From an article in Ha’aretz:

Religious courts are refusing to approve the conversions of young Ethiopians who want to enroll in secular education facilities. Last week a group of some 40 students who were registered for Jezreel Valley College were told they would not be converted because Shabbat is not observed at the dorms they would be living in.

Absorption officials say the courts’ policy is extremely offensive to these immigrants, who cannot obtain Israeli citizenship until they have conversion certificates. Haaretz has data showing that out of 181 young Ethiopians who have completed preparatory conversion courses since 2005, only one has received a conversion certificate.

Yeshuas Alam, 24, immigrated to Israel in 2003. Along with 11 of his peers Alam studied Judaism, underwent a ceremonial brit, a ritual mikveh immersion and an exam at the special conversion court. Yet two years later, only three have received conversion certificates.

“I applied to the rabbinic courts and the authorities dealing with this matter and received no reply,” Alam says. “I am here out of choice and want to be a loyal citizen, but I have no citizenship.”

Of course, the rabbi quoted in the article sees no problem here and places partial blame on the Ethiopians. Apparently, getting a ceremonial brit, going to lessons, going to a mikveh and spending years pursuing this objective don’t count as good faith efforts to convert.

About the author



  • I was a participant at Tel Aviv One, the big ol’ United Jewish Communities conference in March. As part of the conference, they made sure we knew plenty about Operation Promise, absorption centers, the centers in Ethiopa where education starts. We got to see a one man show about Ethiopian aliya (it was fantastic.)

    But somehow they never mentioned that the conversions weren’t being recognized.

    To this I’d just like to say, “WHAT THE FUCK?”

    You need more Jews in Israel, you bring over 20K people who haven’t been practicing Judaism for three generation, spend two years teaching them anything and everything about being Jews, being israeli, living in the modern world. But then you deny them their conversions?

    What kind of bizarre racist thing is this? My rabbi told us stories (in my own conversion classes) about the first ethiopians jews to make aliyah. How rabbi after rabbi showed up and made them convert and convert and convert.

    Operation Promise needs to fulfill the whole promise, not just parts. I don’t know what the next step is, but made sure the rest of my Tel Aviv One delegation reads this post and the article.

  • Oh wait a minute. A dorm doesn’t observe Shabbat, a person does. If enough of these wonderful young people met in a body with the administration of the dorm and said, fellas, make this a little easier. This IS the Jewish country, dudes, it would be OK. Some would observe, some would not. Just like everyplace.

    You don’t convert to doing something once. It is ongoing. Or, what is it? Mastering difficult material, facing the circumcision thing, and walking into some warm water are not at all nothing, but they are one-time.

    When you ARE something, it is on-going. Ic can’t recede into the past. It’s not like, been there, done that.

    The rabbis’point is, where is your willingness to DO what you studied?

    If you were born it, well you were. If you want in, well come on in. But those two situations are not identical to each other, not interchangeable, and bring different challenges and tasks.

    That’s life. It actually might be great to have them set an example for the take-it-for-granted people.

  • after seeing the movie “live and become” at the DC Jewish Film Festival last spring, I thought something like this would have been a non-issue for sometime so reading this breaks my heart… how can these certificates continue to be denied? If anyone hasn’t had a chance to see the film, check this site for info

Leave a Comment