Rabbinic ruling: Families of Ethiopian Airlines victims can sit shiva

Widows of the two Israelis killed in the the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 must wait “several months” for identification of body parts to be released from their agunot status.

 Special Rabbinical Court convenes on Sunday (photo credit: CHIEF RABBINATE)
Special Rabbinical Court convenes on Sunday
(photo credit: CHIEF RABBINATE)
A special rabbinical court established by Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef ruled on Sunday that families of the two Israeli victims of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 – which crashed on March 10 shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa Bole International Airport en route to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya – may now begin the traditional shiva seven-day mourning period.
The two families delayed the shiva, which usually commences immediately after a person’s burial, and requested a ruling from Yosef as to when to begin it, since remains of the two Israeli victims, 59-year-old Shimon Ram and 49-year-old Avraham Matzliah – as well as the other 155 people on board – have yet to be identified by DNA tests.
Although the rabbinical court determined that the families should begin the shiva, it stated that it was waiting for identification of the remains of the victims before it would issue a ruling releasing the wives of the two victims from their current status as agunot, “chained” women.
DNA samples from the remains of the flight victims were taken by Interpol in Ethiopia, and will be matched against DNA samples taken from their relatives in order to categorically determine the death of the 157 passengers and crew who were aboard the doomed flight.
According to Yehuda Meshi-Zahav – head of the Zaka organization that sent volunteers to the site of the crash to help collect remains of the victims – the identification process, which is taking place in an Interpol lab in London, will take at least six months.
In issuing its ruling, the rabbinical court, which is comprised of Yosef together with rabbis Michael Amos and Yaakov Rozah, “collected testimonies from Zaka volunteers,” who visited the site of the crash, and received official documentation from the Ethiopian government, the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Ethiopian Airlines.
Included in this documentation was the official list of all passengers who had boarded the flight in Addis Ababa, which included Ram and Mazliah. According to the chief rabbinate, testimony from Jews who witnessed the two men boarding the flight was also recorded by the court.
“In light of all the testimonies, findings and documents that were presented to the special rabbinical court, and after a number of hearings and after a further hearing today [Sunday] in the office of the chief rabbi, it was ruled by the rabbinical court that the families should sit shiva for their relatives, should tear their clothes in mourning and say the kaddish [mourners’ prayer], and should perform all the customary laws for the shiva period,” the court stated.
The rabbis stated, however, that releasing the widows from their status as agunot would be done only when the remains have been identified, “even though there are many reasons to release them already now.”
If a woman’s husband disappears without proof of his death, she can become an aguna – an “anchored or chained” woman – making it impossible for her to remarry should she so wish.
A rabbinical court can, however, determine an individual to be dead based on circumstantial evidence, thus freeing an aguna.