Chief Rabbi Amar: We Have Done Ethiopian Jewry a Grievous Wrong

Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar said Monday during a joint meeting with the Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee that “the State of Israel, the Chief Rabbinate included, has done Ethiopia’s Jews a grievous wrong.

“We are all culpable, and we are all to blame for not bringing Ethiopia’s Jewry home with the rest of the Jewish people,” said Rabbi Amar, following a heated debate concerning governmental policy towards Ethiopian immigrants. “No amount of heartfelt words can change that fact.”

According to data presented to the committee, over 8,000 members of Ethiopia’s Falash Mura, the descendants of Jews who converted to Christianity to escape discrimination at the end of the 19th century, but later returned to Judaism, are still waiting in Gondar to make aliyah to Israel, because the Ministry of the Interior is continuing this process at a snail’s pace.

“There are many cases in which Ethiopian parents already in Israel wait years for their children to make aliyah,” said Avraham Nagosa, the Ethiopian community’s representative.

Rabbi Amar urged the government to find practical solutions for the Falash Mura’s plight, and to allow for their rapid conversion to Judaism. “I call on the Internal Affairs Committee, the ministers of the interior and of religious affairs, and the prime minster, to send rabbis to Ethiopia in order to allow the Falash Mura to quickly convert and make aliyah, and to and rescue them from the truly horrible situation that they currently find themselves in,” said Rabbi Amar.

The committee further noted that the plight endured by Ethiopian Jews highlights just how cumbersome and difficult the current conversion process actually is. “We urge the religious establishment to ease the conversion process not only for Ethiopians, but for anyone who wishes to join the Jewish faith,” committee members told the chief rabbi.

The chief rabbi, in turn, agreed to establish a committee to examine the current conversion process and see how it can be amended and improved. “Converts still learn about Judaism just as they did 60 years ago, and we must find a way to make this process more ‘user friendly’ and not burden new converts with unnecessary study,” conceded the rabbi.

Ethiopians segregated in religious school system

Committee members also discussed the near segregation faced by many Ethiopian students in Israel’s religious school system. “Many religious schools do not accept Ethiopian students,” said Nagosa. “One Petach Tikva school, for instance, is 90% Ethiopian because other schools refuse to accept Ethiopian pupils, which is a real travesty.”

Internal Affairs and Environment Committee Chairman, MK Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor), stated that such schools’ policies are blatant, ugly racism. Rabbi Amar responded by noting that “Ethiopians love the Torah and are observant at heart. There are certain difficulties in integrating them into the Israeli education system, but I met with Petach Tikva educational officials and together we formulated a plan to fully integrate Ethiopian students with their fellow classmates.”

The rabbi concluded the committee meeting by stating that he was thrilled by Ethiopian immigration to Israel and “is very glad that these are the problems that we must now address and tackle.”

The Reform Movement responded by noting that “the rabbinic establishment does not really want to help new immigrants convert to Judaism, and such statements are merely smoke and mirrors.”

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