Defending the Israelite Ancestry of Ethiopian Jews
Historians still debate the precise origins of Ethiopian Jews but agree that it developed largely in isolation until the 20th century
The Ethiopian Jews, who primarily relocated from Ethiopia to Israel through Israeli rescue missions in the 1980s, form a unique minority of today’s Israeli population. Back In Ethiopia, they were known as Falasha, meaning “strangers”, and have referred to themselves as Beta Israel, or “the house of Israel”. Their settlements were scattered in the northwestern area of Ethiopia and the border zone with the Sudan.
The approach and methodology of the conventional theory on the origins of the Ethiopian Jewry, as proposed by James Quirin, rejects the existence of an ancestral connection between the contemporary Ethiopian Jewish community and the ancient Israelite-Jews. Proponents of this theory trace the origins of the group to what they perceive as a local Ethiopian separatist movement within Christianity in the 14th-to-16th century.
The influence of this theory with regards to how the media continues to define the origins of the Ethiopian Jewry is overwhelming. A Newsweek article reports: “Historians still debate the precise origins of Ethiopia’s Jewish community but agree that it developed largely in isolation until the 20th century.” The statement reiterates the idea embedded in the traditional theory that the group has developed locally, “in isolation,” without an ancient Israelite connection. Although a majority of historians have subscribed to this hypothesis, not all scholars agree on its premises as the article’s authors insinuate. Scholars, such as David Kessler in his work The Falashas, argue that there is no persuasive reason to assume that the Ethiopian Jews descend from Christian separatists since their faith, among many other reasons, is an authentic form of Judaism that predates Christianity.