya as quickly as possible,” Freund said. “They have been waiting for a very long time.”

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