By Yaakov Gonchel | 27/08/2009
My father, Dejen Iyasu, keeps a copy of the book Te'ezaza Sanbat above his bed. This is his heritage from his father, Devterah Iyasu Gonchel (devterah is the title held by one who has engaged in religious studies, but was not ordained as a qes). The book is inside a leather case, cut exactly to the book's dimensions. This case, that apparently played a major role in preserving this book so well for so many years, has a strap encompassing the entire case, so that it can be carried over a person's shoulder. My father, who accompanied my grandfather on his many journeys throughout the different regions of Ethiopia, told me that as a child he would carry the book on his shoulder. The book's general appearance is not spectacular, but in several aspects, good things come in small packages.
Te'ezaza Sanbat is a relatively small-sized book, but, as we shall see below, it profoundly influenced Ethiopian Jews and their history. This book cannot be divorced from the way of life of this isolated Jewish community, that knew both the glory days of its vast kingdom in both hill and vale, and its period of wandering, when it was dispossessed from its lands. My family's copy of Te'ezaza Sanbat that my father carried in his youth is living testimony to events and people that were and are no more, episodes from the nineteenth century that my grandfather personally experienced, to remain as photographs in his memory. On the way from one village to the next and from the village to the city, around the fire that was kindled as night approached, the snapshots became sounds and words, and living tales of what had become history. As a link in the family chain, I was privileged to hear from my father, who transmitted in turn what he had heard, of formative happenings in the annals of the Ethiopian Jewish community, events that my grandfather personally experienced. My father did not hear only of historical events of communal import; he witnessed the events and upheavals that the members of our own family had experienced in recent generations, that almost resulted in their annihilation.
"K'fue Zemen" - Harsh Times
My grandfather began his life as an ascetic, and was meant to end it as such, as well: devoting his entire life to worship, study, and prayer, without marrying, as was the case with many from his family. My father heard from him of the "k'fue zemen," the "harsh times," or as it was more commonly known, "k'fue ken." This difficult time in the history of Ethiopian Jewry took on the dimensions of a holocaust. Historians place this period between the years 1888-1892. This was before my father had been born, but he knew, from his father, that seven whole years passed before the land knew any relief. These seven bad years were the result of a combination of several fateful disasters that followed one another: the battlefront that opened on the Sudanese border claimed many lives and led to instability in the country; a severe drought and famine that took many victims; an infestation of locusts that covered the earth and destroyed all the crops in the fields; and a cattle plague that eliminated about ninety percent of the herds in Ethiopia. My father told us that Ethiopian Jews were left without a single head of cattle. Due to the severe famine and the constant search for food, people ate roots and grass, and in their despair they even roasted the strips of dry leather used in bedding in order to assuage their hunger. Two of my grandfather's uncles lost their lives after they took lettuce leaves from a stranger's field at night, without realizing that the field owner followed the path of torn lettuce leaves that they had left. When they were at the door of their homes, the field owner shot them to death. One of them was killed before his wife's eyes. Tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews died during this short span of time. The government was just a dim memory of what it had been in better times, and, in actuality, had ceased to exist in large areas of this vast land. In the absence of any law, the country was totally transformed, brigands were to be found everywhere, and they unhesitatingly shot anyone who was thought to possess property. Another of my grandfather's uncles, who was named Zer'u (and for whom my father named his firstborn son), died at the hands of a person who erroneously thought that the bundle he was running with contained money or something to eat, and shot him in the back and killed him. But Zer'u had neither money nor food in his bundle, but a copy of the Orit (the Torah of Ethiopian Jewry, translated into Ge'ez), that he feared would be stolen from him. When he died, the Orit, and apparently the Te'ezaza Sanbat, fell into the hands of strangers, until they returned to my family after the k'fue zemen.
The famine years left Ethiopian Jewry helpless, and my grandfather as the only remnant of his extended family. Many of his relatives were ascetics who did not marry and have children. All of my grandfather's uncles, Abba Iyov, Minaseh, and Zer'u, chose asceticism as a way of life. Their sister Emahorit also chose to forgo motherhood, and elected to live an ascetic and celibate life. Because of the ascetic lifestyle of many members of the Beit Itamar family - as my grandfather's extended family was known - the family was very small, even in normal times. So that our line would not become extinct, the community elders sought to marry off my grandfather. Despite the opposition by other elders, who thought that an ascetic could not marry, his townspeople finally succeeded in arranging a marriage for my grandfather, thus enabling the writing of this article by one of his descendants. My father heard all this from his father; he had not been present to watch these events as they unfolded, only the Te'ezaza Sanbat bore witness.
