One of 18 happy Bnei Menashe brides
One of 18 happy Bnei Menashe brides Shavei Israel

Eighteen new immigrant couples from the B'nei Menashe clan of northeastern India, who claim descent from a "lost tribe" of Israel, were married Sunday in simultaneous ceremonies in Jerusalem's Great Synagogue. Several hundred guests, including friends, family and loved ones, attended the festive affair.

Three of the couples

Shavei Israel

The 18 couples are among a group of 230 B'nei Menashe who came on Aliyah (immigrated to Israel) from India in August of last year. Their immigration was organized and facilitated by the Shavei Israel organization, which reaches out and assists "lost Jews" seeking to return to the Jewish people. Shavei Israel founder Michael Freund organized the multiple weddings on Sunday, which were supervised by Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum, the rabbi of Shavei Israel.

More of the couples

Shavei Israel

According to Freund, the weddings were a unique and special event: "For the first time, 18 B'nei Menashe couples - equal to chai ['life' in numerical equivalent - ed.] - [married] in a joint ceremony under the wedding canopy in Jerusalem. This symbolizes their successful absorption into Jewish and Israeli society, and we wish the couples a lot of joy and success," he said.

Smashing the glass

Shavei Israel
Two of 18 brides

Shavei Israel
Another two of 18 brides

Shavei Israel

The B'nei Menashe claim descent from the tribe of Menashe, one of the ten tribes exiled from the Land of Israel by the Assyrian empire over 2,700 years ago. They reside primarily in the two Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur, along the border with Burma and Bangladesh. In recent years alone, over 1,400 members of the community have made aliyah, thanks largely to the efforts of Shavei Israel. Another 7,000 Bnei Menashe are still in India, waiting to come to Israel.

The existence of the Bnei Menashe, known in India as the Manmassi tribe, was publicized in the Jewish world about 30 years ago by Rabbi Eliyahu Avichayil. When it was observed that the tribe's members maintained certain ancient traditions unlike any observed in the Indian subcontinent, investigation revealed that the rituals were of Jewish origin.

Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar sent a delegation of two rabbinic judges to India about three years ago to conduct a thorough investigation of the community and its origins. After a 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.

When the recent group of new immigrants arrived from India in August, Rabbi Birnbaum said that the B'nei Menashe have been keeping the Jewish mitzvot, or rules and commandments, for at least the last four decades. He also stressed that the immigrants were well off materially in India and came to Israel because of Zionism.

The 18 couples

Shavei Israel

Shavei Israel works with various groups around the world, such as the Bnei Menashe, the B'nai Anousim ("Marranos") of Spain, Portugal and South America, the Subbotnik Jews of Russia, and the "Hidden Jews" of Poland from the time of the Holocaust. The organization also engages in the absorption of new Olim in Israel, including providing assistance with housing, employment and professional training. 

For more about the organization, visit: www.shavei.org.

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