Amar: Bnei Menashe Are Descendants of Ancient Israelites

Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar decided on Wednesday to recognize the members of India's Bnei Menashe community as descendants of the ancient Israelites.

Amar also decided to dispatch a team of rabbinical judges to India to convert the community members to Orthodox Jews. Such a conversion will enable their immigration to Israel under the Law of Return, without requiring the Interior Ministry's authorization.

The International Fellowship of Christians & Jews (IFCJ), a group that raises money among evangelical Christians for Jewish causes, has undertaken to finance the process of converting the Bnei Menashe community and bringing them to Israel.

The Bnei Menashe community consists of close to 7,000 members of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribe, which lives in northeast India near the border of Myanmar (formally Burma). For generations they kept Jewish traditions, claiming to be descended from the tribe of Menashe, one of the ten lost Israeli tribes that were exiled by the Assyrians in the eighth century B.C.E. and have since disappeared.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the tribe's members converted to Christianity, but about 30 years ago, some of the community began moving back to Judaism and set themselves apart from the rest of the tribe.

A number of researchers who visited the group over the years got the impression that their traditions are authentically Israelite in origin. Two genetic studies carried out over the past year have attempted to examine the issue. The studies compared DNA samples taken from several hundred members of the Kuki tribe to a DNA Jewish profile and to a general Middle Eastern profile.

A study performed by scientists in Kolkata concludes that while the masculine side of the genetic profile has no affiliation to the nation of Israel, the feminine side has a certain family relationship to the genetic profile of Middle Eastern people. The difference between the masculine and feminine sides may be explained by the marriage of one of the mothers of the tribe, who came from the Middle East, to a local native.

A second genetic study is still being conducted by the Technion in Haifa.

About 12 years ago, the Interior Ministry allocated an annual quota of 100 immigrants from the Bnei Menashe tribe. So far some 800 of them have immigrated and undergone conversion in Israel. The majority of them live in settlements in the territories, including 250 people in Gaza's Gush Katif.