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The Jew's Quest In Africa Post by :ddawson Category :Essays Author :Gustav Karpeles Date :November 2011 Read :2693

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The Jew's Quest In Africa

Citizens of ancient Greece conversing during the entr'actes of a first performance at the national theatre of Olympia were almost sure to ask each other, after the new play had been discussed: "What news from Africa?" Through Aristotle the proverb has come down to us: "Africa always brings us something new." Hence the question: Quid novi ex Africa? (61)

If ever two old rabbis in the Beth ha-Midrash at Cyrene stole a chat in the intervals of their lectures, the same question probably passed between them. For, Africa has always claimed the interest of the cultured. Jewish-German legend books place the scenes of their most mysterious myths in the "Dark Continent," and I remember distinctly how we youngsters on Sabbath afternoons used to crowd round our dear old grandmother, who, great bowed spectacles on her nose, would read to us from "Yosippon." On many such occasions an unruly listener, with a view to hurrying the distribution of the "Sabbathfruit," would endanger the stability of the dish by vigorous tugging at the table-cloth, and elicit the reproof suggested by our reading: "You are a veritable Sambation!"--Aristotle, Pliny, Olympia, Cyrene, "Yosippon," and grandam--all unite to whet our appetite for African novelties.

Never has interest in the subject been more active than in our generation, and the question, "What is the quest of the Jews in Africa?" might be applied literally to the achievements of individual Jewish travellers. But our inquiry shall not be into the fortunes of African explorers of Jewish extraction; not into Emin Pasha's journey to Wadelai and Magungo; not into the advisability of colonizing Russian Jews in Africa; nor even into the rôle played by a part of northern Africa in the development of Jewish literature and culture: briefly, "The Jew's quest in Africa" is for the remnants of the ten lost tribes.

For more than eight hundred years, Israel, entrenched on his own soil, bade defiance to every enemy. After the death of Solomon (978 B. C. E.), the kingdom was divided, its power declining in consequence. The world-monarchy Assyria became an adversary to be feared after Ahaz, king of Judah, invited it to assist him against Pekah. Tiglath-Pileser conquered a part of the kingdom of Israel, and, in about the middle of the eighth century, carried off its subjects captive into Assyria. In the reign of Hosea, Shalmaneser finished what his predecessor had begun (722), utterly destroying the kingdom of the north in the two hundred and fifty-eighth year of its independence. Before the catastrophe, a part of its inhabitants had emigrated to Arabia, so that there were properly speaking only nine tribes, called by their prophets, chief among them Hosea and Amos, Ephraim from the most powerful member of the confederacy. Another part went to Adiabene, a district on the boundary between Assyria and Media, and thence scattered in all directions through the kingdom of the Medes and Persians.

The prophets of the exile still hope for their return. Isaiah says:(62) "The Lord will put forth His hand again the second time to acquire the remnant of his people, which shall remain, from Asshur, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Chamath, and from the islands of the sea. And he will lift up an ensign unto the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel; and the dispersed of Judah will he collect together from the four corners of the earth.... Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not assail Ephraim.... And the Lord will utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea.... And there shall be a highway for the remnant of his people, which shall remain from Asshur, like as it was to Israel on the day that they came up out of the land of Egypt." In Jeremiah(63) we read: "Behold I will bring them from the north country, and I will gather them from the farthest ends of the earth ... for I am become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born." Referring to this passage, the Talmud maintains that the prophet Jeremiah led the lost tribes back to Palestine.

The second Isaiah(64) says "to the prisoners, Go forth; to those that are in darkness, Show yourselves." "Ye shall be gathered up one by one.... And it shall come to pass on that day that the great cornet shall be blown, and then shall come those that are lost in the land of Asshur, and those who are outcasts in the land of Egypt, and they shall prostrate themselves before the Lord on the holy mount at Jerusalem."

And Ezekiel:(65) "Thou son of man, take unto thyself one stick of wood, and write upon it, 'For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions'; then take another stick, and write upon it, 'For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions': and join them one to the other unto thee as one stick; and they shall become one in thy hand."

