Rabbi Sharon Shalom, the Director of the International Center for the Study of Ethiopian Jewry at Ono Academic College notes from time to time that the Beta Israel community – the Jews of Ethiopia – remained unaffected by the fundamental historical events that accompanied the development of the Jewish people following the destruction of the Second Temple. The “Beta Israel” are a Jewish group, but until recently, they did not share the fundamental Jewish textual canon, which was developed by the sages after the destruction of the Second Temple. The biblical holidays, such as Hanukkah and Purim, which were determined by Sages, were not known to Ethiopian Jewry at all.
The post-Temple sage R. Avdimi Bar Hama Bar Hassa, has famously commented on the statement of the Purim Megilla that the Jews “Kept and Accepted” divine commandments following the Purim miracle [something they may not have actually done as a nation, earlier, at Mount Sinai]. This opinion shaped Jewish consciousness for many generations. According to it, the covenant made at Sinai was incomplete. One side [God] forced it on the other [Israel]. God forced the people of Israel to accept the Torah. My friend Marty Hershkovitz wrote In Makor Rishon said: “At the bottom of Mount Sinai, the people of Israel did not have the autonomy needed to make an alliance. They were under the tremendous influence of the smoky mountain sounds, explosions and lightning, and they lost the ability to act as an independent entity. Therefore, it was necessary to renew the covenant in the time of Esther and Mordechai.”
According to Sages, there were two stages for receiving the Torah; the Mount Sinai status that was forced upon us and another status in the days of Purim, which was voluntary. The second class is presented as a desirable and ideal class. According to this, did the Jews of Ethiopia ostensibly miss this status that occurred on Purim for receiving the Torah out of a freely-taken choice? On the one hand, according to the great medieval commentator Rashi, conceivably, because the Sinai covenant was forced on the Jews, the Beita Israel people would have a wonderful excuse for not keeping the commandments. “What do you want from us?”, Ethiopian Jews could say. “We were not around during Purim. We did not have the opportunity to receive the Torah voluntarily. Nothing can be required of us by using force, even if it’s you, God, with all your might”.
I posed this question to Keis [Traditional Ethiopian Spiritual Leader] Mentosnot Eli Wanda, and he replied: “How can it be said that receiving the Torah at Sinai was by force? When a man does you good, gives you food, saves you from disasters, protects you from enemies, literally saved your life from death, all you want to do is find an opportunity to repay him.” At Mount Sinai, all of Israel said together, “We will do and we will hear” all the commandments as if the people of Israel were just waiting for the moment when they could return favors to God. So this whole idea of coercion, according to the Keis, seems delusional and evokes a great paradox. If a person does an altruistic kindness to another person, is he expecting that person to repay him?
In the remaining portion of his article, Rabbi Sharon shares other answers he received to this question and concludes saying that it is understandable why, historically, Purim was not easily accepted among all the Jewish people. Eventually though, the majority of the Jewish people did accept the Purim holiday.
The full article can be read at https://shabaton1.co.il/?p=18509