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View Full Version : Are the Ethiopian Beta Israel Jews?



drobbah
05-13-2020, 03:38 PM
From a genetic standpoint they seem like generic Ethiopian highlanders and have less Semitic ancestry than the Amhara,Tigray and Eritreans. Did they historically practice Judaism and what is the Jewish(non-Ethiopian) perspective on their Jewishness?


Target: Ethiopian_Jew
Distance: 4.2550% / 0.04254956
36.2 Levant_Natufian
35.6 Dinka
18.8 Yemenite_Al_Jawf
9.4 ETH_4500BP

Target: Ethiopian_Amhara
Distance: 3.8261% / 0.03826138
35.2 Dinka
34.2 Levant_Natufian
22.0 Yemenite_Al_Jawf
8.6 ETH_4500BP


Target: Ethiopian_Tigray
Distance: 3.7284% / 0.03728431
35.6 Dinka
33.0 Levant_Natufian
25.0 Yemenite_Al_Jawf
6.2 ETH_4500BP
0.2 MAR_EN

Johane Derite
05-13-2020, 05:35 PM
Is it known what Y-lines they have?

drobbah
05-13-2020, 05:53 PM
40% carry A-Y23865 (probably brought from the Sudan) and 18% carry E-P2 (Omotic lineage). The rest of their paternal lineages are typical Cushitic or Semitic lineages (E-M35,E-M78 and J1)

Targum
05-13-2020, 10:36 PM
As an E-M5021 (E-M35 derivative)Ashkenazi Jew, they are Jews according to halakhah (Jewish Law); they had a long historical disconnect from mainstream (Mizrahhi, Sefaradi, and Ashkenazi) Jews; they started reconnecting in the 19th century, and today they are re-integrated religiously and culturally into world Jewry, while remaining a distinct sub-group the way that Ashkenazim Sefaradim, Mizrahhim, Teimanim, remain distinct. They live mostly in Israel and have entered the general Jewish marriage pool and marry outside their community in gradually increasing numbers.

passenger
05-14-2020, 12:52 AM
What matters is that they consider themselves Jewish and have been recognized as such by rabbinical authorities. In terms of history, it has been posited that the Beta Israel are descendants of Christian Ethiopians who converted in the 15th and 16th centuries, but I think that the bulk of evidence points to a much earlier origin of the community, whether or not their own communal origin story (descendants of Solomon and so on) is historically or scientifically verifiable.

Genetically speaking however, I haven't seen much compelling evidence that the Beta Israel are definitively linked to other diasporic groups in any measurable way. As far as I know, they have no Middle Eastern mtDNA lines - not that that matters so much, since they are traditionally patrilineal and, provided early origin stories are true, would have diverged from the common Levantine ancestors of other modern Jewish groups long before matrilineality was the norm. I think if there is a detectable link it would be among those Middle Eastern Y-DNA lines that they may share with other Jewish groups (but which are not unique to them). Commonly referenced studies like Behar et al. (2010) and Ostrer (2012) are pretty vague on the subject.

drobbah
05-14-2020, 10:10 AM
What matters is that they consider themselves Jewish and have been recognized as such by rabbinical authorities. In terms of history, it has been posited that the Beta Israel are descendants of Christian Ethiopians who converted in the 15th and 16th centuries, but I think that the bulk of evidence points to a much earlier origin of the community, whether or not their own communal origin story (descendants of Solomon and so on) is historically or scientifically verifiable.

Genetically speaking however, I haven't seen much compelling evidence that the Beta Israel are definitively linked to other diasporic groups in any measurable way. As far as I know, they have no Middle Eastern mtDNA lines - not that that matters so much, since they are traditionally patrilineal and, provided early origin stories are true, would have diverged from the common Levantine ancestors of other modern Jewish groups long before matrilineality was the norm. I think if there is a detectable link it would be among those Middle Eastern Y-DNA lines that they may share with other Jewish groups (but which are not unique to them). Commonly referenced studies like Behar et al. (2010) and Ostrer (2012) are pretty vague on the subject.

From a genetic standpoint their autosomal and uniparentals are pretty common in the Ethio/Eritrean highlands.It is clear they aren't descendants of ethnic Jews but rather converts to Judaism.

Now there's evidence now even in NW Somalia (Somaliland) that there might have been an ancient Jewish presence according to Somali archaeologist Sada Miire. Perhaps this can be a clue on who exactly brought Judaism to the Horn.My guess would be Yemenite Jews since Judaism is older in Yemen and there have been Yemeni influences on both the Eritrean/Northern Ethio region and the Northern Somali seaboard, it would make the most sense. Do any of you know of any specific ritual or rite that only the Beta Israel and Yemenite Jews practice in exclusion to the other Jewish diaspora groups?


