A Second Exodus: Ethiopian Jews in Israel Between Religion, Nation and State

Marva Shalev Marom


Questions about Jewishness, Judaism, and the Jewish people have been topics of
millennia-long debates. In this paper, I focus on the formation of social hierarchies in
Israel based on skin-color to argue that there is unresolved yet consequential tension
between definitions of Jewishness as a religious tradition, a national identity, and a
state apparatus. I embrace the perspective of Ethiopian Jews, whose identities were
reframed in Israel as Blacks, to illustrate how this tension placed dark-skinned
immigrants beyond the scope of both Jewish religious tradition as well as national
identity, to become the marginalized inhabitants of the Jewish State. Thereby I
describe and examine two state-imposed processes in which Israel’s Rabbinate
plays a central role: 1) Israel’s demand that Ethiopian Jews convert to Judaism in
order to be accorded citizenship. 2) Israel’s demand that Ethiopian Jewish children
attend a segregated Jewish Orthodox public-school system, to acquire and cultivate
a particular national identity. State-sponsored schools have become the basis for
both religious and national identity education and re-education.
Key words: Jewish nationalism; immigration; religious (re-)education; Skin Color;

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.15516/cje.v22i0.4127


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