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Beta Israel (Hebrew: בֵּיתֶא יִשְׂרָאֵל, Beyte Yisra'el; Ge'ez: ቤተ እስራኤል, Beta ʾƏsrāʾel, modern Bēte 'Isrā'ēl, EAE: "Betä Ǝsraʾel", "House of Israel" or "Community of Israel"), also known as Ethiopian Jews (Hebrew: יְהוּדֵי אֶתְיוֹפְּיָה: Yehudey Etyopyah; Ge'ez: የኢትዮጵያ አይሁድዊ, ye-Ityoppya Ayhudi), are a Jewish community, that developed and lived for centuries in the area of the Kingdom of Aksum and the Ethiopian Empire, that is currently divided between the Amhara and Tigray Regions of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Most of the community emigrated to Israel in the late 20th century.
|Regions with significant populations|
| Israel 130,000 (2011)|
1.75% of the Israeli population, >2.15% of Israeli Jews
|Judaism (Haymanot · Rabbinism) · Christianity (Ethiopian Orthodox – see Falash Mura and Beta Abraham)|
The Beta Israel lived in northern and northwestern Ethiopia, in more than 500 small villages spread over a wide territory, alongside populations that were Muslim and predominantly Christian. Most of them were concentrated mainly on what are today, North Gondar Zone, Shire Inda Selassie, Wolqayit, Tselemti, Dembia, Segelt, Quara, and Belesa. They practiced Haymanot religious practices, which are generally recognized as an Israelite religion that differs from Rabbinic Judaism. Beta Israel appear to have been isolated from mainstream Jewish communities for at least a millennium. They suffered religious persecution and significant portion of the community were forced into Christianity during the 19th and 20th centuries; those converted became know as the Falash Mura. The larger Beta Abraham Christian community with pseudo-Israelite practices is also considered having historical links to Beta Israel.
The Beta Israel made contact with other Jewish communities in the later 20th century. Following this, a rabbinic debate ensued over whether or not the Beta Israel were Jews. After halakhic (Jewish law) and constitutional discussions, Israeli officials decided, in 1977, that the Israeli Law of Return was to be applied to the Beta Israel. The Israeli and American governments mounted aliyah (immigration to Israel) transport operations. These activities included Operation Brothers in Sudan between 1979 and 1990 (this includes the major operations Moses and Joshua), and in the 1990s from Addis Ababa (which includes Operation Solomon).
By the end of 2008, there were 119,300 people of Ethiopian descent in Israel, including nearly 81,000 people born in Ethiopia and about 38,500 native-born Israelis (about 32 percent of the community) with at least one parent born in Ethiopia or Eritrea. The Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel is mostly composed of Beta Israel (practicing both Haymanot and Rabbinic Judaism) and to a smaller extent of Falash Mura who converted from Christianity to Rabbinic Judaism upon their arrival to Israel.
Throughout its history, the community has been referred to by numerous names. According to tradition the name "Beta Israel" (literally, "house of Israel" in Ge'ez) originated in the 4th century CE, when the community refused to convert to Christianity during the rule of Abreha and Atsbeha (identified with Se'azana and Ezana), the monarchs of the Kingdom of Aksum who embraced Christianity.
This name contrasts with "Beta Kristiyan" (literally, "house of Christianity", referring to "church" in Ge'ez). Originally, it did not have any negative connotations, and the community has since used Beta Israel as its official name. Since the 1980s, it has also become the official name used in the scholarly and scientific literature to refer to the community. The term Esra'elawi "Israelites" – which is related to the name Beta Israel – is also used by the community to refer to its members.
The name Ayhud, "Jews", is rarely used in the community, as the Christians had used it as a derogatory term. The community has begun to use it only since strengthening ties with other Jewish communities in the 20th century. The term Ibrawi "Hebrew" was used to refer to the Chawa (free man) in the community, in contrast to Barya "slave". The term Oritawi "Torah-true" was used to refer to the community members; since the 19th century, it has been used in opposition to the term Falash Mura (converts).
The derogatory term Falasha, meaning "landless, wanderers", was given to the community by the Emperor Yeshaq I in the 15th century, and is to be avoided as extremely offensive. Zagwe, referring to the Agaw people of the Zagwe dynasty, among the original inhabitants of northwest Ethiopia, is considered derogatory, since it incorrectly associates the community with the largely pagan Agaw.
Mäṣḥafä Kedus (Holy Scriptures) is the name for their religious literature. The language of the writings is Ge'ez, which also is the liturgical language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The holiest book is the Orit (meaning "law"), which consists of the Octateuch: Five Books of Moses with Joshua, Judges and Ruth. The rest of the Bible has secondary importance. Sources are lacking on whether the Book of Lamentations is excluded from the canon, or whether it forms part of the Book of Jeremiah, as it does in the Orthodox Tewahedo biblical canon.
Important non-Biblical writings include: Nagara Muse (The Conversation of Moses), Mota Aaron (Death of Aharon), Mota Muse (Death of Moses), Te'ezaza Sanbat (Precepts of Sabbath), Arde'et (Students), Gorgorios, Mäṣḥafä Sa'atat (Book of Hours), Abba Elias (Father Elija), Mäṣḥafä Mäla'əkt (Book of Angels), Mäṣḥafä Kahan (Book of Priest), Dərsanä Abrəham Wäsara Bägabs (Homily on Abraham and Sarah in Egypt), Gadla Sosna (The Acts of Susanna), and Baqadāmi Gabra Egzi'abḥēr (In the Beginning God Created). Zëna Ayhud (Jews Story) and Fālasfā (Philosophers) are two books that are not considered sacred, but have had great influence.
The synagogue is called masgid (place of worship), also bet maqdas (Holy house) or ṣalot bet (Prayer house).
