On May 19th, 1981, a delegation from the American Association for Ethiopian Jews met with Rabbi Moshe Sherer, the head of the Agudath Israel World Organization.
To enlist the help of Agudah in the rescue of Ethiopian Jews.
The AAEJ had every right to expect Agudah's help. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein had already publicly endorsed rescue. So had Israel's Chief Rabbis. Rav Ovadia Yosef was clear and unequivocal in his support. Further, a leader of the Young Israel movement and a supporter of the AAEJ, Rabbi Yaakov Pollack had arranged the meeting with R. Sherer.
But the meeting did not go well.
R. Sherer spent much of the time lecturing the group, and little time listening. He wanted proof of the Ethiopian Jews Jewishness before acting.
What about Rav Moshe Feinstein's ruling? the group asked. R. Sherer brushed aside Rav Moshe's ruling, apparently citing Rav Moshe's advanced age as his reason. The group was stunned.
What of the rulings by the Chief Rabbis? the group asked. Not good enough, R. Sherer replied.
What about Rav Ovadia Yosef? they asked. Surely he is someone who can be relied on? R. Sherer, agreed that Rav Ovadia was a chacham, a wise Torah scholar, but his ruling on Ethiopian Jews was not scholarly enough.
What if Rav Ovadia would rule again, and write a longer, more detailed teshuva? That would be different, R. Sherer replied.
He also suggested the group get a ruling from someone more scholarly like Rav J. B. Soleveitchik, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva University.
The group was being hondled by R. Sherer and they knew it.
Nonetheless, the AAEJ sent Rabbi Pollack to Jerusalem to see Rav Ovadia. Not surprisingly, Rav Ovadia handed Rabbi Pollack the same ruling he had issued before because nothing else was needed. (Rav Ovadia was telling R. Sherer in polite rabbinic parlance to stick the teshuvah up his fat Ashkenazi ass.)
Despite Rav Moshe's teshuvah and his 1984 letter calling for immediate rescue, the Agudath Israel World Organization did nothing to help rescue or resettle Ethiopian Jews. (Rav Moshe had correctly wondered what good another teshuva, along with the public letters he had alreadly signed with Rav J. B. Soleveitchik, would do – but he wrote it anyway because we asked him to.)
Less than forty years after the Holocaust, the leaders of haredi Judaism in America refused to listen to their posek (religious law judge) and instead chose to stand by while thousands of Ethiopian Jews died.
If that is not racism, I do not understand the meaning of the word.
It is also interesting to note that the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, referred the question of the Ethiopian Jews Jewishness to Rav Moshe Feinstein. Rav Moshe ruled that the Ethiopian Jews must be saved. The Rebbe, just like R. Moshe Sherer, ignored Rav Moshe's ruling.
[Based on a first-hand report by the AAEJ's president Graenum Berger found on page 694 of his autobiography, published in 1987 by Ktav, and from other contemporaneous sources.]