Rabbi Abraham Ben David of Posquières (Rabad)
(c. 1125-1198 [4860-4958])
Rabbi Akiva explains: “And you shall be lost among the nations” -these are the Ten Tribes who were exiled to Medes.
Rabbi Akiva believed that the Ten Tribes will not return, and that their being lost is meant in a sense of complete annihilation. Others explain that this loss is exile. And still others say that even this exile is meant in a sense of annihilation, and that no one disputes R. Akiva’s interpretation. And still there are those who say that the loss refers to exile, and even though it is written “And the land of the enemies shall devour them”, it still does not imply annihilation. (Commentary on Leviticus 26)
Rabbi David Kimhi (Radak)
“And on that day a great horn shall sound” – they will gather as if a great horn was sounded – those who were lost, who are the tribes which were exiled beyond the river where the king of Assyria placed them. And this is the land of Assyria where they were so scattered as to seem that they will never return from there. (Commentary on Isaiah 27)
Rabbi Moses ben Nahman (Nahmanides – Ramban)
“I thought I would make an end to them” – in my opinion this is a complex word as mentioned in Sifri, but its meaning is that I will place them in an out of the way place, so that none will remain among the nations, and their location will not be known. (Sefer Hageula, p. 273, Schevel edition)
Rabbi Menahem Ben Solomon (HaMeiri)
In the case of a gentile who marries in our day, we do not suspect him of being of Israel. For it was their tradition that the women who were exiled at that time made themselves so undesirable that no man wanted them. And it was also a tradition that all those who assimilated, men and women, did so completely, so that a Rabbinic court of that generation considered them gentiles, outside of the laws of Israel. (Beit Habehira to Yevamot 17, 2)
Rabbi Levi Ben Gershon (Ralbag)
“And will return and gather you from all the people” (Deuteronomy 30). This was not the Babylonian exile because the Ten Tribes that were exiled to Halah, Habor and the cities of Medes did not return, and so we are forced to understand that the Torah is hinting at our own exile.
(Commentary on the Torah, Vayelech) “And will return and gather you from all the peoples whither the Lord G-d has scattered you, if your dispersed are even in the uppermost parts of heaven” (Deuteronomy 30). His points to our own exile and to the ingathering of the Ten Tribes, because this did not take place yet, and we know this because during the Second Temple not all gathered, and most stayed under the yoke of other kingdoms. (Responsa, part 4, 187)
Rabbi Joseph Albo (Ha-Ikkarim)
(15th century [5140-5204])
It is clearly explained that many things prophesied by Ezekiel did not come to pass at the time of Ezra, nor during the Second Temple, such as the dividing of the land to the tribes, which did not happen during the Second Temple. (Fourth Treatise, 42)
Rabbi David Ben Zimra (Radbaz)
Question – in chapter Helek – the Ten Tribes will not return, as R. Akiva says. And R. Eliezer disputes with him. We, however, must agree with R. Akiva, because we have established (Eruvin 40) that the Halakha is according to R. Akiva. So, accordingly, there will only be two tribes at the time of the Messiah. But our Sages have taught us the secret of the Twelve Tribes, so how is it possible that Ten Tribes will be absent, according to R. Akiva? In addition, it is written in Ezekiel 47: “Thus says the Lord G-d: This shall be the border whereby you shall divide the land…” Is this understood to be a prophecy for the future?
Answer: Know that there are those who explain that this dispute is not for the time of the Messiah, but for the World to Come. And so it seems from the baraita which is brought in the Talmud: “Our Sages learned that the Ten Tribes will not have a part in the World to come, as it is written: “And G-d scattered them…” – and so we can easily understand that what was meant is that the Ten Tribes alone were punished for being evil, but not their sons. However, many commentators agree that they will not return at the time of the Messiah, so we are compelled to explain that they were so evil that a Rabbinic court declared them complete gentiles, as it is written in Yevamot page 17, and so their sons, also, are not included in Israel, and we do not suspect their marriage as being a Jewish one. We can establish, however, that there must have been a small number of people from other tribes in the land of Judah and Benjamin, because important persons of all tribes resided in Jerusalem (Taanit 26). And when the time comes, each will come to know his family and tribe, and the few will increase, and each tribe will grow as the tribe of Benjamin did, until they will be as many as when they were in Egypt, as it is written: “I will make wonders as at the time when you came out of Egypt”.