Beta Israel kashrut law is based mainly on the books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Jubilees. Permitted and forbidden animals and their signs appear in Leviticus 11:3–8 and Deuteronomy 14:4–8. Forbidden birds are listed in Leviticus 11:13–23 and Deuteronomy 14:12–20. Signs of permitted fish are written on Leviticus 11:9–12 and Deuteronomy 14:9–10. Insects and larvae are forbidden according to Leviticus 11:41–42. Gid hanasheh is forbidden per Genesis 32:33. Mixtures of milk and meat are not prepared or eaten, but are not banned either: Haymanot interpreted the verses Exodus 23:19, Exodus 34:26, and Deuteronomy 14:21 "shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk" literally, as in Karaite Judaism. Nowadays, under the influence of Rabbinic Judaism, mixing dairy products with meat is banned.
Ethiopian Jews were forbidden to eat the food of non-Jews. A Kahen eats only meat he has slaughtered himself, which his hosts prepare both for him and themselves. Beta Israel who broke these taboos were ostracized, and had to undergo a purification process. Purification included fasting for one or more days, eating only uncooked chickpeas provided by the Kahen, and ritual purification before entering the village.
Calendar and holidaysEdit
The Beta Israel calendar is a lunar calendar of 12 months, each 29 or 30 days alternately. Every four years, there is a leap year which adds a full month (30 days). The calendar is a combination of the ancient calendar of Alexandrian Jewry, Book of Jubilees, Book of Enoch, Abu Shaker, and the Ge'ez calendar. The years are counted according to the counting of Kushta: "1571 to Jesus Christ, 7071 to the Gyptians, and 6642 to the Hebrews"; according to this counting, the year 5771 (Hebrew: ה'תשע"א) in the Rabbinical Hebrew calendar is the year 7082 in this calendar.
- Nisan: ba'āl lisan (Nisan holiday – New Year) on 1, ṣomä fāsikā (Passover fast) on 14, fāsikā (Passover) between 15–21, and gadfat (grow fat) or buho (fermented dough) on 22.
- Iyar: another fāsikā (Second Passover – Pesach Sheni) between 15–21.
- Sivan: ṣomä mã'rar (Harvest fast) on 11 and mã'rar (Harvest – Shavuot) on 12.
- Tammuz: ṣomä tomos (Tammuz fast) between 1–10.
- Av: ṣomä ab (Av fast) between 1–17.
- Seventh Sabbath: fixed as the fourth Sabbath of the fifth month.
- Elul: awd amet (Year rotate) on 1, ṣomä lul (Elul fast) between 1–9, anākel astar'i (our atonement) on 10 and asartu wasamantu (eighteenth) on 28.
- Tishrei: ba'āl Matqe (blowing holiday – Zikhron Trua) on 1, astasreyo (Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur) on 10 and ba'āla maṣallat (Tabernacles holiday – Sukkot) between 15–21.
- Cheshvan: holiday for the day Moses saw the face of God on 1, holiday for the reception of Moses by the Israelites on 10, fast on 12 and měhlělla (Supplication – Sigd) on 29.
- Kislev: another ṣomä mã'rar and mã'rar on 11 and 12 respectively.
- Tevet: ṣomä tibt (Tevet fast) between 1–10.
- Shevat: wamashi brobu on 1.
- Adar: ṣomä astēr (Fast of Esther – Ta'anit Ester) between 11–13.
Monthly holidays are mainly memorial days to the annual holiday; these are yačaraqā ba'āl ("new moon festival") on the first day of every month, asärt ("ten") on the tenth day to commemorate Yom Kippur, 'asrã hulat ("twelve") on the twelfth day to commemorate Shavuot, asrã ammest ("fifteen") on the fifteenth day to commemorate Passover and Sukkot, and ṣomä mälěya a fast on the last day of every month. Daily holidays include the ṣomä säňňo (Monday fast), ṣomä amus (Thursday fast), ṣomä 'arb (Friday fast), and the very holy Sanbat (Sabbath).
The Beta Israel once spoke Qwara and Kayla, both of which are Agaw languages. Now, they speak Tigrinya and Amharic, both Semitic languages. Their liturgical language is Ge'ez, also Semitic. Since the 1950s, they have taught Hebrew in their schools. Those Beta Israel residing in the State of Israel now use Modern Hebrew as a daily language.
Many of the Beta Israel accounts of their own origins stress that they stem from the very ancient migration of some portion of the Tribe of Dan to Ethiopia, led it is said by sons of Moses, perhaps even at the time of the Exodus. Alternative timelines include perhaps the later crises in Judea, e. g., at the time of the split of the northern Kingdom of Israel from the southern Kingdom of Judah after the death of King Solomon or at the time of the Babylonian Exile. Other Beta Israel take as their basis the Christian account of Menelik's return to Ethiopia. Menelik is considered the first Solomonic Emperor of Ethiopia, and is traditionally believed to be the son of King Solomon of ancient Israel, and Makeda, ancient Queen of Sheba (in modern Ethiopia). Though all the available traditions correspond to recent interpretations, they reflect ancient convictions. According to Jon Abbink; three different versions are to be distinguished among the traditions which were recorded from the priests of the community.
Companions of Menelik from JerusalemEdit
By versions of this type, the Beta Israel expressed their belief that they were not necessarily descendants of King Solomon, but contemporaries of Solomon and Menelik, originating from the kingdom of Israel.
Migrants by the Egyptian routeEdit
According to these versions, the forefathers of the Beta Israel are supposed to have arrived in Ethiopia coming from the North, independently from Menelik and his company:
The Falashas [sic] migrated like many of the other sons of Israel to exile in Egypt after the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE the time of the Babylonian exile. This group of people was led by the great priest On. They remained in exile in Egypt for few hundred years until the reign of Cleopatra. When she was engaged in war against Augustus Caesar the Jews supported her. When she was defeated, it became dangerous for the small minorities to remain in Egypt and so there was another migration (approximately between 39–31 BCE). Some of the migrants went to South Arabia and further to the Yemen. Some of them went to the Sudan and continued on their way to Ethiopia, helped by Egyptian traders who guided them through the desert. Some of them entered Ethiopia through Quara (near the Sudanese border), and some came via Eritrea.