These prophetical passages show that at the time of the establishment of the second commonwealth the new homes of the ten tribes were accurately known. After that, for more than five hundred years, history is silent on the subject. From frequent allusions in the prophetical writings, we may gather that efforts were made to re-unite Judah and the tribes of Israel, and it seems highly probable that they were successful, such of the ten tribes as had not adopted the idolatrous practices of the heathen returning with the exiles of Judah. In the Samaritan book of Joshua, it is put down that many out of the tribes of Israel migrated to the north of Palestine at the time when Zerubbabel and Ezra brought the train of Babylonian exiles to Jerusalem.

In Talmudic literature we occasionally run across a slight reference to the ten tribes, as, for instance, Mar Sutra's statement that they journeyed to Iberia, at that time synonymous with Spain, though the rabbi probably had northern Africa in mind. Another passage relates that the Babylonian scholars decided that no one could tell whether he was descended from Reuben or from Simon, the presumption in their mind evidently being that the ten tribes had become amalgamated with Judah and Benjamin. If they are right, if from the time of Jeremiah to the Syrian domination, a slow process of assimilation was incorporating the scattered of the ten tribes into the returned remnant of Judah and Benjamin, then the ten lost tribes have no existence, and we are dealing with a myth. But the question is still mooted. The prophets and the rabbis continually dwell upon the hope of reunion. The Pesikta is the first authority to locate the exile home of the ten tribes on the Sambation. A peculiarly interesting conversation on the future of the ten tribes between two learned doctors of the Law, Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Eliezer, has been preserved. Rabbi Eliezer maintains: "The Eternal has removed the ten tribes from their soil, and cast them forth into another land, as irrevocably as this day goes never to return." Rabbi Akiba, the enthusiastic nationalist, thinks very differently: "No, day sinks, and passes into night only to rise again in renewed brilliance. So the ten tribes, lost in darkness, will reappear in refulgent light."

It is not unlikely that Akiba's journeys, extending into Africa, and undertaken to bring about the restoration of the independence of Judæa, had as their subsidiary, unavowed purpose, the discovery of the ten lost tribes. The "Dark Continent" played no unimportant rôle in Talmudic writings, special interest attaching to their narratives of the African adventures of Alexander the Great.(66) On one occasion, it is said, the wise men of Africa appeared in a body before the king, and offered him gifts of gold. He refused them, being desirous only of becoming acquainted with the customs, statutes, and law, of the land. They, therefore, gave him an account of a lawsuit which was exciting much attention at the time: A man had bought a field from his friend and neighbor, and while digging it up, had found a treasure which he refused to keep, as he considered it the property of the original owner of the field. The latter maintained that he had sold the land and all on and within it, and, therefore, had no claim upon the treasure. The doctors of the law put an end to the dispute by the decision that the son of the one contestant was to take to wife the daughter of the other, the treasure to be their marriage portion. Alexander marvelled greatly at this decision. "With us," he said, "the government would have had the litigants killed, and would have confiscated the treasure." Hereupon one of the wise men exclaimed: "Does the sun shine in your land? Have you dumb beasts where you live? If so, surely it is for them that God sends down the rain, and lets the sun shine!"

In biblical literature, too, frequent mention is made of Africa. The first explorer of the "Dark Continent" was the patriarch Abraham, who journeyed from Ur of the Chaldees through Mesopotamia, across the deserts and mountains of Asia, to Zoan, the metropolis of ancient Egypt. When Moses fled from before Pharaoh, he found refuge, according to a Talmudic legend, in the Soudan, where he became ruler of the land for forty years, and later on, Egypt was the asylum for the greater number of Jewish rebels and fugitives. As early as the reign of King Solomon, ships freighted with silver sailed to Africa, and Jewish sailors in part manned the Phoenician vessels despatched to the coasts of the Red Sea to be loaded with the gold dust of Africa, whose usual name in Hebrew was Ophir, meaning gold dust. In the Talmud Africa is generally spoken of as "the South," owing to its lying south of Palestine. One of its proverbs runs thus: "He who would be wise, must go to the South." The story of Alexander the Great and the African lawyers is probably a sample of the wisdom lauded. Nor were the doctors of the Talmud ignorant of the physical features of the country. A scoffer asked, "Why have Africans such broad feet." "Because they live on marshy soil, and must go barefoot," was the ready answer given by Hillel the Great.

