Library > News > After Centuries: A Rare Bible of the Jews of Ethiopia Reaches Jerusalem

After Centuries: A Rare Bible of the Jews of Ethiopia Reaches Jerusalem

A rare copy of the Oeiryt [Torah] used by Ethiopian Jews was welcomed into the collection of the National Library on Monday, 21.3.2016' to the sounds of singing, spontaneous dancing, ululations, and the handing out of sweets.


The book, translated from Hebrew to the ancient Ge’ez language, was written hundreds of years ago and was used by, among others, the great spiritual leader of Ethiopian Jews in the Tigray Region Kes Isaac Yaso The original hand-written manuscript of the “Oreiyt” (the word stems from the Aramaic word “oreiyta,” meaning Torah) contains the Five Books of Moses along with the books of Joshua, Judges and the Book of Ruth. The Oreiyt is part of the matsahaf qados (the Holy Scripture) of the Ethiopian community.


The book figured prominently in the life of the community: the celebration of festivals and holidays as well as the daily lives of the Jews of Ethiopia were conducted according to it and the community attributes it great sanctity. With his immigration to Israel the Kes decreed that the book was destined for Jerusalem, and now it has reached its intended ultimate destination.

This is a very rare treasure as there are almost no existing copies of the Oreiyt either in Israel or the world.


The Oreiyt experienced many ordeals until it eventually reached the NLI. The Jewish priests of the community handed down the book from generation to generation. Yaakov Guncel, a nephew of the Kes said that his grandfather was in possession of the book back when he lived in the Wolkeit Region. At that time, at the end of the 19th century, the situation of the Jewish community had drastically deteriorated and the grandfather was forced to move to Tigray. Against all odds, the grandfather was able to safeguard the book.    



Later on the grandfather passed down the book to his son, Kes Isaac Yaso, who would use it and read from it before the entire community. In the early 1980s the book endured the long journey to Sudan and from there to Israel. Yaakov tells that on this journey the book was again almost lost, in an attack by thieves. Miraculously, however, the thieves decided not to take the book.


The Oreiyt will undergo a thorough examination to assess its condition, and if necessary will undergo conservation and restoration, and ultimately will also be scanned in order to be made accessible to the entire Jewish people.


“There is no doubt that acquiring this unique manuscript, among the few that exist, constitutes a significant and important contribution to our efforts to document the religious and cultural life of the Jewish communities,” says Curator of Judaica Dr. Yoel Finkelman. “We will preserve the manuscript, scan it, and upload the images to the internet, and make sure that the volume continues to be accessible to the public at large and to members of the community in particular for many generations to come.”


Photos: Polina Aizenberg, National Library of Israel. For additional images see our flickr.