Ethiopian protest tent 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The chief rabbi of Israel’s Ethiopian community, Yosef Hadane, welcomed on
Tuesday the first-ever professional translation of the five books of the Torah,
or Chumash, into Amharic.
The Chumash – which is being published by Koren
Publishers and also includes the five megilot and the Book of Psalms, with
simultaneous Hebrew and Amharic text and commentary – will have its formal
launch Wednesday at a special event in Jerusalem.
“I am very happy about
this initiative. There has been a real investment in this project and the
translation, with the Hebrew opposite the Amharic, which will allow many
Ethiopian Jews a chance to really understand the religious scriptures,” Hadane
told The Jerusalem Post.
He said that previous translations of religious
scriptures by Ethiopian Jews were problematic because they had been subject to
interpretation and were changed through the translation.
traditionally pray in the ancient Jewish language of Gez and most of the written
words are in that language.
“I hope that every Ethiopian household will receive a copy of
this new version of the Bible and that it will serve to strengthen the
connection between the community and the rest of the Jewish people,” said the
Hadane’s words were echoed Tuesday by Ethiopian-Jewish history
expert Rabbi Menachem Waldman, director of the Shvut Am Institute and, more
recently, religious studies teacher to Jews in Ethiopia who are preparing to
Waldman told the Post
that he had already distributed some 600
copies to members of the Jewish community in Ethiopia who are getting ready to
make aliya – with the goal of making sure that every Ethiopian household in
Israel has a copy as well.
“My goal throughout all 30 years of working
with the Ethiopians [has been] to strengthen the role of the Jewish religion
within the community and strengthen their place within the Jewish community,”
said Waldman, who two years ago helped author an Amharic- Hebrew Passover
Haggada and collaborated on the current Amharic Bible translation with Ethiopian
author and scholar Zewdu Berhan.
He added: “I am constantly trying to
make sure that they become part of us. The Jews have gone back to being one
nation and there is nothing better to bridge the gap between all Jewish
communities than the Torah – that is what connects all of
Waldman explained that the new Amharic-Hebrew Bible, which took
more than three years to complete, is based in part on a 50-year-old translation
of the Torah from Gez into the modern Ethiopian language. He said that the
original scriptures used by Ethiopian rabbis and kessim
[spiritual leaders] had
first been translated from Greek into Gez.
“This Bible can be used in the
synagogues and cultural centers of Ethiopian Jews – and because it is in Hebrew
and Amharic, it can bridge the generation gap between younger and older members
of the community,” commented Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and head of the
International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. The organization has invested
some NIS 100,000 in the Chumash by purchasing more than 1,000 copies to
distribute to Ethiopian spiritual centers and synagogues countrywide.
is interesting that in one week we are seeing more and more steps being taken to
recognize the history and the plight of the aliya of Ethiopian Jews,” said
Eckstein, referring to the annual ceremony held Sunday to commemorate Ethiopian
Jews who lost their lives on their way to Israel, which was attended for the
first time ever by the prime minister.
Eckstein, whose organization will
fund the formal launch of the Chumash at the Jerusalem Municipality on Wednesday
evening, expressed regret however that neither Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona
Metzger nor Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar will be in attendance.
wish the rabbinate could have been part of this process because I see it as a
watershed event,” said Eckstein, who has invited more than 20 Ethiopian
religious and spiritual leaders to the launch. “It is a unifying experience for
Israel when you have a Bible that can be read by everyone from the
A rabbinate spokesman said Tuesday that no formal
arrangements had been agreed upon for the chief rabbis’ participation.