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

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


Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship