Ethiopian bride’s fight for Jewish marriage

Ethiopian immigrant
Ethiopian immigrant Photo: AFP

Southern resident insists on being recognized as a Jew, refuses to undergo any conversion procedure after rabbis question her Jewish origins ahead of wedding. For four years she fights rabbinical establishment until she prevails

An Ethiopian woman fought for four years to be recognized as a Jew refusing rabbis’ demands to undergo conversion procedures and was even forced to postpone her wedding. Last week, the Great Rabbinical court in Jerusalem declared she will be able to bathe in a mikveh prior to her wedding and ruled there will be no record of her undergoing a procedure to return to Judaism.

The woman, a resident of southern Israel, and her partner scheduled their wedding for August 2006, but never imagined four years would pass before they would stand under a chuppah. In 2006, they held a celebration without the traditional Jewish marriage ceremony as the rabbinate questioned the bride’s Jewish origin.

After the couple first registered for marriage, the Ashdod religious council forwarded the woman’s file to Rabbi Yosef Hadana in Tel Aviv, who was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate as the Ethiopian sector’s marriage registrar.

The rabbi ruled that the woman was not Jewish after claiming to have been told that her grandparents had converted to Christianity, and therefore refused to validate her status as a Jew until she underwent a bathing procedure. The Tebeka foundation, which provides legal aid to members of the Ethiopian sector, saw little chances of overriding Hadana’s decision.

However, the woman refused to undergo any form of conversion and turned to Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar. She provided him with depositions of witnesses who vouched for her and who stated they knew the family and its Jewish origins. However, schedule difficulties prevented Amar from ruling on the matter in time for the wedding, and the Chupah ceremony was never held.

Battling on
The woman did not give up and continued her campaign. Two attorneys from the Tebeka foundation motioned a Rehovot court to intervene in the matter but were rejected.

An appeal was eventually filed with the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court, which recently reached a compromise acceptable by all parties, whereby the bride will bathe in a mikveh and the religious judges will wait outside to ensure the procedure had indeed taken place.

According to the compromise, the bride will receive a regular marriage certificate with no record that she was brought back to the Jewish faith.

“I believed I was a Jew all along and was unwilling to undergo a procedure of returning to Judaism because I know and believe my family,” the bride said. “I am glad that it’s over and now my sisters will not have to go through this ordeal.”

Tova Dadon, Ynetnews