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Who are the Ethiopian Jews?

By Mitchell Bard

Jewish Influence in Ethiopia
Beta Israel Customs and Tradition
The Jewish Empire
Discovering Black Jews
The Coming of Faitlovitch
The Italian Invasion
The Establishment of Israel
A Test of Judaism
ORT Steps In
Feudal Society
Finding A Home In Ethiopia
The Religious Question

Once they were kings. A half million strong, they matched their faith with fervor and out-matched the Muslim and Christian tribesmen around them to rule the mountain highlands around Lake Tana. They called themselves Beta Israel  – the house of Israel – and used the Torah to guide their prayers and memories of the heights of Jerusalem as they lived in their thatched huts in Ethiopia.

But their neighbors called them Falashas – the alien ones, the invaders. And even three hundred years of rule, even the black features that matched those of all the people around them did not make the Jews of Ethiopia secure governors of their destiny in Africa[1]

For centuries, most of the world was unaware that a community of black Jews existed in Ethiopia. Even after contacts had been made between European Jews, and later Israeli Jews, knowledge of the Ethiopian Jews was scant. It was not until the early 1980’s, and the famine in North Africa that drove many Jews to seek an escape route in the Sudan, that the Beta Israel became widely known. At the same time, the Ethiopian Jews were equally unaware that Jews lived anywhere else and were at least as shocked to learn of the existence of white Jews as the Europeans were to discover black Jews.

As noted in the quotation, the Ethiopian Jews were generally referred to as Falashas by their neighbors. This is a pejorative term meaning “strangers” or “immigrants” that was nevertheless widely used by outsiders as well. Throughout this manuscript, references are made to the Falashas, usually with no negative connotation. I have not changed the usage of others but restricted my own references to the neutral “Ethiopian Jews” or the community’s preferred designation, Beta Israel.


Little is known about the early origins of the Beta Israel beyond the fact that they represent one of the oldest Diaspora communities. The Bible refers to Jews living in the region now known as Ethiopia. The prophet Isaiah, for example, spoke of the return of the Jews who had been exiled to a variety of lands, including Cush, which is now part of Ethiopia and the Sudan. Isaiah 18 is devoted to a description of Cush and the people living there.[2]

In the 9th century, the story of Eldad ha-Dani became well-known. He maintained that the tribe of Dan chose to leave the holy land rather than join the fight between Rehoboam and Jeroboam when the Kingdom of David split. The tribe went to the land of Cush. It is probably from this account that the idea arose that the Ethiopian Jews were descendants of the tribe of Dan, a view held by the Beta Israel themselves.

A more modern theory is that the Beta Israel are related to the Agau tribes and adopted Judaism from Jews who came to the area from southern Arabia.[3] Several other theories for the origin of the Ethiopian Jews have been offered, but none are convincing or verifiable. Regardless, the Beta Israel have consistently viewed themselves as Jews and maintained a distinguishable culture.

Jewish Influence in Ethiopia

Ethiopian culture has been influenced by Judaism. The Ethiopian Church, for example, adopted customs associated with Judaism, such as circumcision, dietary laws and the observance of the Sabbath. Ethiopians also believe that the founder of the royal dynasty, whose last ruler was Haile Selassie, was the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. According to legend, their son, Menelik settled in Ethiopia and brought with him members of the Israelite tribes. He also smuggled the Ark of the Covenant out of Jerusalem and brought it to Aksum, the capital of ancient Abyssinia.

The Beta Israel do not accept this story. Moreover, the Beta Israel stress their differences with the Christians, rejecting the New Testament, Jesus, Mary and the saints.

Besides the religious differences, and their confinement to mostly menial jobs, however, little distinguishes the Beta Israel from their neighbors. They look and dress the same, live in similar types of homes and conduct their lives in much the same manner as the non-Jews.

Beta Israel Customs and Tradition

Ethiopian Jews reside in simple villages where most families live together in a small round house made of branches and grass, coated with mud, called a tukul. Families are patriarchal, with women primarily involved in child-rearing and homemaking. The men engage in several activities, including agriculture, weaving, pottery and iron works. It is their work as blacksmiths and goldsmiths that led their non-Jewish neighbors to call them buda (possessors of the evil eye). Though the pejorative term was not applied only to Jews, the association of the Jews with manual crafts made them more commonly viewed as sorcerers with magical powers and thus carriers of the evil eye. This is not some archaic notion either, it has remained a contemporary problem for Ethiopian Jews.*

The Ethiopian Jews have continued to practice Judaism for centuries, despite persecution and isolation. Because of their isolation, however, the brand of Judaism they adhere to differs from that practiced elsewhere. The most significant difference, from a Jewish theological perspective, is that the Ethiopian Jews base their beliefs on the Written Law (the Torah) and some oral traditions passed from generation to generation. The rest of the Jewish world bases its practices on both the Written Law and the Oral Law. The latter is the interpretation of the written law by rabbis that was largely codified by the year 400 in the Talmud.

Orthodox Jews believe that most of the oral traditions date back to God’s revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai. Conservative and Reform Jews acknowledge that some commentary was needed to make the Torah comprehensible and workable, but they do not believe that it is unchangeable or that it was part of a revelation on Sinai.

Since the Ethiopian Jews were unaware of the Oral Law, they were not familiar with any of the practices, rituals and interpretations developed over the centuries by the rabbis. The Ethiopian Jews also had their own interpretations of the Written Law and did not fulfill many of the biblical commandments, such as the wearing of prayer shawls (tzitzit), posting of mezuzot on doorposts or sounding the shofar on Rosh Hashanah.

Unlike Jews elsewhere, the Ethiopians did not speak or write Hebrew. Most, in fact, were illiterate. The language of most Jews is Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia. Jews living in the region of Tigre speak Tigrinya. Their holy books are written in Geez, a language considered holy and used also by Ethiopian Christians. Their Torah is handwritten on parchment as a book, rather than as a scroll.

The Beta Israel share with other Jews the belief in one God who has chosen them to receive His law at Mount Sinai. Most of the Ethiopian Jews know little about their faith. Their priests (kessim) are usually the only ones who have an intimate knowledge of the Jewish tradition and they do not generally teach others what they know. The knowledge is handed down principally among the priestly caste.

Religious life in Ethiopian Jewish villages revolves around the synagogue, which is typically a distinctive hut. Only priests wear head coverings, while all worshipers remove their shoes when entering the synagogue. As in traditional Orthodox synagogues, women sit separately from the men, either in a special area or behind a partition. Prayers are directed toward Jerusalem and recited with song, dance and music. Since the prayers are in Geez, which is not commonly spoken, most of the participants either have memorized the passages or simply say Amen at their completion.