In the course of a discussion about the appearance of the cherubim, Akiba pointed out that in Africa a little child is called "cherub." Thence he inferred that the faces of cherubim resembled those of little children. On his travels in Africa, the same rabbi was appealed to by a mighty negro king: "See, I am black, and my wife is black. How is it that my children are white?" Akiba asked him whether there were pictures in his palace. "Yes," answered the monarch, "my sleeping chamber is adorned with pictures of white men." "That solves the puzzle," said Akiba. Evidently civilization had taken root in Africa more than eighteen hundred years ago.

To return to the lost tribes: No land on the globe has been considered too small, none too distant, for their asylum. The first country to suggest itself was the one closest to Palestine, Arabia, the bridge between Asia and Africa. In the first centuries of this era, two great kingdoms, Yathrib and Chaibar, flourished there, and it is altogether probable that Jews were constantly emigrating thither. As early as the time of Alexander the Great, thousands were transported to Arabia, particularly to Yemen, where entire tribes accepted the Jewish faith. Recent research has made us familiar with the kingdom of Tabba (500) and the Himyarites. Their inscriptions and the royal monuments of the old African-Jewish population prove that Jewish immigrants must have been numerous here, as in southern Arabia. When Mohammed unfurled the banner of the Prophet, and began his march through the desert, his followers counted not a few Jews. In similar numbers they spread to northern Africa, where, towards the end of the first thousand years of the Christian era, they boasted large communities, and played a prominent rôle in Jewish literature, as is attested by the important contributions to Jewish law, grammar, poetry, and medicine, by such men as Isaac Israeli, Chananel, Jacob ben Nissim, Dunash ben Labrat, Yehuda Chayyug, and later, Isaac Alfassi. When this north-African Jewish literature was at its zenith, interest in the whereabouts of the ten tribes revived, first mention of them being made in the last quarter of the ninth century. One day there appeared in the academy at Kairwan an adventurer calling himself Eldad, and representing himself to be a member of the tribe of Dan. Marvellous tales he told the wondering rabbis of his own adventures, which read like a Jewish Odyssey, and of the independent government established by Jews in Africa, of which he claimed to be a subject. Upon its borders, he reported, live the Levitical singers, the descendants of Moses, who, in the days of Babylonish captivity, hung their harps upon the willows, refusing to sing the songs of Zion upon the soil of the stranger, and willing to sacrifice limb and life rather than yield to the importunities of their oppressors. A cloud had enveloped and raised them aloft, bearing them to the land of Chavila (Ethiopia). To protect them from their enemies, their refuge in a trice was girdled by the famous Sambation, a stream, not of waters, but of rapidly whirling stones and sand, tumultuously flowing during six days, and resting on the Sabbath, when the country was secured against foreign invasion by a dense cloud of dust. With their neighbors, the sons of Moses have intercourse only from the banks of the stream, which it is impossible to pass.(67)

This clever fellow, who had travelled far and wide, and knew men and customs, gave an account also of a shipwreck which he had survived, and of his miraculous escape from cannibals, who devoured his companions, but, finding him too lean for their taste, threw him into a dungeon. Homer's Odyssey involuntarily suggests itself to the reader. In Spain we lose trace of the singular adventurer, who must have produced no little excitement in the Jewish world of his day.

