According to Jerusalem Post, the last flight of Operation Rock of Israel, the latest effort to bring the remainder of the Falash Mura community in Ethiopia to Israel, landed Thursday morning with some 300 new immigrants disembarking at Ben-Gurion Airport.
Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, who led the government’s efforts to restart the immigration of the remaining Falash Mura in Ethiopia, was on hand to greet the new immigrants, as was Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog. Activists for the community have criticized the government for failing to bring all remaining members of the Falash Mura in Ethiopia to Israel, who number at least another 5,500.
Where the term ‘Rock of Israel’ comes from?
The Rock of Israel (Hebrew: צור ישראל, Tzur Yisrael) is a concept in Judaism that alludes to God, and in Zionism and politics, to the cultural and historical heritage of the Jewish people and the foundation of the State of Israel. The term was used in the Israeli Declaration of Independence as a compromise between religious Jews and secular Jews.
Significantly, the whole passage containing the words “Rock of Israel” was not included in the English-language translation that was released for publication, owing to the military censorship imposed to keep the time and place of the ceremony secret in the wake of the war that was about to begin.
In Psalm 19:15 of the Hebrew Bible, God is referred to as the “Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer“. In religious terms, the “Rock” means God, who protects the Jewish people and is the center of their faith, which defines their identity and consciousness. The term indicates the trust and faith of people in God, who is immutable. However, secular Zionists have interpreted this term in a non-religious way to mean the cultural and historical heritage that has preserved Jewish community and identity over centuries. Both meanings have influenced the movement for the return of Jews to the Eretz Israel and the creation of the Jewish state of Israel.
A phrase beginning “Rock of Israel” is part of the morning prayers in some versions of the prayerbook, where it is recited immediately before the Shemonah Esrei prayer. However, “Rock of Israel” was not necessarily a religious term, the official English translation composed by Moshe Sharet, and cited in official documents, rendered it as “Almighty God.” It was not until 1962 that the Israeli government changed it to the more literal “Rock of Israel”.
Controversy of the term ‘Rock of Israel’
The term “Rock of Israel” was subject of controversy just before the promulgation of the Israeli Declaration of Independence on 14 May 1948. The leaders present at the ceremony and who were to be signatories of the declaration believed that the declaration should express the fundamental values and principles that would define the new state, which would give the Jewish people a homeland in Palestine after 2,000 years of exile.
The Jewish religious leaders, led by Rabbi Fishman-Maimon wanted a clear reference to God by the usage of the words “The Rock of Israel and its Redeemer.” However, a large segment of the Jewish leadership included those with secular and socialist convictions who sought a clear separation of church and state. Aharon Zisling, the left-wing leader of Mapam refused to sign the declaration of independence if it contained references to “a God in whom he did not believe.” The disagreement threatened to derail the actual and ceremonial proclamation of the establishment of a Jewish state in the former British Mandate of Palestine.
Israeli leader David Ben-Gurion, who would become the country’s first Prime Minister, spent the morning of 14 May mediating the dispute between Rabbi Maimon and Zisling. After hours of talks, Rabbi Maimon agreed to leave out the term “Redeemer” from the text of the declaration. The compromise was included without a final vote. Later in his life Ben-Gurion is said to have explained that to him, “Rock of Israel” meant “the Old Testament with its history and traditions” or “Tzahal” (the Israeli army).
Returning Falash Mura to Israel
MANY Falash Mura families have been split up during the several operations to bring them to Israel due to the complex history and composition of the community. This resulted in situations where parents did not see their children for many years. Some 5,500 members of the Falash Mura community remain in Ethiopia. Another 5,340 have claimed immigration rights since 2010 with the backing of the Ethiopian Jewish leadership in Israel as well as prominent, mainstream rabbis from the religious-Zionist community in Israel.
These people and others were left out of Operation Rock of Israel despite fulfilling the criteria of having first-degree relatives in Israel. The Falash Mura immigrate to Israel under the terms of family reunification laws, not the Law of Return, since their ancestors converted to Christianity, under duress, at the end of the 19th century. They are required to undergo conversion through the Chief Rabbinate after arriving in Israel. The large majority of the 7,000 people who remained in Ethiopia before Operation Rock of Israel and who were approved for immigration are of paternal Jewish descent.
Who are the Falash Mura
The name Falash Mura is derive from the Beta Israel community in Ethiopia who converted to Christianity as a consequence of proselytization during the 19th and 20th centuries. This term consists of Beta Israel who did not adhere to Israelite law, as well as converts to Christianity. As a result the Falash Mura converted to Christianity are not considered under the Israeli Law of Return. Some have made it to Israel but many still reside in camps in Gondar and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, waiting their status for Aliyah. Some Falash Mura have reverted to Judaism.
The Falash Mura did not refer to themselves as members of the Beta Israel, the name for the Ethiopian Jewish community, until after the first wave of immigration to Israel. Beta Israel by ancestry, the Falash Mura believe they have just as much of a right to return to Israel as the Beta Israel themselves. Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, a major player in the first wave of Beta Israel immigration to Israel, declared in 2002 that the Falash Mura had converted out of fear and persecution and therefore should be considered Jews.
Today, Falash Mura who move to Israel must undergo conversion on arrival, making it increasingly more difficult for them to get situated into Israeli society. The Beta Israel who immigrated and made Aliyah through Operation Moses and Operation Solomon were not required to undergo conversion because they were accepted as Jews under the Law of Return. On February 16, 2003, the Israeli government applied Resolution 2958 to the Falash Mura, which grants maternal descendants of Beta Israel the right to immigrate to Israel under the Israeli Law of Return and to obtain citizenship if they convert to Judaism.