Form and Content
Before speaking of the content of the book, I would like to devote a few words to its form. The book belonged to my grandfather, who was born 132 years ago, in 1874. He inherited it from his father or from some other relative. Without any record of the year of its composition, its exact age cannot be determined, but a cursory glance suffices to demonstrate its antiquity. It is about as big as a modern book; its binding is of whole wood, and matches the size of the pages. The book's pages, that are double pages folded in two, are of parchment worked in the traditional way, but are arranged in a manner similar to that of many modern books. The pages are joined by threads or thin leather strands. The inner part of the binding is lined with soft leather, to protect the parchment pages from the harsh texture of the wood binding. Due to all these features, the book, which is entirely handmade, has the look of a museum piece. My father received the book from his brother, Memhreh Yis'haq, who was the leading qes in the region of Ethiopia where we lived. My father learned to read and write from his father, but because of the burden of earning his livelihood, and the fact that he was almost the sole breadwinner for three families, his reading of Te'ezaza Sanbat was quite rare. My grandfather, in contrast, who was raised with the ascetics, whose entire life consisted of prayer and study of the holy books, was quite familiar with the book, and my father heard of it and its contents from him.
"May God, the God of Israel, be blessed." This, in red ink, is how the Te'ezaza Sanbat ("the commandment of the Sabbath," as this is usually translated) begins. This opening is quite common, and appears at the beginning of the Ethiopian books of Baruch and Ezra, the Book of Angels, Ard'e'ti, Mote Museh, Mote Ah'ron, and other books. Much of the literature of Ethiopian Jewry sheds light on the lives of Biblical characters. Mote Museh depicts the events from the time that the Angel of Death informed Moses that he demands his soul to his burial. Moses' death is depicted in great detail; the description does not pass over his wife, children, and mother, who remain alive, accompanied by profound sorrow and empathy. Mote Ah'ron similarly sets forth the death of Aaron, thus expanding on the very short descriptions of these two events (not more a few verses) in the Bible. Ethiopian Jewry was especially captivated by the book of Baruch, who calls upon God and asks: "That I not see the destruction of Jerusalem"; God answers his prayer, and puts him in a deep sleep from the time that Nebuchadnezzar camped against Jerusalem. During this coma, Baruch ascends to Heaven. He sees the reward of the righteous, each according to his righteousness, and the punishment of the wicked, each according to his wickedness. The Te'ezaza Sanbat, however, was undoubtedly the most important book among the corpus of Ethiopian Jewry's literature, and had the greatest influence on their way of life in the Ethiopian diaspora.
A Hidden Code
Like all the holy books of Ethiopian Jewry, the Te'ezaza Sanbat is written in encoded language that is not comprehensible even to the laymen of the community themselves. It is written in Ge'ez, the ancient language of the kingdom of Aksum (which, according to the tradition of the Ethiopian people, was a Jewish kingdom), which controlled trade in Egypt, the Red Sea, and the Arabian peninsula. It was the third largest kingdom in the world, according to Mani (Manichaeus), a Persian in the third century CE, who was thought by his contemporaries to be a prophet, and who is currently perceived as a historian of antiquity. Mani listed Aksum among the empires of his time, along with the Babylonian-Persian and Roman empires. The official language of Aksum was Ge'ez, the language in which its inhabitants spoke, wrote, loved, laughed, and conducted their lives. Ge'ez, like Hebrew, is a Semitic language and shares about half of its basic vocabulary with Hebrew. Once it ceased to be the vernacular, it continued to be used in writing for another thousand years, before suffering the same fate as ancient Hebrew, until the latter was revived by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. The only time one can hear its ancient sounds today is in prayer. The traditional prayer of Ethiopian Jews (and of the Christians living in the country) that bursts forth in Ge'ez is the lone island where the language still lives.
