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February 15, 1985 - Image 28

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-02-15

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.





Friday, February 15, 1985

( i.EC


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Your Best Price




Brothers and Keepers

Existing Doors

Continued from preceding page

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it is not true for all the Jews in
the world. Zionism is dead
only for the Jews who do not
need it. For the Jews of
Ethiopia, or the Soviet Union,
or Syria, Zionism is alive, alas.
Operation Moses has had the
effect of clarifying a classical
meaning of Zionism: there
must exist a state for which
Jews need no visas. (The corol-
laries are that the state must
be secure, and that there must
be a Jewish majority, so that
no impediment from within
the state is ever put before
Jews seeking refuge.) The
obituaries for Zionism, in
other words, are one of the
great luxuries of Jewish his-
tory. They tell most about
those Jews who make them,
about the safety they enjoy in
Israel and the democratic na-
tions of the West.
The Israeli rescue clarifies
something else as well: the na-
ture of the Jewish identity
fashioned by Zionism. It has
been said (rather eloquently
by William Safire) that Opera-
tion Moses is a. demonstration
that the fact of religion exer-
cises Jews more than the fact
of race. This is only half right.
The fact of race certainly
counts for nothing; the color
blindness of Jewish
nationalism has been estab-
lished. But it was not religion
that drew the Israelis to the
Falashas. What little we know
of the religion of the Falashas
shows a Judaism that is old
and odd, that has only the
most attenuated relationship
to the precepts and the prac-
tices of the rest of the Jewish
world. Indeed, the fascination
of the Falashas for the student
of Judaism lies precisely in
their dramatic religious dis-
tinction. They are the last sur-
vivals of a fundamentalism
that the rabbis since the early
Middle Ages feared most: they
are Jews without a Talmud.
All they share with the Jewish
culture that is absorbing them
is the Torah, the five books of
Moses, which they interpret
quite literally in their rituals,
and some of the other books of
the Hebrew Bible. Wolf Les-
nau, an intrepid scholar who
visited the Falashas in the late
1940s, describes these Jews
slaughtering animals for sac-
The Torah that the Falashas
possess, moreover, is not in
Hebrew, but in Gez (old
Ethiopic). They know almost
no Hebrew. The little they do
know, however, holds the key
to the bond between the an-
cient villagers and their mod-
em saviors. Lesnau discovered
the Falashas in command of

only seven Hebrew words —
five names for God, Torah and
goyim. Goyim, in the bush!
This Hebrew word for non-
Jews is not a term of abuse,
and never was; it is simply an
expression of a collective feel-
ing of difference, of the senti-
ment of a people apart. Lesnau
also discovered Falasha
schoolchildren in Ambworo
singing Hatikvah, the na-
tional anthem of Israel. Five-
to 13-year-old Amharic-
speaking urchins intoned
("their intonation was pecul-
iar") the high Hebrew rhymes
to the tune more or less stolen
from Smetana. Suprising
enough. But this was in 1947,
a full year before the song be-
came the anthem! Still, it had
reached them. They were
barely Jews, then; but they
were, in a raw and rudimen-
tary way, Zionists.
It was not religion that in-
spired Operation Moses. It was
a strenuous sense of people-
hood. They called themselves
Jews and they longed for Zion:
that sufficed. For such people
the Jews of Israel would take



"Zionism is dead only
for the Jews who do not
need it. For the Jews of
Ethiopia, Zionism is


Ma rriam Crame r Ring


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