...Later in time, there was an Abyssinian king named Kaleb, who wished to enlarge his kingdom, so he declared war on the Yemen and conquered it. And so, during his reign there arrived another group of Jews to Ethiopia, led by Azonos and Phinhas.:413–414
The Ethiopian history described in the Kebra Nagast relates that Ethiopians are descendants of Israelite tribes who came to Ethiopia with Menelik I, alleged to be the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (or Makeda, in the legend) (see 1 Kings 10:1–13 and 2 Chronicles 9:1–12). The legend relates that Menelik, as an adult, returned to his father in Jerusalem, and later resettled in Ethiopia. He took with him the Ark of the Covenant.
In the Bible, there is no mention that the Queen of Sheba either married or had any sexual relations with King Solomon (although some identify her with the "black and beautiful" in Song of Songs 1:5). Rather, the narrative records that she was impressed with Solomon's wealth and wisdom, and they exchanged royal gifts, and then she returned to rule her people in Kush. However, the "royal gifts" are interpreted by some as sexual contact. The loss of the Ark is not mentioned in the Bible. Hezekiah later makes reference to the Ark in 2 Kings 19:15.
The Kebra Negast asserts that the Beta Israel are descended from a battalion of men of Judah who fled southward down the Arabian coastal lands from Judea after the breakup of the Kingdom of Israel into two kingdoms in the 10th century BCE (while King Rehoboam reigned over Judah).
Although the Kebra Nagast and some traditional Ethiopian histories have stated that Gudit (or "Yudit", Judith; another name given her was "Esato", Esther), a 10th-century usurping queen, was Jewish, some scholars consider that it is unlikely that this was the case. It is more likely, they say, that she was a pagan southerner or a usurping Christian Aksumite Queen. However, she clearly supported Jews, since she founded the Zagwe dynasty, who governed from around 937 to 1270 CE. According to the Kebra Nagast, Jewish, Christian and pagan kings ruled in harmony at that time. Furthermore, the Zagwe dynasty claimed legitimacy (according to the Kebra Nagast) by saying it was descended from Moses and his Ethiopian wife.
Most of the Beta Israel consider the Kebra Negast to be legend. As its name expresses, "Glory of Kings" (meaning the Christian Aksumite kings), it was written in the 14th century in large part to delegitimize the Zagwe dynasty, to promote instead a rival "Solomonic" claim to authentic Jewish Ethiopian antecedents, and to justify the Christian overthrow of the Zagwe by the "Solomonic" Aksumite dynasty, whose rulers are glorified. The writing of this polemic shows that criticisms of the Aksumite claims of authenticity were current in the 14th century, two centuries after they came to power. Many Beta Israel believe that they are descended from the tribe of Dan. Most reject the "Solomonic" and "Queen of Sheba" legends of the Aksumites.
Tribe of DanEdit
To prove the antiquity and authenticity of their claims, the Beta Israel cite the 9th-century CE testimony of Eldad ha-Dani (the Danite), from a time before the Zagwean dynasty was established. Eldad was a Jewish man of dark skin who appeared in Egypt and created a stir in that Jewish community (and elsewhere in the Mediterranean Jewish communities he visited) with claims that he had come from a Jewish kingdom of pastoralists far to the south. The only language Eldad spoke was a hitherto unknown dialect of Hebrew. Although he strictly followed the Mosaic commandments, his observance differed in some details from Rabbinic halakhah. Some observers thought that he might be a Karaite, although his practice also differed from theirs. He carried Hebrew books that supported his explanations of halakhah. He cited ancient authorities in the scholarly traditions of his own people.
Eldad said that the Jews of his own kingdom descended from the tribe of Dan (which included the Biblical war-hero Samson) who had fled the civil war in the Kingdom of Israel between Solomon's son Rehoboam and Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and resettled in Egypt. From there, they moved southwards up the Nile into Ethiopia. The Beta Israel say this confirms that they are descended from these Danites. Some Beta Israel, however, assert that their Danite origins go back to the time of Moses, when some Danites parted from other Jews right after the Exodus and moved south to Ethiopia. Eldad the Danite speaks of at least three waves of Jewish immigration into his region, creating other Jewish tribes and kingdoms. The earliest wave settled in a remote kingdom of the "tribe of Moses": this was the strongest and most secure Jewish kingdom of all, with farming villages, cities and great wealth. Other Ethiopian Jews who appeared in the Mediterranean world over the succeeding centuries and persuaded rabbinic authorities there that they were of Jewish descent, and so could if slaves be ransomed by Jewish communities, join synagogues, marry other Jews, etc, also referred to the Mosaic and Danite origins of Ethiopian Jewry. The Mosaic claims of the Beta Israel, in any case, like those of the Zagwe dynasty, are ancient.
Other sources tell of many Jews who were brought as prisoners of war from ancient Israel by Ptolemy I and settled on the border of his kingdom with Nubia (Sudan). Another tradition asserts that the Jews arrived either via the old district of Qwara in northwestern Ethiopia, or via the Atbara River, where the Nile tributaries flow into Sudan. Some accounts specify the route taken by their forefathers on their way upriver to the south from Egypt.
As mentioned above, the 9th-century Jewish traveler Eldad ha-Dani claimed the Beta Israel descended from the tribe of Dan. He also reported other Jewish kingdoms around his own or in East Africa during this time. His writings probably represent the first mention of the Beta Israel in Rabbinic literature. Despite some skeptical critics, his authenticity has been generally accepted in current scholarship. His descriptions were consistent and even the originally doubtful rabbis of his time were finally persuaded. Specific details may be uncertain; one critic has noted Eldad's lack of detailed reference to Ethiopia's geography and any Ethiopian language, although he claimed the area as his homeland.
Eldad's was not the only medieval testimony about Jewish communities living far to the south of Egypt, which strengthens the credibility of his account. Obadiah ben Abraham Bartenura wrote in a letter from Jerusalem in 1488:
I myself saw two of them in Egypt. They are dark-skinned...and one could not tell whether they keep the teaching of the Karaites, or of the Rabbis, for some of their practices resemble the Karaite teaching...but in other things, they appear to follow the instruction of the Rabbis; and they say they are related to the tribe of Dan.