Synagogue in the village of Wolleka

Some of the Beta Israel rituals are like those practiced in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem. Many of these were discarded over the centuries by the rabbis or were deemed unnecessary or inappropriate in the absence of the Temple. One rite discarded in modern times is that of animal sacrifice; however, the Beta Israel still offer a sacrifice on the fourteenth of the Hebrew month of Nisan as part of the Passover celebration.

The Beta Israel observe Jewish festivals prescribed in the Bible, but not those that were developed later, such as Chanukah. The Ethiopian Jews strictly observe the Sabbath and the laws of kashrut (dietary laws). They also have stringent rules regarding ritual purity; for example, non-Jews are considered impure and the Beta Israel do not touch them, eat their food or allow them into their homes. During their menstruation, women are also considered impure and are sent to a special hut where they remain for seven days.

Marriages were typically arranged by the fathers. Divorce is rare but not unknown.

This is a very cursory description of the religious traditions of the Beta Israel, but necessary to understand the religious and political decisions that affected their status in the eyes of Israelis and other Jews who would ultimately decide whether they should be helped to immigrate to Israel.

The Jewish Empire

It is remarkable that the Ethiopian Jews remained isolated for centuries. It is perhaps even more surprising, especially given Jewish history elsewhere, that this community became a powerful force in society rather than a persecuted minority. In fact, the Ethiopian Jews had a great deal of power for several centuries, though little first-hand documentation exists on their society.[4] The Beta Israel never wrote down their own history, and their ancestors did not leave behind any artifacts. Most of what we know about them comes from first and second-hand accounts by non-Jewish visitors who provided subjective observations.

The known history of the Beta Israel begins around the 10th century when they rebelled against the kings of Abyssinia. Their leader was a queen known as Judith who led a Jewish crusade to eradicate Christianity from the country, burning churches and monasteries and slaughtering monks and priests. Though this story is part of Beta Israel folklore, many scholars question whether such a queen existed or even was a Jew.

The Menelik Dynasty that Judith had fought against returned to power in the 13th century and prosecuted a war against the Jews that lasted for nearly four hundred years. In 1332, Emperor Amda Siyon (1314-1344) put down a Jewish rebellion and his great grandson, Negus Ishak (1414-1429), continued the fight against the Beta Israel and built churches on the ruins of their synagogues. Though the Ethiopian ruler Zarra Yakob (1434-1468) was given the appellation, Exterminator of the Jews, he failed to eliminate the Beta Israel as a threat. His son, Baeda Maryam (1468-1478) massacred many Jews and forced others to convert.

Warfare and persecution continued on an off. In the 16th century, Muslim forces conquered large areas of Ethiopia, including regions where the Jews lived. Negus Claudius (1540-1559) succeeded in driving the Muslims out and then took revenge against the Jews for aiding his enemies. The Beta Israel king, Yoram, was executed. Yoram’s successors continued to fight against the Ethiopian rulers, and it was left to Negus Susenyos (1607-1632) to finally end the revolt by slaughtering Jewish men, women and children, including their king, and forcing many of the survivors to convert to Christianity and/or to become slaves. This put an end to Jewish independence in Ethiopia.

Jewish life became largely confined to the Gondar region of Ethiopia. In 1862, a group of Jews followed a messianic leader in search of the Promised Land. Most died of starvation along the route. Some of the survivors returned to their homes in Gondar, others established a small community in the province of Tigre. The two communities subsequently became the principal settlements of the Beta Israel but had little contact with each other (and spoke different languages). Over the years, the larger Gondar community also received more assistance from abroad and consequently enjoyed better health, education and welfare benefits than the Jews of Tigre.[5]

At the height of its power, the Beta Israel community may have numbered as many as half a million. By the 19th century, the population was at most half that, devastated by drought, disease, and warfare with the invading Dervish. The Jews’ right to own land was taken away and they became a persecuted minority.

Discovering Black Jews

While the Jews may have had some influence on their non-Jewish neighbors, the impact of European Christian missionaries on the Beta Israel was far greater. The missionaries began to arrive in the 17th century and persisted for the next three hundred years in their efforts to convert the Jews. The missionaries also began to relate stories about the exotic Jews of Ethiopia, thereby stimulating the interest of other missionaries, curiosity seekers and, eventually, other Jews.

The first modern contact with the Beta Israel occurred in 1769, when Scottish explorer James Bruce stumbled upon them while searching for the source of the Nile River. He found them impoverished, heavily taxed and oppressed. His estimates at the time placed their population at 100,000.

A Jew who converted to Christianity, Henry Stern, offered a detailed description of the condition of the Ethiopian Jews in the middle of the 19th century. His views were largely colored by his objective of converting the Jews that he found as a representative for the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews. Stern found Jews with rigid notions as to the sanctity of the Sabbath who told him, We believe that Jerusalem will again be rebuilt. Stern described the Jews as exemplary in their morals, cleanly in their habits and devout in their belief. Still, he became convinced that numbers of Falashas are fully persuaded of the truth of the Gospel, and anxious to be baptized....[6]

Jews began to hear about the Jews of Ethiopia, in part through communications sent by the Beta Israel to rabbis in Jerusalem, and, in part, through the reports of the missionaries. European and Palestinian Jews began to take a greater interest in the Ethiopians if for no other reason than to help them combat the missionaries.

The German rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer became one of the earliest champions of the Ethiopian Jews and sent the following appeal to fellow believers:

For several years a most melancholy account has made tremble the heart of every Jew who feels for the weal of his nation. It is the sad news that two hundred and fifty thousand of our believers live in Abyssinia, who have lost during their long exile the knowledge of Jewish doctrines, and only manifest their noble extraction by the sacred volume, which they have preserved as a precious good, and by the observance of the Sabbaths and holidays. That these hundreds of thousands who are dispersed among other people, separated from those who profess the same faith, certainly have the strongest claim possible on our sympathies, cannot be denied.... and I believe that all my fellow believers whose hearts still beat warmly for our faith, will feel with me the profound grief which must possess the hearts of all Jews, wherever they live and to whatever party they may belong ... it is the duty of the whole of Judaism to grant assistance to our poor brethren who are exposed to the imminent danger of being swallowed up in the abyss, not only of religious but also of moral corruption ... We must exert ourselves to prove the oneness of all Israel.[7]

Rabbi Hildesheimer did not doubt the Beta Israel’s status as Jews and called on world Jewry to donate money, books and religious articles to send with a delegation to the Ethiopian Jews.

As interest grew in the Ethiopian Jews, the European Jewish philanthropic organization, L’Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU), was asked to intervene and send an emissary to contact the Beta Israel. In 1867, Joseph Halevy was dispatched and became the first outside Jew to visit the Beta Israel.

Ironically, when Halevy reached the Jews in Wolkait, they did not want to have anything to do with him. They did not believe that he could be Jewish and feared he was a missionary trying to trick them.

