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Posted by on Oct 21, 2013 in Religion, Society | 2 comments

India without Jews soon?

Bnei Menashe children celebrating Yom Haatzmaut in Manipur, India (Photo by Natasha Mozgovaya)

Although there is no anti-Semitism in India and the Jews have even occupied top government and military posts, the number of Jews in the country is dwindling fast. The latest development is likely to reduce their number in a dramatic fashion. Of the 5,000 estimated Jews in India, Israel has allowed 899 Indian Jews from states of Manipur and Mizoram, the members of the “lost” Bnei Menashe tribe, to immigrate to the Jewish state.

The Israeli 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 2013. “Bnei Menashe (literally sons of Menashe), a group of indigenous people from north-Eastern border states of Manipur and Mizoram, trace their roots to one of the ten ‘lost tribes’ of Jews exiled by the Assyrian regime over 2,700 years ago,” reports India’s Outlook magazine. More here…

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. “Our goal is to bring all the remaining members of the Bnei Menashe community here to Israel as quickly as possible,” says Michael Freund, the founder and chairman of the Shavei Israel.

“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.”

“This is a bluff,” said Avraham Poraz, a former Israeli interior minister who temporarily halted Bnei Menashe immigration a decade ago. “They don’t have any connection to Judaism.” The Bnei Menashe are hardly the first group to make claims of ancient Jewish ancestry in a bid to gain Israeli citizenship. The Falash Mura, Ethiopians who claimed to be descendants of Jews who converted to Christianity more than a century ago, were brought to Israel starting in the early 2000s.More here…

India is almost unique among countries of the world in its attitude towards its Jews. There is no known anti-Semitism in India nor are Jews looked upon as in any significant way different from the many Indian minority religions. The character of Indian culture — its relative placidity, its acceptance of diversity, and its inherent communalism — have given the Jews a sanctuary the likes of which has never been known in any of the countries of the western world. At the same time Indian Jewry has, perforce, acquired the characteristics of the Indian population in general. Their social patterns, psychological characteristics, and culture all bear the marks of the civilization within which they have been located for hundreds if not thousands of years. See here…

The oldest of the Indian Jewish communities is in Cochin. The traditional account is that traders from Judea arrived in the city of Cochin, Kerala, in 562 BCE, and that more Jews came as exiles from Israel in the year 70 CE. after the destruction of the Second Temple.The distinct Jewish community was called Anjuvannam. The still-functioning synagogue in Mattancherry belongs to the Paradesi Jews, the descendants of Sephardim that were expelled from Spain in 1492. More here…And here…

My two-year-old post in this blog on the oldest Jewish woman in India. I contacted the family in Chandigarh, India, recently, and learnt that the old Jewish lady was in a fairly good health. Pl see here…

Photo above: Bnei Menashe children celebrating Yom Haatzmaut in Manipur, India (Photo by Natasha Mozgovaya)

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