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In the first Hebrew translation of William Shakespeare's Othello the hero of the play was named Ithiel the Cushite (איתיאל הכושי)

The word Cushi or Kushi (Hebrew: כּוּשִׁי‎‎ kūšî) is a term generally used in the Hebrew Bible to refer to a dark-skinned person usually of African descent. Initially the word was used by Hebrew-speaking Jews to refer to individuals of Ethiopian origin, derived from the Biblical land of Cush.[1]


Cush or Kush (כּוּשׁ Kūš) is the name of an ancient ethnic group who came from the land of Cush, centered on the Upper Nile and Nubia (modern-day Sudan). Mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, they are considered descendants of Noah's grandson, Cush the son of Ham.

According to Ethiopian historians, the Kushite Empire also controlled the mountainous regions around the source of the Blue Nile at first, and the Cushitic and Agaw peoples of Ethiopia (including the Bete Israel or Ethiopian Jews, who have largely migrated to Israel) still maintain traditions of descent from Cush.

Modern Hebrew usage[edit]

In ancient times the term Cushi (plural Chushim) in Hebrew could denote any African or black individual, translating the Greco-Roman term Aethiops.[1]

In modern Israeli Hebrew usage, the term Cushi was not initially used as a pejorative term. At times, it was even used to refer fondly to a person of dark skin or a red-haired person. It is used as a term of endearment in the case of the renowned Israeli commando of Yemenite extraction, Shimon "Kushi" Rimon (1939–present).[2][3]

In 2012, Kiryat Arba's Chief Rabbi Dov Lior referred to US President Barack Obama as a "kushi" of the West.[4]

It is generally understood as a derogatory word when referring to Ethiopian Jews today, but is still used to refer to Africans in general.[1][5] While some translators associate it with the English slur "nigger", the terms are not equivalent.[1]