JERUSALEM, May 13 (JTA) A senior Israeli rabbi visited Ethiopia recently to check the Jewishness of the Falash Mura, people who once had been Jews or whose ancestors had been Jewish. The representative, Rabbi Shlomo Amar, is a close associate of the Shas Party´s spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and recently was named chief rabbi of Tel Aviv. Amar was sent on his mission by Yosef and Interior Minister Eli Yishai, since the matter of Falash Mura immigration falls under the aegis of the Interior Ministry. Amar met with the community in Ethiopia, and upon returning to Israel began writing a Jewish law opinion and detailed proposal for checking the Jewishness of those who wish to immigrate. He plans to present his opinion to Yosef and Yishai after Shavuot. Some 20,000 Falash Mura in Ethiopia have requested to immigrate to Israel. The Falash Mura once were practicing Jews, but left the Ethiopian Jewish community as missionary activity intensified in Ethiopia over the course of the 20th century. When Israel began carrying out large-scale immigration operations in the early 1990s, many Falash Mura attempted to join the wave, claiming they were Jewish by ancestry. The number of Falash Mura continued to grow, leading the Israeli government to believe they were not Jews, but just wanted to leave Ethiopia. Ethiopian Jewish activists have been lobbying for the Falash Mura, maintaining that many of them were forced to convert or never really abandoned their Jewish faith. In 1998, after bringing a group of 40,000 Falash Mura with some connection to Israel, the government changed its policy, reviewing each Ethiopian immigration request on an individual basis. At the same time, thousands of Falash Mura left their homes throughout Ethiopia, making their way to refugee camps in Gondar and Addis Ababa, hoping to emigrate to Israel. With nearly 22,000 Falash Mura living in urban slums with nowhere to go, Israel still is rethinking its policy.
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