Reflecting the consistent assertions made by Ethiopian Jews they dealt with or knew of, and after due investigation of their claims and their own Jewish behaviour, a number of Jewish legal authorities, in previous centuries and in modern times, have ruled halakhically (according to Jewish legal code) that the Beta Israel are indeed Jews, the descendants of the tribe of Dan, one of the Ten Lost Tribes. They believe that these people established a Jewish kingdom that lasted for hundreds of years. With the rise of Christianity and later Islam, schisms arose and three kingdoms competed. Eventually, the Christian and Muslim Ethiopian kingdoms reduced the Jewish kingdom to a small impoverished section. The earliest authority to rule this way was the 16th-century scholar David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra (Radbaz), who explains in a responsum concerning the status of a Beta Israel slave:
But those Jews who come from the land of Cush are without doubt from the tribe of Dan, and since they did not have in their midst sages who were masters of the tradition, they clung to the simple meaning of the Scriptures. If they had been taught, however, they would not be irreverent towards the words of our sages, so their status is comparable to a Jewish infant taken captive by non-Jews… And even if you say that the matter is in doubt, it is a commandment to redeem them.
In 1973, Ovadia Yosef, the Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel ruled, based on the writings of David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra and other accounts, that the Beta Israel were Jews and should be brought to Israel. Two years later this opinion was confirmed by a number of other authorities who made similar rulings, including the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel Shlomo Goren. In 1977, the law was passed granting the right of return.
Some notable poskim (religious law authorities) from non-Zionist Ashkenazi circles, placed a safek (legal doubt) over the Jewish peoplehood of the Beta Israel. Such dissenting voices include Elazar Shach, Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and Moshe Feinstein. Similar doubts were raised within the same circles towards the Bene Israel and to Russian immigrants to Israel during the 1990s Post-Soviet aliyah.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, the Beta Israel were required to undergo a modified conversion ceremony involving immersion in a mikveh (ritual bath), a declaration accepting Rabbinic law, and, for men, a hatafat dam brit (symbolic recircumcision). Avraham Shapira later waived the hatafat dam brit stipulation, which is only a requirement when the halakhic doubt is significant. More recently, Shlomo Amar has ruled that descendants of Ethiopian Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity are "unquestionably Jews in every respect". With the consent of Ovadia Yosef, Amar ruled that it is forbidden to question the Jewishness of this community, pejoratively called Falash Mura in reference to their having converted.
According to Cruciani et al. (2002), haplogroup A is the most common paternal lineage among Ethiopian Jews. The clade is carried by around 41% of Beta Israel males, and is primarily associated with Nilo-Saharan and Khoisan-speaking populations. However, the A branches carried by Ethiopians Jews are principally of the A-Y23865 variety, which formed about 10,000 years ago and is localized to the Ethiopian highlands and the Arabian peninsula. The difference with the Khoisan is 54,000 years.
Additionally, around 18% of Ethiopian Jews are bearers of E-P2 (xM35, xM2); in Ethiopia, most of such lineages belong to E-M329, which has been found in ancient DNA isolated from a 4,500 year old Ethiopian fossil. Such haplotypes are frequent in Southwestern Ethiopia, especially among Omotic-speaking populations.
The rest of the Beta Israel mainly belong to haplotypes linked with the E-M35 and J-M267 haplogroups, which are more commonly associated with Cushitic and Semitic-speaking populations in Northeast Africa. Further analysis show that the E-M35 carried by Ethiopian Jews is primarily indigenous to the Horn of Africa rather than being of Levantine origin. Altogether, this suggests that Ethiopian Jews have diverse patrilineages indicative of indigenous Northeast African origin for this community.
A 2011 mitochondrial DNA study focused on maternal ancestry sampling 41 Beta Israel found them to carry 51.2% macro-haplogroup L typically found in Africa. The remainder consisted of Eurasian-origin lineages such as 22% R0, 19.5% M1, 5% W, and 2.5% U. However, no identical haplotypes were shared between the Yemenite and Ethiopian Jewish populations, suggesting very little gene flow between the populations and potentially distinct maternal population histories. The maternal ancestral profile of the Beta Israel is similar to those of highland Ethiopian populations.
The Ethiopian Jews' autosomal DNA has been examined in a comprehensive study by Tishkoff et al. (2009) on the genetic affiliations of various populations in Africa. According to Bayesian clustering analysis, the Beta Israel generally grouped with other Cushitic and Ethiosemitic-speaking populations inhabiting the Horn of Africa.
A 2010 study by Behar et al. on the genome-wide structure of Jews observed that the Beta Israel had levels of the Middle Eastern genetic affinity similar to the Ethiosemitic-speaking Tigrayans and Amharas.
A number of other DNA studies have been done on the Beta Israel.
Early secular scholars considered the Beta Israel to be the direct descendant of Jews who lived in ancient Ethiopia, whether they were the descendants of an Israelite tribe, or converted by Jews living in Yemen, or by the Jewish community in southern Egypt at Elephantine. In 1829, Marcus Louis wrote that the ancestors of the Beta Israel related to the Asmach, which were also called Sembritae ("foreigners"), an Egyptian regiment numbering 240,000 soldiers and mentioned by Greek geographers and historians. The Asmach emigrated or were exiled from Elephantine to Kush in the time of Psamtik I or Psamtik II and settled in Sennar and Abyssinia. It is possible that Shebna's party from Rabbinic accounts was part of the Asmach.
In the 1930s, Jones and Monroe argued that the chief Semitic languages of Ethiopia may suggest an antiquity of Judaism in Ethiopia. "There still remains the curious circumstance that a number of Abyssinian words connected with religion, such as the words for Hell, idol, Easter, purification, and alms, are of Hebrew origin. These words must have been derived directly from a Jewish source, for the Abyssinian Church knows the scriptures only in a Ge'ez version made from the Septuagint."
