Israel’s Rabbinical Chief Council Recognizes Ethiopians As Jews

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Ethiopians and supporters take part in a protest against police violence and discrimination following the death of 19-year-old Ethiopian, Solomon Tekah who was shot and killed few days ago in Kiryat Haim by an off-duty police officer, in Tel Aviv, July 8, 2019. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90

JERUSALEM (VINnews) — The Chief Rabbinate Council, a body of senior rabbis in the Israeli chief rabbinate, decided recently to reinforce the recognition of members of Ethiopia’s Beta Israel community as Jewish, after an earlier decision on the matter failed to stop some officials from continuing to question their lineage.

In the past, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ruled in the 1970’s that members of Ethiopia’s Beta Yisrael community were Jewish, paving the way for their eventual immigration to Israel. Life in Israel, however, has not always been easy for them, since many authorities refused to accept the landmark decision by Rabbi Yosef and demanded that they undergo a form of conversion to be recognized as Jews. The Ethiopians steadfastly refused to undergo the procedure, claiming that they were Jewish already.

Moreover the Ethiopian community claims to suffer from racial discrimination and recently widespread protests broke out after an unarmed Ethiopian youth was killed by a policeman for threatening him. The community saw this as a racially motivated act.

Most Ethiopians suffer from inferior educational opportunities and most of the 140,000-strong community do not continue to higher education and work in menial, low-paying jobs leaving them at the lowest levels of income and prosperity.

In 2018, a kosher winery faced angry backlash after it emerged that it was not allowing Ethiopian workers to touch the wine because of fears they were not Jewish, which would make the wine not kosher.

Rabbi Yehuda Deri, who had pushed to reinforce Yosef’s ruling, hailed it as “a historic decision which will be remembered for generations in Israel, especially among the Ethiopian community,” according to the Haaretz daily.

Itim, a religious pluralism rights group, also praised the decision saying in a statement that discrimination against those of Ethiopian descent in recent years had to do with among other things, “the casting of doubt by the religious establishment on their being part of the Jewish people.”

Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, a liberal religious group, also welcomed the development calling it “significant progress by the rabbinate on the way to correcting its attitude with the Jewish of Ethiopian descent.”

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