JERUSALEM (Jul. 21)
Premier Shimon Peres met for 75 minutes this afternoon with leaders of the Ethiopian Jewish community which has refused demands by the Chief Rabbinate that they undergo ritual immersion, a religious conversion rite.
The meeting followed the weekly Cabinet session where the dispute over the status of Ethiopian Jews was discussed. The Cabinet agreed to devote a longer session to it next Sunday.
Hundreds of Ethiopian emigres left their absorption centers last week in a protest march against the Rabbinate’s demands which they find demeaning and an affront to their authenticity as Jews. Peres and Absorption Minister Yaacov Tsur are scheduled to meet Tuesday with the Sephardic and Ashkenazic Chief Rabbis, Mordechai Eliahu and Avraham Shapiro, respectively.
Peres, accompanied by Tsur, asked the 18 leaders of the Ethiopian community to ensure that no extreme steps will be taken while he seeks an honorable solution to the dispute. At today’s Cabinet meeting, Tsur was accused by Minister-Without-Portfolio Yosef Shapira of the Morasha religious faction of concealing an official document about Ethiopian intentions to try to undermine the Chief Rabbis and possibly do them physical harm. Tsur denied the allegation.
Yesterday, the Citizens Rights Movement (CRM) urged Peres to cancel his meeting with the Chief Rabbis. According to the CRM, if he pleads with them on behalf of the Ethiopian Jews he will be relinquishing the government’s legal authority and in effect making the Chief Rabbis the sole judges of who is a Jew.