Richard Pankhurst summarized the various theories offered about their origins as of 1950 that the first members of this community were
(1) converted Agaws, (2) Jewish immigrants who intermarried with Agaws, (3) immigrant Yemeni Arabs who had converted to Judaism, (4) immigrant Yemeni Jews, (5) Jews from Egypt, and (6) successive waves of Yemeni Jews. Traditional Ethiopian savants, on the one hand, have declared that 'We were Jews before we were Christians', while more recent, well-documented, Ethiopian hypotheses, notably by two Ethiopian scholars, Dr Taddesse Tamrat and Dr Getachew Haile...put much greater emphasis on the manner in which Christians over the years converted to the Falasha faith, thus showing that the Falashas were culturally an Ethiopian sect, made up of ethnic Ethiopians.
1980s and early 1990sEdit
According to Jacqueline Pirenne, numerous Sabaeans left south Arabia and crossed over the Red Sea to Ethiopia to escape from the Assyrians, who had devastated the kingdoms of Israel and Judah in the 8th and 7th centuries BCE. She says that a second major wave of Sabeans crossed over to Ethiopia in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE to escape Nebuchadnezzar II. This wave also included Jews fleeing from the Babylonian takeover of Judah. In both cases, the Sabeans are assumed to have departed later from Ethiopia to Yemen.
According to Menachem Waldman, a major wave of emigration from the Kingdom of Judah to Kush and Abyssinia dates to the Assyrian Siege of Jerusalem, in the beginning of the 7th century BCE. Rabbinic accounts of the siege assert that only about 110,000 Judeans remained in Jerusalem under King Hezekiah's command, whereas about 130,000 Judeans led by Shebna had joined Sennacherib's campaign against Tirhakah, king of Kush. Sennacherib's campaign failed and Shebna's army was lost "at the mountains of darkness", suggestively identified with the Semien Mountains.
In 1987, Steve Kaplan wrote:
Although we don't have a single fine ethnographic research on Beta Israel, and the recent history of this tribe has received almost no attention by researchers, every one who writes about the Jews of Ethiopia feels obliged to contribute his share to the ongoing debate about their origin. Politicians and journalists, Rabbis and political activists, not a single one of them withstood the temptation to play the role of the historian and invent a solution for this riddle.
Richard Pankhurst summarized the state of knowledge on the subject in 1992 as follows: "The early origins of the Falashas are shrouded in mystery, and, for lack of documentation, will probably remain so for ever."
By 1994, modern scholars of Ethiopian history and Ethiopian Jews generally supported one of two conflicting hypotheses for the origin of the Beta Israel, as outlined by Kaplan:
- An ancient Jewish origin, together with conservation of some ancient Jewish traditions by the Ethiopian Church. Kaplan identifies Simon D. Messing, David Shlush, Michael Corinaldi, Menachem Waldman, Menachem Elon and David Kessler as supporters of this hypothesis.
- A late ethnogenesis of the Beta Israel between the 14th to 16th centuries, from a sect of Ethiopian Christians who took on Biblical Old Testament practices, and came to identify as Jews. Steven Kaplan supports this hypothesis, and lists with him G. J. Abbink, Kay K. Shelemay, Taddesse Tamrat and James A. Quirin. Quirin differs from his fellow researchers in the weight he assigns to an ancient Jewish element which the Beta Israel have conserved.
Emigration to IsraelEdit
Beta Israel ExodusEdit
The emigration to Israel of the Beta Israel community was officially banned by the Communist Derg government of Ethiopia during the 1980s, although it is now known that General Menghistu collaborated with Israel to receive money and arms in exchange for allowing the Beta Israel safe passage during Operation Moses. Other Beta Israel who did not participate in either Operations or Solomon sought alternative ways of immigration, via Sudan or Kenya.
- Late 1979 – beginning of 1984 – aliyah activists and Mossad agents operating in Sudan called the Jews to come to Sudan, and told them that, from Sudan via Europe they would be taken to Israel. Posing as Christian Ethiopian refugees from the Ethiopian Civil War, Jews began to arrive in the refugee camps in Sudan. Most Jews came from Tigray and Wolqayt, regions that were controlled by the TPLF, who often escorted them to the Sudanese border. Small groups of Jews were brought out of Sudan in a clandestine operation that continued until an Israeli newspaper exposed the operation and brought it to a halt stranding Beta Israels in the Sudanese camps. In 1981, the Jewish Defense League protested the "lack of action" to rescue Ethiopian Jews by taking over the main offices of HIAS in Manhattan.
- 1983 – March 28, 1985 – In 1983 the governor of Gondar region, Major Melaku Teferra was ousted, and his successor removed restrictions on travel out of Ethiopia. Ethiopian Jews, many by this time waiting in Addis Ababa, began again to arrive in Sudan in large numbers; and the Mossad had trouble evacuating them quickly. Because of the poor conditions in the Sudanese camps, many Ethiopian refugees, both Christian and Jewish, died of disease and hunger. Among these victims, it is estimated that between 2,000 to 5,000 were Jews. In late 1984, the Sudanese government, following the intervention of the U.S, allowed the emigration of 7,200 Beta Israel refugees to Europe who then went on to Israel. The first of these two immigration waves, between 20 November 1984 and 20 January 1985, was dubbed Operation Moses (original name "The Lion of Judah’s Cub") and brought 6,500 Beta Israel to Israel. This operation was followed by Operation Joshua (also referred to as "Operation Sheba") a few weeks later, which was conducted by the U.S. Air Force, and brought the 494 Jewish refugees remaining in Sudan to Israel. The second operation was mainly carried out due to the critical intervention and pressure from the U.S.
Emigration via Addis AbabaEdit
- 1990–1991 – After losing Soviet military support following the collapse of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe, the Ethiopian government allowed the emigration of 6,000 Beta Israel members to Israel in small groups, mostly in hope of establishing ties with the U.S, the allies of Israel. Many more Beta Israel members crowded into refugee camps on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, to escape the civil war raging in the north of Ethiopia (their region of origin), and await their turn to immigrate to Israel.
