Netanyahu with the kesim
Netanyahu with the kesimKobi Gidon/GPO

The ministerial committee on the integration of Israeli citizens of Ethiopian origin chaired by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, today (Monday, 19 February 2018), in an historic step, approved a decision to – for the first time – provide for the status of the overall religious services for Israeli citizens of Ethiopian origin.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said, "At today's meeting we will finally provide for the status of the kessim who have led the Ethiopian Jewish community for hundreds of years. This arrangement should have been implemented a long time ago, and I am pleased that we have the opportunity to do so now. I think this is part of the same step, the same package of steps that we are enacting to aid our brothers and sisters in the Ethiopian Jewish community. The change is very welcome and there will also be other things that we will do at this meeting."

Prime Minister Netanyahu added, "The heritage of Israel is a mosaic of many communities. This community has a special status precisely because it kept this heritage even in complete isolation. I find this moving and close to my heart. Therefore, this is an historic undertaking. We will continue this important journey for all of us, for our brothers and sisters."

The outline that was approved includes a historic recognition of the kessim as spiritual shepherds for Ethiopian Jews as they were in Ethiopia and thereby provides for their status as part of the package of religious services. This step constitutes recognition of the ancient and unique heritage of Jews of Ethiopian origin, also in the area of religious services.

Ethiopian Jews did not have the Oral Law, so that their spiritual leaders could not be considered rabbis in the accepted sense, but are spiritual leaders. In the years since their arrival in Israel, there are full-fledged rabbis of Ethiopian origin who studied in Israeli yeshivas. Today's decision includes an orderly outline for the integration of rabbis of Ethiopian origin into religious councils so as to bring about their optimal integration in the network of religious services and to improve religious services available to Israeli citizens of Ethiopian origin as well as to the general public.

Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Galant briefed the committee on the successful implementation of the mortgage assistance plan for families of Ethiopian origin and the urban renewal plan. Under the plan, NIS 120 million has been allocated for housing loans to 200 families and couples of Ethiopian origin per annum, for four years.

In 2017, the first year of the plan, 184 couples and families used the assistance to purchase apartments in communities throughout the country. Additional families and couples are in the process of applying for the assistance. In order to facilitate optimal realization of the assistance, couples are also entitled to advice in purchasing apartments and taking mortgages from the Israel Interest-free Loan Fund. Regarding the urban renewal plan, achievements in five neighborhoods – at an overall investment of NIS 120 million over five years – were presented. Since the plan was approved last month, agreements have been signed with the three local councils where the neighborhoods are located.