About one third of the Ethiopians who have come to Israel
over the past three years and submitted applications for
conversion had no connection to the Ethiopian-Jewish
community and therefore their status as immigrants is
questionable, according to Rabbi Israel Rosen, former head of
the Chief Rabbinate's conversion authority and now a member
of the special conversion court.
Rabbi Rosen noted that a sampling of 1,107 applications for
conversion, submitted by Ethiopians from 2001-2003 (during
which time 7,300 Ethiopians came to Israel) found that in 31
percent of the cases, the applicant was unconnected to the
Ethiopian community that claims descent from Jews.
The figures were obtained from forms designed by Rabbi
Menachem Waldman, who is considered an authority on the Jews
of Ethiopia and has been dealing with such cases for the past
A spokesman for the Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur,
founded by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth zt"l, strongly
disagreed. According to the psak of gedolei
haposkim, every Ethiopian immigrant requires conversion,
since it is impossible to definitely establish their personal
status because of their long history as a community separate
from the mainstream of Judaism. The figures that Rabbi Rosen
refers to, that a third of the immigrants are "non-Jews,"
means that those immigrants have no proof whatsoever of any
connection to the community of Ethiopian Jews. This is
opposed to the others who have some superficial proof of
connection to the Ethiopian community that claims Jewish
Halachically, the only difference is whether the conversion
is characterized as a giyur lechumra or a regular
conversion. This distinction has no practical consequences,
since both types of conversion require a full commitment to
total shemiras hamitzvos.
The Vaad spokesman was also very critical of the Chief
Rabbinate's general policies in dealing with Ethiopians.
Their approach is vague. They have substituted something they
call "a return to Judaism" for a proper conversion process,
and thereby they leave most of the Ethiopians without proper
Jewish halachic status. It is good to reach out and try to
make people comfortable, but it must be done within the
guidelines of halochoh.