- May 24–25, 1991 (Operation Solomon) – In 1991, the political and economic stability of Ethiopia deteriorated, as rebels mounted attacks against and eventually controlled the capital city of Addis Ababa. Worried about the fate of the Beta Israel during the transition period, the Israeli government, with the help of several private groups, resumed the migration. Over the course of 36 hours, a total of 34 El Al passenger planes, with their seats removed to maximize passenger capacity, flew 14,325 Beta Israel non-stop to Israel. Again, the operation was mainly carried out due to intervention and pressure from the U.S.
- 1992–1999 – During these years, the Qwara Beta Israel immigrated to Israel.
- 1997–present – In 1997, an irregular emigration began of Falash Mura, which was and still is mainly subject to political developments in Israel.
The difficulties of the Falash Mura in immigrating to IsraelEdit
In 1991, the Israeli authorities announced that the emigration of the Beta Israel to Israel was about to conclude, because almost all of the community had been evacuated. Nevertheless, thousands of other Ethiopians began leaving the northern region to take refuge in the government controlled capital, Addis Ababa, declaring themselves to be Jewish converts to Christianity and asking to immigrate to Israel. As a result, a new term arose which was used to refer to this group: "Falash Mura". The Falash Mura, who weren't part of the Beta Israel communities in Ethiopia, were not recognized as Jews by the Israeli authorities, and were therefore not initially allowed to immigrate to Israel, making them ineligible for Israeli citizenship under Israel's Law of Return.
As a result, a lively debate has arisen in Israel about the Falash Mura, mainly between the Beta Israel community in Israel and their supporters and those opposed to a potential massive emigration of the Falash Mura people. The government's position on the matter remained quite restrictive, but it has been subject to numerous criticisms, including criticisms by some clerics who want to encourage these people's return to Judaism.
During the 1990s, the Israeli government finally allowed most of those who fled to Addis Ababa to immigrate to Israel. Some did so through the Law of Return, which allows an Israeli parent of a non-Jew to petition for his/her son or daughter to be allowed to immigrate to Israel. Others were allowed to immigrate to Israel as part of a humanitarian effort.
The Israeli government hoped that admitting these Falash Mura would finally bring emigration from Ethiopia to a close, but instead prompted a new wave of Falash Mura refugees fleeing to Addis Ababa and demanding the right to immigrate to Israel. This led the Israeli government to harden its position on the matter in the late 1990s.
In February 2003, the Israeli government decided to accept Orthodox religious conversions in Ethiopia of Falash Mura by Israeli Rabbis, after which they can then immigrate to Israel as Jews. Although the new position is more open, and although the Israeli governmental authorities and religious authorities should in theory allow emigration to Israel of most of the Falash Mura wishing to do so (who are now acknowledged to be descendants of the Beta Israel community), in practice, however, that immigration remains slow, and the Israeli government continued to limit, from 2003 to 2006, immigration of Falash Mura to about 300 per month.
In April 2005, the Jerusalem Post stated that it had conducted a survey in Ethiopia, after which it was concluded that tens of thousands of Falash Mura still lived in rural northern Ethiopia.
On November 16, 2015, the Israeli cabinet unanimously voted in favor of allowing the last group of Falash Mura to immigrate over the next five years, but their acceptance will be conditional on a successful Jewish conversion process, according to the Interior Ministry. In April 2016, they announced that a total of 10,300 people would be included in the latest round of Aliyah, over the following 5 years.
Ethiopian Jews in IsraelEdit
The Ethiopian Beta Israel community in Israel today comprises more than 121,000 people. This is a little more than 1 percent of the Israeli population. Most of this population are the descendants and the immigrants who came to Israel during Operation Moses (1984) and Operation Solomon (1991). Civil war and famine in Ethiopia prompted the Israeli government to mount these dramatic rescue operations. The rescues were within the context of Israel's national mission to gather Diaspora Jews and bring them to the Jewish homeland. Some immigration has continued up until the present day. Today 81,000 Ethiopian Israelis were born in Ethiopia, while 38,500 or 32% of the community are native born Israelis.
Over time, the Ethiopian Jews in Israel moved out of the government owned mobile home camps which they initially lived in and settled in various cities and towns throughout Israel, with the encouragement of the Israeli authorities who grant new immigrants generous government loans or low-interest mortgages.
Similarly to other groups of immigrant Jews who made aliyah to Israel, the Ethiopian Jews have had to overcome obstacles to integrate into Israeli society. Initially the main challenges faced by the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel arose from communication difficulties (most of the Ethiopian population could not read nor write in Hebrew, and many of the older members could not hold a simple conversation in Hebrew), and discrimination, including manifestations of racism, from some parts of Israeli society. Unlike Russian immigrants, many of whom arrived educated and skilled, Ethiopian immigrants came from an impoverished agrarian country, and were ill-prepared to work in a developed industrialized country.
Over the years, there has been significant progress in the integration of young Beta Israels into Israeli society, primarily resulting from serving in the Israeli Defense Forces, alongside other Israelis their age. This has led to an increase in opportunities for Ethiopian Jews after they are discharged from the army.
Despite progress, Ethiopian Jews are still not well assimilated into Israeli-Jewish society. They remain, on average, on a lower economic and educational level than average Israelis. The rate of Ethiopians who have dropped out of school has increased dramatically as well as the rate of juvenile delinquency, and there are high incidences of suicide and depression among this community. Also, while marriages between Jews of different backgrounds are very common in Israel, marriages between Ethiopians and non-Ethiopians are not very common. According to a 2009 study, 90% of Ethiopian-Israelis – 93% of men and 85% of women, are married to other Ethiopian-Israelis. A survey found that 57% of Israelis consider a daughter marrying an Ethiopian unacceptable and 39% consider a son marrying an Ethiopian to be unacceptable. Barriers to intermarriage have been attributed to sentiments in both the Ethiopian community and Israeli society generally. A 2011 study showed that only 13% of high school students of Ethiopian origin felt "fully Israeli".
