FEEDING THE HUNGRY, SAYS SHAVEI, IS DETRIMENTAL TO THE COMMUNITY
(30 September) Our Newsletter has learnt, two members of the Bnei Menashe Committee on Food Relief, an ad-hoc group created to distribute food to needy Bnei Menashe families in Mizoram effected by the Delta wave of the covid19 epidemic, received identical letters. The two are Asaf Renthlei and Leah Renthei (they are not related), both prominent members of the community. The letters were signed by Shmuel Khiangte, chairman of the Khovevei Tzion Synagogue, Aizawl and Azriel Pachuau, the synagogue's secretary. They read as follows:
In accordance with the decision of the Shevet Menashe Khovevei Tzion Executive Member Committee, pursuant to our knowledge, duly substantiated by adequate proof, that your actions—the creation of a separate body which is liable to create division, and deliberation regarding a separate minyan—are detrimental to the Community, we hereby submit this letter of notice to you.
We are deeply concerned that you have not only established a separate group, but even formed an Executive body. In accordance with our Constitution, Article sub (1), “If a member of Shevet Menashe (Khovevei Tzion Community) were to engage in anything that is opposition or conflict that is detrimental to the community, or if their actions are demonstrably detrimental to the community, the Executive Committee retain the right to
take any necessary action, and may even go to the extent of revoking their membership.” It is in accordance with this clause that the Executive Committee has decided to act with regard to you, and bids you faithfully continue your engagement with the separate group you have established. Nevertheless, since we want to give you the liberty to make your own choice in this matter, in the event that you decide to remain a member of Khovevei Tzion, we request that you submit a letter in your own hand to the Community leadership (O.B), detailing your disavowal of any further engagement with any other body/group and that you will henceforth guard yourself against any involvement with any activities that are detrimental to the community.
Furthermore, we seek to inform you that if, within three days of receipt of this letter, you do not exercise your choice in this matter, and neither do we receive any response on your part, your membership in Khovevei Tzion will be effectively terminated.
Issued and signed on behalf of the Shevet Menashe Khovevei Tzion Executive Members.
"The letter was absurd, say Asaf, "In the first place, no separate body was established. What was set up was an temporary committee to distribute food that Shavei Israel had been offered an opportunity to participate in and had declined. It was clear that the ad-hoc committee had no other function than food relief and was in no way intended to set up a separate communal institution. Beyond that, I would like to ask Shmuel Khiangte and Azriel Pachuau what exactly was detrimental to the community in giving free food, with no strings attached to hungry members. If Khiangte and Pachuau think this is harmful to the Bnei Menashe of Mizoram, they have a very strange notion of wherein the community's welfare lies. Moreover, the timing of the eve of Rosh HaShana, a day on which Jews ask God for compassion on His creatures, was appalling; it speaks volumes on Shavei Israel's thoughts and intentions."
Such a demand for a writ of self-accusation would be fitting for the Spanish Inquisition or a modern totalitarianism regime. The charges to which Leah and Asaf were asked to confess were patently ridiculous
Both Leah and Asaf responded to this ultimatum by asking its issuers to clarify exactly what their wrongdoing was. Neither received a reply.
Khovevei Tzion is Aizawl's largest synagogue and Shavei Israel's official place of worship. Already in the past the synagogue has sought to exert total control over the lives and action of its members. New members wishing to join the congregation were asked to sign a loyalty oath in which they pledged total subservience to Shavei Israel. The language of the oath was:
I, the undersigned , have after careful thought and consideration, have my own accord decided to apply for membership in the Khovevei Tzion Community, Aizawl, Mizoram. I also submit myself in obedience to Shavei Israel Organisation, and I swear to remain true to this pledge.
In addition, I vow to refrain from any action or activities, in opposition to Khovevei Tzion and Shavei Israel Organisation. In the event that I break my vow, I promise beforehand and with clear conscience, to gladly accept any necessary disciplinary action taken against me by Khovevei Tzion Community and Shavei Israel Organisation.
"It is obvious" says Leah Renthlei,, '' that Shavei Israel considers loyalty to it is more important than loyalty to Judaism and Judaism's commandment to help one's fellow Jew in need. It's very sad."