The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Religious Instruction and Initiation into the Priesthood among the Betä Israel (Ethiopian Jews)

The Betä Ǝsraʾel (Ethiopian Jewish) religious tradition developed separately from the Rabbinic religious tradition. The priesthood served as the religious leadership of the Betä Ǝsraʾel. The high priests of the community, the mäloksočč, observed severe purity laws necessitating physical separation from the laity, and devoted themselves to the leadership of the community, religious life and religious instruction.

Among the Betä Ǝsraʾel, priesthood was not hereditary, but rather bestowed following the successful completion of religious studies. Novices pursuing a priestly calling would spend several years studying under the mäloksočč. During this time, they would reside together with the mäloksočč, observing the same purity laws.

Though Betä Ǝsraʾel liturgy and religious observances have been the subject of several detailed studies, the process and practicalities of religious instruction and initiation among the Betä Ǝsraʾel have never been documented or examined in detail before. This paper will examine aspects of the religious education and initiation provided by the mäloksočč, based on a detailed study of their material culture and way of life.