At Last, Israel Recognizes Ethiopian Spiritual Leaders

Ethiopian spiritual leaders will be able to provide a wide range of religious services to members of their community via local religious councils ■ state promises to place 20 Ethiopian spiritual leaders on the govt. payroll

Israeli 'Kesim' pray during the Sigd holiday, November 20, 2014.

Ethiopian Israeli religious leaders will now be able to provide a wide range of religious services to members of their community via local religious councils, according to recommendations published on Wednesday by a special government committee.

The recommendations are effective immediately.

In March, following a decades-long struggle, the state for the first time officially recognized the community’s traditional spiritual leaders, the kesim, and promised to put 20 of them on its payroll, just as many other clerics are. Those jobs will be filled in the coming years.

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In addition, it set up a committee to decide issues such as what tasks kesim and Ethiopian Israeli rabbis will be able to perform and how the 20 positions should be divided among the various religious councils. The panel, whose members included kesim, rabbis, representatives of the Ethiopian community, heads of religious councils and representatives of various government ministries, will also monitor implementation of its recommendations.

The committee decided that kesim will be able to conduct religious ceremonies on holidays, the pre-burial portion of funerals and mourning and purification rituals. They will also be able to run synagogues and mediate in family or neighborhood disputes. In addition, they will conduct activities to preserve the community’s unique heritage, hold office hours, participate in state ceremonies and mentor trainee kesim.

But neither kesim nor Ethiopian-Israeli rabbis will be able to perform marriages without applying individually to the Chief Rabbinate for inclusion on its list of people authorized to conduct marriages, since marriage is under the rabbinate’s exclusive authority.

To be appointed to the government jobs, kesim must meet certain qualifications and be approved by a committee of three officials from the local religious council, the local kes and one kes appointed by the Religious Services Ministry.