21.05.2018 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

Ethiopian Jews, Falasha or, as they call themselves, Beta Israel, is a Jewish community that inhabited the north and northwest of Ethiopia before their repatriation to Israel in the 1980s.

By that time, the congregation consisted of 45,000 followers. Commonly, Ethiopian Jews were farmers, builders and artisans.

Beta Israel are non-Talmudic Jews.

The only revered saint of the Ethiopian Jews is Takla Haymanot (1215-1313). From his name, the name of the religious denomination—Haymanot—was derived.

Takla Haymanot, having received a religious education, returned to his native province of Sheva (Ethiopia). There, around the year 1284, he became a priest, and founded a monastery. Later, he opened many monasteries throughout Ethiopia. Ethiopian Jews celebrate Takla Haymanot Remembrance Days on August 17 and the 24th day of each month.



It’s unknown when the first group of Ethiopian Jews appeared in Ethiopia. There is an opinion that they have a Cushitic origin and belonged to the Agau tribes in the period before the 1st millennium BC.

Probably, Judaism among the people in the area was spread by the inhabitants of the south of Arabia, or the Egyptians, or those Jews who emigrated to Ethiopia. Ethiopian sources speak of the wide spread of Judaism into the north of the country long before Christianity. Subsequently, religious persecution of Jews began, which led to the flight to the northern lands and the creation there of an autonomy. In 525, as a result of the military campaign of the Axum king, Jewish prisoners were resettled to the territory of Simien. For this reason, the position of Judaism among the locals was strengthened. This is probably how the Ethiopian Jewish community came into existence.

There is another theory, which suggests that Beta-Israel originated from Christianity, which fell under the influence of Judaism.

Features of the religion of ethiopian jews

Beta-Israel adherants are similar in appearance to the locals of Ethiopia—Amharas. The religion of Ethiopian Jews includes Old Testament Jewish, Christian, and Pan-Ethiopian teachings and rituals. In the 20th century, the status of leaders was acquired by the clergy in the congregations. They ruled the community, conducted liturgies and various rites, and made offerings to the gods. In general, their holidays and fasts have features similar to traditional Jewish ones.

Beta Israel adhere to the law of purity. They shun gentiles, and observe the Sabbath. However, Christianity has influenced their priesthood. Ethiopian Jews have no synagogues, but there are temples containing a whole staff of clergy. During the services, censers and sistras are used. The scriptures are read in the Ethiopian language and immediately translated into local dialects. Access to the temple is only for the clergy, while the place for the people is in the courtyard. Priests, like Christian clerics, wear white turbans. They have the right to marry after receiving dignity.

Ethiopian Jews have rituals similar to Christian baptism, communion and confession.

Ethiopian jews of our time

As a result of military operations conducted between 1977 and 1993, most of the Falasha were transported to Israel.

On 28 August 2013, the international Zionist organization Jewish Agency conducted the Kanfei Yona operation and took ostensibly the last Ethiopian Jews to Israel. But on 27 July 2015, it was again necessary to transport about 7,000 people to Israel from Ethiopia. Later, in November of the same year, it was decided to repatriate another 9,146 believers.

There is an opinion that the religion of Judaism at the moment is weakening. Perhaps that is why such large-scale operations were carried out to return the sons and daughters of Israel to the promised land. Jews believe that by coming together, they can strengthen their faith and position.

However, in reality, everything is not so rosy. For some Ethiopian Jews, life in Israel is full of various problems. Many children do not attend educational institutions and adults have difficulties with work and must accept low wages. They are often mired in alcoholism and drug addiction and have health problems. Because Beta Israel face discrimination, they have become aggressive and often stage riots.