With budget preparations well underway for the fiscal years 2009-2010, the Finance Ministry’s proposed Arrangements Law is under scrutiny. One of its clauses – calling for an end to Ethiopian-Jewish immigration – has aroused the protest of the Rishon LeTzion, Rabbi Shlomo Amar.
“It is hard to conceive that the Government of Israel would refrain from bringing Jews because of economic calculations,” Rabbi Amar wrote to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. So reports Yitzchak Hildesheimer in Makor Rishon.
The Finance Ministry proposes to save 400 million shekels a year by ending the immigration to Israel of the Falash Mura community. The Cabinet voted just last September to continue bringing in Falash Mura Jews, at the rate of approximately 100 each month. The Finance Ministry now proposes to nullify that decision.
Though the Jewishness of the Falash Mura has long been an issue of contention, Rabbi Amar has ruled that the community is Jewish and should be aided in coming to Israel. Rabbi Amar visited Ethiopia himself to investigate the matter, and relies on the ruling of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef as well.
Jews, With a Minority of Christians
Rabbi Amar wrote to Netanyahu: “The leading Halakhic [Jewish legal] authority, our master Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has already ruled that the Jews of Ethiopia are Jews in every sense. I, too, small in stature, have found and ruled that the Falash Mura, too, are kosher Jews who were forced to accept Christianity. However, because some non-Jews married into them and we cannot ascertain the precise status of every single one, they should undergo formal conversion. But in any event, there is a definitive obligation to bring them to the Land of Israel and save them.”
Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s comment: “If we were talking about potential immigrants from the former Soviet Union, would their Aliyah be stopped because of budgetary considerations? This proposal must be opposed totally.”
The United Jewish Communities (UJC), as well, which represents 157 local Jewish Federations and 400 independent communities across North America, has also come out against an end to aid for Ethiopian Aliyah. "UJC/Jewish Federations of North America has long supported efforts to definitively resolve the immigration status of Falash Mura remaining in Ethiopia," a UJC letter to Netanyahu states. "For that reason, the UJC applauded the 2008 cabinet decision, urging that adjudication and immigration of those found eligible should be completed in as short a time as possible.”
The number of remaining Falash Mura in Ethiopia is estimated at between 1,500 and several thousand, of which not all are eligible for Aliyah to Israel. Last year's Cabinet vote took place just a month after what was thought to be the last official airlift of Ethiopian Jews landed in Israel. A total of 120,000 Ethiopian Jews had been brought to Israel over a 30-year period.