Ethiopian Jews Term Paper

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Ethiopian Jews

Interesting story of Ethiopian Jews has caught attention of many. Ethiopia has been facing many issues in the early years. Ethiopians always had to struggle to obtain the basic necessity of life such as food and general hygienic resources such as a proper sewerage system etc. Though the country struggles through many problems it holds a very fascinating history. Ethiopia has a historical background which relates to all three Abrahamic religions. It has significant history for all of the three religions. For instance, it was the first to declare Christianity as a state religion in the 4th Century. In addition to that it was also first place of hijra according to Islamic history and it is known to be one of the most ancient Muslim settlements in Africa. Moreover, it also held a legit population of Ethiopian Jews up till 1980s. Being rich with the varies religion backgrounds Ethiopia holds an interesting history.

Ethiopian Jews are known by many names given by different emperors as well as by the communities, some which sound very discriminatory. For instance, they were known as Ayhudi (Jews) during the Solomonic Dynasty (1270 AD) and another name given to them was Falasha (Ge'ez: outcasts) by the Yeshaq of Ethopia but for the most part they have been known as Beta Israel. Some of the other names used to refer to the Beta Israelis community were include Buda (Ge'ez: "Evil eye"), Kayla (the Agaw language spoken by them), Tebiban ("possessor of secret knowledge"), Attenkun (Ge'ez: "Don't touch us") which is considered derogatory and the Hebrew Habashim, associated with the non-Jews Habesha people (Abyssinians). The Beta Israel once spoke Qwara and Kayla, closely related Cushitic languages. Now they speak Amharic and Tigrinya, both Semitic languages. Their liturgical language is Ge'ez, also Semitic. Since the 1950s, they have taught Hebrew in their schools; in addition, those Beta Israel currently residing in the State of Israel use Hebrew as a daily language. (Wikipedia)

Initially, it was the Jews living in Ethiopia. Until the 4th century when the Christianity came into existence they were forced to convert to Christianity. Many Jews did convert to Christianity while the others flew to the mountains and other places such as Israel. While there were also few of the Jews who accepted Christianity for the time being and later on converted back to Judaism when sent to Israel. This group of people was known as Falash Mura. Even till today it is there is no strong evidence of them being Jewish. Later on in the mid-1980, Ethiopia was hit by a deadly famine. This made a huge change for the Jewish in Ethiopia. They were taken away from Ethiopia to Israel. This helped many Ethiopians escape the famine. It is proclaimed that not only Jewish Ethiopians had migrated to Israel but also some of the non-Jewish families had migrated to Israel just to escape the famine. However, even after the end of famine many Ethiopian Jews continued to migrate to Israel in the hope for a better future. Up till now approximately 120,000 Ethiopians Jews have migrated to Israel.

Immigration of Ethiopian Jews


Ethiopian- Born Immigrants




















(CBS Statistical Abstract of Israel 2008)

The Ethiopian Jewish history has no solid evidence. It is mainly known that the history was passed on through oral tradition. Usually, in oral tradition most of the history is lost and passed on with many doubts. Hence forth the history of Ethiopian Jewish has different views. Some of the well- known theories of the history include

1) The Beta Israel may be the lost Israelite tribe of Dan.

2) They may be descendants of Menelik I, son of King Solomon and Queen Sheba.

3) They may be descendants of Ethiopian Christians and pagans who converted to Judaism centuries ago.

4) They may be descendants of Jews who fled Israel for Egypt after the destruction of the First

Temple in 586 BCE and eventually settled in Ethiopia.

(Excerpted from "Reunify Ethiopian Jewry," World Union of Jewish Students)

Similar to all the Jews around the world, Beta Israelis also follow the holy book Torah. They also follow books on the other prophets and the Hagiographa which are of secondary importance. The books followed by Beta Israelis are written in Ge'ez, which is the language only known by the Beta Israelis. Along with the holy book of Torah, Beta israelis follow many other books which are different from that used by other jews. For instance, Enoch, Jubilees, Brauch and the books of Ezra. Some of the other books that beta israelis refer to include Arde'et, Acts of Moses, Apocalypse of Gorgorios, Meddrash Abba Elija, and biographies of the nation's forebears: Gadla Adam, Gadla Avraham, Gadla Ishak, Gadla Ya'kov, Gadla Moshe, Gadla Aaron, Nagara Musye, Mota Musye. (Wikipedia)

