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THE JEWS OF ABYSSINIA. Joseph Halévy. Excursion chez les Falacha, en Abyssinie.
Bulletin de la Société de Géographie. Mars-Avril, 1869.
Paris : Au Bureau de la Société. The Falashas (Jews) of Abyssinia. By J. M. Flad ; with a
Preface by Dr. Krapf. Translated from the German by S. P. Goodhurt. London: William Macintosh. 1869.
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LITTLE has hitherto been known respecting Jewish life in Abyssinia, in consequence of the very restricted amount of intercourse which has been held with those districts which are inhabited by the Jews, either on the part of travellers, or of missionaries. The subject was briefly noticed by Bishop Gobat, in his diary; and in the course of the present year our information has been considerably enlarged by the publication of the two treatises which we have named above; the former containing a brief statement of the results of M. Joseph Halévy's expedition, made with the express design of becoming better acquainted with the religion of the Falashas; the latter containing a general account of the same people from the pen of Mr. Flad, one of the missionaries of the London Society for the Promotion of Christianity among the Jews.
The meaning of the word Falashas is 'exiles'; and it points to the fact, that the people to whom it applies were emigrants from another country. Concerning the early history of these emigrants, about 200,000 probably in number, who are now found in villages (inhabited chiefly, though not exclusively, by their own communities) in North-west Abyssinia, little can now be ascertained with absolute certainty. It is possible (as Dr. Krapf is of opinion) that the Jewish settlements in Abyssinia began in the time of King Solomon; more probable, perhaps, that they date from the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, when the fugitives took refuge in Egypt.
There is little, as regards their external appearance, to distinguish the Falashas from the Christians of Abyssinia. Their dress is similar, both as regards that of private individuals, and that of the Priests; their houses are built in a similar manner, and they speak the Amharic dialect with as much facility and purity as the Christians. In their own families, however, they make use of another dialect, viz., that which prevails in Quara, and which is equally distinct from the Hebrew and the Ethi. opic, of which latter the Amharic is one of the newer dialects. This dialect, it seems reasonable to infer, if not their original
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tongue, is at least one of more ancient adoption than the Amharic.
As regards their appearance, the Falashas, like the rest of the Abyssinians, are dark brown in colour, but sometimes they are found with the black skin and pouting lips which distinguish the negro race. Their habits and customs, like those of the native Christians, are, for the most part, according to Mr. Flad, of a low and degraded character. The condition of their women, however, according to M. Halévy, bears witness to & higher degree of morality than seems compatible with the facts recorded by Mr. Flád. Woman is represented by him as in every respect the equal of man, not veiled, nor confined within the harem, and found frequently in the society of the men. Against this statement we must set that of Mr. Flad, who speaks of the grain as being carried hoine on the back of the donkey, or of the woman; and not only baked, but cleansed and ground by her hands.* We may notice, as another instance of discrepancy in the two accounts under our consideration, that M. Halévy states that the Falashas have no need of the services of servants or slaves, the price of whose services for six years (after which time they would be entitled to their liberty) would, he says, exceed their value. Mr. Flad, on the other hand, says that the Falashas keep slaves, like the other natives, but make proselytes of them, and treat them like members of their own families, and, moreover, do not sell them again.
Amongst the rites and ceremonies of Jewish origin, now ob, served by the Falashas, we may notice the following:
(1) The children are circumcised on the eighth day, unless it falls on a Saturday, in which case they defer the rite till the ninth day.
(2) At the expiration of forty days after the birth of a son, or of eighty days after that of a daughter, the mother, having been previously purified, brings as a sin-offering a pair of doves, after which the woman and child receive the priestly blessing.
(3) The first-born of their children, if males, are frequently dedicated by the parents to the monastic life. The first-born of the cattle, if males, are brought to the priest (not on the eighth day, as directed in Exodus xxxii. 30, but) when a year old, and the flesh is eaten only by the priests. If a female, the first-born is kept by the owner, but the milk and butter which it yields belong to the priest. The first-born of an ass is redeemed with a lamb.
(4) The Sabbath is observed very rigorously. No fire is
* In a little book entitled “Notes from the Journal of F. M. Flad," edited by Mr. Veitch, in 1860, it is stated that “the Jews are more indus
trious than the Christians," that they "all practise agriculture," and that the king gave them land for that purpose, (p. 87.)
feasts are observed the 18th days a monthly fe
made, no light kindled, no food prepared, and no water drawn.
(5) The new moon is observed as a monthly feast; also the 10th, the 15th, and the 18th day after each new moon. Other feasts are observed annually—the Feast of the Passover, the Harvest Feast, the Feast of Atonement, the Feast of Taber nacles, the Day of Covenant at the new moon in November, and Abraham's Day, on the 11th day after the new moon in July, The Feasts of Purim and of the Dedication of the Temple are not observed.
(6) Sacrifices are offered, consisting of heifers, kids, the passover-lamb, and the bread or meat-offering, also some other sacrifices not prescribed by the Levitical law. These sacrifices are offered in any place hallowed for the purpose in the village in which the Falashas dwell. Sacrifices are also offered in newly. built houses, and for the dead. M. Halévy states that the sacrifices are purely of a cominemorative character.
(7) The mesgeeds,* or places of worship of the Falashas, seem to present a singular combination of the characteristics of the Temple and of the Synagogue. As in the case of the former, the Altar of Sacrifice stands within an enclosure on the Eastern side of the building. The Most Holy Place, into which the Priests only enter, is surrounded by a court according to M. Halévy, by a building according to Mr. Flad, which he speaks of as the Holy Place, in which the men assemble on the North, and the women on the South. Within the Most Holy Place are the table on which lies the Orit, i. e. the Book of the Law, together with some of the historical books, the vessels for the ashes of a red heifer, and the holy water, the place for the priestly vestments, &c., and that in which the books used in Divine Service are kept. There is an outer enclosure which encompasses the whole of the Mesgeed and the Court of Sacrifice.
