'Jews they are definitely not'

Tsvi Misinai's theories are based on the idea that the Palestinians have Jewish roots, and the evidence he presents for this claim is certainly persuasive. But does the fact that the Palestinians were once Jewish make them more eligible than any other gentiles to be considered Jewish today? "Jewish they are definitely not," says Rabbi Dov Stein, a member of a rabbinical body that sees itself as the modern heir of the ancient Sanhedrin. A former IDF chaplain, Stein says that his organization is the only one in the world dealing with the philosophical and practical issues of the relationship between Jews and non-Jews. "We were the ones who approached Tsvi when we heard about this, but you have to realize that he does not speak from a halachic perspective," he says. Misinai, who is secular when it comes to religious commitment, can even see the possibility of the Palestinians remaining Muslim, while somehow joining the Jewish people, Stein says. "Obviously the notion of Muslim Jews will not work," he says, adding that "he is a bit optimistic in the presentation of his ideas, but they are definitely valid." Stein has no doubt as to the veracity of Misinai's findings - and many of the Palestinians are "more Jewish" than many of the "lost tribes" who have rediscovered their Jewish roots in recent years. "For example, 200 years ago the town of Sakhnin was completely Jewish. If the residents there were forcibly converted and lived like Marranos for 200 years, they are a lot closer to their Jewish roots and past than Spanish Marranos, who have been hiding their heritage for 500 years." Just how many Palestinians he believes have Jewish roots, he won't say. "It's possible Tsvi is right, and 90 percent of them have Jewish roots. But the question is, what do we do with that now?" Stein tells a story of a recent conversation he had with a taxi driver. "In one breath, he was telling me how he wished to become a shahid, a martyr for Islam, and in the next breath, he told me that his mother's maiden name was Cohen! Is that taxi driver Jewish? This is the reality Tsvi - and all Jews - are dealing with," he says. All the more so for Jews who converted generations ago, not to mention members of the ancient nations of Moab and Edom - who, along with the Ten Tribes, were more or less lost to history after the invasions of Assyria and Babylon. Some Palestinians who have learned about their Jewish roots have converted, but as things stand now, it's unlikely the majority would. However, that could change, if the government were to get involved, funding courses and providing jobs and support for the Palestinians who choose to join the Jewish people. "With a support system, many Palestinians would probably be interested in learning more about their heritage, perhaps starting out with a commitment to the seven Noahide laws" - the basic laws the Torah prescribes for non-Jews that are accepted by most civilized people anyway. "Even if they do not choose to convert, the fact that they get to know their Jewish past will perhaps help them to see that we are not their enemies, ameliorating their attitude toward us." For Stein, that would be a fine result of Misinai's Engagement.