Ethiopian prayer radically differs from the prayers that developed in the other Jewish diasporas. One of the major differences is that Ethiopian prayer is not recited from a written text. The "prayerbook" is an element foreign to Ethiopian ceremonies, and to the prayer ceremony in general. The Ethiopian prayers are recited entirely by heart, in a sort of circle: the qesim who stand in the inner part chant the prayers, passage by passage, and the congregation responds in turn with a corresponding passage. As is fitting for poetry, the prayer is accompanied by special percussion and other musical instruments. Each Friday, before the world is enwrapped in darkness, the qesim - to this day - stand in the center of every Ethiopian synagogue and set to music the prayers, that are mainly from the Bible, and especially the book of Psalms. In the center of the modern synagogue, with its air-conditioning and electric lights, is the prayer circle - a small part from another world and time. In the past, the prayers were conducted in synagogues made of natural materials; the prayer, itself, was completely natural, just like the synagogue's wooden walls. The prayer tradition of Ethiopian Jewry was preserved for thousands of years, even without prayerbooks, or perhaps because of their absence. Like prayer, very many customs are preserved from very early periods. In a culture in which no one questions the validity and force of custom, which represents the way of the preceding generation to mark its existence in the world, ancient traditions are preserved even after the generations themselves have physically left the world. The sounds of this ancient language raise before my eyes the priests and ascetics of all the generations, who stand in the prayer circle and play on the traditional instruments. Their singing seems to burst forth from the parchment pages, their raised voices reach us, and the eternal and the temporal intermingle with each other.
Oral and Written
The general Israeli population today has the notion that Ethiopian Jewry hardly were familiar with the commandments, since they did not possess the Oral Law. I frequently realize, for example, that the general public is surprised to hear that Ethiopian Jews recite Kiddush on the Sabbath. This prevalent view, like many of its kind, is totally divorced from the reality. The truth is that the Judaism practiced today lacks many of the major components of early Judaism, as it existed in the agrarian world from the time close to the Giving of the Torah to the period of Exile. It lacks many commandments that were observed by every Jew before the people went into exile. The commandments observed at present by the average religious Jew are mostly of Rabbinic origin. The agricultural commandments, the purity laws, those pertaining to the offering of sacrifices - all are mandates of the Torah that, in practice, were almost entirely canceled and are not practiced in the current world of Torah. In fact, a precise examination will show that Ethiopian Jews preserved with great devotion many of the subjects that are mentioned in the written Torah, and that seem to have no place in the current world of Orthodox Judaism.
Ethiopian Jewry is one of the most studied of Jewish communities, and every study or article that examined its religious aspect shows its distinctiveness from the other diasporas, in that its practices are based on the written Torah, similar to the Karaites, who do not recognize the Oral Law. In truth, however, the Ethiopian exile is the only place within the entire Jewish diaspora where the Oral Law is actually observed. From the time that the Tannaim decided to write down the Mishnah, and the Amoraim concluded the Talmud and committed it to writing, the "Oral Law" ceased to exist. This was not the case among the Jews of Ethiopia, who orally transmitted the halakhah, from father to son and from mother to daughter. A child absorbed the halakhah from the very walls of his house, and it was learned from the way of life of his father, his family, and his community, with no need to burrow through thick tomes. From the moment that the leaders of Judaism decided to ignore the prohibition and committed the Oral Law to writing, the Jewish halakhah became inflexible and the way was opened for mounds upon mounds of interpretations.
Although, generally speaking, Ethiopian Jews followed an Oral Law that had not been written down, Te'ezaza Sanbat, the book of the Sabbath, is an exception. It refers to many subjects that have their source in the Oral Law and in the early Rabbinic literature; and it even contains midrashim that are very common in the world of the Rabbis. The authenticity of Te'ezaza Sanbat as a Jewish work is undisputed; this view is also shared by scholars, even though most are not favorably inclined to the Ethiopian Jewish community, and some are prepared to regard it as a local Ethiopian Christian sect, because of the infiltration of literary contents from Ethiopia's Christians to its Jews. True, Ethiopian Jewry did not hesitate to make use of the Christian religious literature, after it had undergone "conversion," with the removal of beliefs and contents foreign to Judaism that emerged from the borrowed texts. As regards Te'ezaza Sanbat, however, it is universally acknowledged that this is a Jewish work the likes of which are not to be found among any other religious group in Ethiopia, or even within the entire Jewish world. Te'ezaza Sanbat is therefore an example of the Oral Law of Ethiopian Jewry that eventually found its way to written form.
