Kes Birku began his religious studies at the age of four, taught by his father and brother. He later studied Ge’ez more comprehensively with the spiritual leader of the village.
At the age of 12, he was sent to study in a beit midrash (study house) with the Kesim. He talks at length about the intricacies of the religious studies among the religious leaders of Ethiopian Jewry. He also describes the unique studies and way of life they lived alongside Nazirites, who were considered the highest-ranking priests.
At the age of 15, he returned to his village and served as assistant to the village’s spiritual leader. At the age of 18, he married and was ordained to be the village Kes.
Kes Birku describes the range of roles the Kes played as spiritual leader of the community. These responsibilities included conducting religious communal ceremonies such as burial ceremonies, marriage and purification – including purification after birth or purification after participation in a burial with the ashes of a red heifer. Other responsibilities included teaching customs of the festivals and the laws of the sabbath, building spiritual centers in the villages, gathering the community on special days, reading from the Torah scroll, and more.
In addition to his role as a spiritual leader, Kes Birko worked for a living as a farmer, blacksmith, and as a beekeeper.