In a controversial move, the Religious Services Ministry has informed the chief rabbi for the Ethiopian community that his tenure is to end at the end of next month.
The official reason is that Rabbi Yosef Hadane has reached retirement age. But the move comes against the backdrop of long-standing tensions between the rabbi and the ministry, the Chief Rabbinate and members of the Shas party over recognizing the Judaism of Ethiopian immigrants.
Over the past year, Army Radio’s religious affairs correspondent, Uriah Elkayam, uncovered a policy regarding Ethiopian couples adopted by Rabbi Binyamin Attias, the chief rabbi of Petah Tikva. Elkayam revealed that many converts who have official state conversion certificates were questioned regarding the level of their religious observance, which seems to contravene regulations.
Hadane, 67, was criticized by many in the Ethiopian community for not publicly supporting the converts more forcefully, even as he clashed with the ministry and Chief Rabbinate Council, which both backed Attias.
The Tzohar rabbinical organization expressed its shock “at the desire to remove Rabbi Yosef Hadane, whose only sin was that he supported Jews of Ethiopian origin in their just struggle to register for marriage as Jews in Petah Tikva.”
Sources in the Ethiopian community, however, say Hadane’s enforced retirement may have nothing to do with the marriage registrations. They say he has had ongoing disputes with several of the kessim (religious elders of the Ethiopian community), as well as a group of the community’s rabbis. There are those among the latter group who believe that Shas, which controls the ministry, is taking advantage of Hadane’s age to pension him off and replace him.
Hadane is not employed as a municipal rabbi – such rabbis can serve until age 70 – but as the head of a branch of the ministry (although he holds a leadership role, not an administrative one). Sources in the ministry say that if that ministry heads wanted to, they could find a way to extend his tenure.
One of Hadane’s primary jobs has been to oversee the Rabbinate’s policy under which Ethiopian Jews who were members of the Beta Israel community – as opposed to the Falashmura, who have Christian ancestry – would not be required to convert en masse. (This has been policy since the 1980s and is based on the halakhic ruling of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.) Instead, when they came to register for marriage, they would have to undergo a clarification of their Judaism – a process overseen by Hadane and his rabbinical staff, which approved most applicants for marriage after examining their Ethiopian family roots.
The other immigrants, including most of the Falashmura, are directed to a conversion track that ends in their conversion by special batei din (rabbinical courts) – those same courts whose certificates are not being automatically accepted in Petah Tikva.
The decision not to extend Hadane’s tenure, apparently the initiative of ministry Director-General Oded Flus, comes despite a letter of recommendation that Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef wrote on Hadane’s behalf only two weeks ago, in which he urged that Hadane be retained.
The Religious Services Ministry said Hadane, who has been working for the ministry since 1979, was a ministry employee and, as such, must retire at 67, adding that his position was an essentially administrative position.