Shas Poised To Have First Ethiopian Knesset Member

Shas is poised to have its first Ethiopian Knesset member, a rabbi from Beer Sheva. The Jerusalem Post’s Matthew Wagner reports:

Shas’s spiritual mentor, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, enthusiastically embraced Ethiopians when they first began immigrating to Israel four decades ago. While all haredi rabbis and streams, including Chabad, rejected Ethiopians’ claim to Judaism, Ovadia ruled that they could marry without having to undergo a conversion.

Despite Ovadia’s halachic ruling, most religious councils refuse to marry Ethiopians without a conversion in accordance with official Chief Rabbinate policy. Only in cities and towns with rabbis that accept Ovadia’s ruling or the ruling of Rabbi Shlomo Goren are Ethiopians married without immersion in a ritual bath (mikva) or, for men, the taking of a drop of blood instead of circumcision.

"Rabbi Ovadia takes a personal interest in the Ethiopian community," said [Shas official Ya’akov] Margi. "He is proud when he sees Ethiopians who are learned in Torah."

Perhaps because he assumes readers understand this, Matthew Wagner does not mention that both Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Rabbi Shlomo Goren issued their respective rulings while serving as chief rabbi. Further, subsequent Sefardic chief rabbis have upheld Rabbi Yosef’s ruling. The same is not true for the Ashkenazic chief rabbinate, in large part because it was taken over by Ashkenazic haredim. (Rabbi Avraham Kahana Shapira, Rabbi Goren’s immediate successor, and the last non-haredi-controlled Ashkenazic chief rabbi, had political bones to pick with both Rabbi Goren and Rabbi Yosef, especially because of Rabbi Yosef’s then-dovish political outlook.)

Although most Ethiopian rabbis are associated with the National Religious, the Shas candidate, Rabbi Mazor Bayana, is Sefardi haredi:

"Rabbi Ovadia is my rabbi. Shas is my party. I was at Kfar Hassidim, a religious Zionist school, and I decided that I wanted haredi education. I don’t know why. I was only 12 or 13."

Bayana said that his respect for Ovadia grew after reading about how the rabbi had recognized the Ethiopians as Jews and helped advance them.

Bayana manages an organization called Shavu Banim, which provides educational and social assistance to Beersheba’s Ethiopians.



Filed under Ethiopian Jews, Israel, Sefardim

21 responses to “Shas Poised To Have First Ethiopian Knesset Member

  1. Anonymous

    I heard the Ethiopians aren’t really Jewish

  2. Funny. I keep hearing the same thing about you.

  3. Adisu Massala, a former member of the Labor party, was the first Ethiopian member of the Knesset. I believe he was elected in 1996 but I could be mistaken.

  4. ma rabbi

    Rav Moshe Feinstein, the greatest Posek of this generation, ruled that the Ethiopians need conversion. It is actually a kindness. To rule otherwise means they would all be Sofek Mamzerim.

  5. No. Rav Moshe ruled they needed a giur lehumra, a pro forma conversion for the sake of stringency. A simple “yes I want to be Jewish” and a quick dunk in the mikva. Drop of blood? Depends.

    But, even though the Rebbe referred the question to Rav Moshe, the Rebbe subsequently refused to follow Rav Moshe’s pesak. Chabad does not accept those Ethiopians who have undergone giur lehumara as Jews. Chabad rejects Rav Moshe’s “kindness” for a strictness not required by Jewish law.

  6. ma rabbi

    You can play the semantics game all you want. The bottom line here is that Rav Moshe ruled they need to convert.

  7. It’s not a semantics game. As Rav Moshe was very clear. This was only a device to remove the hashash of mamzerut. But I am actively searching for ways and information that will allow me to rule that giur lehumra is not necessary. And he asked for help with this. Further, Rav Moshe later ruled that we were obligated to educate Ethiopian Jews in mitzva observance, etc., even if they did not do the giur lehumra.

    The Rebbe ignored Rav Moshe, and hurt Ethiopian Jews in the process. And that is the truth.

  8. Scotty is an Idiot

    No, moron, Chabad does accept schvartz yorimlach from Ethiopia who undergo giyur lechumra.

  9. No they do not. I was personally involved in this and I know Chabad – at least when the Rebbe was alive – refused to take them in their schools, etc. There are over 100,000 Ethiopians in Israel. How many are in Chabad schools? Last time it was checked, the number was far less than a minyan (ten). And most of those were products of marriages between non-Ethiopians and Ethiopians. And some of them were admitted because the director thought both parents were non-Ethiopian.

  10. dover eimes bilvovoy

    No, …Chabad does accept schvartz yorimlach from Ethiopia who undergo giyur lechumra.

