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Thread: Are the Ethiopian Beta Israel Jews?

  1. #1
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    Are the Ethiopian Beta Israel Jews?

    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
    Drobbah_scaled
    Target: Drobbah_scaled
    Distance: 4.2508% / 0.04250752
    52.2 Sudanese
    19.6 Proto-Natufian_(simulated)
    13.6 MAR_Taforalt
    11.0 Yemenite_Al_Bayda
    3.6 ETH_4500BP

    Distance: 1.2698% / 0.01269848 | ADC: 0.25x
    31.0 KEN_Pastoral_N
    26.4 KEN_Pastoral_N_Elmenteitan
    18.4 TZA_PN
    12.0 KEN_HyraxHill_2300BP
    10.6 KEN_Pastoral_IA

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    Is it known what Y-lines they have?

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    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)

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    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.

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    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.

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    Quote Originally Posted by passenger View Post
    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.
    Drobbah_scaled
    Target: Drobbah_scaled
    Distance: 4.2508% / 0.04250752
    52.2 Sudanese
    19.6 Proto-Natufian_(simulated)
    13.6 MAR_Taforalt
    11.0 Yemenite_Al_Bayda
    3.6 ETH_4500BP

    Distance: 1.2698% / 0.01269848 | ADC: 0.25x
    31.0 KEN_Pastoral_N
    26.4 KEN_Pastoral_N_Elmenteitan
    18.4 TZA_PN
    12.0 KEN_HyraxHill_2300BP
    10.6 KEN_Pastoral_IA

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    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-Ethiopi.../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.
    Last edited by Targum; 05-14-2020 at 07:47 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by drobbah View Post
    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?...o_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.

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    Quote Originally Posted by passenger View Post
    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?...o_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?
    Drobbah_scaled
    Target: Drobbah_scaled
    Distance: 4.2508% / 0.04250752
    52.2 Sudanese
    19.6 Proto-Natufian_(simulated)
    13.6 MAR_Taforalt
    11.0 Yemenite_Al_Bayda
    3.6 ETH_4500BP

    Distance: 1.2698% / 0.01269848 | ADC: 0.25x
    31.0 KEN_Pastoral_N
    26.4 KEN_Pastoral_N_Elmenteitan
    18.4 TZA_PN
    12.0 KEN_HyraxHill_2300BP
    10.6 KEN_Pastoral_IA

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    Quote Originally Posted by drobbah View Post
    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.

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