Volume 60 Number 83 
      Produced: Tue, 15 May 2012 01:54:49 EDT

Subjects Discussed In This Issue:

Beta Israel (2)
    [Sammy Finkelman  Gilad J. Gevaryahu]
    [Martin Stern]
Hashem yinkom damam and Nokaim Yinokaim 
    [Sammy Finkelman]
Hashem yinkom damam? 
    [Yisrael Medad]
    [Ben Katz M.D.]
Ruling of the Radbaz about Ethiopian Beta Israel community 
    [Sammy Finkelman]
The word "Falasha" 
    [Sammy Finkelman]


From: Sammy Finkelman <sammy.finkelman@...>
Date: Wed, May 9,2012 at 05:01 PM
Subject: Beta Israel

According to the Wikipedia article on the Beta Israel (citing Avraham
Ya'ari, Igrot Eretz Yisrael, Ramat Gan 1971), Rabbi Ovadiah Yare of
Bertinoro (or Bartenura), the author of the famous commentary on the
Mishnah, which he already started work on, wrote in a letter from
Jerusalem in 1488, which would be not too long after he arrived there
on March 25, 1488 (after a long journey from Italy that began October
29, 1486) at about the age of 43:

"I myself saw two of them in Egypt. They are dark-skinned... and one
could not tell whether they keep the teaching of the Karaites, or of
the Rabbis, for some of their practices resemble the Karaite
teaching... but in other things they appear to follow the instruction
of the Rabbis; and they say they are related to the tribe of Dan."

Tangentially, Rabbi Ovadiah Yare of Bertinoro immediately became the
spiritual leader of the Jews of Jerusalem for about ten years (the
community was very small because of heavy taxation and became slightly
larger after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain).

From: Gilad J. Gevaryahu <gevaryahu@...>
Date: Sun, May 13,2012 at 05:01 PM
Subject: Beta Israel

I was asked by my friend, Kevin Jon Williams, MD, to post this to the discussion.

Three topics seem relevant to Joseph Kaplan's posting (MJ 60#82).  The first two
are amply covered by the Wikipedia entry on the Beta Israel:


The third topic is of particular Halakhic interest, and I hope it provokes more

1.Secular scholarship on the Beta Israel.

Steven Kaplan and other secular scholars cited by Wikipedia have generally
resigned themselves to uncertainty over the origins of the Beta Israel:
Richard Pankhurst summarized the state of knowledge on the subject in 1992 as
follows: "The early origins of the Falashas are shrouded in mystery, and, for
lack of documentation, will probably remain so forever.[68]

By 1994 modern scholars of Ethiopian history and Ethiopian Jews generally
supported one of two conflicting hypotheses, as outlined by [Steven] Kaplan:[72]

i)  An ancient Jewish origin of the Beta Israel.[72]

ii) A late ethnogenesis of the Beta Israel between the 14th and 16th Centuries,
from a sect of Ethiopian Christians who took on Biblical practices, and came to
see themselves as Jews.[72]

There is evidence of the Beta Israel from at least the 9th Century C.E. (Jewish
traveler Eldad ha-Dani; histories of King Gideon and his daughter, Queen
Judith).  Off hand, this evidence seems to contradict an origin in the 14th to
16th Centuries C.E.  The Beta Israel lived as an independent Jewish kingdom
until the early 1600s C.E."

2.Rabbinical rulings of the Jewish status of the Beta Israel.

The earliest Sephardic or Ashkenazic authority to rule on their Jewish status
was indeed the Radbaz (Rabbi David ben Zimra, 1479-1573). Here is Wikipedia text
regarding more recent rulings:

"In 1973 Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, then the Sephardic Chief Rabbi, based on the Radbaz
and other accounts, ruled that the Beta Israel were Jews and should be brought
to Israel. He was later joined by a number of other authorities who made similar
rulings, including the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren.[41]

Other notable poskim, from non-Zionist Ashkenazi circles, placed a halakhic
safek (doubt) over the Jewishness of the Beta Israel. 

