Jerusalem Post: Chief Rabbinate Accepts Position Recognizing Beta Israel as Jewish

The step comes after several high-profile cases in which the Jewishness of Ethiopian Jews was challenged by rabbinic authorities. (Photo: Children attend Jewish studies class while awaiting immigration to Israel, in Gondar./REUTERS)

The Jerusalem Post

The Chief Rabbinate has accepted the position of the revered, late ultra-Orthodox leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef that the Beta Israel Jewish community from Ethiopia is Jewish.

The Council of the Chief Rabbinate, the body’s executive arm, approved a policy to fully accept the Beta Israel as Jewish last November, but the decision has only been disclosed now.

The Chief Rabbinate has not issued a formal statement on the issue, although a spokesman for the body confirmed to The Jerusalem Post that the decision has been officially approved.
Beta Israel (House of Israel) is the Ge’ez term for the Jewish community of Ethiopia, which is believed to date back to between 2,000 and 2,500 years ago. It was isolated from the rest of the Jewish world for most of that period.

Yosef, who is considered to have been one of the preeminent arbiters of Jewish law of his generation, ruled in 1973 that the Beta Israel were Jewish and should be allowed to immigrate to Israel. But the Chief Rabbinate has refrained from fully recognizing them as such until now.

In the 1980s, when the Beta Israel began immigrating from Ethiopia to Israel, the Chief Rabbinate adopted a position that it believed the community was Jewish but required them to undergo pro forma conversion so that all rabbinic authorities would accept their Jewishness. This was, however, deeply insulting to the community, which has always insisted that they were fully Jewish, pointing to the decision of Yosef from the 1970s.

Yosef reiterated his view that they were fully Jewish. A solution was found whereby Netanya Chief Rabbi David Shloush, a student of Yosef who also maintains that the Beta Israel are fully Jewish, agreed to register anyone from the community for marriage, which would then be accepted by the central Chief Rabbinate. Marriage registration within the Chief Rabbinate is the most practical application of Jewish-status recognition.

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