Search for the ten tribes had now re-established itself as a subject of perennial interest. In the hope of the fulfilment of the biblical promise: "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until he comes to Shiloh," even the most famous Jewish traveller of the middle ages, Benjamin of Tudela, did not disdain to follow up the "traces of salvation." Nor has interest waned in our generation. Whenever we hear of a Jewish community whose settlement in its home is tinged with mystery, we straightway seek to establish its connection with the ten lost tribes. They have been placed in Armenia, Syria, and Mesopotamia, where the Nestorian Christians, calling themselves sons of Israel, live to the number of two hundred thousand, observing the dietary laws and the Sabbath, and offering up sacrifices. They have been sought in Afghanistan, India, and Western Asia, the land of the "Beni Israel," with Jewish features, Jewish names, such as Solomon, David, and Benjamin, and Jewish laws, such as that of the Levirate marriage. One chain of hills in their country bears the name "Solomon's Mountains," another "Amram Chain," and the most warlike tribe is called Ephraim, while the chief tenet of their law is "eye for eye, tooth for tooth." Search for the lost has been carried still further, to the coast of China, to the settlements of Cochin and Malabar, where white and black Jews write their law upon scrolls of red goatskin.

Westward the quest has reached America: Manasseh ben Israel and Mordecai Noah, the latter of whom hoped to establish a Jewish commonwealth at Ararat near Buffalo, in the beginning of this century, believed that they had discovered traces of the lost tribes among the Indians. The Spaniards in Mexico identified them with the red men of Anahuac and Yucatan, a theory suggested probably by the resemblance between the Jewish and the Indian aquiline nose. These would-be ethnologists obviously did not take into account the Mongolian descent of the Indian tribes and their pre-historic migration from Asia to America across Behring Strait.

Europe has not escaped the imputation of being the refuge of the lost tribes. When Alfonso XI. expelled the Saracens from Toledo, the Jews of the city asked permission to remain on the plea that they were not descendants of the murderers of Jesus, but of those ten tribes whom Nebuchadnezzar had sent to Tarshish as colonists. The petition was granted, and their explanation filed among the royal archives at Toledo.

The English have taken absorbing interest in the fate of the lost tribes, maintaining by most elaborate arguments their identity with the inhabitants of Scandinavia and England. The English people have always had a strong biblical bias. To this day they live in the Bible, and are flattered by the hypothesis that the Anglo-Saxons and kindred tribes, who crossed over to Britain under Hengist and Horsa in the fifth century, were direct descendants of Abraham, their very name Sakkasuna, that is, sons of Isaac, vouching for the truth of the theory. The radical falseness of the etymology is patent. The gist of their argument is that the tribe of Dan settled near the source of the Jordan, becoming the maritime member of the Israelitish confederacy, and calling forth from Deborah the rebuke that the sons of Dan tarried in ships when the land stood in need of defenders. And now comes the most extravagant of the vagaries of the etymological reasoner: he suggests a connection between Dan, Danube, Danaï, and Danes, and so establishes the English nation's descent from the tribes of Israel.

In the third decade of this century, when Shalmaneser's obelisk was found with the inscription "Tribute of Jehu, son of Omri," English investigators, seeking to connect it with the Cimbric Chersonese in Jutland, at once took it for "Yehu ibn Umry." An Irish legend has it that Princess Tephi came to Ireland from the East, and married King Heremon, or Fergus, of Scotland. In her suite was the prophet Ollam Folla, and his scribe Bereg. The princess was the daughter of Zedekiah, the prophet none other than Jeremiah, and the scribe, as a matter of course, Baruch. The usefulness of this fine-spun analogy becomes apparent when we recall that Queen Victoria boasts descent from Fergus of Scotland, and so is furnished with a line of descent which would justify pride if it rested on fact instead of fancy. On the other hand, imagine the dismay of Heinrich von Treitschke, Saxon par excellence, were it proved that he is a son of the ten lost tribes!

"Salvation is of the Jews!" is the motto of a considerable movement connected with the lost tribes in England and America. More than thirty weekly and monthly journals are discharging a volley of eloquence in the propaganda of the new doctrine, and lecturers and societies keep interest in it alive. An apostolic believer in the Israelitish descent of the British has recently turned up in the person of a bishop, and the identity of the ancient and the modern people has been raised to the dignity of a dogma of the Christian Church by a sect which, according to a recent utterance of an Indianapolis preacher, holds the close advent of Judgment Day. Yet the ten lost tribes may be a myth!

