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Jews of Ethiopia

Updated on May 21, 2014

For my A to Z of "African People Series", I will present the Jews of Ethiopia. I think there is a lesson for us all hidden in the lives of this community.

It is found that the word Jew came to currency in the 5th century BC, referring to the inhabitants of the province of Judea (now part of Israel). The Jews trace their origins to Biblical times. Judaism was the first religion based on monotheism, the belief in one God. All of the major Western religions find their roots in Judaism.

The Jews of Ethiopia were discovered by Prof. Joseph Halevy (1827 - 1917) in 1877. His student Jacques Faitlovitch (1881 - 1955), took a dedicated interest in the Jews of Ethiopia community, investing financially and educationally, with the intention of returning them to the Promised Land.

Ethiopia discoverers



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Who are the members of the Jews of Ethiopia?

The Jews of Ethiopia or Beta Israel (Hebrew term for "House of Israel") is a Jewish community of northwestern Ethiopia that practices a form of Judaism. They were known with a derogatory name from the ancient Ge'ez language as "Falasha"" which means "outsider", "moved" or "gone exile".

Some of the different beliefs of the Jews of Ethiopia origin are:

  1. They are from the tribe of Dan, one of the lost tribes of Israel. From the parting of the Red Sea, they did not cross in time and escaped from Egypt by heading South.
  2. They arrived in Ethiopia between the 1st and 6th centuries as merchants or artisans from various countries in the region.
  3. They are descendants of Menelik, son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
  4. They are descendants of a group speaking Agaw (a Cuchitic language) converted by Jews from Southern Arabia (Yemen nowadays).

Operation Dove's Wings


Where are the Jews of Ethiopia located?

The Jews of Ethiopia come from Africa: Gondar Province, in the Semien Mountains near Lake Tana; the rest live in Tiger and Wollo Provinces. Since the 1980s an estimated 125,000 of the Jews of Ethiopia have migrated to Israel. Three significant events have relocated the Jews of Ethiopian into Israel.

  1. Operation Moses - Rescued over 7,000 Jews of Ethiopia and brought to Israel from November 18, 1984 ending 6 weeks unto January 5, 1985.
  2. Operation Joshua - Brought 500 Jews of Ethiopia to Israel from Sudan in 1985.
  3. Operation Solomon - Transported 14,500 Jews of Ethiopia to Israel from Ethiopia in May 24 and 25 of1991.
  4. Operation Dove's Wings - Aiming to bring them all to Israel, another group of 240 Jews of Ethiopia were brought to Israel in October 2012. Israel intends to airlift the rest by October 2013.

Jews of Ethiopia brought to Israel

Jews of Ethiopia brought to Israel
Jews of Ethiopia brought to Israel

How do the Jews of Ethiopia live?

The Jews of Ethiopia lived in dispersed villages located on hilltops near streams. Women with the smallest baby strapped to her back were in charged of the domestic surroundings, with the help of her children. Young boys help until they joined the father in the field. Men are what we call "macho men" treating women inferior to them.

The Jews of Ethiopia community has changed by the move from an underdeveloped society to a modern society in Israel. Men and women in Israel are working in unskilled occupations. They use a different family structure, where both parents are being encouraged to work outside, have leadership, and be educated.

How do the Jews of Ethiopia communicate?

The Jews of Ethippia do not use the Hebrew language. Most of the Jews of Ethiopia gradually gave up their Agaw language and adopted the Tigrinya or Amhara language of their neighbors. Their actual language is Ge'ez.

What characteristics define the diversity of the Jews of Ethiopia?

  • The community of the Jews of Ethiopia have passed down their religious life based on the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible) from generation to generation
  • They keep a diet called Kosher
  • They observe the Saturday (Sabbath) as a day of rest
  • They celebrate all the festivals mentioned in the Torah

How do the Jews of Ethiopia survive?

