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Recently a user has asked a series of questions about the Beta Israel community and how they understand/practice their religion. From the questions it seems that this community has very significant differences in their basic texts and laws from the rest of the observant Jewish community.

Is this considered on topic for MY? To me it seems that since these are not questions that one who practices normative Judaism would know how to answer, they do not belong in this community. If someone wants to start a Stack Exchange for Beta Israel, fine, but these questions do not seem on topic to me.

To be clear, I am not taking a side on their Jewish status in halacha, but as to whether what they practice and refer to as Judaism is really Jewish enough to be on topic here. Just because a group claims to be practicing Judaism does not meant their claim has legitimacy. Just as Messianic Jews and Black Hebrew Israelites would not be on topic, neither should Beta Israel, if they have different canonical texts and interpretations.

(Again, in halacha they may be as Jewish as I am, but the question is about practice.)

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To be clear, I am not taking a side on their Jewish status in halacha, but as to whether what they practice and refer to as Judaism is really Jewish enough to be on topic here. Just because a group claims to be practicing Judaism does not meant their claim has legitimacy. Just as Messianic Jews and Black Hebrew Israelites would not be on topic, neither should Beta Israel, if they have different canonical texts and interpretations.

As far as I know Mi Yodeya accepts answers and questions that relate to traditional Judaism. Traditional Judaism (as I define it) means any strand of Judaism that has a longstanding, traceable tradition that goes back into some kind of antiquity. But for the case of Mi Yodeya I would propose defining traditional Judaism as having a traceable tradition into antiquity, and/or be a group of Jews who practice a type of Judaism that is the norm for a large amount of Jews.

By my definition I don't consider many strains of Kabbalah to be traditional Judaism as some books and modes of thinking only go back a few hundred years and seem to come out of nowhere. But obviously Kabbalah has become normalized and has spread to various communities to differing extents so Kabbalistic questions should be considered as being part of normative Judaism.

Defining traditional Judaism as either having a longstanding tradition or having wide acceptance within major Jewish movements would definitely filter out a lot of the "problematic" movements that I think worry many of us. For example, Karaite Judaism is a sore subject, but I (and Ovadia Yosef) do not consider Crimean Karaites to be legitimate Jews, as their community was not longstanding and we can't trace its lineage and customs and their customs can differ compared to the Karaite Jews who do have a longstanding tradition. This definition would also exclude questions or answers about Black Israelites or Messianic Jews as they are new movements that began within the last few centuries. Technically Messianic Judaism started thousands of years ago but the movement was cut off and almost all current Messianic Judaisms are not connected to early Messianic movements like the Ebionim and therefore shouldn't be covered on this site. But a Jewish group like Chabad that organically becomes Messianic even if it goes against "normative" Judaism? I think it should be covered on this site.

However, this definition would allow for Ethiopian Judaism to be covered on this site as Ethiopian Jews have been around a long time, and were known by various Jewish communities throughout the ages. They have been mentioned since Gaonic times, and the Radbaz speaks about them matter of factly even just a few hundred years ago. We as Rabbinic Jews also have a longstanding tradition with Egyptian Karaites, which is why Ovadia Yosef and many other Sephardic posqim treat the Egyptian Karaites very different than those from Crimea or other parts of Europe. We knew of the Egyptian community, we had contact with them, we intermarried with them (as the Cairo geniza proves), so to exclude Karaites or Ethiopians from this website for not being "Jewish enough" seems really problematic.

In short: As long as we are willing to accept traditional questions and answers about Judaism we have to accept that Rabbinic Judaism is not the only traditional type of Judaism that exists. And it is my opinion that all traditional forms of Judaism should be discussed here, even if the questions or answers deviate from Rabbinic Judaism. Here is a small list of groups that I think we should and could accept questions and answers from based on the definition I've set out:

Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism, Sephardic Judaism, Ethiopian Judaism, Egyptian Karaite Judaism, Ehtiopian Judaism, Samaritism, Kabbalistic Judaism, Chabad Messianic Judaism

Here is a small list of groups that I think we should and could reject questions and answers from based on the definition I've set out: Messianic Jews, Most forms of Christianity, All Karaites other than Egyptian Karaites, Black Israelites, Rastafarianism, Islam (unless it explicitly pertains to a tradition they received from Judaism, this does happen)