Not that I agree with the established explanation of what R. Akiva said, even with the first explanation, because two Tannaim disagree with him – R. Eliezer and R. Shimon Ben Yehuda of Akko in the name of R. Shimon. And therefore I believe that they will return, and also have a part in the World to Come. (Responsa, Orakh Haim p. 8, part 85)
Rabbi Tuviah ha-Levi (Hen Tov)
It seems to me that all explain the saying to both their credit and their discredit. “As of this day” – which is daylight returning after the night – or also as a day which once gone does not return. How can we explain it both ways? Gone without return for that specific generation, but shines again for their sons in the future. Even of those whom Jeremiah returned and over whom Josiah reigned, some returned and the day shone on them, and those who did not return will not return, as R. Akiva says. And R. Eliezer says that “this day” is for those who scattered, that their darkness will be brightened. (Nitzavim, page 301 – in commentary 6 Sanhedrin chap. 10)
Rabbi Azariah (Min HaAdummim) Rossi
(c. 1511-c. 1157 [5273-5338])
We find a discussion in the first chapter of Tractate Megillah that Josiah the king went to ask the advice of Hulda the Prophetess, and not of Jeremiah. About this R. Jochanan says that Jeremiah had gone to fetch the Ten Tribes.
You should not pay any attention to this deduction, because it is a legend that is not to be studied and accepted as tradition. We can, however, find in Chronicles II, 5, written by Ezra, as deduced in the first chapter of Tractate Baba Batra, that he writes about the exile of Halah and Habor, which was still in force in his day. And if it was so in his day, certainly in the time of Josiah and Jeremiah they had not returned.
In addition, if you claim that they returned, you make lies out of the prophecies that foretell of Judah and Israel dwelling together on their land, an event that had not yet taken place. In particular the prophecy of Ezekiel 37” “Take one wood for Judah and one wood for Ephraim”, and the whole of the prophecy which is not conditional, but rather a vow by G-d to Judah – which is the kingdom of the two tribes, and to the whole of the house of Israel – which is the Ten Tribes. And we learnt a whole Mishna in chapter Helek about R. Akiva and R. Eliezer who lived during the Destruction. We find them disputing the return of the tribes, from which we can deduce that in their time things had not changed.
Because of all these facts Rashi is forced to explain R. Jochanan’s saying as meaning that Jeremiah went to fetch the tribes, but only few out of the many actually returned. (Me’or Einayim, part 3, 13)
Rabbi Abraham Yagei (Beit Ya’ar Halevanon)
You see from these sayings that they are still in exile, and have not returned, though written in Tractate Megillah that Jeremiah fetched them. And we can interpret that statement as Rashi does in explaining R. Jochanan, that Jeremiah returned only few out of the many, and the rest were not so lost that they might be lost forever among the nations.
It is written: “I will not lose face to you for I am righteous and will not revenge for ever”. This fits with the prophecy of Ezekiel about dividing the land equally among the Twelve Tribes, which implies that they will all return, each tribe with its people, so they can inherit equally. And it would be unfair that few of a tribe, as might have returned with Jeremiah, should divide equally with a fully peopled tribe. So we must say that they will inherit equally, although he meant the future generation, and not the evil generation that was exiled.
And about which is written of losing face because G-d is righteous, He means that you deserve My anger, but My righteousness will not allow an eternal anger about your sins, so after a long time of being angry their waiting will be rewarded by His returning among his people.
So this prophecy proves the return of the Ten Tribes, and that G-d will dwell within them forever, and they will no longer defile His Holy dwelling, so that these things are still to come to pass, including the dividing of the land of Israel to the Twelve Tribes. (The Shape of the Temple, Jerusalem 730)
Rabbi Samuel Eliezer ha-Levi Edels (Maharsha)
Hosea prophesied that a ruler would rule over the Ten Tribes when they return. You may side with those who say at the end of Helek (p. 110) that the Ten Tribes will not return. But for those who say that the Ten Tribes will return, it is self understood that the ruler over the Ten Tribes when they return will be the Messiah, and may it be in our day, Amen. (Commentary on Aggadot, Arakhin 33)
We say then that the Ten Tribes did not return in the days of Jeremiah, but that Josiah went to various places in their tribal lands to destroy the idols that remained behind when they were exiled. (Ibid., Megillah 14)
Rabbi Moses Sofer Schreiber (Hatam Sofer)
The redemption is one of the basic tenets of our faith, and if this tenet falls, then the whole wall will tumble down. Therefore I cannot believe that someone would say that our sins would cause us eternal exile, as does Rabbi Akiva when he says that the Ten Tribes will be scattered forever.
