Last-minute rabbinical OK enables Ethiopian wedding

Couple ran into difficulties when Ashdod Chief Rabbi Yosef Sheinin refused to recognize bride was single and Jewish.

wedding figures 88 (photo credit: )
wedding figures 88
(photo credit: )
In a case that illustrates the religious establishment's ambiguous attitude to the Ethiopian community, Tamar Almo and Efraim Azazeh were nearly forced to cancel their wedding Thursday evening because Almo had not been recognized as a Jew by the Chief Rabbinate. But just three hours before the huppa, the couple reached an agreement with the rabbinate that allowed the wedding to take place. The couple ran into difficulties when Ashdod Chief Rabbi Yosef Sheinin refused to recognize Gadera Chief Rabbi Zion Tzubari's documents testifying that Almo was single and Jewish. This was despite the fact that Tzubari had been aided by Rabbi Reuven Yasu, an Ethiopian rabbi who is employed by the Gadera Religious Council to investigate the Jewish roots of Ethiopians who request to get married. "The only reason Sheinin is not recognizing them is because of the color of their skin," Yasu told The Jerusalem Post before the compromise was reached. Almo and Azazeh had refused to cave in to Sheinin's demand that they turn to Rabbi Yosef Hadana, an Ethiopian rabbi officially recognized by the Chief Rabbinate to verify Ethiopians' Jewishness. "Tamar and Efraim felt they should be treated like any other Israeli citizen," said Rabbi Michael Maharat, head of the Ethiopian community in Ashdod and an employee of Ashdod's Religious Council. According to Rabbi Moshe Rauchverger, chairman of the Union of Neighborhood Rabbis, many rabbis refuse to register Ethiopian couples for marriage until they convert. "Rabbis don't want to deal with them," he said, "because they don't know the culture, they don't know the language. So they refer these couples to Rabbi Hadana." However, Shimon Ulman, the Chief Rabbinate's legal adviser, said that according to a directive dating back over a year, all religious councils are obligated to begin the marriage registration process. "If they have any questions or doubts, the religious councils can transfer the files to Rabbi Hadana or to one of four Ethiopian rabbis appointed to investigate whether the couple is Jewish," he said. Meir Spiegler, head of the National Authority for Religious Services, said the couple registered just two weeks ago. But Maharat said they registered three months ago, adding that since the wedding was taking place in Ashdod, the chief rabbi in that city had full jurisdiction. "Rabbi Sheinin is following the rabbinate's directives that state that only Rabbi Hadana and four other Ethiopian rabbis are authorized to verify the Jewishness of Ethiopian couples," he said. Under the solution ultimately reached between Almo and Azazeh and the rabbinate, Hadana met with the couple before the wedding to verify that Almo is Jewish.