This week in Ethiopia, twelve men underwent a training course to become halakhically qualified as ritual slaughterers. The course took place in the city of Gondar, part of a joint initiative of the local community rabbi, Rabbi Menachem Waldman, the director of the Straus-Amiel Rabbinical Emissary Program of Ohr Torah Stone Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum, and the Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry group.
The training program is part of an ongoing initiative to provide continued support to Ethiopian Jews who have not yet had the chance to immigrate to Israel. At present, about 10,000 Jews are living in Gondar, and an additional 2,000 are in the capital, Addis Ababa.
Despite its size, until now there was no halakhic ritual slaughter operation in place, forcing observant members of the community to largely refrain from eating poultry or meat products. Over the years, volunteer kosher slaughterers would visit the community on occasion, primarily around the holidays, but they, too, lacked the infrastructure necessary to provide a sufficient amount of locally slaughtered kosher meat.
Several months ago, Rabbi Waldman contacted Ohr Torah Stone’s Rabbi Birnbaum, who has over 25 years of experience training and placing rabbis in communities all around the world, and requested that he assist in setting up a shechita training program on the ground in Ethiopia. Rabbi Birnbaum recruited Rabbi Netanel Ansani, a highly experienced ritual slaughterer who had served as an Ohr Torah Stone emissary in El Salvador.
Twelve young men from the two Ethiopian cities were selected for the training course, which began in an online format two and a half months ago, where the students learned the relevant texts.
The necessary special knives and sharpening stones were shipped from Israel, and two weeks ago, Rabbi Ansani arrived in Ethiopia to begin teaching the practical part of the course. The twelve students underwent extensive training in the intricacies of inspecting the knives and checking the animals for possible defects.
“The group studied from early morning into the evening hours,” Rabbi Ansani said. “It was very important that each student train hands-on extensively so that they would have as much experience and confidence in the process as possible, and demonstrate their commitment to continue learning and gaining more experience.”
Last week, Rabbi Birnbaum and Rabbi Dr. Ari Greenspan, a highly respected and experienced shochet, educator, and dentist, traveled to Ethiopia to oversee the qualification tests. In the presence of their families and fellow community members, all twelve men received their official certifications allowing them to now work as halakhically approved ritual slaughterers.
“This is truly a historic moment that will significantly benefit the local communities in Gondar and Addis Ababa,” Rabbi Birnbaum said. “Establishing a shechita infrastructure within the Ethiopian community is something we believe is extremely important, both from a food supply standpoint and no less so from the perspective of strengthening their Jewish identity and their connection to our heritage. We are very thankful to Rabbis Greenspan and Ansani and the SSEJ for responding to this call. With God’s help, we will be blessed to see the remaining members of the community come home very soon to join us in Israel.”