One of the most remarkable of the institutions of the Falashas is the Monastic. The appointed times of probation last for several years, at the expiration of which, unless they desire to return to their friends, those who have chosen or have been set apart for a monastic life take the vows; and are consecrated in accordance with the Levitical ceremonial. The ordinary priests are found in the villages, in which there are no monks, and are commissioned by the monks to perform the various ceremonies of religious worship. The priests marry once, but are not allowed to contract a second marriage. Polygamy seems to be unknown both amongst the priests and the people. Education is at a very low ebb amongst the Falashas. The Hebrew language appears to be entirely unknown; the art of writing is culti
* This word is sometimes spelt mesjla.
vated only as a distinct employment, like any other trade; and the course of education amongst the monks appears to be restricted to the art of reading the Ethiopic character, and acquiring so much knowledge of the language as to be able to render into the Amharic, for the benefit of the people, those portions of Holy Scripture which are read in the Ethiopic.
M. Halévy speaks of the strict Monotheism of the Falashas ; but Mr. Flad describes, at some length, their idolatrous worship of the goddess Sanbat, whom he identifies with the Ashtaroth of Holy Scripture. « The Falashas” (he writes, p. 6) “not only pray to Sanbat, but they bring her meat-offerings and drink-offerings, consisting of loaves of bread and beer. They also offer her incense, and various burnt-offerings." Mr. Flad concludes his interesting but melancholy sketch of the moral and spiritual degradation of this people with a brief account of the promising results of the mission which was car. ried on for some years amongst them; and he notices with deep regret one peculiarly dark feature which was the result of the enforced withdrawal of the mission at a time when it seemed to promise a rich harvest of blessing; viz., the requirement of the king and the Abuna, that the proselytes should join the Abyssinian Church-a Church, the members of which, according to Mr. Flad's representation, are, in a moral point of view, yet more deeply degraded than the Falashas themselves. After recording the fact, that fifty-six persons were brought, by means of the Mission, to an open profession of Christianity, and that several more were baptized by the Scotch missionaries, Mr. Flad continues thus :-" We cannot as yet trace the reason of God's dealings, in thus permitting His work to be overthrown; but we know that it is in His hands; that present defeat shall only ensure a greater ultimate victory. The Lord will not leave His word unfulfilled-In a little wrath I hid my face from them for a moment; but in everlasting kindness will I have mercy on them.' May it please Him soon to bring about the religious liberty so earnestly desired, that our proselytes may no longer be compelled to enter a corrupt Church, but may worship Him in spirit and in truth. May He speedily pour out upon His scattered people the spirit of grace and of supplication : then shall be fulfilled the words of the prophet Zephaniah, ‘From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia, my suppliants, even the daughters of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering"
We cannot conclude this notice of a people, to whose condition so little attention has hitherto been directed, without informing those amongst our readers who may desire to become acquainted with the results of Mission work amongst them, that Mr. Flad has published an account of those results in a little book entitled “ Twelve Years in Abyssinia.”
We have received the following communications, to which we readily give insertion :To the Editor of the Christian Observer.
St. Mary's, Oscott; Nov. 6, 1869. SIR,-My attention has been called to an article, in the current number of your Review, on my recent work upon the Roman Catacombs. Had the writer confined himself to mere criticism of my interpretation of ancient monuments, I should have had no right to find fault with him, or at least certainly not in your pages. But when he accuses me of “ deliberately manipulating and disguising an important monument to which I make appeal,” he can hardly expect me to be silent, even though, with an amiable inconsistency, he is pleased to add that “of course, I am not consciously and intentionally deceiving my readers.”
Our work professes to be " compiled from the works of Commendatore De Rossi, with the consent of the author." Your Reviewer's capital charge against us is, not only that we have “not adhered religiously to De Rossi's guidance," but that whereas "he has the rare merit of stating his facts exactly and impartially, precisely as he finds them," we have "selected, manipulated, and moro or less disguised them, so as to suit a predetermined conclusion.” And again, he writes that “De Rossi's fidelity presents an honorable contrast to the manipulation of which we have to complain on the part of Dr. Northcote.” If these charges can be substantiated, I think, Sir, you will agree with me that we ought to be “at once ostracized from the republic of letters ; ” we shall have been proved guilty of a double crime—both of attempting to deceive the English public, and also of abusing the confidence bestowed upon us by our friend De Rossi, who entrusted to us the task of abridging and translating his work. But I hope you will also agree with me that such charges ought not to be lightly made, and that, if they have been made falsely, they ought to be retracted. I think it worth while, therefore, to demonstrate their falsehood, in the only two instances which are specified.
The first and special instance of “manipulation ” which is insisted upon as presenting such a contrast to De Rossi's “fidelity” is Plate VIII at the end of our volume. It is no news to those who received our prospectus inviting them to subscribe to the work before public cation, but it is a fact which was unaccountably omitted in our Preface to the volume itself when published, and therefore is new to your Reviewer, that all the twenty Plates, as well as the Map, were prepared for us by De Rossi himself, executed under his own eye at the Cromolitografia Pontifica in Rome, and the impressions sent to us from that city exactly as they now are; so that your Reviewer is really saying that De Rossi's fidelity presents an honorable contrast with De Rossi's (careless or fraudulent] manipulation. Eighteen of the drawings for these Plates were taken from the originals. For Plates VIII and XI, he had an order from us to provide a specimen of Noah