Israel – Concerns Of Racism In Petah Tikva: ‘The Rabbinate Refuses To Wed Ethiopians’

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    File: Mmbers of the Israeli-Ethiopian community holding signs in Hebrew 'No right of racism' during a protest against racism. EPA/ABIR SULTANPetah Tikva – After a scandal in which schools refused to enroll Ethiopian children, Petah Tikva continues to have a contentious year as yet again Ethiopians allegedly face discrimination in the city. The marriage registrar of the religious council of Petah Tikva, Aryeh Sapir, allegedly refused to wed an Ethiopian couple based on an “order from on high.”

    Sapir was seemingly referring to orders that came from his superior, the head Sephardi rabbi of the city, Benjamin Attias, the figure responsible for matters related to marriage. This is not the first time Ethiopian immigrants have accused the city’s religious council of discrimination on these grounds, however, Rabbi Attias asserted that these claims were baseless. 

    Everything began when the bride, Shaga Panta, and her partner began the process for recognition of their marriage from the Chief Rabbinate of Petah Tikva. After Panta presented her signed certificate of conversion from the Chief Rabbinate of Jerusalem, the registrar requested additional certificates from the institution where she studied five years ago, or alternatively, approval from the rabbi at the synagogue where she prays, in order to prove the she keep the faith accordingly. Panta, who made aliya in 2004 when she was 13, completed the conversion process in 2006, which officially makes her Jewish in the eyes of the State and the rabbinate.

    In a recorded phone conversation, the registrar asks Panta a myriad of questions such as: “When did you immigrate to Israel? Where did you go through the conversion process? Maybe you should go to Rishon Letzion where your boyfriend lives and apply to wed there. They won’t cause you problems.” Panta said she felt harassed when he asked her if she was pregnant and ultimately she was scarred by the conversation when he told her that she would be required to provide a signed letter from a rabbi who observes Shabbat affirming that she is observant of all of the holidays and the commandments.

    Panta scheduled her wedding for April this year but never expected that her happy event would turn into a nightmare. “The marriage registrar flooded me with questions on the phone. Until it became evident to me that unless I present him with the forms that prove I observe the commandments, he will not register me to be wed. According to him, the rabbi requires the additional forms in order to be sure.”

    I don’t understand,” she continued, “I presented the forms and approvals from the rabbinate of Jerusalem, and that’s not enough for the rabbi of Petah Tikva, but approval from a rabbi of my ethnicity will satisfy him? They know that my wedding date is imminent and in any event they are trying to make it difficult for me. Would a secular woman have received the same barrage of questions, or is it because of the color of my skin that I am subject to this embarrassing mask of questions?”

    “It is racism. Here [in Petah Tikva] Ethiopians are discriminated against because of the color of our skin, and it’s prevalent both in the education system and in the chief rabbinate. Why should I have to register in Rishon Letzion where my boyfriend lives? Why in Rishon Letzion and Jerusalem am I recognized as Jewish, but not in Petah Tikva?” She asked.

    Platiel Eisenthal, the supervisor of the Petah Tikva religious council responded to the registrar’s “puzzling” questions by saying that, “What is permitted and required in every other city is also permitted and required in Petah Tikva.” He added that the issue would be investigated. 

    The Tzohar Rabbinical Organization expressed deep outrage following reports that Ethiopian couples are being denied the right to marry at the local branch of the Rabbinate in Petah Tikva. 

    “We are truly shocked at this report.  There is no way to excuse this disgraceful action aimed against dozens of couples who wanted nothing other than to register for marriage in their hometown.

    This is by no means the first time that this Rabbinate has acted in such a dismissive manner against couples who came to marry according to the local and halachic laws and we have already seen numerous cases where the Petah Tikva Rabbinate has rejected conversions performed by the Chief Rabbinate.

    Based on these continued developments, Tzohar will now seriously consider opening an office in Petah Tikva for registering marriages with the specific purpose of ensuring the interests of all residents of the city are being responded to.”

    Minister of Knesset Yoel Razvozvoz (Yesh Atid) approached the chairman of the Immigration and Absorption Committee with a request to open an urgent discussion on the matter of discrimination against Ethiopian immigrants in the religious council of Petah Tikva. He said: “It is impermissible for us to allow discrimination against immigrants” He went on to remark that everyone who makes aliya must be allowed to enjoy their rights and benefits as a citizen to the fullest extent. 


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