Chareidi conversion officials clarified Sunday evening that the 7,846 members of the Falash Mura slated to immigrate to Israel from Ethiopia will have to undergo a strict conversion to Yiddishkeit. Those who fail to do so, the officials warned, would not be recognized as Jews and will have trouble marrying in Israel.
Rav Nachum Eisenstein, rov of Maalot Dafnah and chairman of the International Rabbinical Committee on Conversions, who is a close associate of Maran Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, said that the conversion must include the acceptance of a religious lifestyle as a condition for approving the immigrants’ Judaism.
According to Rav Eisenstein, this process is referred to as “strict conversion” but it is similar to regular conversion according to Jewish Law.
No one can rule that the Falah Mura members are Jews according to the Halacha, Rav Eisenstein explained, as hundred and maybe even thousands of years have passed since this was a known fact in the families of origin.
He added that he and fellow rabbonim had many reasons to oppose this immigration, which could cause “many genealogy problems among the people of Israel”, but that they were not objecting because of the issue’s current political aspect.
Other rabbonim, who have been working to bring the Falash Mura to Israel, confirmed that the immigrants would have to undergo “strict conversion.” However, they said they were convinced that the process would be much easier than the conversion of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
Rabbi Menachem Waldman, director of the Shvut Am institute and an expert on Ethiopian Jewry, explained to Ynet that many of the community members converted to Christianity starting in the late 19th century for about 50 years. From a halachic point of view a Jew cannot convert, so they are still considered Jewish, but their offspring must not convert for fear that some of them had married Christian women.
According to Waldman, who was sent the Chief Rabbinate to probe the issue in the past, the Falah Mura are direct descendants of Ethiopia’s Jews and so their status must be similar. “I don’t call it conversion but rather ‘a return to Judaism,’ he said, “even if it’s basically the same thing.”
Waldman added that the need to convert would not pose a problem for the Ethiopians, as they come from a religious country and have been holding a halachic lifestyle.
“The Falash Mura members prayed three times a day, maintained the sanctity of their family and lived a Jewish life back there, and when they immigrate to Israel they send their children to study in religious educational institutions,” he said.
According to Waldman, the situation is more complicated among immigrants from the former Soviet Union, as the Halacha forces them to observe mitzvos in order to be recognized as Jews but this is not a lifestyle they are accustomed to.