JERUSALEM – Israel has decided to adopt about 6,000 Indians who claim Jewish ancestry, and plans to send a team of rabbinical judges to formally convert them to Orthodox Judaism (search), the Haaretz newspaper reported Friday.
The mass conversion, ordered by Israeli Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar (search), will enable members of the group, called the "Bnei Menashe," or children of Manasseh, who claim descent from one of the lost tribes of Israel, to immigrate to Israel, the paper reported.
The Chief Rabbi's office was closed Friday, the eve of the Jewish sabbath, and Amar's spokeswoman could not be reached for comment. Last year, Amar sent a delegation to India to investigate the community's links to Judaism.
About 800 of the Bnei Menashe (search) have been brought to Israel from their home in northeast India over the last decade by a group called Amishav, Hebrew for "my people returns."
According to Amishav, there is ample evidence to show that the Bnei Menashe are of Jewish descent. Their customs, including mourning rites, hygiene and the use of a lunar calendar, closely mirror Jewish traditions.
According to scripture, during the reign of King Solomon, the tribes of Israel split into two kingdoms, Israel in the north and Judea in south. In 723 B.C. the Assyrians conquered the kingdom of Israel and took 10 of the 12 biblical tribes into exile, where they dispersed among the nations.
The return of the "lost tribes" to their ancient homeland is viewed by some as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and a herald of the Messiah.
The Bnei Menashe were animists when they were converted to Christianity by British missionaries in the 19th century. In 1953, a tribal leader named Mlanchala had a dream in which his people would return to Israel. The tribe then adopted — or perhaps readopted — Jewish traditions.
However, their links to the Jewish people could not be proved, so they were not deemed eligible to immigrate to Israel under Israeli law, which gives Jews the right to automatic citizenship.