Protest for Falash Mura in Jerusalem (archives)
Photo: Guy Assayag
Ultra-Orthodox conversion officials clarified Sunday evening that the 7,846 members of the Falash Mura slated to immigrate to Israel from Ethiopia will have to undergo a strict conversion to Judaism. Those who fail to do so, the officials warned, would not be recognized as Jews and will have trouble marrying in Israel.
Rabbi Nachum Eisenstein, chairman of the International Rabbinical Committee on Conversions, who is considered an associate of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, leader of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community, told Ynet that the conversion must include the acceptance of a religious lifestyle as a condition for approving the immigrants' Judaism.
According to Eisenstein, this process is referred to as "strict conversion" but it is similar to regular conversion according to Jewish Law.
Hundreds of Ethiopian-Israelis gather in Jerusalem to protest delay in issuing of immigration permits to thousands of Falashmura waiting in Ethiopian transit camp. Minister Steinitz: This isn't about skin color
No one can rule that the Falah Mura members are Jews according to the Halacha, Eisenstein explained, as hundred and maybe even thousands of years have passed since this was a known fact in the families of origin.
He added that he and his fellow rabbis had many reasons to oppose this immigration, which could cause "many genealogy problems among the people of Israel", but that they were not objecting because of the issue's current political aspect.
Other rabbis, who have been working to bring the Falash Mura to Israel, confirmed that the immigrants would have to undergo "strict conversion." However, they said they were convinced that the process would be much easier than the conversion of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
'Accustomed to religious lifestyle'Rabbi Menachem Waldman, director of the Shvut Am institute and an expert on Ethiopian Jewry, explained to Ynet that many of the community members converted to Christianity starting in the late 19th century for about 50 years. From a halachic point of view a Jew cannot convert, so they are still considered Jewish, but their offspring must not convert for fear that some of them had married Christian women.
According to Waldman, who was sent the Chief Rabbinate to probe the issue in the past, the Falah Mura are direct descendants of Ethiopia's Jews and so their status must be similar. "I don't call it conversion but rather 'a return to Judaism,' he said, "even if it's basically the same thing."
Waldman added that the need to convert would not pose a problem for the Ethiopians, as they come from a religious country and have been holding a halachic lifestyle.
"The Falash Mura members prayed three times a day, maintained the sanctity of their family and lived a Jewish life back there, and when they immigrate to Israel they send their children to study in religious educational institutions," he said.
According to Waldman, the situation is more complicated among immigrants from the former Soviet Union, as the Halacha forces them to observe mitzvot in order to be recognized as Jews but this is not a lifestyle they are accustomed to.
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