The 6000-strong Bnei Menashe or children of Manasseh tribe, who are spread across Mizoram and Manipur states, have been officially recognised by Sephardic or oriental Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Amar in Jerusalem, community leaders say.

Peer Tlau, 48, an engineer in Mizoram's capital Aizawl, told reporters by telephone that he was unable to contain his joy upon hearing the news. 

Going to Israel

"We are now looking for the day when we can migrate to our promised land in Israel," he said. 

"We are now looking for the day when we can migrate to our promised land in Israel"

Peer Tlau,
Manasseh tribe member

Rabbinical judges are due to arrive in the remote states to formally convert the group to Orthodox Judaism and launch procedures for "aliyah" or ascent to Israel.

Two religious jurists visited Mizoram and Manipur last year to research the Bnei Menashe claims.

"After a thorough review of their findings, it was decided that the Bnei Menashe are in fact descendants of Israel and should be drawn closer to the Jewish people," says a statement received from Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum, a rabbinical court judge and spokesman for Amar.

Celebrations

As news of the recognition reached the mountainous state of Mizoram this week, people rejoiced and offered thanksgiving prayers.

"We sang and had good food and also offered special prayers to celebrate the occasion," said Elishevah Zodingliani, a journalist in Aizawl.

The decision concludes years of wrangling as the Menashe pushed their right to return under Jewish law.

About 800 people from Mizoram and Manipur have managed to migrate to Israel since 1994 when a private body called the Amishav Association took up their case despite fears among the Israeli authorities that the Indians were simply seeking a better life.

Earlier emigrants

The last group of 71 tribespeople left the northeast for Jerusalem in May 2003. 

Some Jewish groups in Israel  
have aided the Indian lost tribe

Israel's Interior Ministry had since then effectively stopped granting them immigration visas.

"Now that the chief rabbi has formally recognised us, there should be no problems to migrate to our native land," said Yonathan Ralte, a college student.

Apart from names, the tribespeople share many practices in common with traditional Jews such as keeping mezuzahs or parchment inscribed with verses of the Torah at the entrance to their homes, the men wearing a kippa or skullcap during prayers.

Learning Hebrew

"The process of migration will be possible only if we are able to read and write Hebrew and practise Judaism in its truest form," Tlau said.

Mizoram is predominantly Christian - about 87% of the nearly 900,000-strong population are Christian.

The church has maintained a neutral stand although individual religious leaders have opposed formal conversions to Judaism.

"We do not have problems if someone decides to get converted into Judaism as one has the right to choose any faith," said Lalrinawma, moderator of the Presbyterian Synod in Mizoram.