12 April 2008

Ethiopia: Jewish history

Haaretz's story about the Ethiopian Jews, "Digging deeper in Ethiopia," by Anshel Pfeffer, is generally refuted and debated in The Ethiopian Review blog posting, "The Ethiopian Jewish history is not a 'Romeo and Juliet'."

The Haaretz story begins:

Digging deeper in Ethiopian

ADDIS ABABA - In the old Falasha village of Ambober, 15 kilometers outside Gondar, there are only Christians living today. All the village's original inhabitants left for Israel at least 17 years ago. The old ORT school which used to serve the Jewish community is now a government school. Opposite is the compound of the local synagogue.

In the Beita Israel custom, there are two separate buildings, and while the women's synagogue is still the original tuckul, made from lathe walls of mud and wood, someone has made a donation and redone the men's synagogue as a sturdy, stone-walled building. No one prays there but it is one of the main stops on the routes of Jewish and Israeli groups who tour the Gonder region.

Inside, there is a wooden bookcase that contains the siddurim (prayer books) and Hebrew books that served the community decades ago. They all bear the stamp of the religious services department of the World Zionist Organization. Among the dusty and time-eaten prayer books, bibles and Hebrew primers, I found one slim tome that seemed a bit out of place. It was a treatise on the laws of shehita printed by the famous "Brothers and Widow Rohm" Printers of Vilnius, in 1896.

The incongruity of finding such a title in a Falasha village, a community with its own distinct laws of ritual slaughter, so different from those practiced by Orthodox Jews in late 19th Century, is incredible. The owners' scrawl inside the cover leaves little doubt this book used to reside in the private library of a religious Jew somewhere in Eastern Europe before the Second World War. How did it find its way to the Horn of Africa? ...........

The Ethiopian Review posting begins:

The Ethiopian Jewish history is not a 'Romeo and Juliet'

The Ethiopian Jewish history is not a romantic history like the history of Romeo and Juliet; it is a religious history – a divine message, a revelation from the Almighty God, who purposely brought these children of God from his earthly city – Jerusalem – to Ethiopia almost thousands years ago.

The Ethiopian Jewish history is a well known fact that one does not have to dig deeper to find out the validity of this glorious Ethiopian Jewish history. The history of Ethiopia is the history of the Ethiopian Jewish people. If someone wants to know more about the reality of the Ethiopian Jewish history, one must read the Ethiopian prayer books among many others; one cannot read these prayer books without coming across, many times, these sweet words: “Amlake-Israel” (the God of Israel); also, one should read especially “saatat” the hourly or nightly prayer of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and one can see how many times “the God of Israel” has been mentioned there.

The writer of the article — Digging deeper in Ethiopia for the Jewish story — was dumbfounded when he descried among the “dirty and time-eaten prayer books” a collection of shehita whom he thought that someone had unknowingly “checked in the shehita book” and shipped it to Ethiopia. Could the same thing also be said about the Ark of the Covenant that when King Solomon ordered thousands of Jews to accompany his first Son, Menelik I, to Ethiopia, some of these Jews who were in a hurry because the King’s order was urgent, unknowingly chucked in the Ark of the Covenant and brought it with them to Ethiopia? It is possible it could have happened this way instead of saying that they had stolen the Ark. ........

Read the complete articles (links above).

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