Nearly 50 years after the late Rav Ovadia Yosef ruled that the Jewish status of Ethiopian Jews should not be questioned, last November, the Chief Rabbinate Council accepted his ruling, and recognized that Ethiopian Israelis are Jewish, Kan 11 News revealed Sunday night.
Ethiopian Jews in Israel are immigrants and descendants of the immigrants from the Beta Israel communities in Ethiopia who now reside in Israel and have Israeli citizenship. The Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel is also composed of the Falash Mura, a community of Beta Israel which had converted to Christianity over the past 200 years, mostly under pressure from government and their neighbors, but were permitted to immigrate to Israel conditioned on their conversion to Orthodox Judaism.
Rabbinical officials said the decision eliminated an old 1980s document that questioned the Jewishness of all Ethiopian olim and demanded various actions to confirm their Judaism, including Giur L’chumra.
Rabbi Sharon Shalom, Dean of Ethiopian Jewry Studies at the UNO Academic College, told Reshet Bet radio on Monday morning: “It’s a meaningless decision,” and added, “This is not a holiday, the rabbinate is still punking us. It’s like asking Guatemala to recognize the State of Israel – we’ve already established it, it’s no longer relevant.”
Rabbi Shalom recalled bitterly an event when he and other males from his family and their neighbors had been ordered one night into a mikva, where they were told to undress and stood in a row while a messenger of the Chief Rabbinate performed bloodletting on them, in lieu of a circumcision. This was not a humiliation he would easily forget.
The Kes (Ethiopian priest) of Kiryat Malachi, Andaleh Maharat, said he was pleased with the rabbinate’s decision, and hoped the Ashkenazi Orthodox rabbis would accept it as well: “The Torah embraces, it does not reject. It does not give any single ethnic group a monopoly.”
Kes Maharat told told Reshet Bet: “We have made sacrifices to keep our Judaism. For us to come to Israel only to be told it is doubtful we are a Jewish – there’s nothing more humiliating than that.”
The chief rabbi of Ethiopian Jews, Rabbi Reuven Wabashat, expressed optimism about the implications of the rabbinate’s decision: “In recent years, all kinds of things have happened in the religious services system, and some have justified this by saying, ‘The Chief Rabbinate has not yet recognized the Jews of Ethiopia.’ Now, those who object to our Jewish status will have no more recourse.”