The Jews of Ethiopia ... continued
Ellen Minsky - March 8, 2009
The Radbaz, Rabbi David ben Zimmra, wrote about them in the 14th century that they were “without doubt from the tribe of Dan, and since they did not have in their midst sages who were masters of the tradition, they clung to the simple meaning of the Scriptures.”
The Beit Israel apparently continued on with its independent Jewish traditions until the Middle Ages when in 1624 the Emperor Susenyos confiscated their lands and sold many of the people into slavery. Jewish writings and religious books were burned and much traditional Jewish culture and practice was lost or changed. Yet the Beit Israel apparently continued to survive and there are records that members of the Beit Israel served as craftsmen, masons, and carpenters for the Emperors from the sixteenth century onwards. Some European visitors to the area in the 17th century reported that the Beit Israel numbered about one million during this period.
During the late 18th and early 19th centuries the Beit Israel community lost some of their economic advantages during a period of civil war in Ethiopia and for forty years the Jewish religion was effectively lost until being restored under the leadership of Abba Widdaye, the preeminent monk of Qwara.
While there have always been some doubts about whether or not the Beit Israel were authentically Jewish in 1908, the chief rabbis of 45 countries made a joint statement officially declaring that Ethiopian Jews were indeed Jewish. This proclamation came about as a result of serious study of the Beit Israel by Professor Jacques Faitlovitch who worked with Professor Joseph Halévy at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris.
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