I assured them that all the Falashas of Jerusalem, and in other parts of the world, were white; and that they could not be distinguished from the other inhabitants of their respective countries. The name of Jerusalem, which I had accidentally mentioned, changed as if by magic the attitude of the most incredulous. A burning curiosity seemed all at once to have seized the whole company. “Oh, do you come from Jerusalem, the blessed city? Have you beheld with your own eyes Mount Zion, and the House of the Lord of Israel, the holy Temple? Are you also acquainted with the burying-lace of our mother Rachel? With glorious Bethlehem, and the town of (Kiebron) Hebron, where our holy patriarchs are buried?” They were never weary of asking me questions of this nature; and they eagerly listened to my replies. I must confess I was deeply moved on seeing those black faces light up at the memory of our glorious history.[8]

Upon his return, Halevy appealed to the Alliance and the rest of world Jewry to aid the Ethiopian Jews. The Alliance did not consider Halevy’s reports reliable and decided not to help; the 150,000-200,000 Jews Halevy estimated to be in Ethiopia were soon forgotten.

The Coming of Faitlovitch

By the end of the 19th century, the Beta Israel community had significantly declined because of the invasion of Muslim raiders from the Sudan, epidemics and famines and the persistence of missionaries. It was not until 1904 that one of Halevy’s students in Paris, Jacques Faitlovitch, took enough of an interest in the Ethiopian Jews to make the long, difficult journey to their villages. When he reached them, he estimated no more than 60,000 remained. Like his mentor, Faitlovitch was convinced of the authenticity of the Beta Israel and urged the AIU to establish schools in Ethiopia, but the request was again denied.

Faitlovitch established the American Pro Falasha Committee to raise money for the education and welfare of the Beta Israel. He opened a school in Addis Ababa in 1923. He also helped 40* young Ethiopian Jews enroll in school in Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany and Jerusalem. Faitlovitch hoped these students would return to their villages to teach them about Judaism and what they had learned in the outside world. To his regret, few of the students fulfilled his goal.

While in Ethiopia, Faitlovitch’s goal was to introduce European Jewish traditions and discourage some of the more archaic practices of the Beta Israel. Thus, for example, he taught the Ethiopian Jews about the modern calendar, the lighting of Sabbath candles and the observance of post-biblical holidays and tried to persuade them to stop animal sacrifices and isolating menstruating women. It was not Faitlovitch’s intention to encourage the Beta Israel to immigrate.

In the 1920s, Faitlovich’s Pro-Falasha committees raised money for the Jews’ educational, religious, and material needs and, between 1919 and 1932, the American Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) distributed $25,000-30,000 for education. According to Diane Winston, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the United Synagogue of America also contributed, but the aid was sporadic. From 1930 to 1934, virtually no aid was forthcoming.

The Italian Invasion

In 1935, the Italians overran Ethiopia. Emperor Haile Selassie fled the country and took refuge in Jerusalem. During the Italian occupation, the small Jewish communities of Addis Ababa and Diredawa, which were made up of European and Yemenite Jews, were disbanded. Faitlovitch’s school in Addis was also closed and he was forced to leave the country. Some of his students fled to Gondar. Though anti-Semitic legislation was ultimately adopted in Ethiopia, the Beta Israel were largely unaffected.

Between 1936 and 1938, the JDC provided $3,000, and another $6,000 in 1938, but all assistance was subsequently curtailed until the Jewish Agency began its program in Ethiopia in 1954. In 1941, Haile Selassie returned to power and life for the Beta Israel returned to the way it had been before the war. By that time, the Jewish population was thought to be no more than 50,000.

The Establishment of Israel

Israel declared its independence in May 1948 and immediately became embroiled in a war for its survival against its Arab neighbors. Israel prevailed and immediately made a priority of state-building and promoting the immigration of Jews to the new state. According to former Minister of the Interior, Yosef Burg, “the first priority was to rescue the Jews in the displaced persons camps in Europe and then the Jews in Muslim countries.”[9] Few Israeli officials were familiar with the Jewish community in Ethiopia and little attention was paid to it. Unlike places like Iraq, and later Morocco and Yemen, the Jews in Ethiopia were not believed to be facing imminent danger and no one would have had a reason to push for rescuing them. Furthermore, serious doubts remained at that time as to whether the Ethiopians were in fact Jews. Images of the Ethiopian Jews were also hampered by stereotypes that, at best, bordered on racism, typified by an article written in the 1956 issue of The Jewish Horizon by the World Zionist Organization’s Malkah Raymist. She wrote:

There is much spadework to be done [in training Falashas in Ethiopia] ... before a thought could be given to bringing them to Israel. The reasons are single and weighty. On one hand, they are well off where they are, while their development and mental outlook is that of children; they could fall an easy prey of exploitation, if brought here without any preparation. On the other hand, being a backward element, they would be unproductive, and it would take several years before they could be educated towards a minimum of progressive thinking. And, as experience has shown time and time again, the fully grown-up and the elderly people would never change at all.[10]

Thus, no shlichim (messengers to encourage emigration) were sent to Ethiopia. In addition, unlike the Arab countries that were its enemies, Ethiopia was viewed by Israel as a potential friend. The government would not risk alienating the Emperor by the type of secret airlift used to rescue 50,000 Yemenite Jews in “Operation Magic Carpet.” The point was moot anyway, because Israel had no interest in bringing the Ethiopian Jews to Israel at that time and the Jews had not given any indication they were anxious to come. Of course, no one asked them.

Still, even before the Israel-Ethiopia political relationship was solidified and, despite questions regarding their Jewishness, Israel did begin to provide aid to the Ethiopian Jews. Israel had no special policy toward the Ethiopian Jews, according to Israel’s former ambassador to Ethiopia, Chanan Aynor, but, he said, “a Jew helps a Jew even if he’s a Falasha.”[11]

Israel’s efforts to help the Ethiopian Jews began after the Jewish Agency, the organization responsible for helping overseas Jewish communities, sent Alexander Rosenfeld to Ethiopia in 1950 and 1951 and he reported back that the Ethiopian Jews needed education. It took another three years before President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi insisted that the Torah Department of the Jewish Agency open schools for religious instruction in Ethiopia. Ben-Zvi had a scholarly interest in looking for the lost tribes of Israel, but his concern for the Ethiopian Jews was an exception at the time; few other Israelis knew or cared about them. This disinterest was typified by vice speaker of the Knesset, Yisrael Yeshayahu, who visited Ethiopia and observed that “the Ethiopian government is supported mainly by the Christian community, and apparently any part of the population that is not Moslem (i.e., the Falashas) is likely to strengthen this support. Perhaps it is for this reason that there is much pressure brought to bear on the Falashas – not by the government, but by the Christian community – to convert to Christianity and to cease being different.”[12] Yeshayahu’s solution was for the Ethiopian Jews to convert. That report reinforced the negative attitudes toward helping the Ethiopian Jews.

A Test of Judaism

At the other extreme was Daniel Friedenburg, who also visited Ethiopia, and wrote in 1956 that “for those who believe in Judaism as a religion valid for all men, rather than an ethnic doctrine limited to a small group of particular descent, the test today of their thought lies in any help that can be given to the perishing Falasha remnant in Ethiopia.”[13]

These conflicting opinions were held by people within the Jewish Agency and therefore led to the inconsistency in the Agency’s Ethiopian policy. Initially, the view that the Beta Israel were Jews who needed help prevailed and the first Agency school – to train teachers – was opened under the supervision of Yehuda Sivan in Asmara in January 1954. That school was attended by 57 students, men and women, and included seven kohanim (priests). The following year, 27 boys and girls were sent to Kfar Batya in Israel for the purpose of being trained to be teachers who would then be sent back to Ethiopia to help educate their people.

During a visit to Israel, an American philanthropist named Graenum Berger toured Kfar Batya and met the Ethiopian youngsters. Though it made little impression on him at the time, the introduction to the Jews would ultimately provoke Berger to spend most of the remainder of his life campaigning on their behalf.

Coincidentally, Faitlovitch died in Israel in 1955. According to Berger, at that time only 23 Ethiopian Jews were living in Israel, all women married to Yemenites.[14] Before his death, Faitlovitch had changed his attitude and begun to advocate aliyah. In 1950, he wrote:

It is naturally hard to foretell what the future has in store for the Falashas in Abyssinia, their existence there as ethnic and religious minority in this abnormal period of crude nationality feelings and radical social upheaval depends greatly upon the economic and spiritual development of the country in general but as conditions are prevalent there at present, however, and if left to their own fate, the danger is very great that they will be in a few decades completely wiped out as Jews and absorbed by their surroundings.[15]

After studying in Israel, some of the Jews who returned to Ethiopia assimilated. The result, according to Yehuda Dominitz, was that some people saw the Kfar Batya group as a failure, others became more convinced afterward of the need for aliyah.[16]

In four years, the Jewish Agency helped to establish a total of 27 schools employing 36 teachers who were trained either in Kfar Batya, Addis Ababa or Asmara. At the teacher’s seminary in Asmara, 30 students were given instruction in basic Judaism, Hebrew and general subjects in three to four-month cycles. The schools were spread over a wide area from Semien in the north to Gojjam in the south and Kwara to the West of Lake Tana. Except for the school in Ambober, the level of education was elementary; nevertheless, the Ethiopian Jews enthusiastically welcomed the opportunity to study and to be exposed to modern Judaism.

The first supervisor of the schools in Addis Ababa, Rabbi Samuel Beeri, a teacher from Safad, Israel, brought with him the traditional Hebrew calendar, which was accepted in a ceremony held on the eve of Passover in 1954. This seemingly innocuous innovation typified the difficulties created by the Jewish Agency’s inconsistency. The regular Ethiopian calendar has twelve months and a short “leap month” that is out of sync with the Jewish calendar; therefore, Jewish holidays occurred at different times in Ethiopia. By printing the calendar in Amharic, Beeri hoped to bring the Ethiopian Jews closer to Jews in Israel. A great argument erupted among the kohanim before they decided to accept the calendars. Then, a year later, according to Moshe Bar-Yehuda, an employee for the Jewish Agency in Ethiopia, someone in Jerusalem decided no money was available to print calendars. “They didn’t have money,” he says, “because of their ambivalent attitude toward the Ethiopian Jews.” The impact of that decision was to demoralize and confuse the Ethiopian Jews. Bar-Yehuda wrote to the Jewish Agency several times telling his superiors about the damage they were doing and that they were ruining the good feelings created in Ethiopia, but his warnings went unheeded.[17]

Rabbi Beeri’s assistant, a former student of Faitlovitch’s named Yona Bogale, translated a book of Jewish festivals into Amharic and distributed it to the Beta Israel villages, along with cards with the Hebrew alphabet, so that by the time Aryeh Newman visited Ethiopia in 1957 he could report that about 80 percent of the Ethiopian Jews were familiar with the alef-bet, the Shema and several other basic Hebrew prayers. Newman also reported that the community suffered from a lack of funds and he lamented that world Jewry had neglected the Ethiopian Jews.[18]

In 1957, Moshe Bar-Yehuda, a former paratrooper and yeshiva student who had been uninvolved in Jewish Agency activities, was recruited by Rabbi Chaim Gavariyahu to work for the Agency in Ethiopia. According to Bar-Yehuda, Gavariyahu had been a driving force behind the effort to educate the Jews. He had decided the schools had not reached their goals and the Agency had to reach the Ethiopian Jews in the villages instead of bringing them to the city. Gavariyahu wanted an educated person who could live in the jungle and Bar-Yehuda met both criteria.

Bar-Yehuda did not know anything about Ethiopian Jews at the time, but he saw the proposition as an opportunity for adventure. “It was romantic to go to Ethiopia,” he says. Before accepting the position, however, he said that he would have to confer with three rabbis because, as an observant Jew, he did not want to violate any Jewish laws. He went to see Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Herzog who told him: “If I were as healthy as you, I would go to Ethiopia myself.” The Rabbi did not want to bring the Ethiopian Jews to Israel, but he did want to help them. He said it was a mitzvah (religious obligation). The Sephardic Chief Rabbi, Yitzhak Nissim, was less understanding. When Bar-Yehuda asked for permission to go to Ethiopia, Rabbi Nissim replied: “Who needs these blacks?” and left the room angrily. Bar-Yehuda also spoke to the head of his yeshiva, the son of Chief Rabbi Kook. Rabbi Kook showed Bar-Yehuda his father’s letter and blessed him. With the approval of two out of three rabbis, Bar-Yehuda decided to go to Ethiopia.

Before leaving, however, Bar-Yehuda discovered the Jewish Agency’s ambivalent attitude toward the project. While Gavariyahu was enthusiastic, his boss, Tsfi Asael was not. The latter had been to Ethiopia and said, If it was up to me, I wouldn’t send anyone to Ethiopia.[19] These two men represented the two poles of opinion within the Jewish Agency and the organization’s policy fluctuated between the poles.

At the end of 1957, Bar-Yehuda went to Ethiopia and was to stay for four months and receive a salary of $200 a month, a fortune in Ethiopia. When he visited Asmara he met Sivan and discovered there was no longer a school there. He then realized, for the first time, that his job was not going to be as easy as he originally thought. Bar-Yehuda also learned shortly after he arrived that Gavariyahu had left the Jewish Agency. The Agency’s policy changed, and he did not receive any money for five months, nor did nine teachers who had arrived just before him from Kfar Batya. Bar-Yehuda had sent the Jewish Agency a budget based on a survey he did of the Ethiopian Jews’ needs but did not receive any of the money that he requested. He sent many letters to Jerusalem because, he said, he had nothing else to do, but received no reply. The serious problem was of the eight men and one woman, he added, referring to the teachers, who had been taken out of impoverished tukuls, taken to Israel where they got used to a different standard of living and then were sent back to the Ethiopian ‘cesspool.’ Bar-Yehuda called it a personal tragedy for them..

Bar-Yehuda had a two-year contract, but he returned after one year and sued the Jewish Agency for breach of contract. He won a settlement in arbitration, but, he said, no damages were awarded to the Ethiopian Jews who were left high and dry.

The amount of attention the Jewish Agency did provide through the schools stimulated great interest among the Ethiopian Jews in aliyah and Israel. The education Israel was providing was the preparation Raymist spoke of as a prelude to bringing them to Israel; however, the Agency abruptly pulled the rug out from under them. There had been an indication that the Agency’s commitment was wavering when they stopped sending children to Kfar Batya. In fact, no one was sent to Israel after Faitlovitch died in October 1955, largely because he had been the only one vigorously pushing the government to help the Ethiopian Jews.

Two years later, in January 1958, the school in Asmara was closed, but the Ethiopian Jews opened a new school with 70 students in Wuzuba in the mountains near Gondar. This school aroused the suspicions of the inhabitants, however, who feared the Jews were going to steal their land. After the dining hut and one of the then unoccupied dorms were set on fire, the school was moved again, this time to Ambober. By the end of 1958, the Jewish Agency, claiming it couldn’t afford to pay the teachers’ salaries, withdrew almost all of its support for the Ethiopian Jews and closed all of the schools except the one in Ambober, and continued to pay only the Kfar Batya trained teachers.[20]

ORT Steps In

In March 1959, Robin Gilbert was sent to Ethiopia on a fact-finding trip for the Organization of Rehabilitation and Training (ORT) and found it heartbreaking to hear the pleas for assistance. “It would surely have been far better not to have taught them at all,” Gilbert concluded, “than to have taught them and then to have abandoned them.”[21]

In addition to frustrating the students, the Israeli withdrawal had the more serious consequence of stimulating assimilation by leaving the students who wanted to continue their education with little choice but to attend Muslim or Christian schools. The only advanced education available to most was provided by the Church of England Mission to the Jews whose director told Gilbert that “the greatest break the mission had had was the closing of the [Jewish] Agency schools.”[22] When those schools opened, he said he lost all of his students, but after they closed he was inundated with more applicants than he could accept.

Gilbert also spoke with the Emperor and was told the Ethiopian government looked favorably on the establishment of an ORT program. Haile Selassie offered to provide land for a school in Gondar and suggested that ORT open a school in his native region of Harar. The Emperor, Gilbert said, realized the ORT schools would be meant to benefit the Jews; nevertheless, he made it clear he considered it unwise to exclude other students for fear of arousing jealousy among the people. Gilbert replied that it was ORT’s policy to provide non-sectarian aid.

At the end of his report, Gilbert concluded that since both Ethiopia and Israel officially opposed the aliyah of the Jews, it was wrong for Israel to be saddled with the entire burden of providing aid. “Here surely is an opportunity for world Jewry to do a great service,” he said. ORT, he wrote, was “particularly suited to tackle the Falasha problem” because of “its ability to adapt itself to different situations in different countries.” Although he did not report any emergency, he did say “the people are poor and anything that can be done to raise their standard of living, should be done.”[23]

Nothing was done. According to Norman Bentwich, a prominent British Zionist who had taken an interest in the Beta Israel, the condition that aid be provided to Jews and non-Jews discouraged both ORT and the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) from following through with the project Gilbert proposed to the Emperor. This irritated Selassie, who was never notified the project was abandoned and, worse yet, disappointed the Ethiopian Jews who believed they were being forsaken by world Jewry.[24]

Feudal Society

The Jews of Ethiopia were indeed poor, the lowest class in one of the world’s most impoverished nations. Beyond their economic difficulties, however, they also suffered from oppression from their neighbors. In 1958 or 1959, two delegates for the Beta Israel, Kes Debetra Gothe Assress and Andargeh Tegabeh, presented a plea to the Emperor reminding him that in response to an earlier request, he had issued a decree to prevent the oppression of the Jews and expressing the hope he would do so once again. They complained their patriotism displayed in fighting beside Christians in earlier centuries and, more recently, in fighting with the underground against the Italians, was being repaid with “grief and humiliation.” The petition listed 11 Jews who were killed for being magicians and cannibals from 1946 to 1957 and another 72 who were killed for other reasons. In addition, they listed numerous incidents of arson and the desecration of cemeteries, as well as the efforts of landlords to expel them from their land.

The Ethiopian Jews lived in feudal servitude and were forced to pay their landlords half their harvest, a fee to use the land, a grain tax to the church and an arbitrary amount of grain at the order of the landlord. “We, your servants the House of Israel, have lived in this land from time immemorial, and yet are held by the Christian inhabitants as a foreign people. We, your servants, are in so grievous a state,” the petition said, “that if a ladder were found reaching to heaven we should go there or go down into the earth if it opened its jaw.”[25] The Ethiopian Jews= plea for a decree to end the oppression fell on deaf ears.

After failing to obtain help from the Emperor, and losing the support of the Jewish Agency, the Ethiopian Jews sent an open letter in February 1960 to Jewish organizations asking them for help. The World Jewish Congress (WJC) subsequently asked Norman Bentwich to investigate. Bentwich went to Ethiopia and submitted his report a year after the letter from the Ethiopian Jews had been received.

When Bentwich spoke to the Ethiopian Jews during his trip, he was not told of any personal attacks and was informed that no murder had occurred in the last two years. Although he did not mention aliyah, several young people expressed their desire to go to Israel. Bentwich knew the Israeli Foreign Office and Ethiopian Jewish leaders like Yona Bogale were against any proposal for large-scale immigration because they believed it would antagonize the Emperor. In their letter to the WJC, in fact, the Ethiopian Jews had not requested that they be brought to Israel but did ask to be resettled on empty state land in Ethiopia where they could create a communal economy. Bentwich concluded this was impractical because of the resentment it would stimulate among the native Amharas and the difficulties such dissension could cause the Emperor. Bentwich did present what he considered a modest proposal to the Emperor to allow a group of young Ethiopian Jews to go to Israel. Haile Selassie told his English visitor that he knew some Ethiopian Jews had settled in Israel and said that he had no objection to permitting a group to go.

Haile Selassie also approved Bentwich’s proposal to build two schools on state land, either in Gondar or Behardar, and expressed his hope that representatives of the Jewish organizations would come soon to arrange the details. Although Bentwich was in constant communication with the Israeli Consul General in Addis, he did not suggest to Haile Selassie that Israel have any direct role in managing the Beta Israel schools because Bentwich believed the Israelis did not want to complicate their relations with the Ethiopians by intervening in a local problem. Bar-Yehuda claims that Bentwich also made a deal with the Emperor to buy Jews for $50 per person, but the Jewish Agency did not want them. Chaim Aynor denies that any such deal was made.[26] Regardless, Bentwich maintained that Israel did not consider the Ethiopian Jews a persecuted branch of the Jewish people requiring their action.[27] Still, when Bentwich reported to Israeli President Ben-Zvi, he found the President happy to learn of the Emperor’s willingness to allow some Ethiopian Jews to emigrate. Ben-Zvi suggested that a settlement in the Negev should be started with about 100 people.[28]

Nothing came of the proposal to settle Ethiopian Jews in the Negev. In 1965, four years after Bentwich had proposed the idea, the Ethiopian government and the colonization department of the Jewish Agency approved the settlement of 50 families in Israel, however, the plan required the approval of the religious authorities and that proved to be an obstacle.[29]

The fact that some influential secular scholars (notably Ethiopia expert Edward Ullendorf) and many halachic authorities doubted the Beta Israel were Jews enabled the Israeli government to justify discouraging immigration from Ethiopia. Furthermore, this skepticism made it difficult to convince Jewish charitable organizations to contribute to the welfare of the Ethiopian Jews.[30]

Despite the reluctance of many organizations to become involved in assisting the Ethiopian Jews, Bentwich did succeed in obtaining some support. After returning from his visit to Ethiopia, Bentwich became chairman of the Committee for Assistance to the Falasha Population of Ethiopia and he enlisted the British OSE Society, whose purpose was to provide medical aid to Jewish communities abroad, and the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA), which encouraged agricultural settlements, to help the Ethiopian Jews. In addition, the ICA provided enough money to increase the number of schools under the supervision of Yona Bogale to seven. Eventually the number increased to 18 with 49 teachers.[31]

A medical unit headed by an Israeli doctor named Dan Harel was sent to Ethiopia in the early 1960’s with the assistance of the Israeli Ministry of Health and the Foreign Office. His two-year mission was successful, but he was never replaced. According to Rapoport, Israeli medical teams were often in Ethiopia, but did not provide aid specifically for the Ethiopian Jews. The Jews had to rely on English missionaries for medical care and were, consequently, placed in a position where they were susceptible to inducements to convert.[32]

By the middle of the decade, the threat of assimilation and missionary activity had reached the point where a trio of kohanim sounded an alarm and pleaded for help in saving the Ethiopian Jews from extinction. The only solution they believed was aliyah:

Despite the good counsel of the late Dr. Faitlovitch and the rebirth of the State of Israel, our worries have not ceased. Again, we repeat to you, as the elders of the community, whose forefathers came to Ethiopia, that to this day we have not forsaken the religion of our fathers, no matter what difficulties we have encountered. Slowly these unhappy conditions are influencing our children, and in the course of time, they are likely to become goyim. We are distressed and shed bitter tears that after this generation has passed there will be no new Jewish generation to follow. As it is said, “If you do not sow seeds, you will reap no crops.”[33]

The letter ended with an appeal to Graenum Berger to help the Ethiopian Jews return to Israel. “We long for Her day and night and trust that in our names you will request world Jewry to take all of us. If that is not immediately feasible, save at least a small number of our people as a remnant.” Three years later, Yona Bogale made a similar appeal:

I am an old man. Since no one will help, and we are doomed to disappear, I ask only one favor. Let Israel take 50 of our young people so that our history will go on, so that future generations will know that for 3,000 years there were black Jews who swore allegiance to God and followed the precepts of the Torah in the land of their forefathers.[34]

The response of world Jewry and the Israeli government continued to be reluctance to initiate any aliyah. Aynor said he would not give the letter from the kessim much credence. In general, the kessim were “stumbling blocks to modern Zionism,” he asserted. Aynor believed that someone probably bribed them to write the letter. He also said the kessim hated Bogale because he introduced factors, such as doctors and tractors, which were not under their control and thereby diluted their power. Aynor conceded that there were always individuals who wanted to go to Israel, but he insisted they numbered no more than a handful.[35] Even those few found it difficult to go to Israel, however, since the Israeli Foreign Ministry instructed the embassy in Addis Ababa not to give Ethiopian Jews visas to Israel. Ironically, Christians had no difficulty obtaining tourist visas to come to Israel.

Finding A Home In Ethiopia

By the late 1960s and early 1970s, the consensus among American Jews and Israelis was that the best solution for the Ethiopian Jews was for them to be resettled in another part of Ethiopia, despite their deteriorating position in that country. In March 1973, the Jewish Colonization Association issued a review of the problem of the Ethiopian Jews and a proposal for its solution. In that report, the plight of the Ethiopian Jews is documented. Their average income per family is estimated to be $75, excluding the food grown for their own consumption, which is below a level of subsistence. The Ethiopian Jews had to pay from one-third to one-half of their production to their landlords and were still frequently threatened with eviction from their lands. The report predicted, moreover, that the situation would deteriorate as the landlords adopted more labor-saving agricultural equipment. As there is no free land within the Gondar area, there is no future and hope for the Falasha population, the report concluded.

The JCA report also comments on difficulties in education created by the lack of improvements in the Beta Israel schools in the prior decade while the Ethiopian government-run schools had shown “marked development.” The parents of Ethiopian Jews wanted their children to receive quality educations, but this, paradoxically, was expected to contribute to assimilation because the young Ethiopian Jews were sent off to schools in the cities and then would not want to return to their villages to become primitive weavers, farmers, or blacksmiths. “Over the years,” the report stated, “this drain will leave only the less educated in the villages, causing a further deterioration of the community.”

The report suggested three alternatives for improving the life of the Ethiopian Jews: aliyah, increased aid, or resettlement in Ethiopia. “Only the resettlement program can be regarded as offering a constructive solution,” the report concluded. “A group growing up under changed and improved economic and social conditions through resettlement, will also provide more suitable candidates for immigration to Israel, should this become possible at a later date.” In a statement that appears in the appendix, H.G. Levy explained the psychological necessity of such a plan:

Contact with the Israeli-trained teachers had aroused in them great hopes and aspirations for their aliyah. This did not materialize because of the Ethiopian government’s refusal to allow their exit. Coupled with the lack of local development and inconsistent outside help, they feel let down and profoundly disillusioned. This, in turn, is causing further communal deterioration and disintegration. They are now at the point, where only an actual and over all Development Project for their entire people – with assured uninterrupted implementation – can maintain their identity within the framework of their homeland, Ethiopia.[36]

Although the JCA was a sympathetic group that already was providing aid to the Ethiopian Jews, the report suggests the organization hoped the resettlement plan would settle the matter and implies aliyah would always be limited. This was evident in the statement of Arthur Lourie, which is found in another appendix of the JCA report.