In 1996, an event called the "blood bank affair" took place that demonstrated the discrimination and racism against Ethiopians in Israeli society. Blood banks would not use Ethiopian blood out of the fear of HIV being generated from their blood. Discrimination and racism against Israeli Ethiopians is still perpetuated. In May 2015, Israeli Ethiopians demonstrated in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem against racism, after a video was released, showing an Israeli soldier of Ethiopian descent that was brutally beaten up by the Israeli police. Interviewed students of Ethiopian origin affirm that they do not feel accepted in Israeli society, due to a very strong discrimination towards them. Many scholars such as Ben-Eliezer have been exploring how the discrimination, cultural racism, and exclusion have resulted in metaphorically sending many of the new generation of Ethiopian Jews "back to Africa". They say this because many of the new generation have been reclaiming their traditional Ethiopian names, Ethiopian language, Ethiopian culture, and Ethiopian music.
Falash Mura is the name given to those of the Beta Israel community in Ethiopia who converted to Christianity under pressure from the mission during the 19th century and the 20th century. This term consists of Jews who did not adhere to Jewish law, as well as Jewish converts to Christianity, who did so either voluntarily or who were forced to do so.
Many Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity have been returning to the practice of Judaism. The Israeli government can thus set quotas on their immigration and make citizenship dependent on their conversion to Orthodox Judaism.
In popular cultureEdit
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (November 2010)
- The 2005 Israeli-French film "Go, Live, and Become" (Hebrew: תחייה ותהייה), directed by Romanian-born Radu Mihăileanu focuses on Operation Moses. The film tells the story of an Ethiopian Christian child whose mother has him pass as Jewish so he can immigrate to Israel and escape the famine looming in Ethiopia. The film was awarded the 2005 Best Film Award at the Copenhagen International Film Festival.
- Several prominent musicians and rappers are of Ethiopian origin.
Ethiopian Heritage MuseumEdit
In 2009, plans to establish an Ethiopian Heritage Museum dedicated to the heritage and culture of the Ethiopian Jewish community were unveiled in Rehovot. The museum will include a model of an Ethiopian village, an artificial stream, a garden, classrooms, an amphitheater, and a memorial to Ethiopian Zionist activists and Ethiopian Jews who died en route to Israel.
Café Shahor HazakEdit
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- For the meaning of the word "Beta" in the context of social/religious is "community", see James Quirin, The Evolution of the Ethiopian Jews, 2010, p. xxi
- Weil, Shalva (1997) "Collective Designations and Collective Identity of Ethiopian Jews", in Shalva Weil (ed.) Ethiopian Jews in the Limelight, Jerusalem: NCJW Research Institute for Innovation in Education, Hebrew University, pp. 35–48. (Hebrew)
- Weil, Shalva. (2012) "Ethiopian Jews: the Heterogeneity of a Group", in Grisaru, Nimrod and Witztum, Eliezer. Cultural, Social and Clinical Perspectives on Ethiopian Immigrants in Israel, Beersheba: Ben-Gurion University Press, pp. 1–17.
- Rosen, Jonathan Weber; Zieve, Tamara (April 19, 2018). "Jewish community in Ethiopia celebrates 70 years in solidarity with Israel". The Jerusalem Post.
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- Weil, Shalva 2012 "Longing for Jerusalem Among the Beta Israel of Ethiopia", in Edith Bruder and Tudor Parfitt (eds.) African Zion: Studies in Black Judaism, Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 204–217.
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- James Bruce, Travels To Discover The Source Of The Nile in the Years 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772, and 1773 (in five Volumes), Vol. II, Printed by J. Ruthven for G. G. J. and J. Robinson, 1790, p. 485
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- Hagar Salamon, The Hyena People – Ethiopian Jews in Christian Ethiopia, University of California Press, 1999, p. 21
- Dege-Müller, Sophia (2018-04-17). "Between Heretics and Jews: Inventing Jewish Identities in Ethiopia". Entangled Religions. 6: 247–308. ISSN 2363-6696.
- Quirun, The Evolution of the Ethiopian Jews, pp. 11–15; Aešcoly, Book of the Falashas, pp. 1–3; Hagar Salamon, Beta Israel and their Christian neighbors in Ethiopia: Analysis of key concepts at different levels of cultural embodiment, Hebrew University, 1993, pp. 69–77 (Hebrew); Shalva Weil, "Collective Names and Collective Identity of Ethiopian Jews" in Ethiopian Jews in the Limelight, Hebrew University, 1997, pp. 35–48
- Salamon, Beta Israel, p. 135, n. 20 (Hebrew)
- Weil, Shalva. (1989) The Religious Beliefs and Practices of Ethiopian Jews in Israel, 2nd edn, Jerusalem: NCJW Research Institute forInnovation in Education, Hebrew University. (Hebrew)
- Shelemay, Music, p. 42
- Quirun 1992, p. 71
- Weil, Shalva 1998 'Festivals and Cyclical Events of theYear', (149–160) and 'Elementary School', (174–177) in John Harrison, Rishona Wolfert and Ruth Levitov (eds) Culture – Differences in the World and in Israel: A Reader in Sociology for Junior High Schools, University of Tel-Aviv: Institute of Social Research and Ministry of Education, PedagogicAdministration. (Hebrew)
- Aešcoly, Book of the Falashas, p. 56
- Aešcoly, Book of the Falashas, pp. 62–70 (Hebrew); Shelemay, Music, Ritual, and Falasha History, pp. 44–57; Leslau, Falasha Anthology, pp. xxviii–xxxvi; Quirun, The Evolution of the Ethiopian Jews, pp. 146–150
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- see Rosh Chodesh
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- Wolf Leslau, "Introduction", to his Falasha Anthology, Translated from Ethiopic Sources (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1951), p. xliii. Also see Steven Kaplan, "A Brief History of the Beta Israel", in The Jews of Ethiopia: A People in Transition (Tel Aviv and New York: Beth Hatefutsoth and The Jewish Museum, 1986), p. 11. Kaplan writes there, "Scholars remain divided (about Beta Israel origins) ... It has been suggested, for example, that the Jews of Ethiopia are descendants of (1) the Ten Lost Tribes, especially the tribe ofg Dan; (2) Ethiopian Christians and pagans who assumed a Jewish identity; (3) Jewish immigrants from South Arabia (Yemen) who intermarried with the local population; or (4) Jewish immigrants from Egypt who intermarried with the local population." For more on the Mosaic and Danite claims of traditionalist Beta Israel, see Salo Baron, Social and Religious History of the Jews, Second Edition (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, and New York: Columbia University Press, 1983) Vol. XVIII: p. 373.
