African Jew

From Academic Kids


African Jew has a variety of meanings:


Africans with ancient ties

The Ethiopian Jews

The Beta Israel of Ethiopia were recognized by the Israeli government as "official" Jews in 1975, and many of them were air-lifted to Israel during the time of Prime Minister Menahem Begin; significant immigration continues into the 21st century. Begin had obtained an official ruling from the Israeli Sephardi Chief Rabbi (or Rishon LeTzion) Ovadia Yosef that they were descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes, probably from the Tribe of Dan, as there are rabbinical responsa that discussed issues concerning them going back hundreds of years; however, historical and DNA evidence suggest different origins. Rabbi Yosef ruled that upon arrival in Israel they must undergo a pro forma conversion to Judaism without the normal rigid requirements of gentile converts who have no concrete connection with Jews or Judaism; most other rabbinic authorities consider the conversions to be actual conversions, not mere paeans to formality. The practices of the Beta Israel differ significantly from those of other forms of Judaism.

The Lemba

The Lemba or Lembaa are a tribe of people in southern Africa. Although they speak Bantu languages similar to their neighbours, they have specific religious practices similar to those in Judaism, and a tradition of being a migrant people with clues pointing to an origin in the Middle East or North Africa.

They have restrictions on intermarriage with non-Lemba, with it being particularly difficult for male non-Lemba to become part of the tribe. The presence of a disproportionate number of particular polymorphisms on the Y chromosome known as the Cohen modal haplotype suggests an ancestral link to the Kohanim or priests, a distinct subsection of Jews.

From the Middle Ages

  • King Manuel I of Portugal exiled about 2,000 Jewish children to São Tomé and Príncipe around 1500. Most died, but in the early 1600s "the local bishop noted with disgust that there were still Jewish observances on the island and returned to Portugal because of his frustration with them." [1] ( Although Jewish practices faded over subsequent centuries, there are people in São Tomé and Príncipe who are aware of partial descent from this population.
  • Similarly, a number of Portuguese ethnic Jews were exiled to Sao Tome after forced conversions to Roman Catholicism.

Africans with modern ties

  • The Abayudaya of Uganda are a group who have enthusiastically embraced Judaism in relatively recent times—their practice of the religion dates only from 1917. [2] (
  • The "House of Israel" community of Sefwi Wiawso and Sefwi Sui in Western Ghana claim that their Sefwi ancestors are descendants of Jews who migrated south through Côte d'Ivoire. The continuous practice of Judaism in this community, however, dates back to only the early 1970s.
  • The Jews of Rusape, Zimbabwe claim ancient Jewish tribal connections—in fact, they claim that most Black Africans (especially the Bantu peoples) are actually of Jewish origin. Like the Abayudaya, however, the active practice of Judaism in the Rusape community dates back only to the early twentieth century; in this case, to 1903. (Despite the chronological proximity of the beginnings of observance in these two communities, a historical relationship between them should not be inferred: there is no evidence whatsoever to indicate the existence of any relationship between them, aside from their interest in Judaism.)
  • There are people of undoubted Jewish ancestry in Timbuktu, Mali, although none of them today practice the religion.

Modern communities of European descent

  • There is a substantial, mostly Ashkenazic Jewish community in South Africa. These Jews arrived mostly from Lithuania prior to World War II, though others have origins in Britain, Germany, and Eastern Europe. Connected to them were the small European Jewish communities in Namibia (South West Africa), Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia), Lesotho (Basutuland), Swaziland, Botswana (Bechuanaland), Zaire (Belgian Congo), Kenya, Malawi (Nyasaland), Zambia (Northern Rhodesia) all of which had synagogues and even formal Jewish schools usually based in the capitals of these countries.
  • Historically, there was a Jewish community in Maputo, Mozambique but in the independence era nearly all left. The government has officially returned the Maputo synagogue to the Jewish community, but "little or no Jewish community remains to reclaim it." [3] (

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