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.