Status of Falash Mura Children Debated

The department in charge of conversion in the Prime Minister’s Office has indicated that it favors allowing single mothers of Falash Mura families to have their children declared Jewish without the consent of the child’s other parent, the legal adviser of an Ethiopian advocate organization said Wednesday. Currently the single mothers must locate their former spouses, who for the most part remained in Ethiopia, and secure their signed consent before their children can be recognized as Jewish.

Some 10 percent of all Falash Mura families are single-parent families, Jasmin Keshet, the legal adviser for the Ethiopian advocacy organization Tebeka, told The Jerusalem Post. A letter written to her by the deputy head of the department, Rabbi Moshe Klein, said: “Our position is that everything must be done to ease the conversion process of every member of the Ethiopian community belonging to the Falash Mura.”

The Falash Mura are an Ethiopian community whose members were originally Jewish but converted to Christianity many decades ago in order to escape persecution. The Chief Rabbinate has declared that if a member of the community can prove a consistent matrilineal descent from a Jewish woman, the members of his family are Jewish and do not need to convert to be considered Jewish. Instead, they must undergo a procedure known as “return to Judaism,” which involves study and observance of the religious strictures.

Despite the fact that Falash Mura are considered Jewish, the religious authorities in Israel have demanded that single parents obtain the written consent of their former spouses in accordance with a law that deals with the conversion to Judaism of single-parent families. Tebeka protested, pointing out that a law aimed at non-Jewish single parents seeking to make their families Jewish should not be applied to families that are Jewish to begin with.

Yitzhak Dasa, the director-general of Tebeka, charged that the requirement to obtain the consent of the other parent for single-parent families returning to Judaism applies only to the Falash Mura. “In this way, they are discriminated against and their rights are violated,” charged Dasa. Dasa added that it is virtually impossible to track down the husbands of the Falash Mura women; in many cases, the men are dead. Klein wrote to Tebeka that the matter is now in the hands of Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, who must decide on the proper interpretation of the law in light of Tebeka’s arguments.

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