Be'chol Lashon

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A Building Mikvahs in India for Bnei Menashe

Staff Writer, Arutz Sheva Israel National News, July 21, 2005
14 Tammuz 5765

For the first time, a group claiming descent from a Lost Tribe of Israel will soon have their own kosher mikvahs (Jewish ritual baths) built with the approval of Israel's Chief Rabbinate. At the request of Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, construction of two mikvahs has recently begun for the Bnei Menashe community of northeastern India. The project is being undertaken by Shavei Israel a Jerusalem-based organization that reaches out and assists "lost Jews"? seeking to return to the Jewish people.

The Bnei Menashe, who reside in the Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur near the border with Burma, claim descent from the tribe of Manasseh, one of the ten tribes exiled from the Land of Israel by the Assyrians over 2,700 years ago. Some 800 of them have made aliyah over the past decade thanks to Shavei Israel. Earlier this year, on March 30, Rabbi Amar decided to formally recognize the Bnei Menashe as "descendants of Israel", and he agreed to send a Beit Din (rabbinical court) to India to convert the remaining 7,000 members of the community, thereby enabling them to make aliyah as well.

As part of his decision, the Chief Rabbi asked Shavei Israel to build mikvahs in India, which are used as part of the conversion process. The organization hired an Israeli architect who specializes in the construction of mikvahs, and he prepared detailed plans and blueprints, which were then shown to Rabbi Amar and received his personal stamp of approval. Recently, Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund sent the architect and a rabbi to India to oversee and implement the construction of the mikvahs, which are slated for completion within the next few months.

"The financial and logistical challenges are simply enormous,"? Freund said, noting that each mikvah alone will cost tens of thousands of dollars and requires an array of special materials such as chemical sealants, plumbing and heating. "But we are determined to complete this task. Once the mikvahs in India are ready, it will then be possible for the Chief Rabbinate to go ahead and send a Beit Din there to begin the process of converting the Bnei Menashe. "By facilitating their return to the Jewish people," Freund added, "we will not only be restoring a lost tribe of Israel to our people - we will be strengthening the Jewish state and fulfilling the Zionist vision of bringing back our lost brethren."

Keywords: Bnei Menashe, Indian Jews, India