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A Kashrut Quarrel in Netanya Holds Up Ethiopian Marriages

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The Ethiopian community in Israel is facing a “marital bottleneck” because the only rabbi prepared to conduct marriages between them is embroiled in a kashrut controversy in his city and has ceased performing marriages for the past two months.

Rabbi David Chelouche, Sephardic chief rabbi of Netanya, says the seaside resort is being infiltrated by large quantities of non-kosher meat from nearby Arab villages, and he has his hands full battling this development.

“All my appeals” to Israel’s Chief Rabbinate “have gone unheeded,” he told the Israeli daily Davar.

His suspension of Ethiopian marriage rites is apparently intended as a way of bringing pressure to bear on the Chief Rabbinate to come to his aid over the kashrut problem, in which Chelouche is squared off against the chairman of the Religious Council in Netanya.

Until this began to be a problem, Chelouche had been marrying some 15 Ethiopian couples each month. “I’ve told community leaders to prepare the paperwork and stand by for when I can free myself up to see to them,” the rabbi said.

Other Orthodox rabbis in Israel — who are by law the only rabbis licensed to conduct marriages between Jews — have been reluctant to marry the Ethiopians unless they first undergo a “giyur lechumra” conversion, a procedure “just to be sure,” performed even though a person is considered Jewish by definition.

Rabbis require this procedure, because until recent times, the Ethopians had been cut off from the established Jewish community for centuries, dating prior to Talmudic times.

But the Ethiopians object to such conversions, which they regard as a challenge to the authenticity of their Judaism.

MOBILE HOMES POLICY CRITICIZED

Meanwhile, former Absorption Ministe Ya’acov Tsur, a member of the Labor Party, has attacked the present government’s policy on Ethiopian absorption, which he claims in creating ghettos of mobile homes populated only by Ethiopian families.

Recent Ethiopian immigrants, confronting a culture entirely different from their native one, tend to prefer the privacy of the mobile homes to the communal atmosphere of absorption centers located in former hotels.

In recent weeks, groups of Ethiopians have left their absorption centers in Jerusalem and Arad and moved into mobile home sites in Beersheba and near Ramla said to have not been ready for habitation.

The move has been forcing absorption authorities to acquiesce even though the sites had not been completely prepared. Tsur criticized the whole policy of directing the Ethiopians to such sites. He said it meant they would not intermingle with the general population.

Tsur added that most of the Ethiopians were unemployed and there did not seem to be plans afoot to teach them useful trades.

Ethiopian immigrant leader Adiso Massala told reporters that the sewage system at some of the trailer sites is unsatisfactory and that many of the mobile homes have proven vulnerable to the winter rains and snow.

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