The New International Encyclopædia/Falashas

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The New International Encyclopædia
Falashas
Edition of 1905. See also Beta Israel on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

FALASHAS, fȧ-lä'shȧz (Ethiop., wanderers). The inhabitants of the Abyssinian Kingdom of Amhara. They claim to be of Jewish race and to be descended from emigrants of the period of disorder in Israel during and following the reign of Jeroboam. Whether they are true Jews, or descendants merely of proselytes of the period of close connection between Abyssinia and Israel, is uncertain. They practice debased Jewish rites, but are not acquainted with the Babylonian or Jerusalem Talmud, make no use of the tephillin, and observe neither the Feast of Purim nor that of the Dedication of the Temple. They possess, in Geez, an Ethiopic dialect of great antiquity, the foundation of the Amharic, the canonical and apocryphal books of the Old Testament: a volume of extracts from the Pentateuch, with comments, given, as they think, from God to Moses on Mount Sinai; the Te-e-sa-sa Sanbat, or laws of the Sabbath; the Ardit, a book of secrets revealed to twelve saints, which is used as a charm against disease; lives of Abraham, Moses, etc., and a translation of Josephus, called Sana Aihud. A copy of the Orit, or Mosaic law, is kept in the holy of holies in every synagogue. Various pagan observances are mingled in their ritual; every newly built house is considered uninhabitable till the blood of a sheep or fowl has been spilt in it; a woman guilty of a breach of chastity has to undergo purification by leaping into a flaming fire; the Sabbath has been deified, and, as the goddess Sanbat, receives adoration and sacrifice, and is said to have ten thousand times ten thousand angels to wait on her commands. There is a monastic system, said to have been introduced in the fourth century. The monks must prepare all their food with their own hands, and no lay person, male or female, may enter their houses. Celibacy is not practiced by the priests, but they are not allowed to marry a second time, and no one is admitted into the order who has eaten with a Christian, or is the son or grandson of a man thus contaminated. Belief in the evil eye or shadow is universal, and spirit-raisers, sooth-sayers, and rain-doctors are in repute.

Education is in the hands of the monks and priests, and is given only to boys. Fasts, obligatory on all above seven years of age, are held on every Monday or Thursday, on every new moon, and at the Passover (the 21st or 22d of April). The annual festivals are the Passover, the Harvest feast, the Baala Mazālat or Feast of the Tabernacles (during which, however, no booths are built), the Day of Covenant or Assembly, and Abraham's Day. It is believed that after death the soul remains in a place of darkness till the third day, when the first taskar or sacrifice for the dead is offered; prayers are read in the mesgeed (synagogue) for the repose of the departed, and for seven days a formal lament takes place every morning in his house. No coffins are used, and a stone vault is built over the corpse so that it may not come into direct contact with the earth. The Falashas are an industrious people, living for the most part in their own villages, or, if they settle in a Christian or Mohammedan town, occupying a separate quarter. They engage in agriculture, manufacture pottery, ironware, and cloth, and are especially sought after for their skill in mason-work. Their number is variously estimated at from 100,000 to 250,000. Consult: Flad, The Falashas of Abyssinia, English translation (London, 1869); Stern, Wanderings Among the Falashas in Abyssinia (London, 1862); Halévy, Travels in Abyssinia, English translation (London, 1878). M. Halévy was a Jew, sent to Abyssinia to offset the effects of Christian missionary work.