Sada Mire's opinion pertaining to the possible Jewish presence in Northern Somalia (Somaliland) for those that are interested.

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Targum
05-14-2020, 10:44 AM
Teimanim, Yemenite Jews, are very Orthodox and preservationists , when it comes to customs described in the Mishnah. The Mishnah is the oldest layer in the Oral Torah, written down as a result of the Hadrianic persecutions which made life chaotic in Israel. The leader Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi (Judah the Prince) oversaw and edited a massive compilation of the Oral Tradition so it wouldn’t get lost . That Mishnah gets learned and discussed in the Academies over the next 300+ years, first in Israel, then in Babylonia, (Iraq) resulting in the completed Gemara, or Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) . All Jews accepted it as the reference for Jewish Law decisions. Neither the Mishnah nor Gemara reached the Beta Israel, though their specific Oral Tradition contains fragments similar to that codified in the Talmud (See "From Sinai to Ethiopia" by Rabbi Sharon Shalom ) https://www.amazon.com/Sinai-Ethiopia-Rabbi-Sharon-Shalom/dp/9652296376 . Mainstream Adenite and Yemenite Jews lived in Eritrea and Ethiopia in modern times, but they ultimately emigrated and their descendants are part of UK and Israeli Jews. Ethiopian Jews therefore, were isolated from this standardization in the Jewish world whereas Yemenites were part of it and contributed to it ( Midrash HaGadol of Rabbi David Adani for example) . What is interesting though, is that many typical Yemenite Jewish foods with Hebrew derived names, like Maraq, hhilbeh, lahhoohh,malawahh, are also Somali foods.

passenger
05-14-2020, 09:29 PM
From a genetic standpoint their autosomal and uniparentals are pretty common in the Ethio/Eritrean highlands.It is clear they aren't descendants of ethnic Jews but rather converts to Judaism.

I don't think that similarity to neighboring peoples rules out a possible partial and remote Levantine connection for Ethiopian Jews, since it could be that those same connections are shared by Ethiopian/Eritrean highlanders in general. The historical relationship between Ethiopian Christianity and Ethiopian Judaism seems to be a very porous one. Depending on which origin story you follow, some Ethiopian Jews claim the same origin story as Ethiopian Christians, and Ethiopian Christianity has a long history of oscillation between "Old Testament" and New Testament rites, with a strong vein of Sabbatarianism.See, for example https://www.jstor.org/stable/722990?seq=3#metadata_info_tab_contents. I think if you're looking for connections between Ancient Israel and Ethiopian Jews, you have to look at Ethiopian highland populations in general, and not just at the Beta Israel vis--vis their neighbors.

drobbah
05-15-2020, 03:29 AM
I don't think that similarity to neighboring peoples rules out a possible partial and remote Levantine connection for Ethiopian Jews, since it could be that those same connections are shared by Ethiopian/Eritrean highlanders in general. The historical relationship between Ethiopian Christianity and Ethiopian Judaism seems to be a very porous one. Depending on which origin story you follow, some Ethiopian Jews claim the same origin story as Ethiopian Christians, and Ethiopian Christianity has a long history of oscillation between "Old Testament" and New Testament rites, with a strong vein of Sabbatarianism.See, for example https://www.jstor.org/stable/722990?seq=3#metadata_info_tab_contents. I think if you're looking for connections between Ancient Israel and Ethiopian Jews, you have to look at Ethiopian highland populations in general, and not just at the Beta Israel vis--vis their neighbors.

The people inhabiting Eritrea and the Northern regions of Ethiopia are mostly of Cushitic origin with around 15-25% Yemeni ancestry due to Ethio-Semitic speakers crossing the Bab El Mandeb.As a Horner myself and as someone very familiar with our population genetics, I can confidently say there is no direct genetic connection between Israelites and the Northern Highlands of Ethiopia and Eritrea.This is why I'm now interested in learning who exactly brought Judaism and how did this religion penetrate deep into the highlands of Ethiopia and not for example the Eritrean coast?

passenger
05-15-2020, 04:10 AM
The people inhabiting Eritrea and the Northern regions of Ethiopia are mostly of Cushitic origin with around 15-25% Yemeni ancestry due to Ethio-Semitic speakers crossing the Bab El Mandeb.As a Horner myself and as someone very familiar with our population genetics, I can confidently say there is no direct genetic connection between Israelites and the Northern Highlands of Ethiopia and Eritrea.This is why I'm now interested in learning who exactly brought Judaism and how did this religion penetrate deep into the highlands of Ethiopia and not for example the Eritrean coast?

