TEL AVIV (Feb. 21)
The Chief Rabbinate has overturned a ruling by the former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel Ovadia Yosef recognizing Ethiopian Jews as such without their having to undergo symbolic conversion by immersion in a mikve (ritual bath).
Israel’s incumbent Sephardic Chief Rabbi, Mordechai Eliahu, was abroad Tuesday when the Chief Rabbinate upheld its previous insistence that symbolic conversion was mandatory for the thousands of Ethiopian Jews who have immigrated to Israel in recent months. But an earlier demand that a drop of blood be drawn from each Ethiopian male to symbolize circumcision was withdrawn.
The Ethiopian emigres, who are devoutly observant, reacted angrily to both demands, which they considered degrading, insulting and a sign of doubt as to their authenticity as Jews. The Sephardic rabbinate has been more lenient to the Ethiopians than the Ashkenazic or Western Orthodox rabbis. Yosef told a conference of Ethiopians Sunday that ” if the Ashkenazim rejected them, the Sephardim would take them into their midst.”