The Dust of the Earth
The book opens with a day by day summary of the Creation, before focusing on a description of the creation of man, in a singular portrayal the likes of which are not to be found in any of the ramified Rabbinic sources. According to this narrative, when God desired to create the world, He sent the angel G'rmael to earth. The angel descended to the land of Dudalem, to take dust with which to create Adam's body. Once G'rmael had filled his hands with earth to carry out this important mission, the earth cried out and adjured G'rmael in the Name of God to leave it be. Out of awe for the holy Name, the angel left the earth and returned to Heaven empty-handed, trembling from head to foot. When G'rmael was asked why he had not fulfilled his task, he replied that the earth had called out in the Name of God, and he was in awe of the holy Name. God consoled the angel, encouraged him, and praised him for his awe of His Name. Then Aksael was sent to earth. He, too, returned empty-handed because of his great reverence for God's great Name, and he, too, was pardoned as recompense for his awe of the Name. The third angel was contemptuous of his two predecessors, and volunteered for the mission. When Sat'nael descended to the land of Dudalem, the earth sensed his approach and shook before his arrival. Sat'nael disregarded the earth's entreaties, and instead of taking dirt from it, a pit opened to the center of the earth. Sat'nael presented himself before God, with a heap of dirt in his hand. He was asked, how it happened that he did not hold the holy Name of God in awe. Sat'nael was punished by being turned into fire, and he was cast into the tremendous pit that he himself had dug, Gehinnom [Hell]. Sat'nael asked to be accompanied by those who had sinned like him, and his request was granted. The narrative further relates that the great wingless eagle Tani, who goes from one end of the earth to the other, was sent to scout Gehinnom, but not even twenty years sufficed for Tani to reach its end. The eagle returned to its Creator, bearing the marks of the fire on its body. It apologized for not having reached the ends of Gehinnom, and depicted the horrors it had seen. The only hope for the denizens of Gehinnom is the Shabbat: only it has the power to release them from the anguish they suffer in the pit. The Shabbat stands before God, and asks that the sinners be released from their affliction. Once God gave His consent, the Shabbat orders Michael, Gabriel, Rumael and Uriel to descend to the core of Gehinnom and rescue from the eternal flames those who sinned against God, but not those who sinned against the Shabbat.
Shabbat Overrides the Saving of Life
Despite the unique nature of this portrayal of the creation of man, it is only a preface to the main part of the book, that begins with the words: "These are the commandments of the Shabbat." The book then lists the Shabbat prohibitions. The only two of the prohibitions mentioned here that also appear in the written Torah are the prohibition of labor and the prohibition of carrying from domain to domain. The other Shabbat prohibitions, such as riding on a beast or embarking or sailing on a ship, are actually Rabbinic enactments, according to the accepted Orthodox conception, but Te'ezaza Sanbat does not draw such a distinction. Riding on an animal the on Shabbat is a severe prohibition, just like the ban on labor, and one who violates it is deemed to desecrate the Shabbat.
The prohibitions in Te'ezaza Sanbat dictated the way of life of Ethiopian Jewry, in practice as well as in theory. Every adult Ethiopian Jew undoubtedly can tell a personal story or two that teaches of the importance of the Shabbat, and of the strict and uncompromising attitude that this Jewry ordained in the observance of its laws. As for me and my family, and the group of people with us during our journey to Israel, I can attest that the black letters on the white parchment of the book almost cost us our lives during this trek. We set out for Sudan, with Israel as our final destination, as we evaded the soldiers of the Ethiopian army, on the one hand, and the inhabitants of the regions through which we passed, on the other. We also hoped not to fall into the hands of the bandits who seemed to swarm in every forest of this country that was torn by civil war. One Friday we found ourselves in a desolate location. Shortly before night fell, close to Shabbat, each member of the group unloaded his pack animals, put down whatever he carried, and sat on the ground, because we could not continue the journey on the holy day. The Christian guides who accompanied us were not willing to stop moving, and they warned us, sincerely concerned, that we risked death: they knew the area like the back of their hand, and there was no source of water where we stopped. The group, that numbered close to two hundred people, decided to die rather than violate the command of Te'ezaza Sanbat: "The one who travels on the Shabbat shall be put to death." When the guides returned after Shabbat and expected to find corpses, they were surprised to see us all alive. We had found a source of water that they had missed. This was not a rare or exceptional occurrence, since the Te'ezaza Sanbat does not recognize the possibility of Shabbat violation to save life.
