Rabbinic court upholds conversion under false pretenses

Two Falash Mura couples falsely presented themselves as siblings to convert and obtain Israeli citizenship.

By World Israel News Staff

In a precedent setting ruling, the Rabbinic Supreme Court  recognized the Judaism of four Ethiopians who converted under false pretenses, Arutz 7 reported.

Two couples who falsely passed themselves off as brothers and sisters from one person in the Beta Israel community initially had their conversions invalidated by the rabbinate’s conversion court.  The rabbis said that their fraudulent identity and insincerity disqualified their conversion.

The court added that because the four were not Jewish under Jewish law, they were not entitled to make aliyah under Israel’s Law of Return.

The four Ethiopians appealed to the Rabbinic Supreme Court, which ruled in their favor.

Arutz 7 didn’t cite the basis for the ruling, but quoted the rabbis’ acknowledgement that, “The appellants’ serious fraud was and still is a reason for which criminal sanctions should be taken against them, perhaps severe, both in the context of the fraud against state authorities in general and in the conversion court deception in particular.”

The Law of Return gives every Jew the right to immigrate to Israel and become a citizen. The law, which was last amended in 1970, allows the Interior Ministry to deny aliyah to individuals who are deemed a threat to state security, have a prior record of serious crimes, are fugitives from justice, pose a public health risk, actively campaign against the Jewish state, or converted to another religion (even if Jewish law would still consider them Jewish).

Beta Israel, or House of Israel, is how the Ethiopian Jews call themselves. Falash Mura, in the Agau language of Ethiopia, means “one who converts,”  and refers to Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity and their descendants.

More than 135,000 Israelis of Ethiopian descent live in Israel today.

Recognition of the Falash Mura’s status as Jews has become a fraught issue. Between 1984 and 1991, more than 20,0000 Falash Mura were airlifted to Israel in the covert Operations Moses, Joshua and Solomon. All were accepted as Jews under the Law of Return.

But in 2003, government policy changed, fearing that large numbers of Ethiopians would falsely claim Jewish identity to escape a famine. Also, questions were raised about the history of the Falash Mura and the legitimacy of their claimed Jewish heritage. Thus, the government offered the maternal descendants of Falash Mura the right to make aliyah if they first underwent a conversion process.

The last major arrival of Falash Mura was in March, with the arrival of 2,000 Ethiopians.

Over the years, Israeli officials have vowed to bring the remaining Falash Mura — an estimated 8,000 people — to Israel. Those promises have been stymied for the last two years by coalition politics, bureaucracy, budget restraints and the Covid pandemic.