Jews In Ethiopia
Judaism is one of the oldest monotheistic religions in the world, whose religious laws, regulations, philosophy and folklore are mentioned other major monotheistic religions such as Christianity and Islam. There are many famous Jews who are very influential in the western world, and as a result, Judaism is commonly associated with people with European or Middle-Eastern descent. However, there are smaller, underrepresented Jewish people all throughout the world. Black Jews are one such group, with communities and populations throughout Africa and North America. Although sometimes underrepresented, the Black Jewish community is one that has a very storied history, and represents their religion and culture with great pride. One of these groups is Ethiopian Jews, who have lived in the Horn of Africa for centuries. Ethiopian Jews are similar to mainstream Jews in that they practice the same religion with many of the same restrictions, rules, regulations, scripture, and customs, but differ from mainstream Jews in many aspects as well. Ethiopian Jews have different stories of origin as well as many differing religious folktales and stories regarding their place in ancient and modern day Judaism. Despite their similarities, many Ethiopian Jews have faced difficulties when trying to assimilate into Israeli life and culture, with racism creating a schism between Ethiopian migrants to Israel and more mainstream Jewish citizens.
The history of Black Jews, particularly Ethiopian and other African Jews, is ancient and very storied. The community has been referred to by many different names throughout history, with the names usually reflecting some sort of story regarding the people and different beliefs and stories of origin associated with them. According to tradition, the name "Beta Israel originated in the 4th century, when the community refused to convert to Christianity during the rule of Abreha and Atsbeha, the monarchs of the Aksumite Empire who embraced Christianity” (Weil, 22). In fact, tradition states that the Beta Israel adopted the name in order to protest persecution and stand in opposition from the Beta Christian group. There are currently no negative connotations associated with the name, so the group has decided to keep it as their official name, and since the 1980s, Ethiopian Jews have been referred to as Beta Israelites in most academic and scientific literature (Corinaldi, 33). At one time, the name Ayhud was used to refer to Ethiopian Jews, but the name is no longer used because Christians established it as a derogatory term (Weil, 14). Despite these different names, Ethiopian Jews are considered as part of the tribe just as much as traditional Jews, with the only differentiating factors being ethnicity and geographical region. After the Second World War, many Ethiopian Jews were given the option of moving to Israel with aid from both North American and European Jews. What makes the case of Ethiopian Jews so interesting is their practice of Judaism in a place that is geographically located so much further away from the place of origin of more mainstream Jews.
The Beta Israel is a group of people located in the areas of the Aksumite and Ethiopian Empires, currently divided between the Amhara and Tigray regions (Weil, 37). The Ethiopian Jews are concentrated in the North and Northwestern region of Ethiopia, scattered across more than 500 villages. They are considered no different than mainstream Jews, and in 1977, “Israeli officials decided that the Israeli Law of Return applied to the Beta Israel” (Corinaldi, 187). Like European Jews, Ethiopian Jews were also transported to Israel after it’s founding through multiple aliyah operations carried out by both the United States and Israel after World War II, including “Operation Brothers in Sudan between 1979 and 1990 (this includes the major operations Moses and Joshua), and in the 1990s from Addis Ababa” (Weil, 187). Just like