Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Are Ethiopian rabbis the victims of discrimination in Israel?

Matthew Wagner:

Rabbi Reuven Yasu

The Prime Minister's Office ordered religious councils Monday to stop what it called "apparent discrimination" against Ethiopian rabbis and kessim (traditional Ethiopian spiritual leaders).

Meir Spiegler, head of the National Authority for Religious Services in the Prime Minister's Office, wrote a letter Sunday evening to all religious council chairmen acknowledging the problem and issuing "unambiguous directives."

The Prime Minister's Office transferred NIS 5.823 million in 2005 for the 71 Ethiopian spiritual leaders' salaries, which means the average gross monthly salary was NIS 6,834, significantly lower than other comparably trained rabbis. Not all of this money, however, is being transferred from the religious councils to the rabbis themselves, according to attorney Sharon Abraham-Weiss of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

Spiegler's letter therefore ordered the religious councils to make certain all of the funds transferred by the Prime Minister's Office reach their intended recipients.

The letter was the first official government document to acknowledge discrimination against the rabbis and kessim by the religious councils, said Abraham-Weiss.

"Finance Ministry and Prime Minister's Office representatives admitted there is discrimination during a meeting of the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and the Diaspora. It is recorded in the minutes. But now we also have an official document that says so," he said.

Abraham-Weiss represents 13 Ethiopians ordained by the Israeli Rabbinate who are employed by religious councils and 58 kessim who have no Orthodox rabbinic training, but were spiritual leaders in Ethiopia.

"All 13 rabbis receive significantly lower salaries than the comparable non-Ethiopian rabbis, even though they have the same training," said Abraham-Weiss.

He cited as an example Rabbi Shai Ma'arad, an ordained rabbi who works in Arad's religious council, who receives NIS 4,522 a month, instead of the NIS 7,074 received by his fellow workers. "Ma'arad's situation is representative of all the rabbis," said Abraham-Weiss.

"The status of the kessim is more complicated from a legal standpoint because there is no comparable position for non-Ethiopians in religious councils," he added.

Rabbi Moshe Rauchverger, Chairman of the Union of Neighborhood Rabbis, denied there was any discrimination.

"Kessim are not rabbis any more than reform rabbis or Christian priests are rabbis," said Rauchverger, who claimed kessim had no real knowledge of Orthodox Judaism and had strong Christian and pagan influences.

"If we were to recognize kessim, we would have recognize reform rabbis or Christian priests," he added.

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At 4:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it is pretty clear that ethnic ties are a lot stronger than religious ties, and so it was, perhaps, just another bit of politically correct foolishness to aggressively welcome so many black Jews from Ethiopia to Israel.

At 12:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

another bit of politically correct foolishness to aggressively welcome so many black Jews from Ethiopia to Israel

Jews like to believe that they are more tolerant than everyone else and so invited all these Ethiopians into the country to show that they weren't "racist". Also they need the Ethiopians because the Palestinians are outbreeding the Jews.


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