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News updated at 12:20 AM IST

Israel allows 899 Indian Jews to immigrate

Jerusalem, Oct 20, 2013 (PTI): 18:53 IST
A newly arrived Jewish immigrant from India cries upon arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv. Reuters
Israel has allowed 899 Indian Jews from Manipur and Mizoram, the members of the "lost" Bnei Menashe tribe, to immigrate to the Jewish state.

The cabinet last week decided to allow the immigration of the Indian Bnei Menashe community to Israel in multiple groups with the first batch expected by the end of the year.

Bnei Menashe (literally sons of Menashe), a group of indigenous people from north-Eastern border states of Manipur and Mizoram, trace their roots in one of the ten "lost tribes" of Jews exiled by the Assyrian regime over 2,700 years ago.

Hundreds of Bnei Menashe are already living in Israel, having made aliyah (immigration) with the help of an NGO, Shavei Israel, dedicated to bringing "lost Jews" around the world to Israel.

Michael Freund, the founder and chairman of the Shavei Israel organization that lobbied for their aliya, said 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," he was quoted as saying by The Jerusalem Post today.

Freund said the cabinet's decision will allow 200 Bnei Menashe people to be brought to Israel 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.

Their immigration to Israel was facilitated by the ruling of the former chief Sephardic Rabbi in 2005 who declared them descendants of Israel amid intense debate over their Jewish ancestry.

Some 274 members of the northeastern Indian Jews arrived in Israel earlier this year.

However, in 2004 Israel's then Interior Minister Avraham Poraz had put a freeze on the immigration of the group raising questions on their Jewishness.

The Chief Rabbinate does not consider the Bnei Menashe to be Jewish according to Halacha (Jewish norms), but the members of the community consider themselves to be of Jewish ancestry and are committed Zionists and observant Jews whose goal is to return to the land of their ancestors, Freund said.

He said Bnei Menashe are unable to convert in India and have come to Israel in small groups at irregular intervals to convert here.

Some 2,000 members of the Bnei Menashe have arrived in Israel since the 1980s and around 7,000 members of the group still live in India.

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