Ethiopian children denied conversions

Approximately 500 Ethiopian families in Israel have children who are not able to undergo conversion.

ethiopian kids rabbi 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
ethiopian kids rabbi 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Israel's conversion courts are "illegally and inhumanely" preventing children arriving from Ethiopia from undergoing conversion, according to a petition filed with the High Court of Justice on Tuesday. Approximately 500 Ethiopian families in Israel have children who are not able to undergo conversion because they have difficulty obtaining their father's permission, according to Idzik Dessie, the lawyer who heads the Tebeka Center for Legal Aid and Advocacy for Ethiopian Jews. Their fathers were not eli gible for aliya and have remained in Ethiopia. In many cases, they are difficult to find or refuse to give their consent without receiving money in return, Dessie said. In some cases they have even passed away, but the suit charges that the state requires mothers - whose Israeli ID cards list them as widows - to provide affidavits from Ethiopia attesting that their husbands are dead. The suit contends that the state shouldn't require the father give his permission, since these are not Christian or Muslim children, but children who identify as Jews and are only undergoing a special conversion to remove any doubt of their religious background. It has been the practice since Falash Mura started to come to Israel that they undergo this conversion. "We're ta lking about children who are already Jewish according to Jewish law," Dessie said. "They don't need to go through the whole conversion process." That means, he argued, that the law requiring that fathers consent doesn't apply to them. He added that the ir mothers' consent should be sufficient since they are the sole parental authority in their children's lives once they bring them to Israel. Dessie said that representatives from the conversion courts have told him that they require the fathers' permission because they don't want to be faced with future law suits. "Will someone come from Ethiopia and sue them?" Dessie asked rhetorically. "I don't think that would happen." The division of the Rabbinate in charge of conversions could not be reached for comment. Dessie estimated that 10 percent of the Ethiopians who arrived were single mothers, and warned that the number of families facing this difficulty with conversion would only grow as the state increased the amount of Ethiopians arriving. Without conversion, Dessie explained, "a child doesn't receive all his rights."›