Community in Ethiopia - World Jewish Congress



Although nearly all the Jews of Ethiopia were brought to Israel (about 50,000), thousands of Ethiopians who claim Jewish ancestry were left behind. Historians argue whether these people represent descendants of converts to Christianity, or whether they simply left the Jewish fold without adopting another religion. The motivation for conversion is a matter of dispute: some claim that the conversions were undertaken by people who wanted to improve their socioeconomic status, while others claim that they were made under duress. Many of these so-called Falash Mura have family ties with those who emigrated to Israel and are returning to Judaism. It is estimated that there may be as many as 30,000 people who fit this category. A number of these have relatives in Israel, and their requests to emigrate are treated as matters of family reunification.


Ethiopian Jewry represents one of the oldest Diaspora communities. Little is known about the early origins of the community, but it is believed that they adopted Jewish beliefs around the 2nd and 3rd centuries c.e. The community calls itself Beta Israel, but Ethiopian Jews are also often referred to as Falashas, which means "strangers" or "immigrants" in the Ge'ez tongue (the classical literary and ecclesiastical language of the country). Ethiopian Judaism was based on the Torah but did not include later Rabbinic laws and commentaries, which never reached Ethiopia. Still, in the 16th century, Radbaz, an Egyptian rabbi, recognized the Jewishness of Ethiopian Jewry.

During the Italian occupation, which lasted from 1935 until 1941, the small Jewish communities of Addis Ababa and Diredawa, which were made up of European and Yemenite Jews, were disbanded.

Throughout the succeeding decades, Israeli, and Jewish organizations provided help in education and welfare and later lobbied for Ethiopian Jews' right of emigration. In 1975 the Israeli rabbinate recognized the status of Ethiopian Jews, thus paving the way for mass immigration. It was only in 1984 and 1985, during the Ethiopian Civil War, that the Mengistu government agreed to allow Israel to airlift the community to Israel via Sudan. Some 10,000 Jews went to Israel at that time. Media leaks led the Sudanese government to withdraw its cooperation, ending "Operation Moses" and stranding some 15,000 Jews. Only in 1991, when the Ethiopian government was on the verge of collapse, did Israel mount "Operation Solomon," which succeeded in airlifting most of the remaining Jews to Israel.

Community and Religious Life

Religious life is concentrated in Addis Ababa, where most of those awaiting eventual repatriation to Israel live. Within a central compound are located a synagogue, a vocational training center, and other facilities. There are also several dozen Adenite Jews residing in the capital. They have their own synagogue and burial ground, which is also used by the Falash Mura. There are still several hundred Jews living in rural villages in Gondar.


Aliya: Since 1948, 50,700 Ethiopian Jews have emigrated to Israel

Higher 16 Kebele 22, House 22, P.O.Box 1266
Addis Ababa
Tel. 251 1 610 999, Fax 251 1 612 456

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