Intercepting missionaries: Jacob Sapir and Beta Israel contacts with Ottoman Jerusalem

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Abstract

The 1867 'counter-mission' to Ethiopia undertaken by Joseph Halévy drew on the assumption that the Beta Israel was currently in the clutches of Protestant missionaries. This article focuses on a slightly earlier, more regionally rooted and arguably less Eurocentric effort in thwarting the same threat, spearheaded by Jacob Sapir (1822-1885), an Ashkenazi rabbinic emissary. Although not easily teased out of the historical record, Sapir's efforts drew in fact on his own contacts with the missionary presence in Ottoman Jerusalem and elsewhere. While never setting foot in Ethiopia, Sapir successfully subverted a missionary line of communication with the leadership of the Beta Israel via Egypt. Simultaneously the journalistic crusade he had mounted on the pages of the Hebrew weekly Halevanon and elsewhere solidified the Beta Israel's place in the realm of rabbinic Judaism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-368
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Jewish Studies
Volume72
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2021

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