    To the beheime who wrote this , your deffective rabbis may not have taught you of the 26 mitzvot asseh and lo taaseh pertaining to gerim .
    More than shabbes, more than kashrus , more than your “tzdoko” for sure more than anticipating the real messiah .
    One of those mitzvos is “vegeyr lo tonei velo tilchotzenu”.
    “keshem shehonao bemayssei ken honao bidvorim” .
    So calling them pejorative and derogatory names will only expedite your way and your teachers way to guehinom .

  11. Scotty Schmucky

    They are not geirim. They are shkootzim with no place in Israel. No such thing as an Ethiopian Jew, moron. Thanks for inflicting these AIDS infected savages on Israel.

  12. Neo-Conservaguy

    The Beta Israel were certainly more Jewish than the chazer-loving Russian “Jews” that were shown the welcome mat for political reasons. But since Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was considered a former cave dweller (like all Sephardim) by some Ashkenazim, his rulings on this matter were of course disposable.

  13. dover eimes bilvovoy

    ” No, moron, Chabad does accept schvartz yorimlach from Ethiopia who undergo giyur lechumra. ”
    “They are not geirim. They are shkootzim with no place in Israel. ” ???

  14. Nachum

    I’m not quite clear here: Didn’t R’ Moshe rule in the case of Reform Jews that mamzerut was not a problem if there was no get, since there was no Orthodox wedding? Would the same hold true for Ethiopian Jews?

  15. I think Rav Moshe operated under the assuption that EJs were shomer Shabbat, and therefore their eidut is kosher. Reform Jews do not have the hezkat of shomer Shabbat, and their eidut is not kosher. Therefore, their marriages are not valid and gittin, while preferable, are not absolutely necessary.

  16. Avrum

    This whole story is a real shame for Am Israel. These poor people have lived as Jews, prayed as Jews the G-d of Israel and have been persecuted AS JEWS. Who gives the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox rabbis this self-righteous authority to dictate who is a Jew and who’s not?

    Right, for centuries the Beta Israel had no contact with the other great Jewish populations and their poskim. If the Ethiopian Jews didn’t follow the theologic developement of the Lithuania yeshivos, why should they be considered non-Jewish? I believe strongly that their form of Judaism is much closer the original Judaism than the Ashkenazi pilpul-theology.

    By the way, what do the Ashkenazi streimels think about the really black Lemba Jews with Cohen-DNA? Look at this story:

    “…Given the fact that the Ashkenazi Levites did not share R1a with their Sephardic counterparts, it appeared that this haplogroup had entered the Jewish population sometime during the Diaspora…”

    When Moshiach will come he’ll know who’s Cohen or Levi and I don’t think he’ll care too much about the rabbis’ halachot.

    Shalom from Eretz Israel

  17. Anonymous

    What % of Ethiopics thacome to Israel are infected with AIDS? I hear that many have nasty eye and brain helmynthic infections.

  18. Daniel S.

    The Ethiopians are actually committers of Abodah Zarah. They were members of the Coptic Orthodox Church, but only allege to be Jewish to escape the poverty and hunger of famine-ridden Ethiopia. They are goyim, as far as I am concerned, although they may claim an obscure link to Am Yisrael. If they were Jews, than why didn’t they leave Ethiopia in the 1950s? Why did they wait until they had a famine? They are not Torah Observant Jews, no matter what they say. Those who made teshuva or converted only did so because it gives them carte blanche to stay in Israel. As a Temani, I must say that we even comprised some of the earliest chalutzim to Eretz Yisrael. Where were the Blacks? Where were the Russians? The Russians lied and took advantage of the political situation under Leonid Brezhnev, and came to Brooklyn,NY, where they milked the jewish charities for money and employment, and play Jew to get benefits. Please pardon the treif analogy, but not only do they eat chazer, they want to live off the fat of the land, not work and take jobs and money from authentic American T.O. Jews.

  19. 1. Hundreds of Orthodox rabis have ruled EJs are authentically Jewish.

    2. They could not leave Ethiopia in the 1950’s because the Ethiopian government would not allow it.

    3. Ethiopian and Temani Jews had close relations over the centuries. This is documented in, among other places, Temaini reabbinic documents.

  20. Anonymous

    there is a passage in the book of Jeremiah where making a fellow jew slave or treting unfairly is criticized heavily do u ever try reading that?

  21. ziv

    Can you please stop this nonsense already?? Beta Yisrael jews have been jews for centuries! They speak Amharit which is a lot closer biblical language to hebrew than Yiddish! There are many ethiopians that are considered to be Semites.
    If you accept Yemenis, Marocis, and Syrians to be jews then there is no reason for you not to accept the Ethiopians. By the way, the Ethiopians doubt your (europeans) jewishness as well – have you ever thought of it this way??

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