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December 01, 1989 - Image 48

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-12-01

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Ethiopian Jews

Continued from preceding page

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BIRMINGHAM, MICHIGAN 48009 313/642-2650

rabbi Leiter Levin
the Detroit 8ponsors Committee
cordially request your presence
at an evening in honor of

Qabbi Beryl Wein
The Yeshiva Maarei Torah

to be held at the home of
Mr. and Mr& Gary Torgow

Tuesday, December 5, 1989
at 8:00 P.M.


the strength of the ancient
connection between Judaism
and Ethiopia — the
"Jewishness" of the Ethio-
pian culture. No one can
directly trace his lineage back
over 2000 years, but the Beta
Yisrael can make a better
case for Israelite ancestry
than many.
The best-known legend of
Beta Yisrael origins is that of
Solomon's seduction of
Sheba, resulting in a son,
Menelik, who came to rule
Ethiopia. It is a legend, like-
ly with a kernel of truth.
Solomon certainly had trade
routes down the Red Sea, and
there is ample reason to
believe that Jewish settle-
ments were established on the
Horn of Africa at an early
Most educated Ethiopian
Jews will tell you that their
ancestors arrived in Ethiopia
after the first lbmple destruc-
tion in 586 B.C.E., following
two routes. On one route,
Jews moved into Egypt dur-
ing the period of Persian
occupation, then later fled
southward, following the Blue
Nile and arriving at its
source, Lake Tana, in the
Ethiopian highlands, roughly
200 years before the common
era. A second group made its
way to Yemen, then in the ear-
ly centuries of the common
era moved across the Red Sea
into Ethiopia proper.
Others have proposed a Red
Sea route between Egypt and
Ethiopia as being more like-
ly, and have suggested that
there was Jewish movement
into Ethiopia during or after
Second Thmple times. And it
may well be that a series of
migrations occurred histori-
cally, with one not precluding
others; Ethiopia is noted for
being a crossroad of signifi-
cance. What seems quite clear
from existing evidence is that
Jews were present in the land
of Ethiopia from an early
Dr. Ephraim Isaac, director
of the Institute of Semitic
Studies in Princeton, N.J.,
points out the Hebrew and
Aramaic words with theolog-
ical significance present in
Ethiopic texts. Everyone in
Ethiopia, Jew and non-Jew
alike, refers to Friday as "the
evening" (of the Sabbath).
The Ethiopic talisan, a cloak,
is clearly derivative of tallit.
Teva, used in Ethiopic texts
to mean aron kodesh (holy
ark), is noted by Dr. Isaac, for
teva in the Bible referred to
Noah's ark, and was not used

Ethiopian children in a southern Israeli developnient town enjoy tree-planting
on Tu b'Shevat.

in its alternate meaning until
the Mishnah. And incorpora-
tion of the word mitzvah into
the language is cited by
another Semitic scholar, T.
Neoldeke, as sufficient by
itself to prove that there was
Jewish influence in the land.
The Book of Enoch and the
Book of Jubilees are two im-
portant Jewish literary works
that influenced the rabbinic
midrashic writings and
Jewish mystical thought. It is
in Ethiopia that these once-
lost books were discovered,
preserved in their entirety in
Ge'ez. There are Aramaic
fragments of the Book of
Enoch in the Dead Sea
Scrolls; Yigdal Yadin, in his
book on the Thmple Scroll,
makes a specific connection
between this Dead Sea Scroll
and the Book of Jubilees. lb
Dr. Isaac, all of this suggests
a connection between the
Jews of Qumran and the Jews
of Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian Orthodox
Church may be the most
"Jewish" church in the world,
retaining such practices as
circumcision. It would be dif-
ficult to explain the unique
development of the church
without looking to a strong
historical presence of Jews in
Ethiopia preceding the ad-
vent of Christianity in the
fourth century. Evidence even
suggests a recognition by the
Christians of an original
Jewish heritage. The predomi-
nant ruling dynasty of Chris-
tian emperors was referred to
as the Solomonic line, an allu-
sion to the same legend about

Solomon and Sheba as was
espoused by the Jews. Haile
Selassie called himself the
Lion of Judah.
Jews maintained an inde-
pendent kingdom in Ethiopia
for centuries which ultimate-
ly came into conflict with and
finally was defeated by the
Christian kingdom. In the
course of ancient conflicts
between Jews and Christians
in Ethiopia, many Jewish
texts in Hebrew and Aramaic
were destroyed and others
confiscated. The existence of
these texts is strong evidence
for the presence of Jews from
outside Ethiopia in the land
at an early date. Those that
were taken remain in the
hands of the church, guarded
by monks, in dry caves in the
northern highlands, accord-
ing to reliable Ethiopian Jews
who have seen them.
More recently, Christian
scholars in Ethiopia have at-
tempted to delegitimize the
Semitic roots of the Jews,
finding ways to separate the
Jews from the Solomonic
heritage and to ascribe it sole-
ly to Christians. That Jews
inside Ethiopia (and there are •
still some 20,000 there)
should suffer this injustice at
all is painful enough. It would
be immeasurably worse if
their fellow Jews elsewhere,
surrendering to their ethno-
centric impulses, were finally
to accept such notions
without an open-hearted and
honest look at the facts. El

Arlene Kushner is a writer
who lives in New Jersey.

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