However, since the basis of our faith is to believe in the Torah and the Prophets, and our final redemption is clearly stated there, then whosoever doubts this final redemption denies the basic tenet of believing in the Torah and the Prophets. (Responsa, Hatam Sofer Yoreh Deah, 356)
Rabbi Israel Lipschitz (Tiferet Yisrael)
It seems to me that Jeremiah returned many of them, as indicated in Megilla and Arakhin, only that many who remained were assimilated into the gentiles. We knew that many of them were in India and China and Abyssinia, and they know only that they are Jews and they circumcise themselves and keep a few commandments. Their worship of G-d, however, is mixed with idol worship, and on this point Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer disagree: whether in the future those who were assimilated will return by force under the wings of the Divine Presence even though some of them are absolute idol worshippers, they have even forgotten the name of Israel. Only some Jewish customs remain from those of their ancestors, as in the case of the Afghan nation, whom some geographical scholars see as forgotten Jews. However, also in Egypt all were idol-worshippers and G-d in His mercy opened their eyes by force and redeemed them. (Commentary to Sanhedrin, Chapter Helek, Mishna 3)
Rabbi Zevi Hirsch Kalisher
I remember with great regard the good which my friend has done within his people with regard to the Falashas, to encourage our brethren to undertake to teach those who are in error how to worship our G-d in accordance with the oral and written Torah, and how to avoid being trapped by the missionaries, G-d forbid.
It is certainly a great mitzvah. (From a letter to Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer, published in the Book of the Jubilee, S. Carlebach, 1910)
Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer
Appeal to our brothers of Israel. For many years we have all been appalled by rumors coming from Africa, we have heard the cries of 250,000 of our brothers in the land of Kush (Abyssinia), who, because of the long exile and our sinfulness, retained only our 24 Holy Books, and Holidays, which were their reminders that they originated in Zion.
I know full well that each and everyone who hears of this terrible thing (that the missionaries are trying to entrap them) will be angry, because Israel are responsible for each other, and I, therefore, know that many of our faithful will make their concern known. And I, too, have not withheld my poor and weak hand, and have not rested, and have endeavored to speak up and express our thoughts in this matter, for my brothers and for G-d.
Therefore, be openhanded and generous in this important work for our lost brothers in the Land of Abyssinia. Do not weaken and be not silent, until this matter is settled, and the name of Israel will be glorified in the world.
Here in the Community of Eisenstadt, Hungary, 625. (In Hebrew, in the “Magid”, year 5, edition 47)
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook (RAI”H)
(From the preface to the book “Kol Mevasser” of Rabbi S.K. Horowitz and from the book “Ma’amarei Hare’aya”, part 1)
Jerusalem 18 of Shvat 5673 (1913)
To my beloved friend, the great luminary, the repository of wisdom and master of the unrevealed, Rabbi Shimon Zevi Horowitz, Head of the Shaar Hashamayim Yeshiva, here in the holy city of Jerusalem, may it be rebuilt and remain forever.
I hereby expressly thank for your very valuable work in the precious book “Kol Mevasser”, whose purpose is to arouse the interest of the best of our people to research and examine the whereabouts of our lost brothers classified in three general groups: The Ten Tribes, the Rechabites, and the Sons of Moses. You have compiled all that was written on this subject since ancient times, and all which concerns this holy matter, through the awakening of the spirit of purity in the hearts of Sages of Israel from past glorious generations to our very own generation. We witnessed great wonders when we saw how the idea of finding the Ten Tribes, which became so dear to the great man Menasseh Ben Israel of Blessed Memory, led to negotiations for the return of our brethren to Britain. And we see as a result of this deed the beginning of the redemption in our days, after the great events of the war, and the British declaration about our national home, which certainly was brought about by G-d. So that as a result of these events the general salvation will finally be revealed, which will bring closer the awaited redemption, with the help of G-d.
These three groups of brethren, who are hidden from us now and whom we so long to reveal, the Sons of Moses, the Ten Tribes and the Rechabites, are destined to be the surviving patrimony and the foundation for the reparation of the three major losses brought upon us by the exile and by the causes of the exile, namely the public and individual transgressions which preceded it, and which led our nation to this terrible crisis in which we find ourselves, “until the day breathes and the shadows flee away” (Song of Songs 2:17).
The first of the three losses is the darkening of the light of the Torah, because the exile of Israel from their place causes the greatest waste of the valuable time for learning Torah. (Tractate Hagiga, p. 5). This loss will be rectified by the Sons of Moses, the inheritors of the heavenly light of the Torah. “The depths of the Torah were given to Moses and his seed” (Tractate Nedarim, p. 35).
