Tebeka Loses High Court Petition to Bring Falash Mura Community to Israel

The state defended its decision not to bring Falash Mura to Israel under the Law of Return despite Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar’s insistence that they are Jewish, declaring that the law does not apply to those who convert out of Judaism and that it follows secular rather than halachic definitions of who is a Jew. The argument was presented as part of the government’s response to a High Court of Justice petition claiming that the Falash Mura are Jewish and must be brought to Israel immediately. Amar’s statements on the issue are central components of the petition.

Currently, the Falash Mura – descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity – are allowed to enter at a rate of 300 per month under the Law of Entry. At the first hearing on the petition Tuesday, held just three weeks after it was filed, the court asked the petitioners to explain why they are not satisfied with the current rate of immigration. Hagai Ashlagi, a lawyer on the board of the Tebeka Center for Legal Aid and Advocacy for Ethiopian Jews in Israel, which has brought the petition, said the petitioners have yet to formulate a response to the court’s query. But he was adamant that the state’s objections to their case are baseless.

Holding a think volume that, along with 11 others, records the details of the Falash Mura waiting in Gondar and Addis Ababa compounds to come to Israel, he said the government already established the eligibility of 19,951 individuals in 1999 when government surveyors investigated the camps. “There’s no question that they live a Jewish lifestyle. They’re buried in a Jewish cemetery. They keep kosher. They observe the Sabbath. They wear kippot and tzitzit,” Ashlagi said of the community, which converted under duress during the past century and has since reasserted its connection to Judaism.

According to Halacha, someone who converts out of Judaism is still considered Jewish. “It’s crazy that the Interior Ministry is disregarding the ruling of the chief rabbi. They say we know better than you,” Ashlagi said. “If the chief rabbi of Israel says they are Jews, why aren’t they here?”

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