First-of-its-kind program graduates kosher ritual slaughterers in Ethiopia

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Graduates of the first-ever initiative to train local shochtim, or ritual slaugtherers, to produce kosher meat for the Jewish community in Ethiopia. Credit: Ohr Torah Stone.

Until now, observant Jews had to largely refrain from eating meat.

 Twelve Ethiopian Jews in the city of Gondar graduated last week from a first-of-its-kind course to train them as shochtim, or ritual slaughterers.

The program was part of a joint initiative between local community Rabbi Menachem Waldman and Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum, director of both the Straus-Amiel Rabbinical Emissary Program of Ohr Torah Stone and the Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry, to provide continued support to Jews in Ethiopia.

There are about 10,000 Jews in Gondar and an additional 2,000 in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.

Until now, there was no halachic ritual slaughter operation in the country, forcing observant members of the community to largely refrain from eating poultry or red meat.

The course began online two-and-a-half months ago, with the students learning relevant texts. The specially manufactured knives and sharpening stones were shipped to Ethiopia from Israel, and two weeks ago Rabbi Netanel Ansani, a highly experienced ritual slaughterer, arrived in the country to begin the practical training.

“The group studied from early morning into the evening hours,” said Ansani. “It was very important that each student train extensively in the hands-on methods so that they would have as much experience and confidence in the process as possible and that they could demonstrate their commitment to continuing to learn and gain more experience.”

Last week, Birnbaum and Rabbi Dr. Ari Greenspan, a shochet, educator and dentist, traveled to Ethiopia to oversee the examination process. In the presence of their families and fellow community members, the men all received certifications allowing them to act as halachically-approved ritual slaughterers.

“This is truly a historic moment that will significantly benefit the local communities in Gondar and Addis Ababa,” Birnbaum said. “Establishing a shechita infrastructure within the Ethiopian community is something we believe is extremely important, both from a food supply standpoint and no less so from the perspective of strengthening their Jewish identities and connection to our heritage….With God’s help we will be blessed to see the remaining members of the community come home very soon to join us in Israel.”

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