The leaders of the community give importance to the Shabbat just like most of the jews and its perceptions, Te'ezaza Sanbat (Precepts of the Sabbath). Beta israel leaders read the religious readings in the weekday services, on the Shabbat, festival prayers and various other blessings. Sefer sa'atat is used for the weekdays and shabbat. In addition to this ser cahen is used by the priests. The calender used by the Beta Israelis is in accordance with the treatise known as the Abu Shaker. This was written in 1257 CE, it assists them in calculating the jewish holidays according to the lunar dates. Some of the Jewish feast celebrated by the Beta Israelis include Matqe' (New Year), Soma Ayhud or Badr (Yom Kippur), Masallat (Sucot), Fesh (Passover), and Soma Dehnat (Fast of Salvation) or Soma Aster (Fast of Esther). (Wikipedia)

Moreover, Beta Israelis also celebrate a unique holiday called Sigd or Seged. This holiday is celebrated in 29th of Cheshvan. Earlier the celebration of this day was known as Mehella which is the act of bowing and supplication. This festival celebrates the return from exile of babylonia to Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah. Beta Israel tradition holds that Sigd commemorates Ezra's proclamation against the Babylonian wives (Ezra 10:10-12). This occasion was usually celebrated on the hilltops in the villages. According to other sources it is also found that Sigd is a celebration of new-moon holiday. The Israel government in 2008 declared sigd as a National Holiday for the Ethiopian Jews.

Pessah is one of the occasions celebrated by all the jews around the world. However, Beta Israelis or the Ethiopian Jews have a very different way of celebrating this occasion. During this occasion Jews eat crispy food for seven days in remembrance of freedom from Egyptian slavery. Hence forth it also reminds the Ethiopians of the hardship they went through during the time of migration from Ethiopia. Jews celebrate this occasion by cleaning their house and giving away the old things. Mean while, the Beta Israelis celebrate this occasion in a different manner, they purchase new dishes and break all the old ones from before. They also bake matza on daily basis. Many Beta Ethiopians also believe in avoiding milk during the seven days of this occasion. It is also a common practice to sacrifice an animal and eat the meal with the family to celebrate the holiday of Pessah. (Nicole Hyman, 2011)

Jews of Ethiopia have a unique taste of food. There food is very different from that of the west. However the food enjoyed by Jews of Ethiopia is very familiar to that of the other religious sects in Ethiopia. Some of the spices that are very common in every kitchen of Ethiopia consist of hot red chili peppers, garlic, ginger, fenugreek, cardamom, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, white pepper, salt and turmeric. These are used in general throughout Ethiopia for their local specialties. Ethiopian kitchen is a bit similar to that of the Arabs. There use of exclusive ingredients mixed with the Arab cuisine gives Ethiopian kitchen a unique flavor. Some of the other ingredients which distinguish the Ethiopian food from the others include peanuts, bananas, rice, coconuts, spinach, corn and beans. The Jews of Ethiopia have made a slight change into the cuisine of Ethiopia by adding a curry powder to their meal. This was introduced by the families of Addis Ababa, a Jewish merchant's family. (Daniel Rogov)

Thought the ingredients used by many Ethiopians are similar in all religious sects. Jews of Ethiopia do differ in some ways. They do not believe in sharing food with the non-Jews. This also resulted in Ethiopian Jews limiting their social contact with the other Ethiopians. The Jews that broke this rule had to go through the process of purification. The purification process included fasting for one or more days and also the before entering the village they had to go through ritual purification. As compare to the Ethiopians, the Jews of Ethiopia do not eat raw meat dishes like kitfo or gored. Beta Israelis follow a strict rule of kashrut law for the food just like…

Sources Used in Document:


"Beta Israel" Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia Foundation, Web.

"The History of Ethiopian Jews." Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (IAEJ), Jewish Virtual Library, Web.

"Ethiopian Jews in Israel." Cultural Survival.

Nicole Hyman, "A modern-day Pessah miracle" The Jerusalem Post, 27th April 2011.

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