Perhaps you're right. Like I said, I haven't seen any solid evidence of a connection. On the other hand, I'm suspicious of such absolute and categorical statements. Are you absolutely sure there's no possible Y-DNA connection? How much do we actually know about Beta Israel haplogroups and how they probably inherited their subclades? I don't mean to challenge you, as I'm sure you're far more knowledgeable about these things than I am, but I like to see sources so I can understand where these conclusions are coming from.

As for why they're not a coastal people, I'd imagine that has less to do with the point of entry of Judaism, and more to do with where they ended up over time. They seem to have lived in somewhat of a fragile symbiosis with Christian Ethiopians, which was sometimes marred by violence, periods of conversion in one direction or another, and the ultimate fragmentation and suppression of the Beta Israel community. This much is made clear in the article I posted above. Even though their coexistence with Christian Ethiopians wasn't always peaceful, it seems Jews and Christians were part of the same cultural and political landscape, so when Christian Ethiopia shrank away from the coast following the invasions of the Adal Sultanate, I imagine that would have limited any Jewish presence that might have existed in those coastal areas, though I'm not sure there was any at that point.

Erikl86
05-15-2020, 07:53 AM
The ethnogenesis of Beta Israel (aka Ethiopian Jews) is shrouded by a lot of mythology and legends.

While there were Jews as far south as the area bordering Egypt and Sudan (I'm talking about Elephantine island) during the 5th century BCE and we have a very well documented evidence for it including archaeological remains and written accounts of pre-Classical Judaism, and evidence of extensive intermarriage with local non-Jews, I doubt that the stories claiming this community sprang individuals which went further south and introduced Judaism into Ethiopia has any merit.

I'm also not buying into the whole Queen Sheba lore in terms of it being the origin of Ethiopian Jews.

On the other hand, I don't think Ethiopian Jews descend from Christians who discovered the truthfulness of the Old Testament / Tanakh all of the sudden.

IMO, there are too many coinciding events in the dating of the beginning of Jewish presence in Ethiopia - such as the Jewish Kingdom of Semien being formed around the 4th century CE, when Aksum ruled parts of the Arabian peninsula, or the myths about some of ancestors of Ethiopian Jews crossing over from the Arabian peninsula.

I think the links to the Himyarite Kingdom, which coincidentally enough, converted to Judaism in the 4th century CE, bordering Ethiopian Aksum which also ruled parts of the Arabian peninsula, should be where we should look. Considering Yemenite Jews seem to mostly descend from Yemenite converts to Judaism, there's a good chance that they descend from the inhabitants of Himyar. So we might want to check uniparental sharings between Yemenite Jews and Beta Israel, especially male uniparentals.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fa/Kingdom_of_Aksum.png

simply
09-29-2020, 01:58 AM
The Enigma of Beta Esra'el Ethnogenesis. An Anthro-Historical Study. (https://www.persee.fr/doc/cea_0008-0055_1990_num_30_120_1592)

simply
09-29-2020, 02:30 PM
The ethnogenesis of Beta Israel (aka Ethiopian Jews) is shrouded by a lot of mythology and legends.

On the other hand, I don't think Ethiopian Jews descend from Christians who discovered the truthfulness of the Old Testament / Tanakh all of the sudden.

Not Christian converts but rather a class of iron-working Agaw pagans who sought to formulate counter-narratives in order to legitimize their resistance to Habesha-Solomonic domination. (the iron working is relevant because this class is looked down upon). The fact that all of their oral traditions seem to be wholly dependent on and in reaction to Ethiopian Christian sources seems to point to this. As the Abbink paper (https://www.persee.fr/doc/cea_0008-0055_1990_num_30_120_1592) I linked to puts it:


All these mytho-legendary episodes so often told by the Beta el can be considered as elements of their self-definition as non-Christian non-Amhara Judaic group in Ethiopia opposed to the mainstream. But it is obvious that in all these stories there is no evidence of an independent oral tradition not tied to the Christian tradition:23 i.e no strand of stories relating the period before ca 1400 which relate to another mythical discourse We might for instance have expected corpus of Agaw myths or even relics of Yemenite Himyarite Jewish tradition but no traces of this were found


IMO, there are too many coinciding events in the dating of the beginning of Jewish presence in Ethiopia - such as the Jewish Kingdom of Semien being formed around the 4th century CE, when Aksum ruled parts of the Arabian peninsula, or the myths about some of ancestors of Ethiopian Jews crossing over from the Arabian peninsula.
Outside of their oral history, is there any evidence of such a jewish kingdom going back to the 4th century? or any evidence of a beta israelite presence before the 14th century even? It seems to me that the Beta Israelites came about in the latter period. Using orthodox traditions as a source upon which they retroactively inserted themselves into being the historic enemies of the Solomonics / Aksumites (whom the Solomonics obviously claimed descent from) - for example, by identifying with Yodit (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gudit). Renegade monks such as Abba Sabra (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abba_Sabra) were probably their source of knowledge about Old Testament practices and played a vital part in their "Judaization". The Qemant (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qemant_people)are probably a related group that was also partly influenced by this movement but didn't become fully "judaized" and thus retained some of their pagan elements.

