Rabbi Jonathan Ziring’s Surprising Revelations About the Karaites and the Ethiopian-Falasha Community
In an audio by Rabbi Jonathan Ziring at https://www.yutorah.org/sidebar/lecture.cfm/871805/rabbi-jonathan-ziring/psak-and-history-marrying-karaites-and-ethiopians/ he lists the historical problems of accepting the Jewishness of Karaites and the Ethiopian (Falasha) community.
He says straight out that the first Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, Rabbi Herzog determined based on historical research that the Ethiopian-Falasha community was not Jewish and not entitled to the benefits of the Israeli Law of Return, unless they converted to Judaism as individuals under the strict standards that apply to all converts.
Rabbi Herzog is also backed by D.N.A. research.
Former Sephardic Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, relied on the opinion of Radbaz to prove both groups as Jewish.
The initial claim of Radbaz itself is hotly disputed, however, even if we rely on Radbaz a lot of historical change has taken place since the time that he lived.
The issue of relying on research for historical change also has an impact on how some rabbis define Islam. Vilnagaon.org relies on research on historical change and holds that Rabbeinu Nissim (“the Ran”) is correct when he accuses many Muslims of bowing to dead intermediaries. See When Is It Permitted to Bow to Men and When Is Bowing Forbidden Intermediary Worship , According to Rabbeinu Nissim for details.
I will bring evidence from the words of Rabbi Ovadia of Bartenura (spelled by Yaacov Dovid Shulman as Rabbi Obadiah Yerei of Bertinoro), that the group that Radbaz identified as the sons of the tribe of Dan, probably had a lighter skin color than the Ethiopian, “Beta Israel (Falasha) community” of modern times. Thus strengthening the suspicion that the “Beta Israel community (Falasha)” is some non-Jewish replacement of the original community.
Those who claim that the “Beta Israel community” was the ethnic group identified by Radbaz, will have to come up with some difficult explanation, why in our times we don’t detect the difference in skin color between the modern Beta Israel/Falasha group and Gentile Ethiopians.
This is the translation of a letter that Rabbi Ovadia of Bartenura wrote on the subject which Yaacov Dovid Shulman provided at the web site address https://jewish-spiritual-and-beautiful.weebly.com/r-ovadia-travel-letters.html . I quoted the first paragraph of this letter to prove that Rabbi Ovadia of Bartenura was a direct witness of the difference in skin color between Gentile Ethiopians and what he considered to be Jewish Ethiopians (who claimed to be from the tribe of Dan).
Jerusalem is constantly filled with men from all over the world, both Moslem and Christian, speaking their various languages: men from Syria, Babylon and Ethiopia.
The Moslems come here from very distant lands to bow down at the site of the Temple, which they regard with great awe. The Christians come to visit their churches.
I gave a sermon concerning the Sambatyon River. I have heard here exactly what you have heard. However, it was no more than hearsay. But I do know one thing: One of the borders of Ethiopia is a mountainous countryside, with great mountain ranges that, people say, are a ten days’ journey in length. There is no doubt that Jews live there. They have five princes or kings. People say that for more than a century they have fought great wars against Prester John. Lately, however, the followers of Prester John have gotten the upper hand. They have dealt a crushing defeat to many of the Jewish forces, destroyed the Jews’ land and nearly exterminated the Jews. Those Jews who have survived have been subjected to terrible decrees forcing them to apostasize, like the Greeks’ decrees in the days of the Hashmonaim.
But in the end God had mercy, and kings from India, who aren’t as cruel, came to power. Now, people say, conditions have almost returned to normal; the Jews have recovered and their population is growing. They still pay a tax to Prester John, but they aren’t as persecuted as they had been before.
For the last four years, these Jews fought against their neighbors. Their neighboring countries beat them, captured many Jewish men and women and sold them as slaves to distant nations. Some were brought to Cairo, where the local Jews ransomed them.
I myself saw twelve of these Ethiopian Jews in Cairo. They are somewhat dark, but not as dark as gentile Ethiopians. I could not determined whether they are Karaites or Rabbinic Jews. In some matters, they appear to be Karaites; for instance, they apparently do not have any fire in their houses on the Sabbath. But in other matters, they seem to follow rabbinic laws.
People claim that these Ethiopian Jews claim to be descended from the tribe of Dan. People also say that most of the pepper and spices sold by the Ethiopians comes from the land of the Ethiopian Jews. I learned these things by seeing and hearing the Ethiopians myself, although only two of them spoke Hebrew and very little at that, and the Egyptians could barely understand their Arabic.
My goal in this post is to present the facts not to determine the halacha. One issue I have decided not to deal with at this time is what percentage of the disputed community has made there way into Judaism, “through the front door or the back door” by legitimate conversion.
One friend brings another. The permanent location of this post is at https://vilnagaon.org/rabbi-ziring/