Ethiopian Jews in absorption centers all over the country protested angrily today against the insistence by the Chief Rabbinate that they undergo a formal conversion ceremony — immersion but not symbolic circumcision.
The protestors declared this demand constituted a grave insult and questioned their authenticity as Jews. They noted they endured severe hardship and suffering to get out of Ethiopia and find their way to Israel. They are being singled out as no other Jewish emigre group and it is demeaning to have their Judaism doubted, they said.
Many of the immigrants refused to attend their Hebrew classes today and others refused to report for work. Activists said the protests would continue for three days. The Rabbinate claims it is only marginal, artificially fanned by “certain” activists.
It is not clear how widespread the protest is among the Ethiopian Jews, most of whom arrived here through “Operation Moses” between November, 1984 and January, 1985 when the airlift from Sudan was suspended because of premature disclosure.
Last week, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu declared that he and his colleague, Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapiro, do indeed consider the Ethiopians to be Jews. In fact, he said, the Rabbinate formally permitted the desecration of the Sabbath by Israeli officials involved in Operation Moses.
Eliahu claimed that the formal conversion requirement was intended to correct any halachic violations that may have affected the newcomers or their families in the past with respect to marriage, divorce, conversion and other personal matters.
In practice, the Chief Rabbinate will not permit the performance of marriages involving an Ethiopian spouse who has not undergone formal reconversion.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.