Typical Ethiopian pottery ready for market
Typical Ethiopian pottery ready for market. (Photo courtesy Friends of the Beta Israel Of North Shewa)
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Origins of the Jews in Ethiopia vary. Are they descendants of the lost tribe of Dan? Did they come from Israel to Ethiopia with Menelik I, son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon? Are they associated with the Levites, who brought the Ark of the Covenant to safety in Ethiopia? No theory can be proven.

Jews, known as Beta Israel (House of Israel), first settled in Gondar in northern Ethiopia. About 400 years ago, ancestors of today’s Hidden Jews migrated to North Shewa, south of Gondar.

The Beta Israel were not allowed to practice Judaism, so they observed Jewish customs secretly, living publicly as Christians for centuries. Their teachings were transmitted orally, with no documents that might be used against them.

The Beta Israel are known as skilled craftsmen. They migrated to Addis Ababa and settled in Kechene, just outside the city, about 100 years ago when requested to build the imperial palace.

Today, the population of the Beta Israel of North Shewa is estimated at 150,000. They are all ancestral Jews and most stay hidden by outwardly observing Christianity and, at the same time, retaining some Jewish customs. They do not intermarry with Christians and the Christian community does not accept them as real Christians. Now more than 200 of the Hidden Jews in Kechene practice Judaism openly.

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