More recently Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar has ruled that descendants of Ethiopian
Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity are "unquestionably Jews in
every respect".[47] With the consent of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Rabbi Amar ruled
that it is forbidden to question the Jewishness of this community, pejoratively
called Falashmura.[48] [49]"

3.How to decide the Jewishness, or otherwise, of any individual or community.
This is a complex Halakhic question, and I"ll mention just a few passages.  In
general terms, the Talmud contains strong disincentives against demeaning the
genealogies of others (Kiddushin 70a, 70b), and restraint has been shown in
investigating or disturbing families of unambiguous Jewish identity but mixed
ancestry (Kiddushin 71a).  Do we [Jews of otherwise unquestioned lineage] know
from where we come?(Kiddushin 71b).

In specific terms, Oral Law limits the number of prior generations one should
investigate to assess the genealogic suitability of a prospective bride
(Mishnah, Kiddushin 76a, incorporated into the Shulkhan Arukh, Even ha-Ezer,
Hilkhot Pirya ve-Rivya, Siman 2, Se'if 3) - and it is the bride who will be the
source of Jewishness for the children.  Oral Law mandates full acceptance of the
Jewish status of anyone descended from roughly four recent generations of
apparently acceptable maternal ancestors, even if there might be possible lineal
difficulties in the more distant past.  The intent of the Oral Law to restrict
genealogic inquiries is also evident in two additional passages,from later in
Mishna Kiddushin 76a and from Mishna Uktzin 2:1,that provide criteria to further
abridge scrutiny.  Although these latter criteria appear unusable in the modern
era, their presence in the Oral Law solidifies the concept that genealogic
inquiries cannot be pursued without limit.  Judaism, after all, must be livable.

The Beta Israel have lived as Jews for centuries - and have been recognized as
Jews for centuries by preeminent Torah scholars. Enough already!


Gilad J. Gevaryahu 

P.S. The main issue, and the contribution of Dr. Williams to the discussion, in
my view, is the limit we must impose how far back do we examine the Jewishness
of a person (Part 3)


From: Martin Stern <md.stern@...>
Date: Thu, May 10,2012 at 04:01 PM
Subject: Genetics

Yisrael Medad wrote (MJ 60#82):

> Members of the priestly clan of the Lemba even have a genetic element also
> found among the Jewish priestly line - known as Cohen.

Even if the genetic marker for Cohanim were proven, it would not necessarily
establish that someone who carried it was a Cohen. As far as I am aware, this
marker is found on the Y-chromosome and therefore is inherited by an
individual from his father. However, though every Cohen must have a father
who is a Cohen, it is not necessarily the case that the son of a Cohen is
also a Cohen. If his mother were a lady whom a Cohen was prohibited from
marrying, the child would inherit the marker but not himself be a Cohen.
Thus, genetic testing could conceivably be used to disqualify someone from
being a Cohen but it would be useless to establish his status as one.

Martin Stern


From: Sammy Finkelman <sammy.finkelman@...>
Date: Fri, May 11,2012 at 05:01 PM
Subject: Hashem yinkom damam and Nokaim Yinokaim

Most Hebrew, outside of a Siddur or anything from Tanach or the
Onkelos translation, was/is written without vowels. So, maybe this is
the explanation:

Originally, Hashem Yinokaim (as in Shemos/Exodus 21:20) Damam could
have been the way it was intended to be read, but, possibly due to being 
abbreviated or written without vowels, it got read as yinkom when it was read 
out in shul or elsewhere by not too learned people, and then by everyone.

Incidentally, "Nakom yinokaim" does not mean "he shall surely be punished" as
Yisrael Medad wrote in MJ 60#81 -- rather, this is a stronger language. This
word is avenged. It is not used anywhere else for a court imposed
punishment I think. Here it is understood to mean, he gets the
death penalty (and Rashi goes on about the method of execution, citing
the gemorah Sanhedrin 52).

