Falash Mura

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Falash Mura is the name given to those of the Beta Israel community in Ethiopia and Eritrea who converted to Christianity under pressure from the mission during the 19th and 20th centuries. This term consists of Jews who did not adhere to Jewish law, as well as Jewish converts to Christianity, who did so either voluntarily or who were forced to do so.

There are approximately 8,200 Falash Mura living in Ethiopia today. The Israeli government, in 2018, approved a plan to allow 1,000 of them to move to Israel.

Missionary Henry Aaron Stern preaches Christianity to Beta Israel.

They derive from the Beta Israel Jews of Ethiopia, however, the Falash Mura converted to Christianity and are not considered under the Israeli Law of Return. Some have made it to Israel but many still reside in camps in Gondar and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, waiting their status for Aliyah. Some Falash Mura have reverted to Judaism.[citation needed]

Falash Mura woman making Injera in Gondar in 1996.
Falash Mura child, 2005

Terminology[edit]

The original term that the Beta Israel gave to the converts was "Faras Muqra" ("horse of the raven") in which the word "horse" refers to the converts and the word "raven" refers to the missionary Martin Flad who used to wear black clothes.[1] This term derived the additional names Falas Muqra, Faras Mura and Falas Mura. In Hebrew the term "Falash Mura" (or "Falashmura") is probably a result of confusion over the use of the term "Faras Muqra" and its derivatives and on the basis of false cognate it was given the Hebrew meaning Falashim Mumarim ("Converted Falashas").

The actual term “Falash Mura” has no clear origin. It is believed that the term may come from the Agau and means “someone who changes their faith.”[2]

History[edit]

In 1860 Henry Aaron Stern, a Jewish convert to Christianity, traveled to Ethiopia and Eritrea in an attempt to convert the Beta Israel community to Christianity. The Christian missionaries had more success with the population of Eritrea, while Eritrea is also known for a Solomon Jewish dynasty. Henry Aaron Stern could convert the people of Eritrea easily because the communication and infrastructure of colonial settlers were easier there than in Ethiopia.

In the Achefer woreda of the Mirab Gojjam Zone, roughly 1,000-2,000 families of Beta Israel were found.[citation needed] There may be other such regions in Ethiopia with significant Jewish enclaves, which would raise the total Jewish population to more than 50,000 people.[citation needed]

Conversion[edit]

For years, Ethiopian Jews were unable to own land and were often persecuted by the Christian majority of Ethiopia. Ethiopian Jews were afraid to touch non-Jews because they believed non-Jews were not pure, which also ostracized them from their Christian neighbors. For this reason, many Ethiopian Jews converted to Christianity to seek a better life in Ethiopia. The Jewish Agency's Ethiopia emissary, Asher Seyum, says the Falash Mura “converted in the 19th and 20th century, when Jewish relations with Christian rulers soured. Regardless, many kept ties with their Jewish brethren and were never fully accepted into the Christian communities. When word spread about the aliyah, many thousands of Falash Mura left their villages for Gondar and Addis Ababa, assuming they counted.” [3]

Return to Judaism[edit]

The Falash Mura did not refer to themselves as members of the Beta Israel, the name for the Ethiopian Jewish community, until after the first wave of immigration to Israel. Jews by ancestry, the Falash Mura believe they have just as much of a right to return to Israel as the Beta Israels. Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, a major player in the first wave of Beta Israel immigration to Israel, declared in 2002 that the Falash Mura had converted out of fear and persecution and therefore should be considered Jews.[2]

Controversy[edit]

Today, both Israeli and Ethiopian groups dispute the Falash Mura's religious and political status.[3] The Israeli government fears that these people are just using Judaism as an excuse to leave Ethiopia in efforts to improve their lives in a new country. Right-wing member of the Israeli Knesset Bezalel Smotrich was quoted saying, “This practice will develop into a demand to bring more and more family members not included in the Law of Return. It will open the door to an endless extension of a family chain from all over the world,” he wrote, according to Kan. “How can the state explain in the High Court the distinction it makes between the Falashmura and the rest of the world?”[4] Although the government has threatened to stop all efforts to bring these people to Israel, they have still continued to address the issue. In 2018, The Israeli government allowed 1,000 Falash Mura to immigrate to Israel. However, members of the Ethiopian community say the process for immigration approval is poorly executed and inaccurate, dividing families. At least 80 percent of the tribe members in Ethiopia say they have first-degree relatives living in Israel, and some have been waiting for 20 years to immigrate.[4]

Aliyah[edit]

Today, Falash Mura who move to Israel must undergo conversion on arrival, making it increasingly more difficult for them to get situated into Israeli society. The Beta Israel Jews who immigrated and made Aliyah through Operation Moses and Operation Solomon were not required to undergo conversion because they were accepted as Jews under the Law of Return.

The Situation Today[edit]

The Falash Mura Jews of Ethiopia simply have nowhere to go. They sold all of their belongings in order to reside in the Jewish Community Center of Gondar in hopes that this will be their last stop before making it to Israel. The Falash Mura children study Hebrew at Gondar's Jewish Day school in preparation for their relocation.[citation needed]

Groups[edit]

Aliyah[edit]

On February 16, 2003, the Israeli government applied Resolution 2958 to the Falash Mura, which grants maternal descendants of Jews the right to immigrate to Israel under the Israeli Law of Return and to obtain citizenship if they convert to Judaism.[5]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Abbink, Gerrit Jan (1984). The Falashas in Ethiopia and Israel: the problem of ethnic assimilation. Institute for Cultural and Social Anthropology. pp. 81–82.
  2. ^ a b "The Falash Mura". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2018-12-01.
  3. ^ a b Berger, Miriam (August 9, 2013). "The Last Jews of Ethiopia" – via ProQuest.
  4. ^ a b "Cabinet approves immigration of 1,000 Ethiopian Falashmura to Israel". Retrieved 2018-12-01.
  5. ^ "Falashmura aliyah - follow-up report" (PDF) (in Hebrew). Israeli Association for Ethiopian Jews. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 5, 2009.

Further reading[edit]