“Be Quiet and Obey!” An Editorial

Shavei Israel’s once iron grip on the B’nei Menashe community of northeast India, already under serious challenge in Manipur, is now slipping in Mizoram, too. Two new developments point to this. The first is a petition sent to the Jewish Agency by sixty members of the Mizoram community who have been, so they declare, “driven to their wits’ end by the recklessness of the Shavei Israel organization.” (See our article “Sixty Names That Can’t Be Named” on this page.) The other is a WhatsApp message to the B’nei Menashe of Mizoram posted by Azriel Pachuau, Shavei administrator in Aizawl.

Azriel Pachuau

Pachuau’s message was written in Mizo. Translated into English, it begins:


“By the grace of G-d and the Shavei Israel Organization, another round of Aliyah is finally on the horizon. It appears that about 600 people from the Manipur community will be making Aliyah in this round….Let us be reminded that this current round of Aliyah of some 600 people from Manipur is only for those who have already been selected and approved for Aliyah following an interview with the dayyanim [rabbinical judges].”


Pachuau was referring to a list drawn up by Shavei and Israel’s Rabbinate in 2016. Some 250 individuals on this list, three-fifths from Manipur and the remainder from Mizoram, arrived in Israel last December. The remainder, slated to arrive sometime later this year, are all from Manipur. Addressing the disgruntlement this has led to in Mizoram, one of the subjects of the 60-signature petition, Pachuau’s WhatsAp post continued:


“All of us here in the B’nei Menashe community of Mizoram are undoubtedly highly motivated and eager to make Aliyah. However, let us learn to respect the plans and endeavors of our Shavei authorities. It is of vital importance that we obediently follow their word. Instead, let us devote all our energy to religious observance.”


In other words: Be quiet and obey! Go to synagogue, keep the commandments of Judaism, and don’t think for yourselves, because thinking is Shavei’s job, not yours. And alluding to the many B’nei Manashe who have nevertheless begun to think for themselves, both about Aliyah and other things, Pachuau went on:


“There may be other groups or organizations that seek to interfere in the Aliyah process. Let us be especially wary of them. Let us be reminded once again that Shavei Israel is the sole and only organization which labors for us and our Aliyah. Therefore, let us obediently await its instructions and guidelines for us.”


What “groups or organizations” can Pachuau have had in mind? Was it by any chance Degel Menashe? Certainly, we can claim part of the credit for the B’nei Menashe in Mizoram having begun to ask hard questions about Shavei. “Indeed,” Pachuau wrote, “there is an unhealthy amount of gossip and hearsay that is making inroads into our community. Which is why we must learn to shut our ears to all loose talk and anything that does not come from authorized spokespersons of the Shavei organization.”


Unhealthy? I can’t imagine a healthier development than the B’nei Menashe of Mizoram waking up to the fact that, for long years now, Shavei Israel has been lying to them, deceiving them, and manipulating them. At long last, this is beginning to be talked about.


The petition of the sixty is a sign of this. Sending it to The Jewish Agency while preferring to remain anonymous reveals both courage and fear: the courage to speak out against Shavei’s abuses and the fear of the retaliation this may bring down. But as courage grows, fear decreases. It has happened in Manipur. It’s happening now in Mizoram.


Yitzhak Thangjom