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Ethiopian Jews Are ‘full-fledged’ Jews, Say Conservative Rabbis

The Law Committee of the Rabbinical Assembly has adopted a position paper attesting that Ethiopian Jews are authentic, “full fledged” members of the Jewish community whose status must be recognized by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, where 15,000-18,000 Jews of Ethiopian origin now live.

Rabbi Kassel Abelson, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the rabbinical organization of Conservative Judaism, called for an “end by Israel’s Chief Rabbis to their objection to the admission of Ethiopian Jews on halachic grounds.”

He referred specifically to the Chief Rabbinate’s requirement that many Ethiopian Jews, known as Beta Israel, must undergo ritual immersion before the Rabbinate will validate their marriages.

Rabbi Steven Saltzman of Greensboro, N.C., author of the position paper, noted that Ethiopian Jews “were a distinctly identifiable group who have been living in Ethiopia, isolated from the rest of the Jewish world for many centuries.”

Despite their physical isolation they have remained steadfast to their faith and traditions, observing the Sabbath, the dietary laws, the laws of family purity, holidays and daily prayer. “They believe in the God of our ancestors and they look to the land of Israel as the land of redemption,” Saltzman said.

“It is unconscionable to place obstacles in the path of Ethiopian Jews by placing extra-halachic requirements on them,” said Rabbi Akiba Lubow, secretary of the Law Committee.

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