Falashas

Falashas

(Black Jews), a large and peculiar race inhabiting the province of Semen, on the shores of the Tzana Sea, near Gondar and the mountainous regions of northern Abyssinia. The word Falasha means exile, and sufficiently indicates that they were not natives of the soil. They have a skin more or less dark, without possessing, however, the negro type, and speak both the dominant language of the country — the Ambaric, and a dialect of the Agaon language. They possess the whole of the Jewish Canon (O.T. Canon): in the Gueez language (a sister language of the Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramoean dialects, and from which the Amharic is derived), together with the apocryphal books accepted by the Abyssinian Church. Their mriests, who live round the inclosures of the temple (which are situated near the edge of the Falasha vilslages, and have, more the appearance of the ancient sanctuary than the modern synagogue), observe the laws of purity with rigor, prepare their own food, and keep aloof from the world. They are principally engaged in the education of youth, making the Bible and the traditional practices the basis of their instruction. The Falashas deviate from Jewish usages in many reaspects. Thus the fringed praying- scarf (taleth, q.v.), the phylacteries (q.v.), are not used in their devolions. They retain the usage of offering sacrifices, but rather as commemorative ceremonies than as real Sacrifices; the most common is the offering for the repose of the dead. No sacrifices can be offered on the Sabbath or on the day of atonement. The Falashas, with all other Jewish sects, hope for a return to the sacred city, Jerusalem. While polygamy is not forbidden by law, it is nevertheless censured. They have a special hatred of slave-dealers, yet slavery is tolerated among then; they instruct the slaves in the law of Moses, and manumit them on conversion. They are a very industrious race, and have the reputation of being good farmers. They are also able warriors (many fought under king Theodore in the late Abyssinian war), but are averse to commerce, which they consider an obstacle to fidelity and rigor in religious observances. The Falashas were formerly governed by an independent prince, whose residence was in the fastness of Ainba Gideon, and it is only since 1800, after the extinction of the race of their original masters, that they have passed under the domination of the princes of Tigres. They claim that their ancestors settled in Abyssinia as early as the time of Solouceon, but it is likely that they came much later. The knowledge of Hebrew they have lost. In 1867, the central committee of the Jewish Alliance Universelle, which has its seat in Paris, sent M. Leon Halevy to Abyssinia to make a tour of exploration among the falashas, and report on what might be done for their education, with a special view to counteracting the influence of the Christian missionaries who had been sent out from India. After his return, M. Halevy made, in July, 1868, a very interesting report on the Falashas, and announced the publication of an "Essay on the Falashah," — which will undoubtedly be the first thorough work on the subject. He brought with him a young Falashah, who will be educated in France. — Pierer, Univarsal-Lexikon, 6:79; Israelite, volume 15, No. 21 and 25. (J.H.W.)

 
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