JERUSALEM (Sep. 24)
Ethiopian Jews rejected a last minute appeal by Premier Shimon Peres today to end their protest demonstration outside Chief Rabbinate headquarters here before the start of Yom Kippur tonight.
He urged the demonstrators to call off their sit-down, now in its 22nd day, and allow their dispute with the Chief Rabbinate to be resolved by compromise after Yom Kippur. But some 1,000 Ethiopians remained encamped in makeshift tents in the large square facing the Heichal Shlomo and the adjoining Great Synagogue.
Their presence there during Rosh Hashanah last week caused intense embarassment to worshippers at the synagogue. But the Ethiopians have garnered considerable public support since the sit-down began. The dispute is over the Chief Rabbis’ demands that they undergo ritual immersion, a religious conversion rite, before they are allowed to marry. The immigrants have denounced this as a gross insult that questions their authenticity as Jews.
The two Chief Rabbis, Mordechai Eliahu (Sephardic) and Avraham Shapiro (Ashkenazic), insist that Ethiopian immigrants submit to the ritual to avoid halachic problems that may arise over their personal status as Jews before they start families.
Peres pledged today that he would continue to intervene personally to settle the matter in a manner acceptable to both sides. He claimed a resolution of the dispute hinged on only one word in a compromise proposal the Ethiopians presented to the Chief Rabbis last week. Its contents were not make public. But a meeting early today between Ethiopian representatives and officials of the Chief Rabbinate and the Religious Affairs Ministry broke up in disarray.