Ethiopian ceremony (illustrative)
Ethiopian ceremony (illustrative)Credit: Courtesy of photographer

A special conference held at the Ono Academic College discussed combining the traditions of Ethiopian Judaism with the traditional Jewish wedding ceremony according to Jewish law.

Rabbi Sharon Shalom, head of the International Center for Ethiopian Jewry in the Ono Academic College spoke to Arutz Sheva about the conference.

"The tradition of Ethiopian Jewry has evolved separately from the Orthodox Jewish Rabbinical world," Rabbi Shalom said. "I remember that when I wrote From Sinai to Ethiopia, which is like a Shulchan Aruch (Code of Law) for the Ethiopian community, this was from a place of familiarity and awareness between the traditions and outlooks. Everyone stood on Har Sinai and this is the first time that a meeting is taking place."

"Ethiopian Judaism is not Reform or Conservative. It is a different stream but very Orthodox," said Rabbi Shalom. He also noted that although in other areas of Jewish law, there are significant differences and large gaps between Ethiopian tradition and mainstream Jewish law, the differences in the marriage ceremony are not that significant. It's possible to combine the customs to allow the Keissim (Ethiopian priests) to officiate at weddings in accordance with both Ethiopian tradition and Jewish law."

"For example, in Ethiopia, they don't have the custom to break a glass but the main and important differences are related to Jewish law [rather than customs] such as witnesses. In Ethiopia, the number of witnesses is different, not two but more - this is what I understood from the Keissim. They write a ketubah (marriage contract) there also - the wording is very different - but there is a legal document that is signed and the content is very similar - it relates to the husband's obligations to his wife and vice versa."

Regarding their custom not to use wine at weddings, Rabbi Shalom said that in Ethiopia they didn't customarily drink wine at all since it was associated with Christians and other non-Jewish groups. Due to this, Kiddush on the eve of the Sabbath was recited over challah rather than wine. "The wine was associated with the Christian world and with idolatry, so they made sure to avoid contact with it since they considered it impure."

The veil of a bride in Ethiopia was completely hermetic, and not as it is now (sheer) in most communities. Rabbi Shalom also spoke about the custom "keshera," a special custom in which the bridegroom ties two red and white ties in a special ceremony with the white cloth simulating the purity of the bridegroom and the red cloth the purity of the bride, gradually raising the knot of cloth from his feet up to his head where it was tied around his forehead.

"Ultimately there is more similarity than differences," Rav Shalom concluded. "The Keissim have the goodwill to reform their customs in accordance with what is acceptable in Jewish law and I request from the Rabbinical world to come toward us. The fact that we had this conference shows that when there's goodwill and true love it's definitely possible to find a solution in Jewish law in which the Keissim can officiate at weddings according to Ethiopian customs in accordance with Jewish law."