Ethiopian Jewish leaders are complaining that some of the Falash Mura, Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity but who themselves have returned to Judaism, have set up missions in Israel to convert Jews and have done so with the backing of several churches. Ha’aretz reports:
Ethiopian rabbis and spiritual leaders (keisim) called on the government Monday to halt the Ethiopian Falashmura aliyah to Israel, citing concerns that many of the Falashmura are engaged in Christian missionary activity.
The leaders made the call during a Rehovot conference titled "Defeating the [Christian] mission manifestation in the community," in which hundreds of Ethiopian Jews took part.
The keisim and rabbis called for establishing new rules for bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel, maintaining that in recent years many of the Falshamura in Israel have resorted to Christianity and built missions in Jaffa, Jerusalem, and Rehovot, as a result of their difficult financial situation.…
Conference participants elected a keisim-led committee that will map out the various missions in each city and prepare a list of missionaries, which they will transfer to the Interior Ministry, requesting that they be barred from marrying or being buried in a Jewish cemetery. In addition, the committee will formulate a position paper on potential future Falashmura aliyah.
"The missionaries persecuted us in Ethiopia, and [we must] not permit them to persecute us in the Holy Land," said the conference participants.
This is a difficult problem. First of all, the Rabbinate already ruled these people must be saved. It did so, however, with the caveat that they formally convert to and practice Orthodox Judaism. If these charges are true – and they appear to be, at least in part; I have seen documents that support the charges – should all Falash Mura suffer because of the sins of a few?
I don’t know. My first reaction is to say no, they should not, and aliyah should continue. But Ethiopian Jewish leaders are adamantly opposed to this. (Indeed, I spoke with one leader about this problem this morning. He said what he has said for much of the past two years – stop aliyah now.)
The problem, it seems to me, is one of a contract violation. Falash Mura got to come to Israel on the condition they observe Orthodox Judaism. The question is, what should we do when that contract is violated?
I should also add that much of the missionary activity comes from financial distress, and Ethiopian Jewish leaders themselves say this is so. Israel has done a poor job of integrating all Ethiopian Jews. This has relegated many to poverty and despair. Successive Israeli governments bear the responsibility for this, for the pain and suffering it causes, and for the Christian missionizing that grows from it.