Friday, January 29, 2010

Conversion in the service of politics: Bnei Menashe


The National 

Nazareth, Israel  The Israeli government is reported to have quietly approved the fast-track immigration of 7,000 members of a supposedly “lost Jewish” tribe, known as the Bnei Menashe, currently living in a remote area of India.

Under the plan, the “lost Jews” would be brought to Israel over the next two years by right-wing and religious organisations who, critics are concerned, will seek to place them in West Bank settlements in a bid to foil Israel’s partial agreement to a temporary freeze of settlement growth. [...]

25 comments :

  1. Recipients and PublicityJanuary 29, 2010 at 3:16 PM

    Where and when will this madness end? There are so many groups and theories of who descends from the "Ten Lots Tribes" including the British and the Japanese that have been documented with all sorts of books and research.

    This kind of stuff is just another manifestation of that age-old Jewish malady summed up as "the urge to merge" with the gentiles. In the diaspora this has been manifested by huge assimilation, intermarraige and then the resultant attempts at "converting" gentile spouses and gentile offspring.

    Yet, even with the Jews safely home in Israel, with the local Arabs not being too amenable to "merging" with Jews (Arabs are under sway of the murderous Hamas and Hizbola "urge to murder" Jews, r"l) so what do Israeli Jews do? they perk up their silly ears and very naively open up to seeking out nebachs, running around the world (Nepal ????!!!!) and setting up conversion factories to convert any group that can minimally mouth the words "vee kom fram lust traibs" or some such. If this weren't so stupid and self-defeating for the integrity and self-respect of all Jews it would be comical.

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  2. The headline you use is curious. Are you implying that the NE Indians are converting over "politics?" Did they keep a family tradition that they descend from the 10 tribes for "political reasons?" How long did this tradition exist and what caused them to begin promoting it to themselves - was there some political impetus in history? Or was it simply a sincere family tradition?

    Aren't gerim usually people who ultimately feel Jewish inside and end up converting because of that? (Don't some even say that gerim really had a Jewish neshama beforehand?) How are these Indians different? And what makes you certain they don't intend to keep Jewish law and sincerely join our nation? What makes you automatically question their motivation to go through with the conversion process?

    There are many sincere gerim throughout the world who are forced into trying ordeals (rejection after rejection) for years and years for no apparent reason despite the fact that they are sincere about converting and keeping halacha, and safeguards are in place not to weed out the sincere ones but the ones who are NOT sincere. If these people are sincere why stop them from going through the process if political clout exists to facilitate their conversion/acceptance? What's the evidence they are not sincere?

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  3. Here's an interesting comment from the ynet article (#22, Hanan, Israel)

    "Several Bnei Menashe families are living in my hometown. For those who are sceptic about their Judaism and really ignorant and lost the sense of research, I have a very simple answer.
    Myself, I'm a secular Jew, a sinner in the definition of the religious Jews. Those Bnei Menashe in my hometown are religious Jews who are visiting the synagogue for the prayers during the weekdays and Shabbat. The men and children are wearing the yarmulka (Kippah) and their women are wearing humble and long dressing.

    So those Jews who are trying to protect Judaism are purely ignorant and their ignorance is driving them to racism and hatred. "



    So they are going to come here and don tefillin and daven, but we should rather have a higher percentage of chilonim eating felafels instead? For what reason exactly?

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  4. The headline you use is curious. Are you implying that the NE Indians are converting over "politics?"
    ===============
    Nope! You didn't read the article.
    The issue is why the government is fast tracking this particular group.

    This was the issue concerning the Druckman beis din. It was to serve political purposes which weren't dealt with the regular process.

    In sum. Political processes are seeking out certain people - not on the basis of their being good Jews - but on political advantage. The issue of the motivation of the converts is not the focus.

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  5. But it's not really the govt that is fasttracking them. It is the work of Michael Freund and his organization that has lobbied the govt to make it easier on these people. I know that some gerim are rejected again and again (for years!) by Israel. If that injustice is removed by "politics" or org's like Freund's, great. Please explain more clearly what the problem is with this.

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  6. So they are going to come here and don tefillin and daven, but we should rather have a higher percentage of chilonim eating felafels instead? For what reason exactly?
    ====================
    Please reread the article. You are so obsessed with certain issues you simple don't notice that they are not the point of this posting.

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  7. Anonymous said...

