The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Israel agrees not to convert 'lost tribe' in India

Wednesday November 9, 10:04 PM
By Jonathan Saul

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel has bowed to complaints from the Indian government and stopped trying to convert to Judaism thousands of people in India who believe they are a Biblical lost tribe, the Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.

Around 7,000 people in northeast India claim they are members of Bnei Menashe, or the children of Menashe, one of the 10 "lost tribes" of Israel.

Efforts to convert them by a specially despatched team of rabbis were called off after India, a major buyer of Israeli defence exports, voiced its displeasure.

Israel's Chief Rabbinate had given the green light to convert Bnei Menashe in India.

"The Indian authorities, through official channels, told us they do not view positively initiated efforts at conversions to other religions," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.

"When the Indian government issues a complaint we take it seriously. At the moment there is a freeze on all such conversions taking place," Regev said.

Some 800 members of Bnei Menashe have immigrated to Israel since the late 1980s and many live in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Some members of the community were among the settlers evacuated from Gaza in an Israeli pullout completed in September.

An Israeli official, who asked not to be identified, said any Bnei Menashe members who choose to immigrate to Israel would be converted to Judaism after their arrival.

Exiled by the Assyrians around 720 BC, the tribe wandered through Afghanistan and China before ending up in a part of India nestled between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Decades after being converted to Christianity by missionaries, descendants in various areas began to reconnect with Judaism in the 1970s.

While much of their Jewish traditions had been lost on the way, Bnei Menashe still practised customs which were Jewish in origin. These included sanctifying a baby on the eighth day after birth, the time when Jewish males are circumcised.

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