The second loss is that of the failing of strength and spiritual might, which is a singular trait of Israel. “Torah was given to Israel because of their spiritual might” (Tractate Betza, p. 28). The exile removed this might, the Pride of Israel which was taken from them” (Tractate Hagiga, p. 5). This loss will be remedied through the influence of the Ten Tribes; we expect them to arrive as a complete group, upright, strong and proud, and with the undiminished might of Israel.
The third loss is the loss of integrity, which was precipitated by the influence of the sinful nations that surrounded us. The causes of the exile and this bad influence, brought about by the foreign cultures of nations suffused with material desires, and the view of life and of the world which results from this suffusion, are the reason that we remain in the darkness of our exile until such time as the light of G-d will shine over us and a lowly nation will seek shelter in G-d’s name. To repair the loss caused by these material influences will come the Sons of the Rechabites, those typical Nazirites who served as an example and beacon to all of Israel with their loyalty of spirit and in their keeping themselves from being washed away by the flow of material life at the time of the exile, as is explained in Jeremiah 35. Through them we will return to the healthy, humble and pure life, which should be natural to a holy nation on its holy land, chosen over all nations under the heavens. All these most precious qualities in the world – the light of the Torah which comes from an enriched and overflowing soul, the greatness of spirit made majestic by holiness, integrity, the quietness of life with spiritual contentment – all are destined to return to us through the holiness of the Sabbath, the source of blessings and the basis of the redemption, and the longing for the revelation of the Sambatyon (Tractate Sanhedrin p. 65; Bereshit Rabba 11:6), which represents a concept of the Sabbath as the supreme connection descending from the lights of holiness and revealing itself also in the activities of a world wallowing in its material nature. This nation, may it come and be revealed to us speedily, is closely related me preparation of the emergence of the light of redemption which will follow the revealing and ingathering of the three groups of our hidden brothers whom we long to see brought to us and united as brothers, and then, together we will elevate the glory of the house of Israel in holy majesty with the might of G-d over His nation and His land.
Similarly, we must hope that your expectation, your research into this matter of seeking our hidden brothers, your travels and gathering of which pertains to this glorious matter, will be productive with G-d’s help, and will bring about a practical and spiritual awakening, and these matters will be clarified and elucidated in time, by the grace of the Rock of Israel.
I end this letter with the blessing that we may merit to see in our time speedy ingathering of our dispersed from the four corners of the earth, the house of Israel together with the house of Judah, “Their king is passed before them, and the Lord at the head of them” (Micah 2:13), as the supplication of all prisoners of hope who are awaiting the redemption and salvation of the nation and land of G-d, the raising of the glory, and in the light of complete repentance, a repentance of love which will bring the redeemer to Zion speedily and in our lifetime, Amen.
Your loving friend,
Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook
Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog
(From a letter to the Jewish Agency, The Director of Torah Culture and Education in the Diaspora, Adar 29, 5714/1954)
I was extremely interested by the report you sent me. I congratulate you and wish you success in your effort to bring the Falashas closer to their Jewish origin, and there is great merit in this holy work. There is however, a very practical and interesting Halakhic point with regard to their marriage with Jews. The main question is whether they are descendants of converts or whether they are actually of the House of Israel. It is simpler if they are descendants of converts. The possibility of intermarriage which they mistakenly permitted, or divorces which certainly were not in accordance with the Torah, cause concern about the probability of mamzerim among them. This applies if they are of Jewish origin. However, if they are descended from gentiles who converted, then they converted in order to embrace a Judaism that is not our true Judaism, but rather a Judaism that they learned from their mentors. In this case, a lenient view may be taken and we may consider that according to Jewish law they are not Jews, and as a result, their marriages or divorces have no bearing on Judaism, and there is no longer a risk of mamzerut. Therefore, they need only undergo ritual immersion and then they will be permitted to marry Jewish women. Certainly, all the aforesaid is in the realm of conjecture, and must be properly investigated and clarified by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel… My impression is that researchers have concluded that the Ethiopians are of gentile stock who later converted.
May you find strength and courage to bring them into the Jewish fold, under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in Zion our home. Trust in the G-d of Israel, and endeavor to struggle against the missionaries who want the souls of our Ethiopian brethren, and may G-d strengthen and uphold you and us in our deeds.