The Ethiopian government for its part has expressed its firm opposition to any project of mass emigration. This is a factor which will no doubt have to be taken into account in view of both the geopolitical importance of Ethiopia to Israel and of the sensitive nature of the relations between the two countries. As to the Falashas themselves, it is questionable whether pressures for mass immigration at this stage may not do the Falasha’s community in Ethiopia more harm than good. Granted an effective resettlement program in the years immediately ahead, it is perhaps realistic for a limited immigration thereafter.[37]

The primary impediment to aliyah cited by the Israelis was, as Lourie said, the refusal of the Emperor to permit large-scale emigration. “The Emperor thought the Beta-Israel tribe was like a finger in Ethiopia’s dike – if one tribe leaked out, all of the various peoples would clamor for independence, and the fragile empire would collapse.”[38] Aynor said that he and Foreign Minister Abba Eban raised the issue with Haile Selassie around 1968, but he was not interested.[39] The Emperor did, however, tell not only Bentwich but also Israel Goldstein in 1969 and David Kessler in 1970 that he was willing to let a small group go to establish a settlement in Israel, but the religious issue always seemed to stand in the way. Goldstein was convinced the religious problem could be overcome by an agreement of some sort that the Beta Israel undergo ritual conversion, but that was not to happen until later.[40]

One high-ranking diplomat told a reporter for Haaretz that Haile Selassie’s opposition wasn’t necessarily an insurmountable obstacle. Did we try to change his position on the subject? the diplomat asked. “On other subjects which were important to us he changed his attitude. When, in the course of time, it will be possible to open the protected files of the Foreign Ministry concerning our relations with Ethiopia, it will become clear how and in what circumstances the Emperor changed his views and attitudes many times in our favor.” This source cited Abba Eban as saying the subject wasn’t considered important and, the diplomat noted, the Jewish Agency knew which way the winds were blowing. “They knew that the religious ministers in the government do not see the Falashas as real Jews, while the ministers from the secular parties saw in the Falashas primitive types who would not succeed to be absorbed in a progressive, technological Israel.”[41]

Evidence for this interpretation was provided by Rabbi Zeev Gotthold of the Ministry of Religion who said that Golda Meir consistently opposed aliyah because she believed the Beta Israel would be miserable in Israel, the victims of prejudice. Another source told Rapoport that Meir once said: “Don’t we have enough problems? What do we need these blacks for?”[42] Hezi Ovadia also said that Meir was “against, against, against the Ethiopian Jews.” Ovadia, the head of a pro-Falasha committee, also spoke with Ben-Gurion for an hour at Sde Boker asking for help, but the former Prime Minister, the man responsible for overcoming the objections of the religious authorities to bringing the Indian Jews to Israel, told Ovadia he was too busy and could not do anything.[43]

In another interview, Eban told Rapoport he didn’t remember if the Beta Israel had ever been brought up in a cabinet meeting. “It seems to me that there was a ministerial meeting on the matter,” Eban recalled, “and the religious party people were not enthusiastic.” He thought that prayer books were sent to the Falashas, “but it was never considered to be an important issue....It never complicated our relations [with Ethiopia] at all.”[44] Others agreed the issue did not complicate Israel’s relations, but Ephraim Poran said the issue came up regularly in the Prime Minister’s office after 1962.[45]

As it turned out, the resettlement plan was scrapped after a small group that had moved to Humera, a flatland area near the Sudanese border, was driven off the land by the Sudanese, who believed the settlement was part of a Zionist plot.[46] Afterward, attitudes in Israel gradually changed, stimulated largely by the rabbinate’s decision recognizing the Beta Israel as Jews, which brought about the first plans for bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel. In the interim, however, Ethiopia was in upheaval and, in September 1974, Halle Selassie was deposed, and a period of revolutionary changes began.

The Religious Question

As the early visitors discovered, the Beta Israel viewed themselves as Jews, and their beliefs and practices were like those of most Jews; however, major differences also existed that led some people to question whether they were indeed Jews. Still, as early as the 16th century, prominent Jewish scholars and theologians recognized them as Jews. Egypt’s Chief Rabbi, David ben Solomon ibn Avi Zimra (known as the Radbaz), was probably the first to declare that the Beta Israel were Jews according to halacha (Jewish law). In 1864, one of Europe’s most prominent theologians, Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer of Germany recognized the Beta Israel as Jews. Other rabbis expressed similar views.

After the establishment of Israel, officials were unwilling to formally recognize the Beta Israel as Jews who were eligible for automatic citizenship under the State’s Law of Return. Though the old opinions were on the record, it took a quarter of a century before any official recognition would be given to the Ethiopian Jews.

The question of whether the Beta Israel were Jews was a theological one, but it also had political overtones. In Israel, Orthodox Jews have a monopoly on political influence, so their leaders would make the determination. The Orthodox had stricter interpretations of Jewish law than Reform and Conservative Jews. Moreover, one of the theological issues that divides those movements relates to the importance attached to the Oral Law. As noted above, the Orthodox believe this was part of God’s revelation to Moses. Since the Ethiopian Jews were not familiar with the oral tradition and did not practice according to its precepts, it was difficult for Orthodox Jews to accept them as Jews. To most Orthodox Jews, the Ethiopians were more like Karaites or other sects that had Jewish roots but that had adopted other practices that led them to be viewed as non-Jews.

When the Ethiopian Jews came to Kfar Batya in the mid-1950s, the chief rabbis were prompted to explore the question of their Jewishness. The rabbinical authorities in Israel were not prepared to declare outright that they were Jews, primarily because of their failure to follow the traditions of the Oral Law. Nevertheless, they did rule that if the Ethiopians went through a conversion process involving ritual immersion and a symbolic circumcision (usually a drop of blood is taken), they could be considered authentic Jews. After the initial enthusiasm simulated by Faitlovitch to help the Ethiopian Jews, the Jewish Agency’s interest waned in part because it made no sense to support the Beta Israel if there was not a presumption that they were Jewish.

The issue lay largely dormant for many years, though the general view in Israel was that the Beta Israel still were not Jews and, hence, remained ineligible to immigrate under the Law of Return. The situation did not change until one of the Ethiopian Jewish activists in Israel, Hezi Ovadia, specifically asked Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Israel’s Chief Sephardic Rabbi, for a ruling that would enable the Beta Israel to settle in Israel. On February 9, 1973, Yosef gave his reply:

I have come to the conclusion that Falashas are Jews who must be saved from absorption and assimilation. We are obliged to speed up their immigration to Israel and educate them in the spirit of the holy Torah, making them partners in the building of the Holy Land.

