Ethiopian Jewish leaders have told me for years that many missionaries were coming to Israel with the Falash Mura and were now actively trying to convert Ethiopian Jews in Israel. The story has finally made the papers in Israel:
Spiritual leaders of the nation’s poor, culture-shocked and embattled Ethiopian community opened another front of divisiveness Wednesday, calling to excommunicate members of their community who engage in Christian missionary activity.
The Jewish Ethiopian community plans to compose a blacklist of known missionaries who will be ostracized.
“We know who they are,” said Itzhak Zagai, Chief Rabbi of Rehovot’s Ethiopian community. “The worst punishment imaginable for an Ethiopian is excommunication, because we are all so interdependent.”
Ethiopians who appear on the list will be unable to marry inside the community.…
But what more should be done? Should we deny entry to all Falash Mura because of a few missionaries? Ethiopian Jewish leaders often say we should do just that. The Rabbinute says the opposite, based on a series of halakhic rulings. And the state? The state would just as soon left all Ethiopian Jews in Ethiopia. Without outside pressure and some strong intervention from President Regan, that is exactly what would have happened.
Here’s where I come down on this: Bring in all the Falash Mura now. At the same time, begin intensive anti-missionary campaigns in the Ethiopian community. Helping Ethiopian Jews fit in, find work and become Israeli is extremely important. Missionaries feed on poverty and alienation, the two things Israel’s failed absorption policy ensures. Chabad’s shameful treatment of Ethiopian Jews, along with haredi racism, doesn’t help things, either.