Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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8 Kislev 5764 - December 3, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Many Recent Ethiopian Arrivals Have No Jewish Connection
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

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 20 years.

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 ancestry.

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.


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