|Total population:||over 65,000 (est.)|
|Significant populations in:||
Israel: 60,000 (est.)
Ethiopia: 5,000 (est.)
|Language||Traditionally, (Kayla), more recently Amharic; Hebrew as a liturgical language and now (in Israel) as a common language.|
|Related ethnic groups||
• African Jews
• Other Jewish groups
|Table of contents|
2 Ethiopian enclave
3 Recent rabbinical rulings
4 Falasha traditions
7 Scholars differ
9 External links
The Israeli government accepted the Falashas as "official" Jews in 1975; Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin obtained clear rulings from Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef that they were legitimate descendants of the lost tribes. They were however required to undergo pro forma halakhic conversions to Judaism. "Operation Moses" came to an abrupt halt in 1985, leaving many Falasha still in Ethiopia.
Israel and Ethopia came to an agreement in 1990 that would allow remaining Falasha a chance to migrate to Israel. In 1991 however, the political and economic stability of Ethopia deteriorated as rebels mounted attacks against and eventually won over the capital city of Addis Ababa. Worried about the fate of the Falasha during the transition period, the Israeli government along with several private groups prepared to covertly continue along with the migration. On Friday, May 24, Operation Solomon began. Over the course of 36 hours, a total of 34 El Al C-130 Hercules jets, with their seats removed to maximize passenger capacity, flew 14,325 Ethiopian Jews non-stop to Israel.
The Falasha come from a Jewish enclave in Ethiopia which is said to have lost contact with other Jewish communities until the 1860s. Popularly touted as a "lost tribe," the Falasha at first found many cultural barriers to acculturating in Israel.
Recent rabbinical rulings
Some scholarly rabbis knowledgeable with the Talmudic responsa over the centuries, assert that the Falashas are indeed the desendants of the tribe of Dan one of the Ten Lost Tribes originally part of the Biblical patriarch Jacob's twelve sons, the founders of the original Jewish Twelve Tribes. These people established a Jewish Kingdom which lasted for hundreds of years. With the rise of Christianity and later Islam, schisms arose and three kingdoms competed (probably others as well in Africa). Eventually, the Christian and Islamic Ethopian kingdoms reduced the Jewish kingdom to a small impoverished section.
Other rabbis, halakhic authorities, such as the Tzitz Eliezer and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein maintained that the Jewishness of the Falasha was seriously suspect, and that conversion was mandatory, and no mere formality.
Their tradition relates that they are descendants of Jews who came to Ethiopia with Menelik I, alleged to be the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. However, in the Bible there is no mention that the Queen of Sheba either married or had any sexual relations with King Solomon. Rather the narrative records that she was impressed with his wealth and wisdom, and they exchanged royal gifts, and then she returned to rule her people in "Kush" says the narrative. The "royal gifts" are interpreted by some as sexual contact, however.
They once spoke the Qwara language (Kayla), a Cushitic language, but now they speak Amharic, a Semitic language. Their liturgical language, along with Hebrew, is Ge'ez. The term Falasha is considered pejorative and today they prefer the term Beta Israel for themselves.
Gerard Lucotte and Pierre Smets in Human Biology (vol 71, Dece 1999, pp. 989-993) studied the DNA of 38 unrelated Falasha males living in Israel and 104 Ethiopians living in regions located north of Addis Ababa and concluded that "the distinctiveness of the Y-chromosome haplotype distribution of Falasha Jews from conventional Jewish populations and their relatively greater similarity in haplotype profile to non-Jewish Ethiopians are consistent with the view that the Falasha people descended from ancient inhabitants of Ethiopia who converted to Judaism."
To orthodox Judaism, this does not matter, as Jewishness is not a question of genetics.
Secular scholars are divided on when and how Judaism was adopted by the Falasha: whether from Jews living in Yemen, from the Jewish community in southern Egypt (Elephantine), or even from a permanent Jewish community in Ethiopia implied in Isaiah 11:11 (ca 740 BCE)
The utter isolation of the Falasha was reported by an explorer James Bruce, who published his Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile in Edinburgh in 1790. But in 1860 a converted Jew actually went to Ethiopia to convert the Falasha.