Ethiopian Jews

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The Database of Religious History


Jewish Traditions, African Religions, Religious Group


A Jewish community of people who lived in Northwestern Ethiopia and shared a common language, culture, and history until a majority of the community emigrated to modern Israel in the 1980s and 1990s (1984-1991) in the aftermath of a series of social, political, and economic crises, commonly referred to as the Aliyah from Ethiopia. Approximately 150,000 Ethiopian Jews currently reside within Israel. 5,000 Ethiopian Jews remain in Northwest Ethiopia where they have waited over 20 years to migrate to Israel. Those who migrated to Israel during the aliyah have settled in a variety of cities within modern Israel where they have continued to maintain their ritual practices and cultivate new religious traditions and beliefs. Separated from Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Mizrahi Jewish communities, Ethiopian Jews have cultivated their own ritual traditions, including dance, music, ideas about the Sabbath, and the practice of legal interpretation. In particular, debates and questions about Ethiopian Jews' knowledge of the Talmud or Oral Torah of Judaism persist with Israel's chief religious institution, the Rabbinate, refusing to categorize Ethiopian Jewish authorities, known as the kesim, as rabbis due to their perceived lack of knowledge of the Oral Torah. However, in 2018 the Israeli government formally recognized the kesim as the religious leaders of Ethiopian Jews and promised to put twenty kesim on the government payroll. Formal recognition of the kesim always involved instituted a government committee over the kesim which would supervise and regulate their activities. Some have criticized this attempt to formally recognize the kesim and argued that it will cause more problems and issues with the government now given the right and ability to survey and regulate Ethiopian Jewish authorities. As a result of these ongoing political complexities over the status of Ethiopian Jews, their legal status as Jews has and continues to be increasingly called into questioned and debated. In recent years, Ethiopian Jews living in Israeli cities have increasingly confronted social, economic, and political discrimination in the country which have led to widespread national protests and confrontations with authorities. While discrimination and marginalization remain persistent issues, Ethiopian Jews have increasingly integrated into Israeli institutions, including Israel's leading hi-technology companies, social services, and government agencies, with the first Ethiopian Jewish woman elected to a ministry position in May of 2020.


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