With blessings of the Torah and the land,
Isaac Izik Halevi Herzog
Chief Rabbi of Israel
Rabbi Moses Feinstein
(From a letter to his grandchild, Rabbi Mordechai Tendler, dated Sivan 26, 5744)
Upon your request, I will hereby confirm what you wrote in my name a number of years ago regarding the “Falasha Jews”. The Radbaz in his Responsa (7:9) asserts that they are Jews; However, it is difficult to act upon his opinion halakhically, because it is not certain that he was well acquainted with their situation, nor that this situation has not changed from his time to ours. Halakhically, however, they are not mamzerim, though there are various other uncertainties.
Their Jewishness is uncertain, and they require true conversion before being permitted to enter the fold. However, even before their conversion they must be protected from the dangers that threaten to remove them from Israel, even if their Jewish origin is uncertain. It must be understood that if they are not Jews halakhically, their belief in their Jewishness and their willingness to die for this belief places an obligation on us save them.
As you mentioned, they should be brought to the Land of Israel only after their conversion in order to prevent intermarriage. However, once they are properly converted, as I have heard that is done, they must be considered as other Jews and they must be upheld and supported in all their needs, both material and spiritual. We must prevent their being lost to the religion, which I think is done because of their dark color. They must be welcomed, but not because they are no less than other Jews, and halakhically their black color is not a hindrance, but also because they may be converts and we are commanded to love the convert.
I hope the situation will improve and the merit of fulfilling the commandments will hasten the ingathering of the Diaspora by our Messiah very soon.
Your loving grandfather,
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
(from a letter to Mr. Aharon Cohen, 13 Adar I 5744/1988)
Please find below my answers to the questions you asked in your letter of Monday, Adar I 5744:
- In the letter that I wrote on Friday 7 Adar I 5733 (1973) to Mr. Ovadia Hazzi, May the Lord watch over him, I based myself on the Radbaz and the Maharikas [Rabbi Jacob Ben Abraham Castro, 1525-1610] that the Falashas are considered as Jews, that it is a religious precept to rescue them and to bring them to our Holy Land. In any case, when I saw that the Chief Rabbis who preceded me, including the Gaon Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog of blessed memory, established that the Falashas should undergo a symbolic conversion by ritual immersion, without the necessity of a blessing for the women, and with only a ceremonial circumcision for the men, since they are already circumcised, I proceeded in accordance with this opinion. It may be that in some period the Falashas accepted converts into their community, and from ignorance of the laws of conversion, they were not converted properly in accordance with Halakha, and these converts intermarried into their community, and all the more so since in the book Otzar Israel (entry: Falashas), and in the Responsa of Ziz Eleazar (part 12, para. 66), there is very great doubt as to their Jewishness. Therefore, in order to remove any doubt as regards their Jewishness, I instructed that the Falashas should undergo ritual conversion: for the men, a ceremonial conversion and immersion (without a blessing), and for the women, immersion (without a blessing) and for them to say that they assume the yoke of Torah and mitzvoth. (Like any convert who must assume the yoke of Torah and Mitzvoth ritually).
- The measure of ritual conversion should never be abolished, based on the ruling of “Do not remove a precept instituted by your predecessors”, since in this way the people would be divided into camps for purposes of marriage with the Falashas. Even though in any case the Radbaz is in doubt about the rabbinical marriages with Falashas, since they are not conversant with the nature of divorce and marriage, this is not developed sufficiently, but is more developed elsewhere (Jerusalem Talmud 86 Rosh Hashanah); in another place he answered at length on the question of admitting the Karaites also into the Jewish people, and the same applies to the Falashas. There is no more room here to enlarge on the subject.
- After the Israeli government favorably received my provision of 1973, and we were fortunate that many Falasha Jews immigrated to Israel with their wives and children, it is a great mitzvah for all concerned to give them religious education. When they were in Ethiopia they were not acquainted with Jewish observance, and were very far from knowing the Oral Law. However, now that they are amongst us in our Holy Land, it is a sacred duty to teach them Torah, and to educate them to religious precepts and good deeds, in accordance with our Holy Torah, with wisdom and instruction to understand the words of wisdom in the laws of Shabbat and the Jewish holidays, Kashrut, and family purity, and the precepts of Eretz Israel and so forth, which if a man do, he shall live by them. And those who engage in this education have a great reward from the Holy One Blessed be He, as it is written: “if you bring forth the precious out of the vile, you shall be as my mouth”. The Lord will reward their work and they will receive full remuneration from the Lord, when do everything in their ability to return the dispersed of Israel to their origin and to restore passed glory.
Yours sincerely and with the blessing of the Torah,
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef