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Author Topic: Jerusalem Post Article - Rabbi rejects Bene Israel as Jews  (Read 8809 times)
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« on: February 08, 2007, 11:01:00 PM »

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Sep. 1, 2005 22:08  | Updated Sep. 2, 2005 17:48
By MATTHEW WAGNER

Oshrit and Ofer Dokarker were married on July 7, but before they tied the
knot they discovered not everyone in the Israeli rabbinical establishment
considered them Jews.
Forty years after Bene Israel, members of an ancient Indian Jewish
community, staged a sit-down strike to demand - and finally receive -
Israeli rabbinate recognition of their Jewish status, members today continue
to be rejected by Petah Tikva Chief Rabbi Shimon Solomon.
"Everything started off all right," recalled Oshrit. "Ofer lives in Petah
Tikva, where there is a fairly large Bene Israel community with their own
synagogue. So he applied to the religious council in his hometown for a
document proving he was unmarried and Jewish.
"The clerk at the religious council told Ofer that the document would be
sent in the mail within two weeks." However, the letter never came, and
instead the couple had to deal with the problem of proving Ofer was indeed
Jewish.
"Rabbi Haim Roth, head of the marriage registrar in Petah Tikva, asked Ofer
to come down to his office. He sent him to Rabbi Azariah Bassis, chief rabbi
of Rosh Ha'ayin to have the document signed."
Ofer asked Roth why he was sent over to Rosh Ha'ayin, but he was evasive.
Ofer asked, "Is it because I am Bene Israel?" Roth response was a simple
"maybe." Two days later Roth arranged to have the document signed by Bassis.
Ofer and Oshrit turned to the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), the
legal arm of the Reform Movement in Israel, to file a complaint.
In a letter sent to Solomon and Roth the IRAC demanded a payment of NIS
50,000 for damages caused as a result of the disparaging, discriminatory
treatment suffered by the Dokarkers while they were trying to get married.
The IRAC also argued that each religious council is obligated to the
principle of equality in their services.
"It is unacceptable that on the basis of racial discrimination the religious
council in Petah Tikva sends its residents to receive religious services at
councils outside Petah Tikva."
However, Noah Massil, honorary president of the Central Organization of
Indian Jews in Israel, said he does not plan to fight Solomon.
"All across the nation the Bene Israel are always accepted as Jews," said
Massil.
"The only person that makes trouble is this Solomon fellow. I personally
believe Solomon has something against Bene Israel.
"If he felt, halachically speaking, Bene Israel are not Jews he would object
to rabbinic recognition of any Bene Israel marriage, whether in Petah Tikva
or in Rosh Ha'ayin or anywhere else."
Rabbi Ratzon Arussi, chairman of the Chief Rabbinate's Marital Council,
insisted that chief rabbis of cities and towns should be given the freedom
and autonomy to make their own halachic decisions.
"The rabbinate cannot force rabbis to issue decisions against their
conscience," said Arussi.
However, Arussi argued that the rabbis should provide all citizens with
equality when it comes to religious services.
Bassis told The Jerusalem Post that for the past five years he has agreed to
help Bene Israel living in Petah Tikva and signed the documents for Bene
Israel marriages.
"Chief Rabbi Bakshi Doron asked me to help in Petah Tikva. Why should I be
the one who does it? I do not want to be the one to decide in that halachic
dispute," Bassis said.
His comments refer to the dissent between haredi Ashkenazi halachic
authorities and rabbis who accept the decision of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and
Rabbi Shlomo Goren, who recognized Bene Israel as Jews.
According to Dr. Shalva Weil, an anthropologist at Hebrew University, Ovadia
and Goren based their historic decision on information she helped provide.
"I pointed out that Bene Israel prohibited divorce and they also prohibited
widow remarriage...
Therefore, there was no danger that a married woman would give birth by a
man who is not her husband and there were also no problems with levirate
marriages."
Massil said there are 60,000 Bene Israel living in Israel. They first
arrived in the 1950s. The Bene Israel observed Shabbat, circumcision of
their sons on the eighth day after birth, biblical prohibitions against
eating fish without scales and many Jewish festivals, which they refer to by
Indian names.
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