The Black Jews

Presentation by Maurice Dorès, ethnologist, psychiatrist, director: “Le monde noir judaïsé”.

Summary of Maurice Dorès’ presentation :

The dark continent has always been considered outside the scope of Judaism, with the exception of Ethiopia. But there are black Jews.

1. Who are they ?

1.1 Description :

To know them, you have to travel. Mainly:

  • In South Africa. The lembas. They have Semitic, Hebrew origins.
  • In Nigeria. The igbos. They have Semitic, Hebrew origins.
  • In Uganda. The Abayudayas. Since a man’s conversion, a series of conversions has spawned Jewish communities.
  • In Mali, Senegal, Cape Verde. There are “black Maranes”, following the Portuguese, Spanish and African religious persecutions. These “marranes” are reconnecting today with their Jewish roots. This Judaism can be seen as a return to a lost culture.
  • There are Jewish communities also in Ghana, the Dominican Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, Cameroon, Zimbabwe and Kenya.

1.2 History of the main Jewish communities in Africa: cf. the WhatsApp sent previously.

2. What are the Jewish roots of these communities?

2.1 Myths and legends. The Bible.

The first mirror that is offered by the Bible to black Jews is a passage that speaks of Ethiopia under the term “Kush”.

In addition, Isaiah and all the prophets insisted on the return which must be made of the deported more than “lost” tribes who lived in distant lands during the Messianic times.

Isaiah’s prophecy on the location of the Lost Tribes affirms the existence of a Jewish presence in Ethiopia and thus announces the return of the Diaspora to Zion: Isaiah (11.12) “At that time the Lord will extend a second time hand, to regain possession of the rest of his people who will have escaped from Assyria, Egypt, Pathros and Ethiopia, Elam, Shinar and Hamath, and in the islands of the sea. He will raise the standard towards the nations to gather up the exiles of Israel and gather the scattered remnants of Judah from the four corners of the earth. It takes into account Israel on the one hand, Judah on the other.

Jeremy for his part prophesies thus: “Verily, a time will come, thus expresses himself the G … of Israel, when I will return my captive people, Israel and Judah. I will assemble them in the land I gave to their ancestors and they will take possession of it. “

Zephaniah (9th of the 12 little prophets of the Bible, in 700 BC, contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah) (3 verse 10) also identifies Ethiopia as a place of tribal exile and prophesies the rallying of its population to the religion of the Hebrews: “From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my scattered worshipers will bring me offerings. “

Ezekiel apparently goes further and poses the problem differently since he tells about the vision of the bones, of this valley where he sees dried bones? And this is what he said: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Those who say our bones are withered, our hope is lost, is done with us, and prophesy well and say to them, “Thus says their Lord G …, I re-open their tomb. I will bring you my people up from your graves and bring you back to the land of Israel. “”

Note that Jeremiah went further because he lived in the kingdom of Israel when that of Judah had disappeared and he undertook to bring back some of the exiles of Israel himself and to install them in the kingdom of Judah. The prophet here has become a man of action.

These are accounts belonging to the biblical corpus which have a historical value which no one doubts.

The Gospels do not question the existence of these deported tribes either. Epistle of James: “To the twelve tribes of the dispersion, rejoice” Other allusions appear in other places in the Gospels.

These texts are not trivial because the Jews read them in the haftarot every week!

Only one voice denies this return: Rabbi Akiva (who, among other contributions, repaired the hallakha!): Sanhedrin p: 110 B.

This being the case, it should be noted that the question addressed in all these writings amounts to questioning the return or not of these tribes and not, the question of their existence. The existence of the deported tribes is never in question and there is a lot of testimony about these Tribes

As for the biblical anchors on which Black Judaism is based, there is also the story of the Queen of Sheba.

2.2 Testimonies between legend and history :

according to a commentary from the Talmud (Sanhedrin 94 a), the 10 tribes which disappeared after the destruction of the 1st Temple (- 586), as mentioned in the Bible, would have dispersed in Africa.

2.3 Historical evidence :

100,000 Jewish captives were deported to Africa by the Greek dynasty of the Ptolemies in the 3rd century AD.

3. How to understand the emergence of an African Judaism? How can the Jewish model correspond to the expectations of Africans?


There was first the idea that Christianity was the religion brought by the colonizer, the white man, while the event that founds Judaism is the liberation from slavery and the revelation on the land of Sinai in Africa. “Let my people go! “


Many have seen an analogy between the Jewish condition and the black condition. Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906-2001), poet, writer, French statesman then Senegalese, first African to sit at the French Academy, includes the Jews in his trilogy of suffering peoples, trilogy made up of Jews, Africans and the Arab-Berbers. The terms ghetto, diaspora, deportation now belong to the history of Jews and blacks. But the solidarity of the persecuted, according to Maurice Dorès (ethnologist, psychiatrist and director among others of the film “Black Israel”), is not a tangible reality. It’s probably more of an illusion. Because suffering is not a Jewish value. This is not the place to look for what can attract one to another.


Conversely, the success of the Jews, again according to Maurice Dorès, can challenge the black world. What indeed caught the imagination of Africans was the success of Israel, which was a model for all African politicians, including Mandela who was reading Begin’s memoirs in his prison. That a people as downcast as the Jewish people could regain their independence was an example to follow. There were privileged relations between Israel and Africa at the time of independence. Then these relationships deteriorated at times, in the name of cold and heartbreaking reasons.

4. What about the reception of black Jews by other Jews today?

Overall, it’s a surprise, followed by a lot of excitement. But unfortunately there are also negative reactions. Some Jews wonder if this black Judaism is not based above all on a social interest. According to Maurice Dores and a few others in connection with the black Jewish community, this is scandalous remarks that translate a distressing deafness to put it mildly.

Maurice Dores: “So it is neither suffering nor interest that magnetizes Judeo-black relations. Just the happiness of being a Jew and nothing else. It’s a deep attraction, as if there were underground confluences. No doubt a conception of life, a way of reaching out to others while remaining oneself. “

Documentation : supplements

1/History of the Jewish people – The ten lost tribes. 42 min:

2/ Rav Dynovisz. Meeting in Jerusalem with interested Africans and scholars in Judaism

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