One thing seems certain: If scattered remnants do exist here and there, they must be sought in Africa, in that part, moreover, most accessible to travellers, that is to say, Abyssinia, situated in the central portion of the great, high tableland of eastern Africa between the basin of the Nile and the shores of the Red and the Arabian Sea--a tremendous, rocky, fortress-like plateau, intersected closely with a network of river-beds, the Switzerland of Africa, as many please to call it. Alexander the Great colonized many thousands of Jews in Egypt on the southern and northern coasts of the Mediterranean, and in south-eastern Africa. Thence they penetrated into the interior of Abyssinia, where they founded a mighty kingdom extending to the river Sobat. Abyssinian legends have another version of the history of this realm. It is said that the Queen of Sheba bore King Solomon a son, named Menelek, whom he sent to Abyssinia with a numerous retinue to found an independent kingdom. In point of fact, Judaism seems to have been the dominant religion in Abyssinia until 340 of the Christian era, and the Golah of Cush (the exiles in Abyssinia) is frequently referred to in mediæval Hebrew literature.

The Jewish kingdom flourished until a great revolution broke out in the ninth century under Queen Judith (Sague), who conquered Axum, and reigned over Abyssinia for forty years. The Jewish ascendancy lasted three hundred and fifty years. Rüppell,(68) a noted African explorer, gives the names of Jewish dynasties from the ninth to the thirteenth century. In the wars of the latter and the following century, the Jews lost their kingdom, keeping only the province of Semen, guarded by inaccessible mountains. Benjamin of Tudela describes it as "a land full of mountains, upon whose rocky summits they have perched their towns and castles, holding independent sway to the mortal terror of their neighbors." Combats, persecutions, and banishments lasted until the end of the eighteenth century. Anarchy reigned, overwhelming Gideon and Judith, the last of the Jewish dynasty, and proving equally fatal to the Christian empire, whose Negus Theodore likewise traced his descent from Solomon. So, after a thousand years of mutual hostility, the two ancient native dynasties, claiming descent from David and Solomon, perished together, but the memory of the Jewish princes has not died out in the land.

The Abyssinian Jews are called Falashas, the exiled.(69) They live secluded in the province west of Takazzeh, and their number is estimated by some travellers to be two hundred and fifty thousand, while my friend Dr. Edward Glaser judges them to be only twenty-five thousand strong. Into the dreary wastes inhabited by these people, German and English missionaries have found their way to spread among them the blessings of Christianity. The purity of these blessings may be inferred from the names of the missionaries: Flad, Schiller, Brandeis, Stern, and Rosenbaum.

Information about the misery of the Falashas penetrated to Europe, and induced the Alliance Israélite Universelle to despatch a Jewish messenger to Abyssinia. Choice fell upon Joseph Halévy, professor of Oriental languages at Paris, one of the most thorough of Jewish scholars, than whom none could be better qualified for the mission. It was a memorable moment when Halévy, returned from his great journey to Abyssinia, addressed the meeting of the Alliance on July 30, 1868, as follows:(70) "The ancient land of Ethiopia has at last disclosed the secret concerning the people of whom we hitherto knew naught but the name. In the midst of the most varied fortunes they clung to the Law proclaimed on Sinai, and constant misery has not drained them of the vitality which enables nations to fulfil the best requirements of modern society."

Adverse circumstances robbed Halévy of a great part of the material gathered on his trip. What he rescued and published is enough to give us a more detailed and accurate account of the Falashas than we have hitherto possessed. He reports that they address their prayers to one God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; that they feel pride in belonging to the old, yet ever young tribe which has exercised dominant influence upon the fate of men; that love for the Holy Land fills their hearts; and that the memory of Israel's glorious past is their spiritual stay. One of the articles of their faith is the restoration of Jewish nationality.

