Shas's Ethiopian rep may finally take Knesset seat

Rabbi Mazor Bayana is expected to rank between 11th and 15th on the list.

Shas's list for the Knesset, a conscious attempt to represent diverse geographic and ethnic groups, will include an Ethiopian rabbi from Beersheba and a representative of the Georgian community. Mazor Bayana, rabbi of an Ethiopian community of 10,000 in Beersheba who learned at Yeshivat Porat Yosef, one of the most prestigious Sephardi yeshivot in Israel, is expected to rank between 11th and 15th on the list. Polls forecast Shas receiving 9 to 10 mandates. Ya'acov Margi, Shas secretary-general and Bayana's neighbor, said there was strong electoral potential in the Ethiopian community. "I'm not saying Rabbi Mazor will bring us a whole mandate," said Margi. "But he and other Ethiopian rabbis have done a lot for their communities." Shas is not the only party attempting to appeal to the Ethiopian vote. Herut and Kadima both have Ethiopians on their lists. Shlomo Mula, head of the Jewish Agency's Ethiopian absorption department, is ranked 33 on Kadima's list and Avraham Nagosa is number three on Herut's list. With polls giving Kadima roughly 40 mandates, Mula is expected to enter the Knesset, while polls predict that Herut will not obtain the minimum votes needed to cross the threshold. Margi declined to comment on the Georgian representative except to say he would be ranked in the top 20. Shas's spiritual mentor, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, enthusiastically embraced Ethiopians when they first began immigrating to Israel four decades ago. While all haredi rabbis and streams, including Chabad, rejected Ethiopians' claim to Judaism, Ovadia ruled that they could marry without having to undergo a conversion. Despite Ovadia's halachic ruling, most religious councils refuse to marry Ethiopians without a conversion in accordance with official Chief Rabbinate policy. Only in cities and towns with rabbis that accept Ovadia's ruling or the ruling of Rabbi Shlomo Goren are Ethiopians married without immersion in a ritual bath (mikva) or, for men, the taking of a drop of blood instead of circumcision. "Rabbi Ovadia takes a personal interest in the Ethiopian community," said Margi. "He is proud when he sees Ethiopians who are learned in Torah." This will be the third time Bayana has run on a Shas list. In 1996 he was ranked 21st. Shas won 17 mandates. When Aryeh Deri was forced to resign as MK after being indicted, and several Shas ministers considering resigning as MKs while retaining their ministerial portfolios, within the framework of the Norwegian Law, Bayana almost made it into the Knesset. In the previous elections Bayana was ranked 18th. Most Ethiopians are educated in secular or national religious schools. However, Bayana chose a more haredi path at an early age. "Rabbi Ovadia is my rabbi. Shas is my party. I was at Kfar Hassidim, a religious Zionist school, and I decided that I wanted haredi education. I don't know why. I was only 12 or 13." Bayana said that his respect for Ovadia grew after reading about how the rabbi had recognized the Ethiopians as Jews and helped advance them. Bayana manages an organization called Shavu Banim, which provides educational and social assistance to Beersheba's Ethiopians. Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.