Jewish Dopers: what are your opinions of the Ethiopian Jews?

I stumbled upon this interesting story after learning a man at work was an “African Hebrew”, as he put it. I’m just curious what you guys think, since I can’t really walk into the temple next door and ask the Rabbi there. Well, maybe I could…but I wanted the “man on the street’s” thoughts first. Are they “real” Jews?

And yes, I was going to ask this last Friday, but I remembered just in time.
If this must be moved, then please do so. Not even sure if it’s debate-worthy, but there is my ignorance I guess.

MODERATOR COMMENT: Please note this thread is from Oct 2009, until post #25 revives it in Jan 2014. – CKDH

If they say the’re Jews, then they are. Never heard anyone doubt it.

No, it is not that simple. There are genuine communities of Ethiopian Jews, who have lived there for hundreds of years and practiced Judaism; most of them emigrated to Israel. However there are also Black “Hebrews” who practice an afro-centrist theological belief that the original Hebrews were black and that everyone else claiming to be Jewish is actually an impostor. They are no different from the “British Israelites” who claim that the “real” Jews were Aryans and all the modern Jews are “Khazars.” It’s all bullshit. The original Hebrews were not black, and those blacks who try to “claim” the Jews as their own should be called out on this.

Judaism has always been multi-racial; the Jews are not a race but a people. There are dark-skinned Jews from Arabic countries and from Italy and Spain and Northern Africa, and there are Jews from Russia and Poland who are totally indistinguishable from native Slavs; all of them practice Judaism, though there are some regional variations. But the “black hebrews” who claim that they are the only “true” descendants of the original Jews and that the white Jews are “impostors” are full of shit.

Ah, the Beta Israel or Falasha (considered to be a derogatory term by some.)

Bit of clarification, that describes the unfortunately-named “Christian Identity” movement, but original British- or Anglo-Israelism regards the Jews as fellow Israelites, descended from the Kingdom of Judah. “All Jews are Israelites, but not all Israelites are Jews,” was a common slogan, and it also developed as a partner of Christian Zionism. Alas, in the late 1800’s & more in the early 1900’s, the racists & anti-Semites started dominating the conversation.

You’re correct. Anyway, as Wikipedia says:

“Black Hebrew Israelites (also Black Hebrews, African Hebrew Israelites, and Hebrew Israelites) are groups of people mostly of Black African ancestry situated mainly in the United States who believe they are descendants of the ancient Israelites. Black Hebrews adhere in varying degrees to the religious beliefs and practices of mainstream Judaism. They are generally not accepted as Jews by the greater Jewish community, and many Black Hebrews consider themselves — and not mainstream Jews — to be the only authentic Jews. Many choose to self-identify as Hebrew Israelites or Black Hebrews rather than as Jews.”

That’s as good of a summary as I could give. These people are of no connection to the genuine Ethopian Jews; they frequently profess anti-Semitism, in fact, and afro-centrist views similar to the bullshit artists who claim every historical figure to be black. Moses was black, Jesus was black, Shakespeare was black, Beethoven was black, everyone was black. I have very little patience for people who try to falsely appropriate someone else’s history as their own.

You will of course find American blacks who have actually converted to Judaism and belong to Jewish synagogues; these people are genuine Jews and are accepted and welcomed as such by the rest of the Jewish community. Julius Lester is one example, though he was also partially Jewish by birth, and he was not raised with any kind of Jewish identity whatsoever. There are plenty of genuine black Jews, both of African-American and of Ethiopian descent, but the “Black Hebrews” are as representative of actual Judaism as the Nation of Islam is of genuine Islam.

I’ve always been amazed that a tribe of Jews made it as far as South Africa. They may be related to Ethiopian Jews too.

Ethiopians? I’ve known some, mainly in the army. Decent people. Kind of quiet. Terrific runners. Some of their girls are indescribably hot.

More on a mainly Black Jewish congregation. Not Ethiopian. Not self declared true Hebrews. I’ve met that Rabbi - a nice guy. Widely respected.

Jews are a pretty diverse lot despite the stereotype of the Ashkenazi Jew in America. Lots of Fragile Branches.

Wow- never heard of that before. I thought the OP was talking simply about Ethiopian Jews or black individuals that are Jewish.


You shouldn’t ask these people if they are converts (or if their parents are converts)- that would be rude.

Pretty well every Jew I’ve ever talked to accepts the Ethiopian Jews as “Jews”, and Black converts to Judaism are of course "Jews’ as well (though it isn’t polite to ask if they are converts).

I have never heard of the Black people who claim they are the only real “Jews”, but strange groups claiming exclusive “Judaism” aren’t unknown. Mainstream Jews usually return the favour by not accepting such groups as real “Jews”. The hallmark of ‘Judaism’ is being a member of the tribe, not colour - it isn’t that Jews are free from racism, of course: if anything, the divisions among Jews are as petty as any elsewhere … just that these divisions aren’t necessarily about race, so much as types of Jewish lifestyle: Orthodox vs Reform, for example.

Though my mom told me that, before the destruction of traditional European Jewery, there used to be very strict status divisions among Ashkenazic Jews depending on where you were from - German and Polish Jews were considered high-class and looked down on Jews from places like Rumania. The question of Black Jews did not arise, as they were still very isolated from the outside world - European Jews would probably never have heard of them.

Southern Africa, not South Africa.

In an odd coincidence I saw a black man wearing a prayer shawl at the gas station on Saturday. It threw me for a minute and I was deeply curious, but I didn’t say anything, just gave him a wave.

Thanks for fighting my ignorance. The person I described as being a “Black Hebrew” doesn’t seem like the anti-Semetic type; he’s very dignified and an older gentleman, but of course that means nothing. Glad I know the diffirence now.

I think you might have missed MrD’s point. Although the wiki article refers to southern Africa, South Africa is the southern-most region of southern Africa. Excluding Marion Island, you cannot get more geographically south in Africa than South Africa, which I think was what MrD was trying to say.

I don’t have much experience with the group in its modern state, but I when I was studying, I remember Ethiopian Jewry as having a lot of really cool history. I’d love to learn more about the community.

Yep. To quote from the wiki article:

I live in a suburb that has a large black population and a large ultra-orthodox population. There is one family that is both black and ultra-orthodox. They dress like the other ultra-orthodox, walk to shul with them, and seem to be totally integrated into the community.

They are just as Jewish and any other Jews. I have never heard of a European or Middle Eastern Jew who didn’t consider the Ethiopian branch to be “real Jews.”

Maybe this is a reach, but I seem to remember something about how the Ethiopian Jews claim to be the wandering lost tribe of Israel & that’s where the connection some have claimed between Emperor Haile Salasie (SP), Rastafarianism & Judaism comes from? You’ll sometimes see the Star of David employed as a Rasta symbol. Can anyone enlighten me on this?