The Falashas speak two languages, that of the land, the Amharic, a branch of the ancient Geez, and the Agau, a not yet classified dialect. Their names are chiefly biblical. While in dress they are like their neighbors, the widest difference prevails between their manners and customs and those of the other inhabitants of the land. In the midst of a slothful, debauched people, they are distinguished for simplicity, diligence, and ambition. Their houses for the most part are situated near running water; hence, their cleanly habits. At the head of each village is a synagogue called Mesgid, whose Holy of holies may be entered only by the priest on the Day of Atonement, while the people pray in the court without. Next to the synagogue live the monks (Nesirim). The priests offer up sacrifices, as in ancient times, daily except on the Day of Atonement, the most important being that for the repose of the dead. On the space surrounding the synagogue stand the houses of the priests, who, in addition to their religious functions, fill the office of teachers of the young. The Falashas are well acquainted with the Bible, but wholly ignorant of the Hebrew language. Their ritual has been published by Joseph Halévy, who has added a Hebrew translation, showing its almost perfect identity with the traditional form of Jewish prayer. About their devotional exercises Halévy says: "From the holy precincts the prayers of the faithful rise aloft to heaven. From midnight on, we hear the clear, rhythmical, melancholy intonation of the precentor, the congregation responding in a monotonous recitative. Praise of the Eternal, salvation of Israel, love of Zion, hope of a happy future for all mankind--these form the burden of their prayers, calling forth sighs and tears, exclamations of hope and joy. Break of day still finds the worshippers assembled, and every evening without fail, as the sun sinks to rest, their loud prayer (beginning with Abba! Abba! Lord! Lord!) twice wakes the echoes."(71)

Their well kept houses are presided over by their women, diligent and modest. Polygamy is unknown. There are agriculturists and artisans, representatives of every handicraft: smiths, tailors, potters, weavers, and builders. Commerce is not esteemed, trading with slaves being held in special abhorrence. Their laws permit the keeping of a slave for only six years. If at the expiration of that period he embraces their religion, he is free. They are brave warriors, thousands of them having fought in the army of Negus Theodore.

It must be confessed that intellectually they are undeveloped. They have a sort of Midrash, which apparently has been handed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. The misfortunes they have endured have predisposed them to mysticism, and magicians and soothsayers are numerous and active among them. But they are eager for information.

King Theodore protected them, until missionaries poisoned his mind against the Falashas. In 1868 he summoned a deputation of their elders, and commanded them to accept Christianity. Upon their refusal the king ordered his soldiers to fire on the rebels. Hundreds of heads were raised, and the men, baring their breasts, cried out: "Strike, O our King, but ask us not to perjure ourselves." Moved to admiration by their intrepidity, the king loaded the deputies with presents, and dismissed them in peace.

The missionaries--Europe does not yet know how often the path of these pious men is marked by tears and blood--must be held guilty of many of the bitter trials of the Falashas. In the sixties they succeeded in exciting Messianic expectations. Suddenly, from district to district, leapt the news that the Messiah was approaching to lead Israel back to Palestine. A touching letter addressed by the elders of the Falashas to the representatives of the Jewish community at Jerusalem, whom it never reached, was found by a traveller, and deserves to be quoted:

"Has the time not yet come when we must return to the Holy Land and Holy City? For, we are poor and miserable. We have neither judges nor prophets. If the time has arrived, we pray you send us the glad tidings. Great fear has fallen upon us that we may miss the opportunity to return. Many say that the time is here for us to be reunited with you in the Holy City, to bring sacrifices in the Temple of our Holy Land. For the sake of the love we bear you, send us a message. Peace with you and all dwelling in the land given by the Lord to Moses on Sinai!"

Filled with the hope of redemption, large numbers of the Falashas, at their head venerable old men holding aloft banners and singing pious songs, at that time left their homes. Ignorant of the road to be taken, they set their faces eastward, hoping to reach the shores of the Red Sea. The distance was greater than they could travel. At Axum they came to a stop disabled, and after three years the last man had succumbed to misery and privation.

The distress of the Falashas is extreme, but they count it sweet alleviation if their sight is not troubled by missionaries. At a time when the attention of the civilized world is directed to Africa, European Jews should not be found wanting in care for their unfortunate brethren in faith in the "Dark Continent." Abundant reasons recommend them to our loving-kindness. They are Jews--they would suffer a thousand deaths rather than renounce the covenant sealed on Sinai. They are unfortunate; since the civil war, they have suffered severely under all manner of persecution. Mysticism and ignorance prevail among them--the whole community possesses a single copy of the Pentateuch. Finally, they show eager desire for spiritual regeneration. When Halévy took leave of them, a handsome youth threw himself at his feet, and said: "My lord, take me with you to the land of the Franks. Gladly will I undergo the hardships of the journey. I want neither silver nor gold--all I crave is knowledge!" Halévy brought the young Falasha to Paris, and he proved an indefatigable student, who acquired a wealth of knowledge before his early death.

