The Race to Preserve and Document the Sacred Traditions of Ethiopian Jewry

Oct. 27 2020

Cut off for many centuries from the main centers of Jewish religious life, the Beta Israel Jews of Ethiopia preserved distinctive canonical texts. Moreover, while rabbinic Jews committed their oral teaching to writing in the middle of the first millennium CE, Ethiopian Jews continued to hand these down by word of mouth. A group of Israeli academics at Tel Aviv University are now committed to preserving these traditions before they are lost. Amanda Borschel-Dan reports:

The university has just launched the only graduate program in the world to focus on Ethiopian Jewish scriptures. Called “Orit Guardians,” it entails an interdisciplinary study of the Ethiopian Jewish scripture and its ancient liturgical language, Ge’ez, combined with the scientific study of biblical translation and interpretation, with the goal of recording the biblical scriptures that have been orally transmitted to the Beta Israel community in their own common tongues, Amharic or Tigrinya, for the past several hundred years at least.

The foundational Ethiopian Jewish scripture is called the Orit. It is an Octateuch which includes the Five Books of Moses—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy—as well as the books of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth, and written in Ge’ez, but transmitted orally in congregations by the kes, [traditional Beta Israel clergyman], in their lingua franca.

Until now there has been no scientific study of the texts and the oral translations transmitted to the communities, which would naturally include some form of biblical interpretation. As Ethiopian Jewry assimilates into the greater Israeli Jewish society, these traditions are being quickly lost in favor of rabbinic Judaism, even as the kes leadership is diminished.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Ethiopian Jews, Hebrew Bible, Judaism, Oral Torah, Translation

How Israel and Its Allies Could Have a Positive Influence on the Biden Administration’s Iran Policy

Nov. 25 2020

While the president-elect has expressed his desire to return the U.S. to the 2015 nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic, this should not in itself cause worry in Jerusalem; it has never been the Israeli government’s position that a deal with Tehran is undesirable, only that the flaws of the deal negotiated by the Obama administration outweighed its benefits. Thus Yaakov Amidror, Efraim Inbar, and Eran Lerman urge Israel to approach Joe Biden’s national-security team—whose senior members were announced this week—to urge them to act prudently:

To the greatest extent possible, such approaches should be made jointly, or in very close coordination with, Israel’s new partners in the Gulf. These countries share Israel’s perspectives on the Iranian regional threat and on the need to block Tehran’s path to nuclear weapons.

For Israel, for Iran-deal skeptics in Washington, and for her partners in the region, the first operational priority is to persuade the incoming U.S. national-security team to maintain full leverage on Iran. Sanctions against Iran should not be lifted as a “gesture” without a verified Iranian return to the status quo ante (at the very least) in terms of low-enriched-uranium stockpiles and ongoing enrichment activities.

In parallel, there may emerge a unique opportunity to close ranks with the French (and with Boris Johnson’s government in London) on the Iranian question. On several issues (above all, the struggle for hegemony in the eastern Mediterranean, against Turkey), Jerusalem, Abu Dhabi, and Paris now see eye-to-eye. On Iran, during the negotiations leading to the [deal] in 2015, the position of France was often the most robust. In 2018, President Macron was willing to reach an operational understanding with Secretary of State Pompeo on [key issues regarding the Islamic Republic’s nuclear activities].

Last but certainly not least, it should be clear to the incoming U.S. national-security team that any attempt to negotiate must be, can be, and (as far as Israel is concerned) firmly will be backed by a credible military threat.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: France, Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, US-Israel relations