    But it's not really the govt that is fasttracking them. It is the work of Michael Freund and his organization that has lobbied the govt to make it easier on these people. I know that some gerim are rejected again and again (for years!) by Israel. If that injustice is removed by "politics" or org's like Freund's, great. Please explain more clearly what the problem is with this.
    ==========
    Are you in agreement that only those converts who are willing to live in West Bank settlements should get the benefit of this attention?

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  8. I don't know anything, so I will let the rabbonim involved take the lead.

    That of course will be enough for other rabbonim (who could care less) to take advantage of the publicity and express outrage.

    The RSO, has brought these people who have agreed to whatever has been asked of them so that they might be mekabal ohl malchus shomayim, front and center.

    Welcome to the world of politicized rabbonus.

    Lovely, isn't it?

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  9. Anonymous is right. Michael Freund and his organization Shavei Israel have been working on this issue for years. The B'nei Menashe are sincere and very motivated converts, and the government has made it difficult for them to emigrate for no good reason. Freund is a religious Zionist, and some people converted through his organization end up moving to settlements, but this does not mean it is "conversion in the service of politics."

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  10. "Are you in agreement that only those converts who are willing to live in West Bank settlements should get the benefit of this attention?"

    If any sincere converts want to move to Israel, the government should not stand in the way -- even if they're going to join Neturei Karta (heaven forbid)! To the extent the Israeli government has prevented any sincere converts from moving to Israel in the past -- that was wrong.

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  11. Bnai Menashe are Christians being persecuted in India for practicing Christianity. Michael Freund is a missionary whose work is supported by Evangelicals who wish to further Christianize Judaism.

    So far they have done a remarkable job.

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  12. Jersey Girl said...
    Michael Freund is a missionary whose work is supported by Evangelicals who wish to further Christianize Judaism.

    Can you point me to a source that would substantiate this?

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  13. DT, do you realize who Jonathan Cook, the author of this article, is?

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  14. Recipients and PublicityJanuary 31, 2010 at 3:26 AM

    "Jersey Girl said...Bnai Menashe are Christians being persecuted in India for practicing Christianity. Michael Freund is a missionary whose work is supported by Evangelicals who wish to further Christianize Judaism.

    So far they have done a remarkable job."

    Agreed. I find myself agreeing with Jersey Girl's assessments more and more as the years go by!

    Ways must be found to protest what Michael Freund is delusionally doing and to shut down his Shavei Israel outfit that's based on proselytization as bad as EJF in its heyday.

    One thing though, since there were protests on this blog to the write-ups Michael Freund and Shavei Israel were getting in the Mishpacha magazine for hire, and he even responded here to the criticism at one time, there have not been more articles in Mishpacha magazine for hire glorifying Michael Freund and promoting Shavei Israel's "outreach" to gentiles (and they are gentiles if they all need conversions, no matter what their supposed history is.)

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  15. The Bnai Menashe who convert are sincere and enthusiastic gerim, not Christians. R' Shlomo Amar, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, recognized them in 2005 as descendants of lost tribes and as sincere converts who should be accepted. Michael Freund is a Jew with a normal religious Zionist hashkafa who happens to have an interest in assisting people who want to convert, especially those who are or think they are descended from exiled Jews. At various points in Jewish history, religious Jews have attempted to locate and establish relationships with "lost Tribes" or other lost Jews, and this is not necessarily halachically problematic. Without any evidence to the contrary, no one should assume that they are missionizing in the sense of trying to convince people to convert. I am familiar with the organization and I have never seen evidence of this supposed missionizing.

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  16. The Bnei Menashe ("Children of Menasseh", Hebrew בני מנשה) are a group of more than 9,000 people from India's North-Eastern border states of Manipur and Mizoram who claim descent from one of the Lost Tribes of Israel. The claim appeared after a Pentecostalist dreamt in 1951 that his people's pre-Christian religion was Judaism and that their original homeland was Israel. Linguistically, Bnei Menashe are Tibeto-Burmans and belong to the Mizo, Kuki and Chin peoples (the terms are virtually interchangeable)[4]. They are called Chin in Burma.

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  17. According to the Bnei Menashe, in 1951, a Pentecostalist called Chalianthanga or Mela Chala (the name varies) from Buallawn village dreamt that God instructed him to direct his people to return to their pre-Christian religion, which he determined to be Judaism, and to return to their original homeland, Israel. The Bnei Menashe believe that Chalianthanga/MC and several followers set out on foot through the hilly jungles of North East India towards Israel but had to give up due to the sheer distance and terrain.