The Jews of Ethiopia have lived a life like a second Exodus. Some of the ways they have survived are:

  1. artists and decorators in the Christian churches worked by the women
  2. craft occupations
  3. blacksmiths and weavers worked by the men
  4. potters worked by the women

Lessons learned by the Jews of Ethiopia

It is undoubtedly that the Jews of Ethiopia have given us a lesson of hope, tolerance, determination and a will to exist and survive just like the Exodus time; even living under the most difficult struggles, they keep their devotion and praise to God's name.

Blessings to all!

© Maria Magdalena Ruiz O'Farrill

Operation Solomon

Romans 10

© 2012 Maria Magdalena Ruiz O'Farrill


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    • Lastheart profile imageAUTHOR

      Maria Magdalena Ruiz O'Farrill 

      5 years ago from Borikén the great land of the valiant and noble Lord

      Writer Fox thanks so much for your contribution.

    • Writer Fox profile image

      Writer Fox 

      5 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      The Ethiopian Jews were first discovered in 1769 by a Scottish explorer, James Bruce. In the 1950's, shortly after statehood, Israel began to intervene on behalf of the persecution of Ethiopian Jews and built schools and medical facilities. Because they were Jewish they were always discriminated against by their Christian neighbors and called 'Falashas', which means 'outsiders.' They longed to go to Israel, the Promised Land, but the Ethiopian government would not let them leave the country. Jews were not allowed to work and supported themselves through subsistence farming in the most primitive conditions.

      By the early 1980s the Christian government outlawed the practice of Judaism and the teaching of Hebrew. Many of the Jews were imprisoned as 'Zionist spies.' Jewish boys from the age of 12 were forced into the Ethiopian army. In the mid-1980s, severe famine broke out in Ethiopia and the government had to ask for food aid from America. The release of the Jewish community was used as a bargaining chip and, in a secret mission, the Jews who were physically able made a long and arduous journey on foot across Ethiopia to rendezvous with an Israeli airlift. Many died on the way. A huge bribe was paid by Israel to the government of Ethiopia to allow the planes to land. Money was collected from Jews all over the world to ransom these, our brothers and sisters. Only 7,000 made the flights to Israel before pressure from Arab countries forced Ethiopia to back down. Many families were separated and waited many more years for their relatives to arrive in Israel.

      Ethiopians who came as children learned Hebrew very quickly and adapted to modern civilization. It was much more difficult for the adults. Today, there are more than 36,000 Ethiopians in Israel. The first Ethiopian to become a doctor received his medical degree in 1999. The new Miss Israel 2013 is an Ethiopian and President Obama personally requested to meet with her during his recent visit here. One Ethiopian has served as an Ambassador for Israel. There are Ethiopians in virtually every profession: lawyers, air force pilots, nurses, etc. Unlike blacks in America, they never had to wait for a Civil Rights Movement. Upon arrival in Israel they became Israeli citizens with full rights. They have found their home in our homeland.

    • Lastheart profile imageAUTHOR

      Maria Magdalena Ruiz O'Farrill 

      6 years ago from Borikén the great land of the valiant and noble Lord

      Thanks for reading and your heart warming comments. shiningirisheyes that is one of the purpose in this series, just like you quoted: "More should consider themselves fortunate having the comfortable life so many of us take for granted."

    • hockey8mn profile image


      6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Another great addition to your series. I continue to learn something new every time I read one of these hubs. Voted up and interesting.

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 

      6 years ago from Upstate, New York

      Although I understand the necessity for moving the Jews of Ethiopia, it has a tinge of sadness to know they must give up some of their traditional ways of life to survive.

      Very interesting read and a great addition to the series. voting up and sharing as well. More should consider themselves fortunate having the comfortable life so many of us take for granted.

    • Froggy213 profile image

      Greg Boudonck 

      6 years ago from Returned to an Isla Del Sol - Puerto Rico Will Rise Strong

      My goodness, this was so interesting. I know you put a lot of research and study into this hub. Great job sweetie. Voted up across the board except funny.


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