Despite the incubus of African barbarism, this little Jewish tribe on the banks of the legend-famed Sabbath stream has survived with Jewish vitality unbroken and purity uncontaminated. With longing the Falashas are awaiting a future when they will be permitted to join the councils of their Israelitish brethren in all quarters of the globe, and confess, in unison with them and all redeemed, enlightened men, that "the Lord is one, and His name one."

The steadfastness of their faith imposes upon us the obligation to bring them redemption. We must unbar for them not only Jerusalem, but the whole world, that they may recognize, as we do, the eternal truth preached by prophet and extolled by psalmist, that on the glad day when the unity of God is acknowledged, all the nations of the earth will form a single confederacy, banded together for love and peace.

The open-eyed student of Jewish history, in which the Falashas form a very small chapter, cannot fail to note with reverence the power and sacredness of its genius. The race, the faith, the confession, all is unparalleled. Everything about it is wonderful--from Abraham at Ur of the Chaldees shattering his father's idols and proclaiming the unity of God, down to Moses teaching awed mankind the highest ethical lessons from the midst of the thunders and flames of Sinai; to the heroes and seers, whose radiant visions are mankind's solace; to the sweet singers of Israel extolling the virtues of men in hymns and songs; to the Maccabean heroes struggling to throw off the Syrian yoke; to venerable rabbis proof against the siren notes of Hellenism; to the gracious bards and profound thinkers of Andalusia. The genius of Jewish history is never at rest. From the edge of the wilderness it sweeps on to the lands of civilization, where thousands of martyrs seal the confession of God's unity with death on ruddy pyres; on through tears and blood, over nations, across thrones, until the sun of culture, risen to its zenith, sends its rays even into the dark Ghetto, where a drama enacts itself, melancholy, curious, whose last act is being played under our very eyes. Branch after branch is dropping from the timeworn, weatherbeaten trunk. The ground is thickly strewn with dry leaves. Vitality that resisted rain and storm seems to be blasted by sunshine. Yet we need not despair. The genius of Jewish history has the balsam of consolation to offer. It bids us read in the old documents of Israel's spiritual struggles, and calls to our attention particularly a parable in the Midrash, written when the need for its telling was as sore as to-day: A wagon loaded with glistening axes was driven through the woods. Plaintive cries arose from the trees: "Woe, woe, there is no escape for us, we are doomed to swift destruction." A solitary oak towering high above the other trees stood calm, motionless. Many a spring had decked its twigs with tender, succulent green. At last it speaks; all are silent, and listen respectfully: "Possess yourselves in peace. All the axes in the world cannot harm you, if you do not provide them with handles."

So every weapon shaped to the injury of the ancient tree of Judaism will recoil ineffectual, unless her sons and adherents themselves furnish the haft. There is consolation in the thought. Even in sad days it feeds the hope that the time will come, whereof the prophet spoke, when "all thy children shall be disciples of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children."


(61) Aristotle, Hist. Anim., 8, 28. Nicephorus Gregoras, Hist. Byzant., p. 805.

(62) Isaiah xi. 11-16.

(63) Jeremiah xxxi. 8-9.

(64) Isaiah xlix. 9 and xxvii. 13.

(65) Ezekiel xxxvii. 16-17.

(66) Cmp. Spiegel, Die Alexandersagen bei den Orientalen.

(67) Cmp. A. Epstein, Eldad ha-Dani, p. x.

(68) Rüppell, Reisen in Nubien, p. 416.

(69) Cmp. Epstein, l. c., p. 141.

(70) Alliance Report for 1868.

(71) Halévy, Les prières des Falashas, Introduction.

(The end)
Gustav Karpeles's essay: Jew's Quest In Africa

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