In the next parashah, a different word, "Yay-onaish," is used, and
that word really does just means punished. This is the case where a
man injured a woman and caused a miscarriage. This difference in
language, by the way, is a proof that abortion is not the same as
murder, in case somebody were to think so. You can learn things just
from the precise choice of words.

There are all sorts of things that are indicated by the examples given
in the Torah.  They are half hidden, but can be extracted out of it.

Why does it say an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? This is how
I would explain it: It is written an eye for an eye because it really
did start out that way. That someone forfeits an eye or a tooth was in
fact the sentence of the Beis Din. Those two examples are used because
an eye is the most valuable irreplaceable part and a tooth is the
least valuable. The Torah goes on to list some things that do heal.

And indeed a tooth might become more like a wound eventually, and
be replaceable, because not so long ago, someone implanted a stem cell
in a mouse and grew back a tooth. But who knows how long it will take
until some government authorizes it in practice?

A court sentence of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth was pronounced,
although every case in fact was required to be redeemed, by agreement
between the two parties, with a court mandating the amount only as a
last resort (for this you would need Torah sheb'al peh, but not for
the mere possibility of redeeming, because that was what the Bnai
Yisroel would assume was the law, not hearing anything to the
contrary. There is an injunction not to adopt the laws of Mizraim or
the laws of Canaan - this is a remez that the laws of Bavel can be
adopted - and that's the way it was in Bavel).

But eventually, during the Second Beis HaMikdosh, this procedure
degenerated into the court assessing a value to begin with.

Ayin Takhas Ayin is clearly impossible in the case of an man causing
miscarriage, so we can't even start off with inflicting similar damage
(and then have it redeemed), so what we get here is he has to pay
whatever the husband assesses. If they can't agree, the court must
decide. This was probably the procedure in every case, except that in
other cases it was something that could be pronounced, and it was
supposed to be pronounced, and it makes a difference.

The most extreme case that could be redeemed was the case of an owner
of an animal who knew it was bad - it had gored three times and so it
was extremely predictable it would kill someone and he still let it
kill someone. He can be redeemed.  But not an actual murderer, or
someone who attacked in a way (positive act, not stupid or stubborn
neglect or unconcern) that could kill someone.


From: Yisrael Medad <yisrael.medad@...>
Date: Fri, May 11,2012 at 03:01 AM
Subject: Hashem yinkom damam?

Both Martin Stern and Robert Israel (MJ 60#82) delve into grammatical
complexities. That is to be appreciated.

My point is simply this, if I understood the original query properly:
it is not necessarily wrong to say/inscribe "hashem yinkom et damo" rather
than "hashem yikom et damo".

In fact, to adopt a "darshan" (preacher's) pose, I could suggest that the
first means "revenge" while the second means "He will reestablish (as in memory
or an otherwise form of recall)."

By the way, spoken Hebrew manages to unduly influence written Henrew and
mistakes creep in. Which is better/more correct - "lata'at" or "lintoah", for to

Yisrael Medad
Mobile Post Efraim 44830


From: Ben Katz M.D. <BKatz@...>
Date: Thu, May 10,2012 at 07:01 PM
Subject: Non-gebrokts

Ari Trachtenberg wrote (MJ 60#82):

> Leah S. R. Gordon wrote (MJ 60#81):

>> I know that some people who follow the non-gebruchts custom, do eat 
>> gebruchts (on their Pesach dishes) on the last day of Pesach.

> My understanding is that Chabad holds this way, to separate the last day
> from the the biblically mandated seven.  It makes sense ... after all,
> the Torah clearly says that we should eat matza seven days, and that we
> should not add (or diminish) from what is written.