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  • The key phrase in your answer is "as I define it". Tellingly, your definition might exclude many chassidic groups or the mussar movement, even though they are thoroughly integrated into traditional Jewish life. I would define Judaism as within the norm of Judaism practicing worldwide. Tiny splinter groups with very different should be invalid, no matter how old they are. To illustrate, I can ask, how do kabbalists understand Gemara xyz and get a meaningful response, because the kabbalists are part of the Jewish tradition. I can't do the same with Beta Israel.
    – N.T.
    May 20 at 0:51
  • @N.T. Also tellingly the chassidic movement was put into Herem by the Vilna Gaon. At the end of the day there's no right or wrong answer here. But you grouped Beta Israel in with the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, that's like grouping Chabad in with Messianic Judaism. Sure there are similarities, even problematic ones. But clearly Chabad started as a tradition rooted in Judaism, whereas many Messianic Jewish movements did not.
    – Aaron
    May 20 at 18:40
  • You are focused on origin. I am focused on whether as of today, they are part of normative Judaism.
    – N.T.
    May 20 at 19:01
  • @N.T. No, I'm focused on tradition. We don't get to play who has the authoritative tradition on what normative tradition is. If we did then the Dor Deah Yemenites would win and the rest of us would be no normative.
    – Aaron
    May 20 at 23:00
  • There is a large group of Jews who follow halacha, and they identify with each other, differences aside. This includes chassidim, Teimanim, etc. but not Beta Israel. As for Dor Deah, they were isolated and lost some of the tradition, including kabbalah. They just are more stubborn about following Rambam alone.
    – N.T.
    May 21 at 2:31
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    Descriptively, questions about all strains of kabbalah have always been accepted as on topic dating back for the entire life of the site. So the proposal in this answer does not match longstanding practice. If you are proposing a major change in policy, that should be clearer and you should explain why there is a need to change.
    – Double AA Mod
    May 21 at 15:16
  • @N.T. Normative Judaism isn't an objective well-defined category. The rest of your discussion is just circular reasoning. (As well as historical speculation: you speculate Dor Deah forgot Kabbalah, while they claim the rest of Jews made it up. There's no hard proof of course to anything beyond the weaker claim that Kabbalah, at least Lurianic Kabbalah, isn't known to be mentioned anywhere before a few hundred years ago.)
    – Double AA Mod
    May 21 at 15:18
  • @N.T. But you can ask an Ethiopian how they practice the verse "not to boil a kid in its mothers milk." You can ask them how they make matzah. You can ask them how they prostrate. You can ask them maaaaany different things that are related to Judaism and to the Hebrew Bible. The fact that they can't offer a commentary on a tradition that they possibly predate shouldn't be held against them. It's like complaining you can't talk to the Rambam about the Zohar and then questioning how Jewish he actually is.
    – Aaron
    Oct 7 at 18:14
  • @Aaron You could also ask those questions to Hebrew Israelites or Christian Fundamentalists. What about the early Christians who still observed many commandments?
    – N.T.
    Oct 7 at 18:19
  • @N.T. Hebrew Israelites are a relatively new movement, not an outgrowth of a received tradition going back into Jewish antiquity. They would be excluded under the definition I've set out. Christian fundamentalists would also be excluded for the same reason. But...if we had an early Christian group that was an organic outshoot of classical Judaism and has a traceable tradition going back thousands of years I would consider their questions as being appropriate for this site. But all those Christians died out, usually because the catholic church murdered them.
    – Aaron
    Oct 7 at 18:25
  • @DoubleAA I've edited my post. Let me know what you think
    – Aaron
    Oct 7 at 18:31
  • @N.T. If an earthen jar were discovered tomorrow of an original Hebrew copy of the book of Matthew, or the Book of Maccabees, etc. I would also consider those to be on topic for this site.
    – Aaron
    Oct 7 at 18:52
  • @Aaron So in your opinion early Christianity falls under Judaism? Then the Catholic church is a widespread group of people that claim to be the original early Christians, and Catholicism should be on topic.
    – N.T.
    Oct 7 at 23:54
  • @N.T. I'm making my opinions clear. I'm not expecting the guideline I've proposed to reflect on my opinion. If you read my post I say explicitly that almost all forms of Christianity should not be covered on this site.
    – Aaron
    Oct 8 at 1:55
  • @N.T. And a church claiming things is not the same as us, the Jewish people, being able to substantiate that claim. In our tradition we can't substantiate "Hebrew Israelites," because we never saw them until recently. But Ethiopian Jews have shown up time and time again in our tradition. We also know that the first Christians were Jews and prayed in synagogues. If some of those original Christians became known as a group and talked about in The Talmud, and then we see them again in the Geonim, and then they are refound in some remote desert, then yes I think they should be covered on this site
    – Aaron
    Oct 8 at 21:01

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