GUWAHATI, April 6: Thousands of tribals in India’s north east are set to migrate to the promised land after Israel recognized them as descendants of one of the Biblical lost tribes, community leaders say.
The 6,000-strong “Bnei Menashe“, or children of Manasseh Tribe, spread across Mizoram and Manipur states have been officially recognized by sephardic or oriental chief rabbi Shlomo Amar in Jerusalem.
“We do not have words to express our joy,” 48-year-old Peer Tlau, an engineer in Mizoram’s capital Aizawl, said. “We are now looking for the day when we can migrate to our promised land in Israel.”
Rabbinical judges are due to arrive in the remote states to formally convert the group to Orthodox Judaism and launch procedures for “aliyah”, or ascent to Israel. Two religious jurists visited Mizoram and Manipur last year to research the Bnei Menashe claims.
“After a thorough review of their findings, it was decided that the Bnei Menashe are in fact descendants of Israel and should be drawn closer to the Jewish people,” says a statement received here from rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum, a rabbinical court judge and spokesman for rabbi Amar.
As news of the recognition reached the mountainous state of Mizoram this week, people rejoiced and offered thanksgiving prayers. “We sang and had good food and also offered special prayers to celebrate the occasion,” said Elishevah Zodingliani, a journalist in Aizawl.
The decision concludes years of wrangling as the Menashe pushed their right to return under Jewish law. Some 800 people from Mizoram and Manipur have managed to migrate to Israel since 1994 when a private body, called the Amishav Association took up their case, despite fears among the Israeli authorities that the Indians were simply seeking a better life.
The last batch of 71 tribals left the north east for Jerusalem in May 2003. Israel’s interior ministry had since then effectively frozen the granting of immigration visas for the Jews of Mizoram and Manipur.
“Now that the Chief Rabbi has formally recognized us, there should be no problems to migrate to our native land,” said Yonathan Ralte, a college student. Apart from names, the tribals share many practices in common with traditional Jews – keeping mezuzahs or parchment inscribed with verses of the Torah at the entrance to their homes, the men wearing a kippa during prayers.
“The process of migration will be possible only if we are able to read and write Hebrew and practise Judaism in its truest form,” Peer Tlau noted. In Mizoram, about 87 per cent of the nearly 900,000 people are Christian.
The church has maintained a neutral stand, although individual religious leaders have opposed formal conversions to Judaism. “We do not have problems if someone decides to get converted into Judaism as one has the right to choose any faith,” said Lalrinawma, who uses only one name, moderator of the Presbyterian Synod in Mizoram.
Apr. 6, 2005