Ari brings up one of my pet peeves.  It is tangential to this discussion, but
what is a discussion good for if not to lead down different tangents! :-)

The Torah probably says half a dozen times to eat matzah for 7 days on Passover
(and once for 6 days in parashat Re-eh;  more on this later).  The holiday is
also called Hag HaMatzot (Festival of Matzah), NOT Hag Isur Hametz (Holiday of
forbidden leaven).  Yet we are only required to eat matzah the first night
(based on a complicated derash using 1 of R Yishmael's 13 principles, the
contradiction between eating matzah for 7 vs 6 days alluded to earlier and the
verse "al matzot umerorim yochluhu [You shall eat it {the paschal sacrifice}
with matzah and marror]").  

This contrasts with Succot where the Torah similarly commands us to sit in the
succah for 7 days and we are required to do so, making a blessing each time we
enter the succah.  (BTW, there are other ways to explain the contradiction
between the Torah saying to eat matzah 6 vs 7 days without absolving us from the
obligation of eating matzah [basically by saying that the Torah is reminding us
that even from chadash, which only applies starting with the counting of the
omer on day 2 of Pesach, we also need to eat only matzah - hence the 6 days
commandment in Deut.  See, I think, either Seforno or Chizkuni on the verse
in Deut.].)

If I were a Karaite, I would eat matzah all the days of Passover with a blessing
each time.  As it is now, I am sure most of us eat matzah all 7 days -- there is
just no obligation to do so in and of itself -- nor do we say the special 
blessing of "al achilat matzah" except at the seder.  

Now for the real controversy:  As one who seeks historical explanations for
things, I believe there must have been some historical reason the Rabbis did not
obligate us to eat matzah with a blessing all the days of Passover: perhaps
there were health or financial reasons, but I have not yet found an adequate
explanation.  Again, it can't have been driven for purely exegetical reasons as
other exegetical explanations exist (see above).


From: Sammy Finkelman <sammy.finkelman@...>
Date: Wed, May 9,2012 at 08:01 PM
Subject: Ruling of the Radbaz about Ethiopian Beta Israel community

Josh Backon wrote (MJ 60#79):

> Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef based his ruling re the Jewishness of the Ethiopian 
community on a ruling of the RADBAZ...

Pieces of the biography of the Radbaz (or Radvaz, Dovid ben Shlomo
ibn (Abi) Zimra) don't seem to fit together exactly, but he was born
in Spain in 1479, before the expulsion, and he first came with his
family to Safed. He left Safed around the age of 31 to be a Rabbi in Fez,
Morocco. Or maybe he was only in Fez at the time when his family left Spain.

Then later on he was in Egypt, first in Alexandria, and was in Egypt
when the office of Nagid was abolished by the Turkish government in
1517 when the Ottoman Empire conquered Egypt. Later on, he became
Hakham Bashi, or Chief Rabbi of Egypt, and was in that position for 40
years, but made his money as a merchant (as the Rambam mandated, he
did not make money from Torah).

He was dayan, trustee of the hekdesh, head of a yeshiva and
administrator of charities, all unpaid. He established a chevrah
kedusha (Jews had taken to burying the dead in secret because of fears
of attacks) and attempted to restore the silent Shemonah Esrai, which
the Rambam had abolished in Egypt. He was the one responsible for
changing the dating system of the Jews of Egypt from the Seleucid era
or Minyan Shtarim (era of contracts) Year 1 (April 311 BCE to March
310 BCE).

He had a library of manuscripts in his house and answered many
questions. There are some 2,000 or 3,000 responsa.

What brought up the question of the Ethiopian Jews was the question of
whether or not there was an obligation to redeem an Ethiopian Jew who
had become a slave.

In that kind of situation there is a tremendous motive to consider
them Jewish. The prospects of an error were worse if they really were
Jewish. Then you would not be redeeming a Jew. If they weren't Jewish
there was no real harm in ransoming someone. There are strong reasons
to be lenient. It would be interesting to know the exact reasoning of
the Radbaz. The Radbaz, according to the Encyclopedia Judaica, at
first had a lenient attitude toward the Karaites, but that changed, so
he might have had a reason not to consider them Karaites. The
Encyclopedia Judaica says a responsa addressed to the Jewish community
of Cochin was published by an A. Marx in 1930 about the status of
black Jews but I don't know if that has anything to do with this.

