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Jacques Faïtlovitch


Jacques Faïtlovitch was an  Orientalist, devoted to Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews) research and relief work. Faïtlovitch was born in Lodz. He studied Oriental languages at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris, particularly Ethiopic and Amharic under Joseph Halévy, who aroused his interest in the Beta Israel. He made 11 missions to Ethiopia (1904–5, 1908–9, 1913, 1920–21, 1923–24, 1926, 1928–29, 1934, 1942–43, 1943–44, 1946). In 1904 he went to Ethiopia for the first time and spent 18 months among the Beta Israel, studying their beliefs and customs. The results were published in his Notes d'un voyage chez les Falachas (1905).

In his view the Beta Israel were Jews needing help to resist Christian missionary activity, which threatened their survival as a Jewish community. He promised them to enlist world Jewry on their behalf and took two young Beta Israel with him to Europe to be educated as future teachers. Having failed to win the support of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, he organized "pro-Falasha" committees in Italy and Germany to raise funds for Jewish education for the Beta Israel in Abyssinia and abroad.

II and pleaded for equitable treatment for the Beta Israel. This voyage is described in his book Quer durch Abessinien (1910; Massa el ha-Falashim, 1959). Finally, he established one school in Dembea during his third voyage in 1913. After World War I Faïtlovitch, who had lectured at Geneva University (1915–19), transferred the center of pro-Falasha activity to the United States, and with the aid of the New York Committee a boarding school for Beta Israel children was opened in Addis Ababa in May 1923.

Starting from 1927 Faïtlovitch settled in Tel Aviv but he had a nomadic life and spent many years in the United States. The Italian conquest in 1935–36 hampered the expanding activity and World War II stopped it entirely. After the establishment of the State of Israel he was able to persuade the Jewish Agency to take up educational work among the Beta Israel. Faïtlovich was an indefatigable lecturer, everywhere trying to stir active interest in the "Black Jews of Abyssinia." He considered the Beta Israel ethnologically the descendants of genuine Jews and an integral part of the Jewish people.

An observant Jew himself, he felt that it was not enough to study the Beta Israel, but that it was an obligation to save them from extinction and lead them through education into the fold of traditional Judaism. He took out of Ethiopia to study in Europe, Egypt and Palestine 25 young boys. He was interested in the quest for the nidhei Israel and in proselytism; he created committees for the conversion of people from Asia and Africa. In addition to the books mentioned above, he published Mota Mus (Heb., Fr., 1906), Proverbes Abyssins (1907), "Nouveaux Proverbes Abyssins" (in Rivista degli Studi Orientali, 2 (1909), 757–66), Les Falachas d'après les Explorateurs (1907), Versi Abissini (It., 1910), and Falascha-Briefe (1913). He wrote numerous articles and pamphlets and a series of tracts in Amharic intended for distribution among the Beta Israel. The only article that he wrote in English is entitled "Falashas" (in AJYB, 22 (1920), 80–100). Faïtlovitch bequeathed his valuable library to the Tel Aviv Municipality, with the collection now located in Tel Aviv University.


J. Quirin, The Evolution of the Ethiopian Jews (1992), 193–200; D. Summerfield, From Falashas to Ethiopian Jews (2003), 39–90; E. Trevisan Semi, "De Lodz à Addis Abeba, Faitlovitch et les Juifs d'Ethiopie," in: Les Cahiers du Judaïsme 10 (2001), 60–71; idem, "Faitlovitch," in: Pe'amim 100 (2004) (Heb); idem, The "Ingathering of the Exiles": Jacques Faitlovitch, "Father of the Beta Israel" (18811955) (2005).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.