230328 - Ethiopian Falasha statue from Tigrinya - Ethiopia
Ethiopian Falasha statues from clay - Tigrinya - Ethiopia
Hand carved from clay.
Mother with babe in her arms.
Size: 15 cm high.
Falasha (Ethiopian for "stranger") is the term by which the Jews of Ethiopia are commonly known: they call themselves Beta Isra'el "House of Israel", never aihud "Jews". Most have now left Ethiopia and live in Israel.
Their religious beliefs and practices are so different from Orthodoxy in many ways that their Jewishness has often been questioned. They were completely ignorant of the Mishnah and Talmud tradition (see above). They had no knowledge of Hebrew: prayers and readings from the scriptures were in Ge'ez, which is also the sacred language of Ethiopian Christians, nor did they adhere to rabbinic customs regarding the mezuzah and phylacteries. They observed ritual and dietary laws with great zeal, although the rabbinic prohibition against eating meat and milk at the same meal was not included. They also kept the Sabbath very strictly. Like the Samaritans, they celebrated the Passover by sacrificing a lamb on the 14th of Nisan. However, they did not observe Purim or (like the Karaites) the popular festival of Hanukkah.
Like other religious groups, including Christians, they practiced male and female circumcision on the eighth day after birth: the operation was performed by a woman. The Falasha synagogue, known as a masjid ("mosque"), had an altar outside the eastern door and a women's court to the south. Male priests, known as kohanim, performed worship accompanied by the rattling of sistra and the burning of incense. The study of the Bible, especially the Psalms, was led by debteras "scribes". Among original Falasha works, written in Ge'ez and of unknown date and authorship, are the Commandments of the Sabbath, the Book of Abba Elijah, the Apocalypse of Gorgorios, the Apocalypse of Ezra, and the Death of Moses. The origin of the Falashas is unknown.
According to their own tradition, they are descended from followers of Menelek, son of King Solomon and Queen of Sheba, who lived in the tenth century BC. brought the "ark of the covenant" from Jerusalem to Ethiopia. Others claim that they date back to the Assyrian destruction of Samaria and Judah in the eighth century BCE and subsequent emigration. It is more likely that they are the result of the gradual infiltration of Jewish and Christian elements into southern Arabia and East Africa during the early Christian centuries. Only one thing is certain: they broke away from mainstream Judaism before the Mishnah, around 200 AD. CE.
The subsequent history of Ethiopia's Falasha communities is marked by periods of oppression by the Christian authorities, occasional rebellion and, in one or two cases, conversion to Christianity. However, they retained their distinctive identity into the present century.
In the 1970s, they received support from American Jews and were gradually rescued from Ethiopia, a country devastated by famine and civil war, with Israeli military aid. More than 8,000 reached Israel covertly in 1984, 14,000 in a spectacular 24-hour operation in May 1991 known as "Operation Solomon", and the last 4,000 in 1992. They were first recognized as Jewish by the Chief Sephardic Rabbi in 1973, and then by the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi in 1975. However, problems of marriage and legitimacy remain, and occasional suspicions of racist attitudes toward this most recent group of new immigrants to Israel.