The Ten Lost Tribes are still lost (Part 2)
For many years there were disagreements among Rabbis and historians alike regarding the origins of the Ethiopian Jews (Falashas).
In the 16th century the prominent Egyptian Rabbi David Ben Zimra 1479-1573 (known by his acronym as the Radvaz) discussed them in one of his responsa and came to the conclusion that they are the remnants of the lost tribe of Dan. Basing himself in part on the now somewhat discredited testimony of the ninth century figure Eldad the Danite אלדד הדני he writes:
הם משבט דן בלי ספק. ומפני שלא היו ביניהם חכמים בעלי קבלה תפסו להם פשטי הכתובים. אבל אם היו מלמדים אותם, לא היו פוקרים בדברי רבותינו ז"ל והוי כתינוק שנשבה לבין הגויים
ספר דברי דוד סימן ה
Translation (mine): "They are undoubetedly descended from the tribe of Dan and because there were no competent Torah scholars among them, they only understood Torah in the literal sense, however if they were properly taught they would not deny the teachings of our sages. They should be considered as a 'captive child' who knows no better"
When Operation Moses first airlifted thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 1984, the questions regarding their status was again posed to the leading Rabbinical authorities of that time. Then Sephardic Rishon LeZion Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ruled that they are Jews and based his ruling on the previous one of the Radvaz. Rabbi Yosef pointedly added "if our Ashkenazy brethren refuse to accept them , we will welcome them". Indeed some in the Ashkenazic Haredi community do not accept them as Jews (Chabad among others).
A recent scientific study sheds light on the origins of the Falashas lending credence to those who have long claimed that there is no racial distinction between Ethiopian Jews and non-Jews and in fact all Ethiopians share a common genetic as well as religious heritage. The legend of Solomon and Sheba is just that,a legend ( and it is entirely possible that the Ethiopian royal family is indeed descended from this union-I guess we will have to wait for genetic testing to confirm that- but there is no indication of Israelite origin among the general Ethiopian populace.
Gerard Lucotte and Pierre Smets in Human Biology (vol 71, December 1999, pp. 989 – 993) studied the DNA of 38 unrelated Beta Israel males living in Israel and 104 Ethiopians living in regions located north of Addis Ababa and concluded that "the distinctiveness of the Y-chromosome haplotype distribution of Beta Israel Jews from conventional Jewish populations and their relatively greater similarity in haplotype profile to non-Jewish Ethiopians are consistent with the view that the Beta Israel people descended from ancient inhabitants of Ethiopia who converted to Judaism." This study confirms the findings of an earlier study by Avshalom Zoossmann-Disken, A. Ticher, I. Hakim, Z. Goldwitch, A. Rubinstein, and Batsheva Bonné-Tamir titled "Genetic affinities of Ethiopian Jews," published in Israel Journal of Medical Sciences 27:245 (1991). A study of Y-chromosome biallelic haplotypes of Jewish and non-Jewish groups titled Jewish and Middle Eastern non-Jewish populations share a common pool of Y-chromosome biallelic haplotypes and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in June, 2000 suggested that "paternal gene pools of Jewish communities from Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East descended from a common Middle Eastern ancestral population," with the exception of the Beta Israel, who were "affiliated more closely with non-Jewish Ethiopians and other North Africans.". These Y-chromosome studies only speak to the paternal lineage (some ethnic groups are a product of one maternal lineage and a different paternal lineage, see Métis people (Canada), but a study of the Mitochondrial DNA (which is passed only along the maternal lineage) shows that the most common mtDNA type found among the Ethiopian Jewish sample was present elsewhere only in Somalia, furthering the view of most that Ethiopian Jews are of local (Ethiopian) origin.
However, a study performed by the Department of Biological Sciences at Stanford University did find a possible genetic similarity between 11 Ethiopian Jews and 4 Yemenite Jews who took part in the testing. The differentiation statistic and genetic distances for the 11 Ethiopian Jews and 4 Yemenite Jews tested were quite low, among the smallest of comparisons that involved either of these populations. Ethiopian Jewish Y-Chromosomal haplotype are often present in Yemenite and other Jewish populations, but analysis of Y-Chromosomal haplotype frequencies does not indicate a close relationship between Ethiopian Jewish groups. It is possible that the 4 Yemenite Jews from this study may be descendants of reverse migrants of African origin, who crossed Ethiopia to Yemen. The result from this study suggests that gene flow between Ethiopia and Yemen as a possible explanation. The study also suggests that the gene flow between Ethiopian and Yemenite Jewish populations may not have been direct, but instead could have been between Jewish and non-Jewish populations of both regions.