The Sephardic chief rabbi of Petah Tikva has reportedly been refusing to sanction the marriages of Ethiopian Jews seeking to tie the knot in his city on the grounds that their Jewishness is in doubt.
The rabbi, Benjamin Atias, was accused by members of the city’s 10,000-strong Ethiopian community of consistently refusing to grant them permission to get married, according to an Army Radio report, which featured quotes from several Ethiopian residents saying that they had been forced to marry elsewhere.
One of those who was denied permission to marry, Dachilo Abaye, told the radio station that members of his community were entering the marriage canopy with “hatred for the rabbinate” instead of “joy and happiness,” and added that “no one can question the Jewishness of Jewish Ethiopians.”
Like all Israelis, members of the community now can, thanks to an October 2013 law, choose to register and get married in any rabbinical jurisdiction in the country, leading many members of Petah Tikva’s Ethiopian community to register in nearby Tel Aviv. Israeli law does not allow for civil marriages or weddings outside of the formal religious establishments, with Jews forced to marry through the Chief Rabbinate.
“The law and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel’s procedure mandates that any rabbi who registers marriages serve every Jewish Israeli citizen without discrimination, including members of the Ethiopian community. If a breach of the law or procedure will be discovered in this case, the issue will be thoroughly investigated and rectified,” the Chief Rabbinate said in a statement responding to an inquiry.
The religious head of Israel’s Ethiopian Jewish community, Rabbi Yosef Adana, raised the issue with the Chief Rabbinate several months ago, leading, according to the rabbinate, to a special arrangement whereby 14 rabbis from the Ethiopian community would be given special permission to register marriages and perform weddings for their community.
Petah Tikva’s Rabbi Atias, who could not be reached for comment, is a member of the Shas party, and his younger brother, Ariel Atias, served as an MK and minister for the party. Ironically, it was the late former Sephardic chief rabbi and Shas party founder Rabbi Ovadia Yosef who, in the early 1970s, provided an important ruling confirming the Jewish status of Ethiopian Jews, who at the time were mostly still living in Ethiopia.