Bnei Menashe Respond to Halt of Conversions in India

The Jerusalem Post reported on November 9, 2005, that Israel had acceded to India’s demands to stop converting 7000 Indian citizens who are practicing Bnei Menashe Jews. Six rabbis had been in India since September and had already converted 200. India opposes “proselytizing.”

Expressing the outrage of the Bnei Menashe, many of whom have been practicing Judaism and awaiting the opportunity to immigrate to Israel for 10 years, T. Aviel Hangshing, president of the Bnei Menashe Council in India, wrote to the Indian Government to clarify the matter and to the Israeli Government with a request to reconsider the matter. He urges Jewish leaders in the US to pressure Israel to allow the rabbis to continue their work in India.

Here are his letters to the Indian and Israeli Governments:

The Prime Minister,
Government of India,
New Delhi

Subject : Visit of Rabbis from Israel for religious teaching to the Bnei Menashe (Lost Tribe of Israel) in N.E India.

Sir,

On behalf of Bnei Menashe Community of the North East India, I have the honour to bring to your kind notice the following clarifications.

  1. The subject matter is in the context of Israel putting a stop to visits of Rabbis to teach Judaism to Bnei Menashe (one of the Lost Tribes of Israel) in North East India, namely Manipur and Mizoram since September 2005. We are given to understand from Israel’s Foreign Ministry sources that this action of Israel has been prompted by India’s expressed concerns with “attempts by Rabbis to aggressively convert Ten Lost Tribes for the last 45 years”.
  2. These offhand actions have caused deep injuries to the sentiment of the Bnei Menashe Community here. It must be realized that injustice and discrimination have been caused by the lack of understanding and absence of even the minimum effort to comprehend the true role of the Rabbis from Israel who have been visiting the Community here.
  3. It must be clarified at the outset that the Rabbis have never indulged in the business of conversion, not to talk of Aggressive Conversion or Proselytisation of any degree. Not even ONE person from any other religion has ever been converted to Judaism by the Rabbis. If conversion means the process of changing one’s religion, this is clearly not the purpose of the visit of Rabbis to our Community in the North East. The Rabbi’s work, of teaching the finer points of Judaism is confined to only the Bnei Menashe, who are one of the Lost Tribes of Israel and who are already in the practice of Judaism. There is, therefore, also no question of conversion of the Bnei Menashe Community into Judaism as we are already Jews by practice and by heritage. In fact, it is at our instance that the Rabbis have been coming, and we need them for the teaching and guidance that they provide on the finer points of our religion. Finally and most importantly each of us individually needs them to ratify the Judaism we have been practicing. It must be understood that the use of the word “conversion” here is clearly misplaced. What is being done by the Rabbis is but a process of ratification of what already exists.
  4. Over two millenniums have gone by since the Menashe Tribe of Israel were lost beyond the “Shabbath River”. During this period we had lost almost all our Jewishness. At this late hour of reckoning, when we are trying to find ourselves again, most importantly in our religious context, it is the Rabbis of Israel that we are most in need of. To deny us this, only because of political reasons or other misplaced sensitivities, would be most unkind. It will hurt our Community very deeply.
  5. It is, therefore, my sincere request, on behalf of the Bnei Menashe Community of the North East that the Prime Minister of India and the MEA, be pleased to clarify the matter with the Israel Government so that the Rabbis may resume their work with our Community without further inhibition or apprehension of any kind. Thanking you.

Yours faithfully,

T. Aviel Hangshing, President

Bnei Menashe Council (Indo — Myanmar)

* * * * * *

The Prime Minister,
Government of Israel,
Jerusalem.

Subject : Visit of Rabbis from Israel for religious teaching to the Bnei Menashe (Lost Tribe of Israel) in N.E India.

Sir,

I have the honour to enclose herewith a copy of my letter dated the 11th December 2005 addressed to the Prime Minister of India, on the subject mentioned above, which is self explanatory.

I, on behalf of Menashe Tribe of N.E India, request for your kind intervention in the matter, so that the Rabbis can continue their valuable work with our Community, without further hindrance. Shalom.

Yours faithfully,

T. Aviel Hangshing, President

Bnei Menashe Council (Indo — Myanmar)