Land of the Queen of Sheba

By jarkush
April 16, 2013

"When the Queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the L-d, she came to test Solomon with hard questions ...... Solomon answered all her questions - nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her. When the Queen of Sheba saw all the wisdom of Solomon ..... she was overwhelmed."

This account in the First Book of Kings chapter 10, verses 1-13 offers a strong clue to the start of Jewish life in Ethiopia. It hints at the Queen of Sheba converting to Judaism and having an affair with King Solomon. Ethiopian legend takes up the story and tells of the Queen of Sheba giving birth to Solomon's son Menelek. At the age of 20 Menelek learned about his father and wished to visit him. He travelled to Jerusalem where his father was delighted with him and he spent three years there. Eventually it was time to return to his country, accompanied by 1,000 men from each of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The intriguing twist to the legend is that they brought with them the Ark of the Covenant which they spirited out of the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem and which is said to be preserved to this day in a church in Axum, giving rise to the stories of the 'lost Ark' and the 'Holy Grail'.

Whether or not the legend is true it is clear that there was a strong Jewish influence in Ethiopia from very early times, almost certainly before the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE. By the time Christianity came to Ethiopia in the 3rd century, Ethiopians kept the Sabbath (on Saturday), observed laws of ritual purity and dietary restrictions similar to Jewish law and circumcision of males at 8 days old. To the present day Ethiopians feel themselves connected to the People of Israel and their last Emperor Haile Selassie, who believed he was descended from King Solomon, was proud to adopt the title of 'Lion of Judah'.

Jewish sources from Isaiah to medieval times speak of Jews in the land of Cush, which is usually associated with Ethiopia. In the 19th century they were re-discovered and became known as Falashas - a demeaning term meaning 'dispossessed', which was a reference to Jewish tribes having been forced off their lands by Christian prejudice centuries before. They therefore prefer to be known as Beta Israel. They lived in great poverty in the remote Gondar province, some 350 miles from Addis Ababa near the Sudanese border. They lived largely apart from their Christian neighbours and followed laws and customs that were recognisably Jewish, but pre-Rabbinic, as a result of their origins having pre-dated the oral tradition before becoming isolated from the rest of the Jewish world. In the 1970s a political campaign began for the Beta Israel to be recognised as Jews and resettled in Israel. The story is too long to relate here, but it is a remarkable and epic tale which culminated in most of them being flown to Israel in the secret airlifts known as Operation Moses and Operation Solomon in 1984 and 1991.

When the opportunity arose to visit Ethiopia in February this year on a trip led by Rabbi Chaim Weiner, I could not resist. The sights extend well beyond Jewish interest, and in particular the classical sites of the Axumite Empire in Lalibela, Axum itself and a later dynasty in Gondar. It is hardly known to us, but in the 3rd century the Axumites ruled one of the four greatest empires in the world at that time and its links extended to China, Persia and Rome. The Axumite empire lasted from 100 to 940 CE (rather longer than the British Empire).

Finally we reached the former Beta Israel area in Gondar, now deserted, but the dirt poor villages and simple cemeteries spoke of Jewish life in times past. We had the unique experience of Shabbat in the Jewish Agency compound with the last Jews of Gondar, known as the Falashe Mura. They have survived forcible (in some cases voluntary) conversion to Christianity but have returned to Judaism and were finally recognised as Jews after another long campaign. I don't know what they made of my British-style haftara at the Shabbat morning service, but as I read the concluding blessing Rachem al Zion, "have mercy on Zion, for it is the home of our life", it was hard not to feel emotion.

As anyone who has visited Israel knows, the Ethiopian Jews, who now number 100,000, are making their distinctive mark. They are a fine looking people (not limited to this year's Miss Israel, an orphan who made aliyah at the age of 12). The comparison between their dire poverty in the land of their birth and their renewal in Israel could not be any greater.

At least one intriguing question remains - are the Beta Israel Jewish, or could they be the descendants of local tribes who had been influenced by Jewish customs hundreds or even thousands of years ago ? We shall never know, but it does not matter, since they are recognised as Jewish by the religious authorities in Israel and elsewhere. They are a mysterious and fascinating part of the miraculous rebirth of the Jewish people in the land of Israel.

That is something to reflect on in this week of Israel’s 65th Yom Ha’atzmaut. Isaiah’s prophecy that our people scattered in Ethiopia and other distant lands would be returned to Israel has come true in our lifetime.

