Igbo Jews

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Igbo Jews
Rabbis Howshua Amariel and Hi Ben Daniel.jpg
Igbo Jewish Community presented with a plaque.
Total population
Over 40,000 by religion (est.)
Regions with significant populations

Traditionally, Igbo and

Hebrew as a liturgical and common language
Related ethnic groups
Igbo, African Jews
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Igbo Jews are members of the Igbo people of Nigeria who practice Judaism. Most claim descent from ancient Israelite migrants into Nigeria.

Migration theory[edit]

Igbo Jews are said[by whom?] to have originated from Syrian, Portuguese and Libyan Israelite migrants into West Africa.

Certain Nigerian communities with Judaic practices have been receiving help from individual Israelis and American Jews who work in Nigeria, out-reach organizations like the American Kulanu, and African-American Jewish communities in America. Jews from outside Nigeria founded two synagogues in Nigeria, which are attended and maintained by Igbos. Because no formal census has been taken in the region, the number of Igbo in Nigeria who identify as either Israelites or Jews is not known. There are currently 26 synagogues of various sizes. In 2008 an estimated 30,000 Igbos were practicing some form of Judaism.[1] Others have cited a more conservative figure of 3,000 to 5,000 Igbo practicing Judaism.[2]

Historical scrutiny[edit]

Stories affirming relationships between peoples now widely separated in spatial, historical, and cultural terms persist today, not only in Igboland but throughout Nigeria, in other parts of Africa, and in Europe, the United States, and beyond.

An early (and widely influential) statement of this point of view came from an Igbo man, Olaudah Equiano, a Christian-educated freed slave who remarked in his autobiography of 1789 on

"the strong analogy which... appears to prevail in the manners and customs of my countrymen and those of the Jews, before they reached the Land of Promise, and particularly the patriarchs while they were yet in that pastoral state which is described in Genesis — an analogy, which alone would induce me to think that the one people had sprung from the other." For authoritative support, he gives reference to "Dr. Gill, who, in his commentary on Genesis, very ably deduces the pedigree of the Africans from Afer and Afra, the descendants of Abraham....[3]

His essay has since been discarded as speculation. Critical historians have carefully reviewed the historical literature on West Africa during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They have clarified the diverse functions (quite aside from questions of validity) which such histories served for the writers who proposed them at various times in the colonial and post-colonial past.[4][5]

Knowledge from sources broader and more self-critical than the Biblical — from contemporary historians, archaeologists, historical linguists, and other scientifically based disciplines — have argued against these claims. There is no doubt that Jews were present in Saharan trade centers during the first millennium CE,[6] but the proposition that Jews were directly involved with Igbo-speaking people in prehistoric times is controversial.

Contemporary outreach[edit]

A Western rabbi visited the community in 2006[7] and members of "Tikvat Israel", a Jewish community in the West, support those in Nigeria by sending books, computers, and religious articles.[8] In addition to Rabbi Howard Gorin, visitors have included Professor William F. S. Miles, Dr. Daniel Lis, filmmaker Jeff L. Lieberman, and journalist Shai Afsai.[9]

Religious practices[edit]

Religious practices of the Igbo Jews include circumcision eight days after the birth of a male child, observance of kosher dietary laws, separation of men and women during menstruation, wearing of the tallit and kippah, and the celebration of holidays such as Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. In recent times, the communities have also adopted holidays such as Hanukkah[10] and Purim,[11] which were instituted only after the purported dispersion of the tribes of Israel.


Some Non-Jewish Igbos claim their ancestry is not Israelite or Jewish at all but in fact is an indigenous Nigerian one.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bruder, Edith (2008). The Black Jews of Africa: History, Religion, Identity. Oxford University Press. p. 143. ISBN 978-0195333565. 
  2. ^ Afsai, Shai. Nigeria's Igbo Jews August 25, 2013.
  3. ^ Equiano, Olaudah (2005). "1". The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, the African Written By Himself. EBook #15399. 
  4. ^ Sanders, Edith (1963). "The Hamitic Hypothesis: Its Origin and Functions in Time Perspective". Journal of African History 10 (4): 521–532. JSTOR 179896. 
  5. ^ Zachernuk, Philip (1994). "Of Origins and Colonial Order: Southern Nigerians and the 'Hamitic Hypothesis' c. 1870-1970". Journal of African History 35 (3): 427–55. doi:10.1017/s0021853700026785. JSTOR 182643. 
  6. ^ Hunwick, John (1985). "Al-Mahili and the Jews of Tuwat: The Demise of a Community". Studia Islamica 61: 155–183. JSTOR 1595412. 
  7. ^ "Rabbi Returns to Nigeria for 3-Week Mission", Tikvat Israel Congregation (Rockville, Maryland), 13 February 2006.
  8. ^ "Tikvat Israel ships scripture to Nigeria", Tikvat Israel Congregation (Rockville, Maryland), 11 January 2006.
  9. ^ Afsai, Shai, "Igbo Jews of Nigeria Strive to Study and Practice", 2013.
  10. ^ Miles, William F. S., "Among the Igbos of Nigeria During the Festival of Lights", 2011.
  11. ^ Afsai, Shai, "Hanging Haman with the Igbo Jews of Abuja", 2013.

External links[edit]