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Jews in Ethiopia were separated from the Christian and Moslem communities by their distinct way of life and religious customs.

The majority of Ethiopian Jews were farmers, but a smaller portion were traditional craftsmen, working as tinsmiths and tailors.

Overall the community had very little contact with other ethnic communities and developed a very rich culture in isolation.

Jews in Ethiopia lived in huts and their villages were built near rivers and streams in the mountainous regions of Ethiopia. Besides the economic benefits of living near the water, there was the importance of flowing waters in the rituals of purification and cleanliness practiced by the community. The Ethiopian Jews maintained a strict biblical code of purity surrounding menstruation, birth, death and preparation for the Sabbath. Fresh running water was therefore essential to the community's way of life and spiritual health.

The Kessim ("Kohanim") were the top religious and spiritual leaders of the Jewish community. Members of the community came to the Kessim for information related to religion, holidays, wedding ceremonies, divorce proceedings, burials, etc.

The 'Hashmaglitz' (Ethiopian elders) came second in rank to the Kessim. They were granted authority on the basis of wisdom and age. The Hashmaglitz had much power and fulfilled the role of social leaders. They assisted in resolving disagreements between neighbors and other personal issues.

The foundations of the Ethiopian Jewish community are built on the following values: mutual respect, politeness, modesty, fulfillment of promises, patience, visitation of mourners, and reception of guests.


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