    Despite this setback, the number of believers rose steadily (estimated to have risen by 50% in recent years) and their claims gained wider credence in the 1980s when a self-taught researcher, Zaithanchhungi, purported to have discovered similarities between their ancient animist rituals and those of Biblical Judaism, such as sacrifices.

    Shalva Weil writes that "although there is no documentary evidence linking the tribal peoples in North-East India with the myth of the Lost Israelites, it appears likely that, as with revivalism, the concept was introduced by the missionaries as part of their general millenarian leanings. This was certainly the case in other countries, where Christian missionaries "discovered" Lost Tribes in far-flung places, in order to speed up the messianic era and bring on the Redemption. In China, for example, the Scottish missionary Rev. T. F. Torrance entitled his 1937 book "China’s Ancient Israelites" expounding the theory that the Qiang people are really Lost Israelites".

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  18. I'm not sure why you didn't let my comment through, Rabbi E. Can I respond to your questions?

    You have not made yourself clear and you have not made a clear point, so you shouldn't overreact if you think I misread or misinterpreted your insinuations. I am not "obsessed" with anything. Because all you made were insinuations, without elaborating. It is only later in the comments that you come out (half-way) with what your actual criticism is.

    Now when I question what you are vaguely referring to, I am instructed to reread the article again and again. Well I read and I searched and nowhere does it speak about where in Israel these Jews are going to live. So this question:
    "Are you in agreement that only those converts who are willing to live in West Bank settlements should get the benefit of this attention?"

    Where did you get that from? And how was I supposed to see that in an article where it doesn't appear? No, I don't think only Jews who will live in certain places should have precedence over other sincere gerim, nor do I think that Shavei Israel only allows them to move to Judea and Samaria ("west bank") or requires a commitment to do so. Do you have a source to back up this assertion? Or did you just speculate and expect we would also assume the same speculation?

    If anything, the govt's interest is to EVACUATE the settlements, so it would not make any sense to say that this serves the govt's interest to specifically recruit populations to go live in settlements. Addaraba. But where do you get the idea that Shavei Israel does that in the first place? It's not in this article you referenced, so you need to point us to a citation of some kind that backs your opinion. Please don't assume I automatically know what you refer to.

    "Please reread the article. You are so obsessed with certain issues you simple don't notice that they are not the point of this posting."

    I am not obsessed with anything. You did not make a clear point and left the subject of your disagreement open to interpretation. I was reading your words which said "conversion in the service of politics" so how am I to know you consider the gerim themselves sincere? Now you've clarified that. What you have not clarified is what or whose politics this affair serves and why it is improper in your opinion.

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  19. Now it appears you are linking to a different article. What happened to the ynet piece from before? LOL, you tell me to reread the article and switch the link to something else?

    In this 'thenational' piece, it appears that they latch on to the new antisemitism - Now instead of just 'Jews' controlling the world in a massive conspiracy - it is actually "Settlers" or 'settlements' that control the world in massive conspiracy, and really some fanatic "extremist settlers" are behind all of this, Not Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Not Michael Freund, not Shavei Israel, and of course the Bnei Menashe we'll pretend that the "some" of these people who end up in settlements didn't choose to go there themselves but were somehow coerced or forced, while the "others" of their group who don't end up there, somehow were not forced.

    Dror Etkes and "Yesh din" are against any Jew that might end up in Settlements. It has nothing to do with Shavei Israel, Bnei Menashe or anyone else. Read his statement carefully:
    "Dror Etkes, who monitors settlement growth for Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group, said there were strong grounds for suspecting that some of the new Bnei Menashe would end up in the settlements, too. "

    Is that a crime? That some want or will choose to live in Judea and Samaria, our Biblical heartland, is a crime which warrants blocking their entry?

    The 'Yesh Din' logic functions as follows: Since they "might end up in settlements" that makes them 'potentio-settlers' which makes them in a status of hezkat Untermenschen (inferior human subspecies) who should not be allowed into Israel in case they are thinking of daring to "live in Judea and Samaria" which Yesh Din considers treason against the 'state' as yesh din envisions it as well as treason against 'world peace.'

    But where does Dror Etkes claim that Bnei Israel are being given priority BECAUSE they want to go there? Where does he claim that they are being convinced or coerced to go there? He doesn't. He is against any newcomers going and living in a place where some Israelis wouldn't dare step foot (or at least he wishes none of them would step foot there).

