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Why Israel won’t recognise Uganda’s Jewish community

Rabbi Gershom, second left, prepares to read the torah during a Shabbat service among the Abayudaya Jewish community, in a village near Mbale, eastern Uganda, July 2, 2016. (AFP/Michael O’Hagan)

Israel has resolved not to grant recognition to Uganda’s 2,000-strong Jewish community.
 
This, UG Christian News has learned, comes after years of deliberations by the Israeli Interior Ministry.
 
Locally known as ‘Abayudaya,’ the community founded by Semei Kakungulu, around 1917-1920, increased its ties and interactions with outside Jewish communities over time and keenly observes practices believed to have been followed by the faith group in biblical times.a
 
The decision not to grant recognition to Uganda’s Jewish community was revealed when one of it’s members, Kibitz Yosef sought to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return.
 
Interior Ministry response, obtained by Israel newspaper Haaretz, noted that the applicant’s “conversion is not recognized for the purpose of receiving status in Israel.”
 
The News paper explained that Converts are eligible to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, regardless of what movement they are affiliated with, provided they come from recognized Jewish communities. But through its response, the ministry clarified that it does not regard the Abayudaya as a recognized Jewish community.
 
Interior Ministry emphasized that ‘this is a matter of principle regarding conversions in this community.’ Most members were converted under the auspices of U.S. Conservative rabbis and thus are not recognized as Jewish by Israel’s mostly ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate.
 
Following this report, the Chief Rabbinate is said to have published a list of draft criteria for religious courts in the Diaspora to have its conversions accepted in the Jewish state.
 
In 2016, the Jewish Agency for Israel recognized the ‘Abayudaya’ community, seemingly opening a path for its members to immigrate to Israel. However, the community has continued to struggle to obtain recognition to do so. In December, Israel denied a visa application by a member of the community to study at a yeshiva in Israel, leading to accusations of racism.
male@ughristiannews.com

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