This week saw a historic first within the Jewish community in Ethiopia, when twelve men from the community underwent a training course to be halakhically trained as shochtim - ritual slaughterers.
The course took place in the city of Gondar and was part of a joint initiative between the local community rabbi, Rabbi Menachem Waldman, Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum, Director of the Straus-Amiel Rabbinical Emissary Program of Ohr Torah Stone and the Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ). The training program is part of an ongoing initiative to provide continued support to Ethiopian Jews who have not yet had the chance to immigrate to Israel. At present, there are about 10,000 Jews living in Gondar and an additional 2,000 in the capital, Addis Ababa.
Despite its size, until now there was no halakhic ritual slaughter operation in place, forcing observant members of the community to largely refrain from eating poultry or meat products. Over the years volunteer shochtim would visit the community on occasion, primarily around holidays, but they still lacked any infrastructure to produce kosher meat products that had been slaughtered locally.
Several months ago, Rabbi Waldman contacted Ohr Torah Stone’s Rabbi Birnbaum, who has over 25 years of experience training and placing rabbis in communities all around the world, and requested that he assist in setting up a shechita training program on the ground in Ethiopia. Together with support from the SSEJ, Rabbi Birnbaum worked to establish such an initiative and recruited Rabbi Netanel Ansani, a highly experienced ritual slaughterer who had also previously served as an emissary on behalf of Ohr Torah Stone in El Salvador.
Twelve young men from the two Ethiopian cities were selected to undergo the training. The course began with an online-format two and a half months ago where the students learned the relevant texts. The specially manufactured knives and sharpening stones were shipped from Israel, and two weeks ago Rabbi Ansani arrived in the country to begin the practical part of the course. The twelve students underwent extensive training and were taught the intricacies of inspecting the knives and the animals for possible defects.
“The group studied from early morning into the evening hours,” Rabbi Ansani said. “It was very important that each student train extensively in the hand-on methods so that they would have as much experience and confidence in the process as possible and that they could demonstrate their commitment to continuing to learn and gain more experience.”
Last week, Rabbi Birnbaum and Rabbi Dr. Ari Greenspan, a highly respected and experienced shochet, educator and dentist, travelled to Ethiopia, to oversee the examination process. In the presence of their families and fellow community members, the twelve men all received their official certifications allowing them to now act as halakhically approved ritual slaughterers.
“This is truly a historic moment that will significantly benefit the local communities in Gondar and Addis Ababa,” Rabbi Birnbaum said. “Establishing a shechita infrastructure within the Ethiopian community is something we believe is extremely important, both from a food supply standpoint and no less so from the perspective of strengthening their Jewish identities and connection to our heritage. We are very thankful to Rabbis Greenspan and Ansani and SSEJ for responding to this call. With God’s help we will be blessed to see the remaining members of the community come home very soon to join us in Israel.”