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  20. "Mr Gangte added that the Bnei Menashe were attracted to the West Bank because life was cheaper in the settlements than in Israel and the settlers “give us help finding housing, jobs and schools for our children”. "

    Naturally, if it's cheaper to go there and there is an easier integration because there is less of the latent racism that exists in other communities and the people there are helpful in terms of integrating newcomers into the communities and schools, naturally new immigrants of any stripe will have incentive to live there. In what way is that a crime?

    The article shows that Shavei Israel lobbies on behalf of all types of Jews from many places. Let's be completely honest here. The leftist Israeli mentality is completely racist. They consider the Bnei Menashe a dark-skinned people. As such, they are helpless and completely at the whims of the 'Judaism teachers' there, and when these dark peoples come to live in a settlement it can only be because they were forced or pushed to do so by "superior white masters," not because they decided on their own. Therefore, in the mind of these settler-hating leftists they (much like black criminals, Arabs etc) are not responsible for their own actions and cannot be expected to act morally or make proper decisions. The onus falls on the "white man" who apparently is victimizing Bnei Menashe by telling them that these communities exist in Judea and Samaria in addition to what exists in the rest of Israel, and that they may have benefits and traits unique to other communities. To be made aware of such things is apparently a crime. Instead, the white man Jew should be telling them these places are off-limits. (Why, you ask? Good question). And it can't be that Bnei Menashe found out on their own from other Indian Jews now in Israel or from spending time in Israel in different places, it Must be that the white man brainwashed them.

    You also witness the blatant racism in the article when it mentions how settlers "deep in westbank (sic)" 'frequently clash' with Fakestinians. Really, these settlers frequently initiate clashes or it is the other way around? In any case, the racism here is that the article suggests the dark-skinned peoples are inherently violent and being recruited to join forces to "clash and victimize" local Fakestinians. This whole thing is a joke. An antisemitic joke.
    Unfortunately Rabbi E, you are buying into their propaganda and twisted racist thinking.

    Oh and let's not forget, anything that might benefit "settler" untermenschen in any way is undoutedly assur, so let's cancel aliyah and close down nefesh bnefesh altogether because some Canadians might go live in settlements.

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  21. Aaron, what you're posting may or may not be true, but the fact remains that many people, including R' Shlomo Amar, believe (and it's not as if they have no reason to support this belief) that they are indeed descended from lost tribes. But whether they are descendants of Jews is almost completely irrelevant. If they are sincere converts and will be observant Jews (which everything indicates is the case), we must accept them and allow them to move to Israel.

    The only way the historicity of their beliefs is conceivably relevant is this: I would think a beit din should ask each convert if they would continue to identify as Jews and be observant, in the unlikely event that they somehow came to believe they weren't descended from Jews.

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  22. yeshaya:

    The Bnei Menashe should not be fast-tracked towards conversion or treated any differently than any other potential convert off the street.

    Nor should we be engaged in mass conversions.

    R' Shlomo Amar is a good Rabbi. Yet his views are of no greater importance than any local Orthodox Rabbi. His political position of Chief (Zionist) Rabbi is of no halachic importance.

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  23. I basically agree, Aaron. But they aren't being fast-tracked -- in fact their emigration has been on hold for political reasons for a long time. Like I said before, the state should not get in the way the emigration of anyone sincerely wishing to convert according to halacha. Of course there should not be mass conversions -- each convert must be examined by a beit din separately, which I assume is what is happening here. There's nothing wrong with a large number of related individuals converting as long as they're all individually sincere converts. If that is mass conversion, then a sizable proportion of Ashkenazim are probably descended from such mass conversions. I say this because I've seen many historical references to entire villages of Eastern European gentiles converting to Judaism (both Chassidic and Litvak). (For a relatively recent example see the introduction to R' Yosef Lifland's sefer on conversion).

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  24. I just posted Shavei Israel video regarding the proselytizing and conversion of Bnei Menashe

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  25. The sefer Yeshaya mentioned sounds interesting. An English translation is avaliable online:


    http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Converts-and-Conversion-to-Judaism/Yosef-Lifland/e/9789652292353

    Synopsis:
    It was an increase in intermarriage and a request for him to expedite an insincere conversion that led Lifland (1876-1950) to conduct the research for this book, published in 1971 by Mossad Harav Kook in Jerusalem, and translated here by rabbis Reuvan Dembs and Gavriel Rubin. He offers a concise but highly technical guide to conversion in accordance with traditional Jewish law. There is no index or bibliography. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)


    Also available on Amazon.

    Anyone else read the book (in English or Hebrew)? Any thoughts?

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