Nor did the Te'ezaza Sanbat lose any of its authority in Sudan. Due to the rigors of the journey and the prolonged stay in Sudan, the desire to observe the Shabbat frequently led to life-threatening situations. Very few of the waves of Ethiopian Jews who streamed into this enemy country did not quickly fall ill, as a result of the arduous conditions on the way, poor sanitary conditions, and a long list of additional factors. Like many others, my father became sick and had to go to the Red Cross clinic every day to receive an injection, for an entire month. My father would come six days a week, be absent on the Shabbat, and then come again on Sunday, only in order to be scolded by the doctors and nurses, who explained to him every Sunday, all over again, that he was putting his life at risk. He did not argue with what they said, but this was not enough to bring him to the clinic on the Shabbat, since medical measures are prohibited on this day.
Te'ezaza Sanbat takes a very strict approach to anything concerning the Shabbat. According to the halakhah observed in Ethiopia, as reflected in the book, nothing overrides Shabbat, not even the saving of life. The Shabbat is not to be desecrated on this account, not even for the lives of two hundred people who are liable to die of thirst. In the balance between the importance of the everlasting sanctity of the Shabbat, that attests to the eternal nature of the Creator, and transitory human lives, the Shabbat tips the scales. Nor is the Shabbat overridden by other commandments set forth in the Torah, such as circumcision. Ethiopian Jews postpone circumcision to Sunday, if the eighth day falls on Shabbat; according to ancient testimonies, Ethiopian Jews would even advance the circumcision to the seventh day; at any rate, circumcision on a Shabbat was inconceivable. According to the Orthodox halakhah, the act of circumcision overrides the Shabbat, since the commandment states: "On the eighth day," which seems to be a specific instruction that is superior to the general instruction of the prohibition of labor on the Shabbat. According, however, to the halakhah practiced by Ethiopian Jews, the Shabbat takes precedence over everything, and is not to be set aside for any purpose.
The One Who Observes a Fast on the Shabbat Shall Be Put to Death
The importance of the Shabbat as indicated by this book can also be learned from the prohibition of fasting on this day. The calendar of Ethiopian Jewry is replete with fast days. Every Monday and Thursday is a fast until the middle of the day, although this was observed mainly by the elderly. The Fast of Esther continues for three days, and not a single one, as is the practice in the other Jewish communities; the "great fast," that commemorates the destruction of the Temple, begins on Rosh Hodesh Av [the first day of Av] and extends for between 10 and 17 days, depending on the region in Ethiopia. All the fasts, with the exception of Yom Kippur, last until the middle of the day. As regards the Shabbat, Te'ezaza Sanbat prescribes: "The one who observes a fast on the Shabbat shall be put to death." Despite the severe nature of the Ethiopian halakhah,that favors asceticism, which it regards as a sign of blessed religious piety, asceticism and suffering on the Shabbat are regarded as a sin, and on this day they are replaced by eating and drinking, which are elevated from the level of physical necessity to that of commandment. The Shabbat was greatly honored by Ethiopian Jewry, even more than the most sanctified of days, Yom Kippur. If the latter fell on a Shabbat, then in the morning, when the qesim sanctified the day [by reciting Kiddush], Ethiopian Jews would taste from the Sabbath loaves that the women brought to the synagogue, to mark the Shabbat day. Although this was an insignificant tasting, even according to the Orthodox halakhah that establishes culpability for eating on Yom Kippur only in the amount of ka-zayit [the volume of an olive, about 28 grams], no normal religious person who follows the Orthodox halakhah would put anything in his mouth on Yom Kippur.
The Impure and the Pure
The religious literature unique to Ethiopian Jewry, that comprises Te'ezaza Sanbat and additional books, such as the Ethiopian book of Baruch, clearly advocates the religious conception that the way to reach the goal of being cleansed and ascend spiritually necessarily entails forgoing the pleasures of this world. This did not remain merely a pious platitude, and many Ethiopian Jews were motivated to adopt an ascetic lifestyle.
Even those, however, who did not withdraw from public life lived in the space between impurity and purity. Ethiopian Jews were exacting in their observance of the purity laws, as regards corpses and contact with them, as set forth in Numbers 19. The last red heifer for the purification of those who had incurred corpse impurity was slaughtered in Ethiopia 54 years ago, by my uncle Memhereh Yishak, the son of Devterah Ayasu. The remains of the heifer's ashes are preserved to this day in a pottery urn buried in one of the hills in the Bet Marya area in the Tigre province of Ethiopia. Ethiopian Jewry also strictly observed the purity laws regarding a new mother and a woman during her monthly period, as detailed in Leviticus 12. Menstruant women and new mothers would be secluded in a special house designated for this purpose.
