Ethiopian Kessim (file)
Ethiopian Kessim (file)Flash 90

Kes Aviyahu Azariya, chairperson of the Council of Kohanim of the Ethiopian Jews in Israel, issued a letter on Wednesday to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other ministers, warning about the planned immigration of 1,300 Ethiopian Jews.

The Kes, a term referring to Ethiopian Jewish spiritual leaders, called for caution in making sure that Ethiopian Christians were not allowed to sneak into Israel under the guise of being members of the Ethiopian Jewish community.

The remaining 9,000 Jews in Ethiopia primarily consist of Falash Mura, the descendants of Jews forcibly converted to Christianity generations ago. As a result the Falash Mura must undergo conversion so as to clarify their Halakhic (Jewish legal) status as Jews, in a similar fashion to many of the million or so Russian Jews who made aliyah in the 1990s, most of whom have yet to clarify their status.

Kes Azariya entitled his letter to Netanyahu, as well as Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas), Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) and Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home): "a request for involvement in checking the Jewish identity of those seeking to make Aliyah from Ethiopia."

"We, the spiritual leaders of Ethiopian Jewry, turn to you in a request to give us an opportunity to have our opinion heard regarding the Aliyah from Ethiopia under the framework of the Knesset law," he wrote, noting the decision made in early April after a political battle.

"For 2,000 years of exile we preserved our Judaism despite life-threatening danger. We have solid information regarding who are the descendants of Jews who converted to Christianity, who are known as Falash Mura."

"Unfortunately, people who don't even have a bit of information and understanding regarding Ethiopian Jewry are the ones who are deciding who is eligible for Aliyah and who is from Jewish roots."

The Ethiopian Jewish leaders warned that "due to this, Christian missionaries are making Aliyah to Israel and after a conversion to Judaism they return to Christianity. Those with Jewish roots have become a bargaining chip and hostages of organizations with a clear interest in bringing Christians to Israel."

Plans for a correction

Kes Azariya asked the ministers to let the Ethiopian Jewish leaders be involved in the process.

"In order to prevent a continuation of Aliyah for Christians, we ask to be involved in the checking process and giving confirmation regarding who is of Jewish roots," he wrote.

"Our Judaism is in our soul. Therefore we ask (that) without a check of the Kessim no Aliyah from Ethiopia under the framework of the Knesset law and the law of return be made."

Describing how the check for Jewish roots would work, he said that first, "every Kes according to our region will check every request for Aliyah aided by elders of the Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jewish) community, and they will confirm the request, and if they find that those making the request are from Jewish roots the request will be transferred with the confirmation of the Kessim to the Interior Ministry."

In a second stage, "the government will confirm only people who the Kessim confirmed have Jewish roots. Currently the government and the Chief Rabbis are confirming a large number of the mixed multitude. This causes the Aliyah of Christians and harms our Jewish identity."

"We ask to establish an investigative committee to investigate in depth how Christians who have no Jewish roots made Aliyah. Therefore we Kessim ask for an urgent meeting with the governmental ministries listed above," he concluded, in a reference to the ministers addressed in the letter.