There was a similar strong motive later on in the 1800s and the
beginning of the 1900s to consider the Beta Israel Jews when the
question was whether missionaries who attempted to convert them should
be opposed.

How had an Ethiopian Jew become a slave? I think maybe there could be
some connection with the following:

>From about 1529 to 1543 there was the war with the Sultan of Adal,
which included most of what is today (former British) Somaliland and
Djibouti, and who was backed by the Ottoman Empire, against the Ethiopian
Empire, which was backed by the Portuguese. The Ethiopian Jews
attempted to ally with the Arabs at one point but were rejected. This might
explain how an Ethiopian Jew came to be a prisoner of Moslems, which
is what was probably the case for a decision that was made in Egypt.

Upon reaching the age of 90, the Radbaz retired and gave away most of
his wealth, with some of it directed to support Torah scholars. The
old Encyclopedia Judaica says this was shortly before 1553 which would
mean he was 74.

He moved to Jerusalem, but finding the taxes too high, or maybe
because he had trouble with the Governor and some local Jews, went on to
Safed, where he was invited to become a member of the Beis Din. This
overlapped with the time of the Arizal (Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572)).

He died in 1573 at the age of 94, after living in Erez Israel for 20
years after he retired as Chacham Bashi.

As I said, the pieces don't fit together. There is also the idea he
was 110 years old and one solution is that he was really born in 1463
and another is that he died in 1589.


From: Sammy Finkelman <sammy.finkelman@...>
Date: Mon, May 14,2012 at 03:01 PM
Subject: The word "Falasha"

Josh Backon wrote (MJ 60#79):

> The Ethiopian word FALASHIAN means *monk* and the term given to those
> Christians who lost their property was FALASHA.

According to the Wikipedia article on the Beta Israel, the word is
explained as follows:
During the reign of Emperor Yeshaq (1414-1429) who invaded the Jewish
kingdom, annexed it and began to exert religious pressure. Yeshaq
divided the occupied territories of the Jewish kingdom into three
provinces which were controlled by commissioners appointed by him. He
reduced the Jews' social status below that of Christians[76] and
forced the Jews to convert or lose their land. It would be given away
as rist, a type of land qualification that rendered it forever
inheritable by the recipient and not transferable by the Emperor.
Yeshaq decreed, "He who is baptized in the Christian religion may
inherit the land of his father, otherwise let him be a Fals." This
may have been the origin for the term "Falasha" (fal, "wanderer,"
or "landless person").[76]
The reference is to an article that Steven Kaplan wrote in the
Encyclopaedia Aethiopica: A"C (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2003),
p. 553.

Falasha has also been explained as "exile."

Maybe the true explanation is simple. It is a Semitic word and the
root is Pey Lamed Shin.

In Hebrew this word is the root of Pilishtim. The Pilishtim were a
group of people that came from Crete (Caphtor) to various places on the
shores of the Mediterranean. It could be a description that turned into
a noun, and they don't seem to stem from just one people.

The Concordancia Hadashah of Avraham Even Shosham is very good and
gives you oither examples of roots. It turns out this word is used in
the hitpa'el several times, although always paired with the same word.
You can find it in Yechezkel 27:30, Micha 1:10 and Yirmiyahu 6:26
25:34. Hispalushu or Hitpalushu.

It is probably translated wrongly like dozens or hundreds of words
have been in the last several years.  I don't think it means to roll
in the dust. Hispalashu is something somebody does that with his hair
and ashes.

This is all an aspect of mourning. So I would think it means to get dust or
ashes into your hair. That's what wearing ashes would do.

What is going on when somebody does that? Bits of matter, perhaps in small
clumps, that is scattered or interpersed with the main constitution.

So maybe what this means is that the Ethiopian Jews were ordered not
to live in big cities like Gondar, but only in smaller groups,
interspersed with villages where other people lived.


End of Volume 60 Issue 83