The Orthodox halakhah that Torah scholars should engage in marital relations once a week, on the Shabbat, and that views relations between man and wife on the Shabbat, specifically, as commendable, is apparently the Rabbinic response to the various sects in Judaism who sought to ban relations on the Shabbat. The approach of Te'ezaza Sanbat is that weekday relations are, at most, a necessity that is not to be disparaged, but definitely not commanded, since they inevitably entail impurity, which certainly has no place on the holy Shabbat; it consequently mandates: "whoever lies with his wife on the Shabbat is to be put to death." Ethiopian Jews would purify themselves, and immerse in a ritual bath every Friday, in order the receive the Shabbat in a state of purity. Relations on the Shabbat could not be perceived as something desirable, and certainly not as the fulfillment of a commandment.
Te'ezaza Sanbat prescribed for Ethiopian Jewry a Shabbat different from what we are accustomed to in the Orthodox world. According to this book, not only work and impurity of all types are forbidden on the Shabbat. Beyond the obvious types of labor and the mandate to leave all tools aside, it also prohibits traveling and sailing in a river or at sea, the drawing of water from a well or a river, riding on an animal, or slaughtering it. Additionally, Te'ezaza Sanbat commands that a person's conduct on the Shabbat must be of a more sacred nature, and not as his weekday deportment. A person must not sit under the blazing sun. Likewise, anyone who foments a quarrel, curses, or even raises his voice on the Shabbat is to be put to death. These commandments led to a restriction of activity that sharpened the distinction between the days of the week and the Shabbat, and gave the latter its so singular nature.
Te'ezaza Sanbat calls upon those faithful to the Shabbat not to come to it with empty hands, but to fulfill the commandment of charity on the Shabbat itself. In Ethiopia, all those attending the synagogue would give charity on the Shabbat to the religious leaders. According to the Orthodox halakhah, in contrast, money is regarded as muktzeh [something that is not designated for use on the Shabbat, and therefore may not be handled] lest people be tempted to engage in business on the Shabbat (incidentally, the prohibition of the handling of money on the Shabbat appears only in the books of the Prophets, and not in the Torah). The process of the writing of the Jewish halakhah, which is still ongoing, brought about inner changes in the early halakhah, which, over the course of time, lost its flexibility, and is now more rigid. Judaism, without its early halakhic adaptability, has been transformed. The halakhic flexibility that enabled Ruth the Moabite to enter the Jewish people, and which resulted in the birth of King David, her direct descendent from whose the Messiah will be born, is a memory, and no more.
Despite its strictness regarding the Shabbat, the Ethiopian halakhah apparently attests to earlier Jewish tradition, and to a more flexible halakhic stance. It provides Ethiopian Jewry with room to maneuver, and maintains a certain degree of autonomy for the individual. According to the Ethiopian halakhah, as well, it would be unthinkable to engage in business on the Shabbat, but there is no reason why a person should not use his money in a way that is not forbidden on the Shabbat, such as fulfilling the obligation of charity.
At the end of the book I found this later addition: "This is the line of my father: Yirdai begot Redai, who begot Elsa, who begot Gunchel, who begot Aisu, who begot Dejen." This is only one of several family lineages that are set forth in this addition. At times these ramified genealogies list the lineage from my grandmother, and in other instances, that from my grandfather. My father told me that as a child he would stand before his father and repeat the genealogy until he could recite it by heart. Ethiopian Jews regard themselves as one of many links in a lengthy chain that extended back to the Patriarchs. This human chain of father, son, grandchild, and onward, that is composed entirely of transitory mortals, links man to the eternal. Devterah Iyasu was the last in the chain, and he would have ended the family line, if events had not turned out as they did. This may be why he imparted such importance to learning the connection to past generations, to the eternal, and why he commanded his son to memorize the names of his ancestors. The book Te'ezaza Sanbat gave me a glimpse into the life of my forefathers in past centuries, and into the life of the Ethiopian Jewish community's early halakhah, whose precise age will probably never be determined. The halakhah that emerges from the pages of the Te'ezaza Sanbat smashes against the gates of the Land of Israel, and the book's lament at the impossibility of living such a religious life today echoes in my heart. Like the language in which it was written, its contents are slowly becoming incapable of leaving the realm of parchment and of touching the world. A complete life idea, and a religious system that survived for millennia and endured religious persecutions, are coming to an end, and every day that passes draws them closer to oblivion. But the human chain continues: and Dejen begot Yaakov.