This is a cross-post from the Board of Deputies website at


Ben F

Tue, 04/23/2013 - 11:35

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Tue, 04/23/2013 - 12:42

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Ben F:

so you support stephen sizer's right to publicise racist websites from his own website, without complaint from jews?

the church of england takes the honesty and propriety of its vicars very seriously, and does not treat as a joke a complaint that a vicar has been "making statements that the Board and most of the Jewish community find utterly offensive, to the point of crossing the line into antisemitism"

ben, do you not find sizer's statements "utterly offensive, to the point of crossing the line into antisemitism"?

or are you only concerned to pour scorn on the anti-racists who do take action?

btw, even joe millis supports the board of deputies on this …

joemillis1959: I'm very glad to see the Board taking on Sizer.


Tue, 04/23/2013 - 17:26

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Goodness, is this Stephen Sizer thing still going on?

Rich Armbach

Tue, 04/23/2013 - 17:46

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Yup guess there's gonna be another train wreck

Rich Armbach

Thu, 04/25/2013 - 13:19

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From the web site of Fair Play Campaign, established jointly by the Board and JLC.

“From time to time this website may also include links to other websites. These links are provided for your convenience to provide further information. They do not signify that we endorse the website(s). We have no responsibility for the content of the linked website(s).”



Thu, 04/25/2013 - 15:05

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And that statement on a Jewish website the mendacious and morally perverse Fraudulent Zionist believes would give someone like the Jew-baiter Sizer the right to link to an anti-Semitic website - quite extraordinary. Nuff said indeed.

Rich Armbach

Thu, 04/25/2013 - 15:50

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Hey hi Jose great to see you. I feared you had deserted us.


Thu, 04/25/2013 - 18:07

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Advis3r isn't Jose, Rich. His name is Norman Cohen. Jose/Anthony Posner/Blacklisted Dicktator/etc is the Goldfish, who is here everyday all day and whom it is best to ignore.


Thu, 04/25/2013 - 18:12

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joe millis, please stop ignoring my reply to your lie about me, and deleting it and reposting it later as if it was new
here's my reply again

joemillis1959 : The JC used to have a policy of banning Anthony Posner and his various aliases: Blacklisted Dictator/Jose/Mitnachel et al. Let's reinstate that policy for his current alias, Happy Goldfish.

joemillis1959: (Mon, 15:29) aka Anthony Posner/Jose/Blacklisted Dicktator/etc … Then he's like the Goldfish. And even less talented.

joemillis1959: (Thu, 16:52; Thu, 18:07) Jose/Anthony Posner/Blacklisted Dicktator/etc is the Goldfish …

i have no connection with those, or with any other present or former bloggers on this site

joemillis1959: He may claim he's not, but his modus operandi is far too similar for it to be a coincidence.


did any of the others know how to produce background colours, or red or blue type?

did any of the others preface every quote with a clickable link so that it could be checked?

did any of the others repeatedly link to their own outside blog about oranges ducks and arch-rabbis?

were any of the others goldfish? (you haven't even got the right species! )

oh … and did any of the others use smilies?

joe miliis, please stop harrassing me, and propagating the lie that my behaviour has previously caused me to be banned

there are racists on this website who think there is nothing wrong with lying, so long as they are criticising israel, or criticising people who defend israel

they decide what they want to be true, and then say it anyway, in the absence of any evidence other than their own prejudice, and often contrary to the actual evidence

one reason why so few people defend israel on … compared with other sites such as the guardian's "comment is free" … is the unchecked lying or bullying that they'll sooner or later be subjected to

joemillis1959: (Mon, 10:53) He may claim he's not, he may introduce all sorts of snazzy colourful backgrounds and daft graphics - any one with a modicum of HTML coding knowledge can do that (and Jose claimed to be a computer whizz kid) - but his modus operandi is far too similar for it to be a coincidence. Just ignore him.

some historians are motivated by a desire to present events in a manner consistent with their own beliefs even if that involves distortion and manipulation of evidence

joe millis is the author of an illustrated history of jerusalem

if his approach to evidence as a historian is as reliable as in his accusation against me, then his book may be an excellent buy as a work of fiction, or as a children's picture book, but cannot seriously be considered as a reliable research resource

Rich Armbach

Tue, 07/16/2013 - 12:39

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Oh dear

Jonny Arkush is going to have a real hissy fit over this


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