- Budge, Queen of Sheba, Kebra Negast, §§ 38–64.
- Weil, Shalva. 1991 The Changing Religious Tradition of Ethiopian Jews in Israel: a Teachers’ Guide, Jerusalem: The Ministry of Education & Culture & NCJW Research Institute for Innovation in Education, Hebrew University. (Hebrew)
- Abbink, "The Enigma of Esra'el Ethnogenesis: An Anthro-Historical Study", Cahiers d'Etudes africaines, 120, XXX-4, 1990, pp. 412–420.
- Jankowski, Königin von Saba, 65–71.
- Schoenberger, M. (1975). The Falashas of Ethiopia: An Ethnographic Study (Cambridge: Clare Hall, Cambridge University). Quoted in Abbink, Jon (1990). "The Enigma of Beta Esra'el Ethnogenesis. An Anthro-Historical Study" (PDF). Cahiers d'Études africaines. 30 (120): 397–449. doi:10.3406/cea.1990.1592.[permanent dead link]
- Budge, Queen of Sheba, Kebra Negast, chap. 61.
- Weil, Shalva. 1989 Beta Israel: A House Divided. Binghamton State University of New York, Binghamton, New York.
- The complete guide to the Bible by Stephan M. Miller, p. 175
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- Wolf Leslau, "Introduction", to his Falasha Anthology, Translated from Ethiopic Sources (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1951), p. xliii. Also see Steven Kaplan, "A Brief History of the Beta Israel", in The Jews of Ethiopia: A People in Transition (Tel Aviv and New York: Beth Hatefutsoth and The Jewish Museum, 1986), p. 11.
- This helped persuade rabbinic authorities of the day regarding the validity of his practices, even if they differed from their own traditional teachings. On this, also see the remarkable testimony of Hasdai ibn Shaprut, the Torah scholar and princely Jew of Cordoba, concerning Eldad's learning, in his letter to Joseph, King of the Khazars, around 960 CE., reproduced in Franz Kobler, ed., Letters of Jews Through the Ages, Second Edition (London: East and West Library, 1953), vol. 1: p. 105.
- See, in Eldad's letter recounting his experiences in Elkan N. Adler, ed., Jewish Travellers in the Middle Ages: 19 Firsthand Accounts (New York: Dover, 1987), p. 9.
- Eldad's letter recounting his experiences in Elkan N. Adler, ed., Jewish Travellers in the Middle Ages: 19 Firsthand Accounts (New York: Dover, 1987), pp. 12–14.
- See Salo Baron, Social and Religious History of the Jews, Second Edition (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1983), Vol. XVIII: 372.
- Also see the testimony of James Bruce, Travels in Abyssinia, 1773, which repeats these accounts of Mosaic antiquity for the Beta Israel.
-  Archived August 20, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
- See also the reference already cited from Hasdai ibn Shaprut, above.
- Steven Kaplan, "Eldad Ha-Dani", in Siegbert von Uhlig, ed., Encyclopaedia Aethiopica: D-Ha (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2005), p. 252. Medieval travellers' accounts typically are vague in such matters, and are not presented as geographical treatises; moreover, Ethiopians, Sudanese and Somalians do not all know all the tribal languages around them. In earlier times, the different ethnic groups would have been even more insular. In any case, the "Letter of Eldad the Danite" summarized his experiences.
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We incorporated geographic data into a Bayesian clustering analysis, assuming no admixture (TESS software) (25) and distinguished six clusters within continental Africa (Fig. 5A).[...] Another geographically contiguous cluster extends across northern Africa (blue) into Mali (the Dogon), Ethiopia, and northern Kenya. With the exception of the Dogon, these populations speak an Afroasiatic language.Also see Supplementary Data.
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- For a discussion of this theory, see Edward Ullendorff, Ethiopia and the Bible (Oxford: University Press for the British Academy, 1968), pp. 16ff, 117. According to Ullendorff, individuals who believed in this origin included President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi of Israel.
- Louis Marcus, "Notice sur l'époque de l'établissement des Juifs dans l'Abyssinie", Journal Asiatique, 3, 1829. see also Herodotus, Histories, Book II, Chap. 30; Strabo, Geographica, Book XVI, Chap. 4 and Book XVII, Chap. 1; Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Book VI, Chap. 30
- A. H. M. Jones and Elizabeth Monroe, A History of Ethiopia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1935), p. 40.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Beta Israel.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1905 New International Encyclopedia article Falashas.|
- Beta Israel: Society and Culture – Ethiopian Jews
- Ethiopian in the Net
- Yopi – The Ethiopian Portal
- Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews
- Chassida Shmella – Ethiopian Jewish Community of North America
- Construction of Beta Israel Identity
- Jewish Encyclopedia
- Collection of photos of Ethiopian Jews celebrating the Sigd Festival in Jerusalem
- Jewish Agency for Israel
- The Jews of Ethiopia and their Names
- Abstract of the Lucotte-Smets article.
- Marc Shapiro, "Return of a lost tribe" details the rediscovery of the Falasha
- History of Ethiopian Jews
- A New Light for Ethiopian Jews at Tel Aviv University