Yosef referred to the Jews as descendants of the tribe of Dan, echoing the stories of Eldad Ha-Dani. Still, Yosef continued to insist on the symbolic circumcision to remove any doubt that the Ethiopian Jews might have intermarried with non-Jews or those not halachically converted. This is not considered a conversion, rather it is, in Yosef’s words, an act of renewing their covenant with the Jewish people.[47]

Unfortunately for the Beta Israel, Yosef’s recognition was necessary but not sufficient. In Israel, the society is divided between Ashkenazic Jews – those of European descent – and Sephardic Jews – those who descend from Jews expelled from Spain in 1492. Each community has its own chief rabbi and the two men do not always agree; in fact, they frequently disagree in part to demonstrate their independence. The Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi at that time, Shlomo Goren, initially refused to accept Yosef’s opinion.

It was not until 1975 that Goren wrote to the Beta Israel, telling them, You are our brothers, you are our blood and our flesh. You are true Jews. Later that same year the Israeli Interministerial Commission officially recognized the Beta Israel as Jews under Israel’s Law of Return.

Given their isolation, the Ethiopian Jews had no knowledge of Zionism, the political movement to establish a Jewish homeland. Nevertheless, the Beta Israel were motivated to immigrate by a religious, messianic vision. Israel was the land promised to the Jewish people by God Almighty. The Ethiopian Jews suffered persecution, and were economically disadvantaged, but this was never the principal motivation for any of them to immigrate. This distinguishes them from most other Jewish populations who made aliyah because of one or both of those reasons.

This official recognition did not vitiate the need for the symbolic renewal ceremony, which the Ethiopian Jews considered an insult and a challenge to the authenticity of their Judaism. Still, recognition from the rabbinate was a crucial hurdle to clear before the Ethiopian Jews could have any chance to immigrate to Israel. Other hurdles remained.

*This section refers to life in Ethiopia. In Israel, Ethiopian Jews practice a conventional form of Orthodox Judaism and have adopted a modern Israeli lifestyle.

*Other sources say the number was 25-27.


[1]. Falashas: The Forgotten Jews, Baltimore Jewish Times, (November 9, 1979).

[2]. Isaiah 11:11-12; 18:1-7.

[3]. Beta Israel, Encyclopedia Judaica, CD-ROM Edition, (Jerusalem: Judaica Multimedia Ltd., Keter Publishing House, Ltd.)

[4]. Beta Israel, Encyclopedia Judaica, CD-ROM Edition, (Jerusalem: Judaica Multimedia Ltd., Keter Publishing House, Ltd.)

[5]. Wagaw, Teshome. For Our Soul: Ethiopian Jews in Israel, (MI: Wayne State University Press, 1993), p. 24.

[6]. Henry A. Stern, Wanderings Among the Falasha in Abyssinia, (London: Frank Cass and Co., Ltd., 1862, 1968), pp. 191-193, 300.

[7]. Jewish Chronicle & Hebrew Observer, (November 4, 1864), quoted in Rabbi Waldman, World Jewry’s Contact with Beta Israel, (

[8]. Halevy, Halevy’s Travels in Abyssinia, London, 1877, quoted in Waldman, World Jewry’s Contact with Beta Israel, (

[9]. Interview with Yosef Burg.

[10]. Malkah Raymist, The Children from Ethiopia, The Jewish Horizon, (January 1956).

[11]. Interview with Chanan ynor.

[12]. Louis Rapoport, The Lost Jews, (NY: Stein and Day, 1980), p. 196; Interview with Natalie Berger.

[13]. Daniel Friedenburg, Judaism (Summer 1956), p. 247.

[14]. Graenum Berger, Rescue the Ethiopian Jews!, (New Rochelle: John Washburn Bleeker Hampton Publishing Co., 1996), p. 6.

[15]. Simon Messing, Twentieth Century History of the Beta Israel in Ethiopia, in Tudor Parfitt, Ed. The Beta Israel in Ethiopia and Israel: Studies on Ethiopian Jews. (Curzon Press, 1998), p. 63.

[16]. Interview with Yehuda Dominitz.

[17]. Interview with Moshe Bar-Yehuda.

[18]. Aryeh Newman, “A Lost Tribe Returns,” Brooklyn Jewish Center Review, (March 1957), pp. 6, 23.

[19]. Interview with Moshe Bar-Yehuda.

[20]. David Kessler, The Falashas, (NY: Holmes and Meier, 1982), pp. 150-151; Bogale memo, (March 8, 1977).

[21]. Robin Gilbert, Report on Visit to Ethiopia, (ORT, March 20, 1959), p. 4.

[22]. Gilbert report, p. 6.

[23]. Gilbert report, pp. 7-8.

[24]. Report on Falashas by Norman Bentwich, (February 1961).

[25]. Debetra Gothe Assress and Andargeh Tegabeh appeal to Emperor.

[26]. Interviews with Chanan Aynor and Moshe Bar-Yehuda.

[27]. Bentwich report.

[28]. Report of meeting at President’s house, (March 1, 1961).

[29]. Aryeh Tartakower letter to Bentob Messa (WJC).

[30]. Kessler, p. 154.

[31]. Kessler, p. 155; Bogale memo, (March 8, 1977).

[32]. Tartakower letter to British Fund for Rehabilitation and Relief, (October 26, 1965); Louis Rapoport, Redemption Song, (NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986), p. 48.

[33]. Letter from three kohanim to Graenum Berger, (October 24, 1965).

[34]. J.I. Fishbein, “The Plight of Ethiopia’s Black Jews,” Chicago Tribune Magazine, (December 1, 1968).

[35]. Interview with Chanan Aynor.

[36]. “Review of the Problem of the Falashas and a Proposal for its Solution,” (Jewish Colonization Association, March, 1973), p. 4 [henceforth JCA 1973].

[37]. JCA 1973, Appendix III.

[38]. Rapoport, 1980, p. 195.

[39]. Interview with Chanan Aynor.

[40]. Israel Goldstein, Israel at Home and Abroad, (Jerusalem: Rubin Mass Press, 1973), p. 363; Kessler, p. 157; Israel Goldstein, “Falashas: Ethiopia’s Jews,” National Jewish Monthly, (December 1969), p. 15.

[41]. Mordechai Artzi’eli, “The Falashas: A Dying Community The Weakness of Israel,” Ha=aretz, (December 17, 1982).

[42]. Rapoport, 1980, pp. 194-195.

[43]. Interview with Hezi Ovadia.

[44]. Rapoport, 1980, p. 189.

[45]. Interviews with General Ephraim Poran, Yehuda Dominitz, Haggai Erlich, and Chanan Aynor.

[46]. Louis Rapoport, “The Falashas: This Year in Jerusalem?” Women’s American ORT Reporter, (May-June, 1975), p. 2.

[47]. Jerusalem Post, (August 1977).

Source: Mitchell Bard, From Tragedy to Triumph: The Politics behind the Rescue of Ethiopian Jewry, Greenwood: 2002.

Photos: Wolleka - Marc Baronnet, CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.