An Ethiopian Shulchan Aruch
04/07/10
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Rabbi Sharon Shalom is one of the first Ethiopian Israelis to be ordained by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. He is the spiritual leader of a congregation of about 100 people, most of them Holocaust survivors, in Kiryat Gan.
Now 37, Rabbi Shalom came to Israel in 1982 after an arduous two-month trek across the Sudan. He became one of the first Ethiopian officers of an elite Israeli army unit, studied Talmud at Bar-Ilan University and became the first Ethiopian Israeli to teach there. He was ordained 10 years ago. The Jewish Week recently caught up with the rabbi in New York to talk about the plight of Ethiopians in Israel and their religious traditions.
 

Q: Despite the wide cultural gap faced by Ethiopian Israelis, I understand many have adjusted well to their new homeland.
 
A: We have had to work twice as hard. The secret to success and closing the gap is to take responsibility for yourself. ... If leaders of the community blame the Israeli government and racism [for their failures], a bad situation will continue for a long time. The secret of my success is that I never ask what others think of me. 
 
How does the second-generation Ethiopian Israeli view himself?
 
There are maybe 30,000 second generation. When asked if they feel more black, Jewish, Ethiopian or Israeli, they said they first feel black, then Ethiopian, Israeli and finally Jewish — in that order.  ... I’m optimistic about the third generation.
 
I understand you are writing a new Shulchan Aruch or code of Jewish law to reconcile Jewish practice that was followed in Ethiopia with that which is followed in the rest of the traditional Jewish community.
 
I’m writing it with professor Daniel Sperber of Bar-Ilan University. ... One difference is that today in Ethiopia we drink milk with chicken. There is no biblical injunction against that; it is rabbinic. But I have warned that if Ethiopians keep that tradition, we will be separate and won’t be able to integrate into the Jewish world. So I’m writing that we can’t continue to eat milk and chicken together, but that it is not necessary for a six-hour separation between them. I’m saying it should be one hour. With a one-hour separation I can be a part of the Jewish world — any less and I can’t.
 
How else have you reconciled the two traditions?
 
In Ethiopia when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat, it is not OK to fast on Shabbat [like the rest of the Jewish world]; you must eat something. So in Kiryat Gan we decided to recite the [Shabbat] Kiddush on Yom Kippur, but we let a child taste it. In that way, we honor the Shabbat [and don’t violate the practice of fasting].
 
Do you have another example?
 
In Ethiopia, Jewish congregants walk with an umbrella on the Sabbath. Our kesim or spiritual leaders go to pray carrying an open umbrella. It’s like a chupah [wedding canopy] or a kipa — we don’t have kipot. So we use this on Shabbat. The Orthodox say opening an umbrella is like building a hut and that you can’t create a dwelling on Shabbat. I say Ethiopian Jews can go with an umbrella.
 
What do you think the reaction will be when you publish your Shulchan Aruch?
 
It won’t be good; all the rabbinate will go against me. But these things are very, very important because these are ancient traditions that have been around since the Second Temple. I met someone from France who said he researched the music of the kesim and found that it was very close to the music during the Temple period.
 
 

 

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Last Update:

09/16/2013 - 19:52

Comments

I'm curious, what if the umbrella was simply opened before Shabbos, with the intention of not closing it until after Shabbos? If the spokes of the umbrella were welded in such a way that they could not fold, would that make it acceptable?
Using an umbrella on Shabbat (in an Eruv) is not a biblical prohibition. It's rabbinic since it's only temporary.
In response to the comment above me, although I do not know for certain, as I have not ever spoken to him about his what halakhic methodology he will be taking, I can see reasoning in his acceptance of chicken and milk and not an umbrella. Although an umbrella on Shabbat is universally accepted as prohibited, it is so through a logical inference (sevara), which he can disagree with perhaps. The chicken and milk is a simple decree that the community simply has not heard. We find examples of this in the Talmud all over the place, (ha gemara, vegemara lo shemi'a lehu--this is a teaching, and this rabbi simply never heard it before, i.e. he could not have figured it out on his own).
I like the idea of reconciling various traditions. I would make one set of suggestions, though. That he leave room in the book for people to write in opinions of those who disagree with him and preface his book with a statement that these are his suggestions and that he hopes to engender further respectful discussion that will help all Jews whatever their subcategory. Best wishes.
He is caught between a rock and hard place. On the one hand the Talmudic tradition in both the Western and Eastern practices of Judaism (sorry to the first responder but you cannot claim the tradition as being western although I agree that those in power in determining it are heavily influenced by European strains of Judaism) which characterize Judaism in Israel and the legitimate practices of his forebears. I respect the fact that he wants to reconcile the two for unity's sake, but I disagree ultimately that this will help or that it is right. Ethiopian Jews have a legitimate tradition, and moreover have legitimate rights outside of tradition, and Israeli Society has failed them miserably on both a human and religious level. I think though that he has every right to push for a comprimise between the traditions but he must be explicit about what he is doing and not pretend that one has foundation in the other. As to the second responder, the deoraita status of opening an umbrella (leaving carrying aside) has only ever been weakly argued so to disagree should not be an issue. Whereas chicken and milk inevitably means that Ethiopian Jews wishing to join Orthodox "talmudic" Jews can never invite them over to eat from their keilim. Food is a much bigger issue.
I'm very happy to see this being done. it is a vital link in knitting together long standing Ethiopian customs with contemporary rabbinic Judaism.
Eating milk and chicken together is a rabbinic prohibition; using an umbrella on Shabbat is understood by the rest of the Jewish world to be a Biblical prohibition. I am surprised he cares about Talmudic halacha when it comes to the first but not the second. The opposite would seem to be more logical.
I was very sad to read Rabbi Sharon interpretation toward his Ethiopian’s Jewish tradition and his political views as well. In order to understand his explanations one should see his positions: He is a Rabbi in and studding and working in a Jewish orthodox university atmosphere. Hence, his interpretations are far from the Ethiopian real world. For instance, umbrella can’t be Kippa since Ethiopian Jews do not had the Talmudic Hallacha and in fact umbrella is not an religious artifact at all its mere an functional one. But when everything must fit to western world religion matters enforce to be the same. As member of the Ethiopian Jews community I am sad that to read that rabbi Sharon is misinterpret in very deferent form the religious real world that was exists in Ethiopia. Finally, its statements regarding the Ethiopian Jews political condition in Israel need to be interpreted in this way – to look at his view from his view.

I totally agree with you, Sharon is getting into Haredi stuff to please the corrupted establishment. Who say they are correct? what is wrong with the Ethiopian law? why do you need to follow Halakhic interpretations that are not inherent to you? PRESERVE YOUR BEAUTIFUL AND MEANINGFUL ETHIOPIAN CULTURE AND TRADITIONS, in this time of revolutions is time than we brown and black Jews fight against Ashkenazi establishment, we are Jews if they want or not, SAY NO TO ASHKNEAZI STUFF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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