The Black Jews of Africa: His­to­ry, Reli­gion, Identity

Edith Brud­er
  • Review
By – January 27, 2012

The Beta Israel (also known as Falashas) from Ethiopia have been accept­ed by the Israeli Chief Rab­binate as Jews, while hun­dreds of the Abuyu­daya com­mu­ni­ty in Ugan­da were con­vert­ed by Amer­i­can Con­ser­v­a­tive rab­bis. An increas­ing num­ber of Black African groups assert a Jew­ish iden­ti­ty as descen­dants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Oth­er Black African groups have iden­ti­fied with the prin­ci­ples of Bib­li­cal Judaism, while some claim to be the authen­tic Jews, as opposed to the Euro­pean-born pre­tenders who estab­lished Israel and com­prise the major­i­ty of Amer­i­can Jews.

This book, by a stu­dent of Eng­lish schol­ar Tudor Parfitt, traces the roots of these Black Jew­ish groups to trends in African- Amer­i­can his­to­ry, as well as admi­ra­tion for the rise and suc­cess of the State of Israel, and a desire to cre­ate an iden­ti­ty inde­pen­dent of Euro­pean colo­nial influ­ences. There is also the remark­able case of the Lem­bas of South Africa and Zim­bab­we who iden­ti­fy as Jews and have been found fre­quent­ly to be car­ri­ers of the recent­ly iden­ti­fied Cohen chro­mo­some” in their DNA. This schol­ar­ly work of anthro­pol­o­gy exam­ines the ori­gins and beliefs of Black Jew­ish groups in more than a dozen African nations, with­out address­ing the ques­tion of their the­o­log­i­cal or halakhic legit­i­ma­cy. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, index, map, and notes.
Robert Moses Shapiro teach­es mod­ern Jew­ish his­to­ry, Holo­caust stud­ies, and Yid­dish lan­guage and lit­er­a­ture at Brook­lyn Col­lege of the City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. His most recent book is The War­saw Ghet­to Oyneg Shabes-Ringel­blum Archive: Cat­a­log and Guide (Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty Press in asso­ci­a­tion with the U.S. Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al Library and the Jew­ish His­tor­i­cal Insti­tute in War­saw, 2009). He is cur­rent­ly engaged in trans­lat­ing Pol­ish and Yid­dish diaries from the Łódź ghet­to and the Yid­dish Son­derkom­man­do doc­u­ments found buried in the ash pits at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

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