People of God, Children of Ham: Making black(s) Jews
Journal of Modern Jewish Studies – Volume 8, Issue 2, 2009 – Bruce D. Haynes
Taxonomies inherited from the nineteenth century have shaped the discourse surrounding the racial identity and supposed roots of Ethiopian immigrants to Israel. Through their interactions with just a few colonial actors, some of whom were Christian missionaries, others who were Jewish Zionists, a small group of young Falashas developed an elite status in Ethiopia as the true lost Jews in Africa. While most historians specializing in the history of Ethiopia do not believe the Beta Israel are a “lost tribe” of the ancient Israelites, Ethiopian immigrants have altered their self‐conceptions over the past hundred years and come to see themselves as both black and Jewish. This essay offers an alternative reading of the Beta Israel narrative, and asserts that the transformation of their social identities are embedded in a political process of racialization tied to racial ideology, and both secular and religious institutions and the State. In the process of incorporation into western society, their social identities have been transmogrified from religious others in Ethiopia to co‐religionists yet racial others in Israel.