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African Jews

African Jew has a variety of meanings:

* Scattered African groups who have not historically been part of the international Jewish community, but who claim ancestry to ancient Israel or other connections to Judaism and who practice Jewish rituals or those bearing resemblance to Judaism. Of these, only the Beta Israel of Ethiopia are generally recognized as Jews by the international Jewish community. The Lemba have much stronger DNA evidence than the Beta Israel to link them to the main body of the Jewish people.
* Sephardi Jews and Mizrahi Jews living in North Africa, especially in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia although many of these have now emigrated, mostly to Israel.
* The Jews of South Africa, who are mostly Ashkenazi Jews, descended from pre-Holocaust immigrant Lithuanian Jews.


Ancient communities of African Jews, in one of the meanings above, would include the Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews of North Africa, as well as a number of Black African groups, specifically the Lemba of Malawi, Zimbabwe, and the South African region of Venda who claim descent from King Solomon, as well as the Beta Israel of Ethiopia claim descent from the Tribe of Dan, although their actual history is controversial. The Igbos a Maghrebi (West African) Jewish community in Nigeria also claim descent from Yemenite, Moroccan, and East African Jewish communities.

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, 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 pro forma. The practices of the Beta Israel differ significantly from those of other forms of Judaism. One significant difference is that they lack the festivals of Purim and Hanukkah. This is probably because they branched off from the main body of Judaism before these holy days were developed.

A group of Ethiopian Jewish Women before the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem

The Lemba or Lembaa are a group of people in southern Africa. Although they speak Bantu languages similar to their neighbors, 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 subgroup of Jews.

The Igbo (Ibo) Jews of Nigeria, who some consider a community of "Yehudim Maghrebim" (North and West African Jews), are the Jewish component of the Igbo (Ibo) ethnic group whom are said to be descended from the southern and westward migrations of both ancient Semitic and later Jewish peoples from the Middle East into West Africa. This migration, said to have started more than 1500 years ago, is believed to have taken deeper roots in the region during the reign of the Dja (Dia) rulers of several Songhai Empire regions.

According to the record Tarikh es Soudan recorded by Abderrahman ben Abdallah es-Sadi one such community was formed by a group of Egyptian Jews, who traveled by way of the Sahel corridor through Chad into Mali. Another such community was that of the Dji (Dia) ruler of Koukiya (located near the Niger river), whose name is only known as Dialliaman (or Dia min al Yaman) also called Za-al-Ayaman (meaning “He comes from Yemen”). According to local legends Dialliaman (Za-al-Ayaman) was a member of one of the Jewish colonies transported from Yemen by the Abbysinians in the sixth century C.E. Dialliaman is said to have traveled into West Africa along with his brother, and eventually established a local Jewish community in Northern Nigeria.

Groups called Godians and Ibrim maintained much of the Jewish traditions of the Igbo Jews. These groups maintained the Jewish traditions that the majority of the communities lost over time due to their isolation from the rest of Nigeria society. Certain Nigerian Jewish communities have been making increasing connections with world Jewry through the help of Israelis who work in Nigeria, out-reach organizations like Kulanu, and members of the Igbo Jewish community outside of Nigeria who underwent Giyyur Khelqi (Orthodox Return conversion to Judaism) to the world wide Jewish community. Two synagogues in Nigeria were formed by Jews outside of Nigeria, and are maintained by the Jews in Nigeria.

A member of the Lemba of Southern Africa.

The largest influx of Jews to Africa came after the Spanish Inquisition and expulsion of the Jews in Spain in 1492, and Portugal and Sicily soon afterwards. Many of these Sephardic Jews settled in North Africa. Additionally, 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." 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.





This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Jews and Judaism in Africa ".