All in all, the theory this paper puts forth is a pretty neat explanation in my opinion, especially given what the genetics seem to show.

Granary
09-30-2020, 02:39 PM
Outside of their oral history, is there any evidence of such a jewish kingdom going back to the 4th century? or any evidence of a beta israelite presence before the 14th century even? It seems to me that the Beta Israelites came about in the latter period. Using orthodox traditions as a source upon which they retroactively inserted themselves into being the historic enemies of the Solomonics / Aksumites (whom the Solomonics obviously claimed descent from) - for example, by identifying with Yodit (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gudit). Renegade monks such as Abba Sabra (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abba_Sabra) were probably their source of knowledge about Old Testament practices and played a vital part in their "Judaization". The Qemant (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qemant_people)are probably a related group that was also partly influenced by this movement but didn't become fully "judaized" and thus retained some of their pagan elements.

All in all, the theory this paper puts forth is a pretty neat explanation in my opinion, especially given what the genetics seem to show.

So in a way they were the OG Black Israelites? I think we have many examples from all throughout history people creating stories about themselves that try to fit the Biblical stories, Franks did that, I believe medieval English did it too among others, it's not crazy to think that somewhere those stories could have been incorporated permanently and integrated so thoroughly to basically convert a people to a new religion.

jkotl0327
10-31-2020, 06:39 PM
From a genetic standpoint they seem like generic Ethiopian highlanders and have less Semitic ancestry than the Amhara,Tigray and Eritreans. Did they historically practice Judaism and what is the Jewish(non-Ethiopian) perspective on their Jewishness?


Target: Ethiopian_Jew
Distance: 4.2550% / 0.04254956
36.2 Levant_Natufian
35.6 Dinka
18.8 Yemenite_Al_Jawf
9.4 ETH_4500BP

Target: Ethiopian_Amhara
Distance: 3.8261% / 0.03826138
35.2 Dinka
34.2 Levant_Natufian
22.0 Yemenite_Al_Jawf
8.6 ETH_4500BP


Target: Ethiopian_Tigray
Distance: 3.7284% / 0.03728431
35.6 Dinka
33.0 Levant_Natufian
25.0 Yemenite_Al_Jawf
6.2 ETH_4500BP
0.2 MAR_EN

I assume you are asking the question from an ethnic, not religious standpoint. I would not consider them Jews in that sense because their ancestry from the ancient Judeans is a few percent at most and that would be my criteria for determining whether a group is Jewish. Religiously of course is a completely different story.

If you are trying to prove or disprove additional Semitic ancestry for them, I don't think it's right to go back as far as you did since their Ethiopian ancestors and any Jewish ancestors they may have had would have shared at least the Natufian for sure. Since realistically the community was probably founded somewhere between 400 BC and 1000 CE the best bet would be populations from that time period.

I tried playing with modern pop avgs and removed any intermediary groups like southern Arabians or horn Africans. Doesn't take much to get this:
Target: Ethiopian_Jew
Distance: 0.8073% / 0.00807336
69.4 Ethiopian_Amhara
12.6 Ethiopian_Afar
10.8 Ethiopian_Agaw
7.2 Rendille

Doesn't look like great evidence of visible additional Jewish ancestry to me, at least autosomally, I don't know their haplogroups.

talombo
11-17-2020, 03:16 AM
23andme results of an Ethiopian Jew from reddit:
https://www.reddit.com/r/23andme/comments/jvhch6/ethiopian_jew_here_here_are_my_23_and_me_and/

CyrylBojarski
11-17-2020, 09:15 AM
23andme results of an Ethiopian Jew from reddit:
https://www.reddit.com/r/23andme/comments/jvhch6/ethiopian_jew_here_here_are_my_23_and_me_and/

I thought they have maybe a little Levantine genetic, it would be interesting to see results before update, this update could swallow everything in Ethiopian category

rober_tce
11-17-2020, 09:30 AM
As I can see through these models, we could say that levantine ancestry in Ethiopian Jewish is a less notorious compared with Western Jewish, so I think there were many jewish converted in the primary genesis of this community.

jkotl0327
11-17-2020, 01:47 PM
I thought they have maybe a little Levantine genetic, it would be interesting to see results before update, this update could swallow everything in Ethiopian category

Possible, but even small amounts of Levantine could be something regular Ethiopians get.