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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 November 2005, 17:40 GMT
Israel halts Indian conversions
Inside the Manipur synagogue
A Bnei Menashe synagogue in Manipur, India
Israel has stopped converting people in north-east India who say they are from a biblical "lost tribe" following complaints from the Indian government.

Delhi did "not view positively" conversions to another religion, Israel's foreign ministry said.

The 6,000-strong Bnei Menashe community in India's north-east say they are descendents of one of the 10 tribes exiled in the 8th Century BC.

Israel says it will now convert members when they emigrate.

Oral tradition

Israel had despatched rabbis to Mizoram and Manipur in north-east India after Chief Rabbi of the Sephardic Jews, Shlomo Amar, recognised the Bnei Menashe as lost descendants of ancient Israelites.

Bnei Menashe
Bnei Menashe members have pushed to settle in Israel

"The Indian authorities, through official channels, told us they do not view positively initiated efforts at conversions to other religions," Israeli 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."

About 800 members of the Bnei Menashe have so far emigrated to Israel.

According to the Bnei Menashe, their ancestors were exiled when Assyrians invaded the northern kingdom of Israel in the 8th Century BC.

The community's oral tradition is that the tribe travelled through Persia, Afghanistan, Tibet, China and on to eastern India.

The Bnei Menashe still practise customs of Jewish origin.

In the 1970s, when the Bible was translated into the local language, the similarities were noticed, members say.

A researcher of the Mizo tribe, Zaithanchuungi, developed the lost-tribe claims in 1981 and presented papers to various seminars in Israel.

Rabbi Amar finally backed the Bnei Menashe claims in March this year.

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