Seventeen Ethiopian religious leaders in Israel wrote last week to the office of Prime Minister Sharon, demanding that they be paid the same wages as rabbis who are not of Ethiopian origin. Sharon’s office has been in charge of religious services since the Religious Affairs Ministry was disbanded.
The request was based on a government decision from 1992 that Ethiopian rabbis and kessim (spiritual leaders) are to be accepted as equal members in the religious councils and receive the same wage as neighborhood and regional rabbis, including social benefits, vehicle maintenance expenses and a pension plan.
“We are not seeking charity, but what is our due by law,” said Reuben Yaaiso, 38, the regional rabbi of Gedera and Bet Shemesh, He earns $780 per month. “The government ministries are not treating us as required by law. We are at the point where we have no money for a hot meal on the Sabbath and holidays.”
Kes Avihu Azaria, 37, chairman of the Council of Priests of Ethiopian Jewry in Israel, said that the religious councils had turned the Ethiopian clergy into hostages. “The salaries of the keses and Ethiopian rabbis are swallowed up by the coffers of the religious councils,” Azaria said.