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Peres, Rabbis Reach Compromise on Ritual Immersion for Ethiopian Jews

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Premier Shimon Peres reached a compromise with the two Chief Rabbis today which eases their demand that Ethiopian Jewish immigrants undergo ritual immersion, a religious conversion rite.

What emerged from their meeting was an agreement that the Chief Rabbinical Council will affirm its recognition of the Ethiopian community as Jewish for all intents and purposes. But Ethiopian immigrants who wish to marry must apply individually to their local religious court and if the latter requires ritual immersion they must comply.

To make this more palatable for the immigrants the religious leaders of the Ethiopian community will serve as advisors to the local religious panel whenever such cases come up. But according to Rabbi Menahem Hacohen, a Labor MK who helped Peres work out the compromise, extremist elements among the Ethiopians are likely to reject the agreement.

Hundreds of Ethiopian immigrants staged an angry protest march last week against the Chief Rabbis’ demands which they considered an insult that cast doubt on their authenticity as Jews. The Chief Rabbis for their part insisted that the Ethiopians must “renew the Covenant” because during their two millenia of isolation from the mainstream of Judaism their forebears may have inter-married.

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