Preserving the Ethiopian Contribution to Judaism

Jan. 28 2019

A prominent Ethiopian-Israeli rabbi, Sharon Shalom recently opened a center for the study of Ethiopian Jewry at Ono Academic College, just outside Tel Aviv. In an interview with Sephardi Ideas Monthly, he discusses the failures of prior academic studies of his community and his commitment to preserving the unique halakhic and theological traditions of his ancestors even as Ethiopian Jews become more integrated into Israeli society:

The Ethiopian tradition deserves to be seriously studied. The deeper dimensions of this tradition, such as the belief that human beings are, at bottom, good . . . are very important and relevant for our time. [The new center is], accordingly, establishing a beit midrash [a traditional house of learning] for Ethiopian religious leaders, known as kessim, to study in depth the Ethiopian tradition. The kessim will study the Ethiopian oral Torah—[which] is still to a great degree oral—using tools from within the Ethiopian tradition to determine contemporary Ethiopian halakhic responses that will be relevant for all of Israel. . . .

There are parallels between the Ethiopian approach and ḥasidic teachings, which, for instance, the kessim-to-be will study. They will also study different approaches and schools within the Jewish tradition, and they’ll finish with a degree. But the message coming from these walls will be for all of Israel. . . . .

[In the academic study of Ethiopian Judaism], race enters the picture. From our perspective, skin color is not identity. In Ethiopia, skin color wasn’t a concern for us. The academic discourse attempts to explain the Ethiopian world, but not to understand it. The moment you put skin color in the center you are still wrestling with the fact that there are black Jews. . . . The academic community has contributed to understanding Ethiopian Jewish history and culture, and contributed some very serious scholarship. But the time has come—and I say it to myself as well—to understand Ethiopian Jewish tradition as it understands itself. And then to see what it can contribute to Israel.

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More about: Ethiopian Jews, Judaism, Judaism in Israel, Religion & Holidays

The Military Perils of Ceding Israeli Control of the West Bank

April 24 2019

In the years since the second intifada ended, no small number of retired high-ranking IDF officers and intelligence officials have argued that complete separation from the Palestinians is a strategic necessity for Israel. Gershon Hacohen, analyzing the geography, the changes in warfare—and Middle Eastern warfare in particular—since the 1990s, and recent history, argues that they are wrong:

The withdrawal of IDF forces from the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state in these territories will constitute an existential threat to Israel. The absence of an Israeli military presence in the West Bank, especially along the Jordan River, will enable the creation of a terrorist entity, à la the Gaza Strip, a stone’s throw from the Israeli hinterland. This withdrawal will box Israel into indefensible borders, especially in light of the major changes in the nature of war in recent decades that have made the astounding achievements of 1967 impossible to replicate, not to mention the stark international response [that would follow Israel’s] takeover of a sovereign state.

The deployment of international forces in the West Bank will not, [contrary to what some have argued], ensure the demilitarization of the prospective Palestinian state, let alone prevent the entry of Arab forces into its territory (with or without its consent) and/or its transformation into a springboard for terrorist attacks against Israel. . . .

Israel [now] maintains control of some 60 percent of the West Bank’s territory, . . . which is mostly empty of Palestinian population but includes all of the West Bank’s Jewish communities and IDF bases, as well as main highways, vital topographic areas, and open spaces descending eastward to the Jordan Valley. The retention of this territory constitutes the absolute minimum required for the preservation of defensible borders and meets two conditions necessary for Israel’s security: the Jordan Valley buffer zone, without which it will be impossible to prevent the rapid arming of Palestinian terrorist groups throughout the West Bank; and control of intersecting transportation arteries, which, together with control of strategic topographical sites, enables rapid deployment of IDF forces deep inside Palestinian areas.

It is the surrender of such conditions in Gaza that has transformed the Strip into an ineradicable terrorist entity. Uprooting the West Bank’s Jewish communities will also make it difficult for the IDF to operate in the depth of the Palestinian state, especially if it is forced to fight simultaneously on a number of fronts, [since] simultaneous fighting in Gaza, which will be an integral part of the future Palestinian state, is a foregone conclusion.

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More about: Israeli grand strategy, Israeli Security, Palestinian statehood, West Bank