Friday, July 20, 2012

Millions of Africans see themselves as Jews

And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath driven thee,
And shalt return unto the Lord thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul;
That then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee.
If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee:
And the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers.
Deuteronomy 30:1-5

As reported by Rina Bassist of Ynet News, July 15, 2012:

Millions of African citizens could come knocking on Israel's door in the next few years, demanding to be recognized as Jews, warns Dr. Shalva Weil. According to Weil, the past 15 years have seen a sharp rise in the number of tribes throughout Africa who are "rediscovering" their Jewish heritage.

Weil, from the Research Institute for Innovation in Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is an anthropologist and expert on Ethiopian Jewry who has spent years studying the Ethiopian community and its acclimation into Israeli society.

Weil recently gave a series of talks throughout South Africa and took part in a conference on African Jews hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, where she spoke about racism toward Ethiopian Jews in Israel.

The conference was the second one to be devoted to Black Judaism, after the establishment of the International Society for the Study of African Jewry (ISSAJ) by Dr. Edith Bruder of France. This year's event was held not only to encourage research on the issue, but also to allow representatives of the different communities to meet each other.

Weil explains that every one of the African groups has a unique story. For example, the Lemba people of South Africa, Zimbabwe and in Mozambique and Malawi numbers some 70,000 Christians, but its leaders claim that they are the descendants of Yemenite Jews who migrated to South Africa. The Lemba people are seeking recognition as the descendants of Jews and have even appealed to the South African Jewish community for financial support to build synagogues.

Or take the Igbo Jews of Nigeria, who claim that they are descended from Syrian and Portuguese Jews who moved to Africa centuries ago. The Igbo Jews observe the laws of niddah and kosher slaughter, and circumcise their sons eight days after they are born, as well as observing the major Jewish holidays. The Igbo Jews have already built three synagogues that serve some 30,000 members.

Each such group has its own narrative, but they all want to strengthen their Jewish identity and hope that Israeli and Jewish institutions will recognize them as Jews.

Weil says that from an academic perspective, Black Judaism is a varied and exciting field. But she feels that the Israeli establishment is not aware of the phenomenon or its ramifications.

"It's important that in Israel people understand that millions of people throughout Africa consider themselves Jewish. Some declare themselves 'Jewish according to halacha.' As far as they are concerned, they are the sons of the lost tribes, and are certain that the Promised Land awaits them."
For more on the Igbo, see this article.

1 comment:

  1. Millions of us African-americans have always known or believed that we were of Hebrew descent. Now that genetic testing is available that links 60% to the Igbo and other ethnic groups, we can confirm our genetic and cultural
    links. However, it is highly doubtful that all of us want to suddenly make aliyah to Israel! We are rooted in our own lives and religions, so I'm not sure why any researcher would make an automatic assumption that discovery of one's "Jewishness" is a big "danger" for the state of Israel.