Igbo Jews

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Igbo Jews
ndi Igbo Juu
Rabbis Howshua Amariel and Hi Ben Daniel.jpg
Igbo Jewish Community presented with a plaque.
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Igbo; Hebrew as a liturgical language
Igbo form of Judaism
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Igbo Jews are members of the Igbo people of Nigeria who practice a form of Judaism. They either adopted Judaism newly, or are descendants of the Jews of Bilad el-Sudan.

Historical scrutiny[edit]

An early (and widely influential) statement from an Igbo man, Olaudah Equiano, a Christian-educated freed slave, suggested a migratory origin of the Igbo Jews. He 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....[1]

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.[2][3]

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 AD,[4] but the proposition that Jews were directly involved with Igbo-speaking peoples in ancient times is controversial.

Contemporary outreach[edit]

Certain Nigerian communities with Judaic practices have been receiving help from individual Israelis and American Jews who work in Nigeria, outreach 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 Igbo Jews. Because no formal census has been taken in the region, the number of Igbo in Nigeria who identify as 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.[5] Others have cited a more conservative figure of 3,000 to 5,000 Igbo practicing Judaism.[6]

A Western rabbi, Howard Gorin, visited the community in 2006[7] and members of "Tikvat Israel", a Jewish synagogue in Maryland, USA, supported 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]

The main concern of Igbo Jews is how to be part of the wider Jewish world, according to the spokesman of "Gihon Hebrews Synagogue" in Abuja, Prince Azuka Ogbukaa. In 2013 the American writer Shai Afsai invited two of the Igbo Jewish leaders, Azuka Ogbukaa (Pinchas) and Elder Ovadiah Agbai, to Rhode Island in the United States.[10] Afsai wrote: “Their 12-day visit has helped solidify a budding relationship between the Rhode Island and Abuja communities. Now that we know each other a little better, we may consider what further joys and responsibilities this relationship entails”.[11]

This visit of the leaders led Rabbi Barry Dolinger of Rhode Island to go to Nigeria with Afsai in 2014, with musicologist Roil Ggarhs also joining them.[12]

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[13] and Purim.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Equiano, Olaudah (2005). "1". The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, the African Written By Himself. EBook #15399. 
  2. ^ Sanders, Edith (1963). "The Hamitic Hypothesis: Its Origin and Functions in Time Perspective". Journal of African History. 10 (4): 521–532. JSTOR 179896. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ Hunwick, John (1985). "Al-Mahili and the Jews of Tuwat: The Demise of a Community". Studia Islamica. 61: 155–183. JSTOR 1595412. 
  5. ^ Bruder, Edith (2008). The Black Jews of Africa: History, Religion, Identity. Oxford University Press. p. 143. ISBN 978-0195333565. 
  6. ^ Afsai, Shai. Nigeria's Igbo Jews August 25, 2013.
  7. ^ "Rabbi Returns to Nigeria for 3-Week Mission" Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine., Tikvat Israel Congregation (Rockville, Maryland), 13 February 2006.
  8. ^ "Tikvat Israel ships scripture to Nigeria" Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine., Tikvat Israel Congregation (Rockville, Maryland), 11 January 2006.
  9. ^ Afsai, Shai, "Igbo Jews of Nigeria Strive to Study and Practice", 2013.
  10. ^ Maliki, Anthony, “Igbo Jews to host leading American Jew”, Daily Trust, 18 February, 2014.
  11. ^ Afsai, Shai. "Abuja’s Igbo Jews pay a visit to Rhode Island", The Jerusalem Post, 23 October, 2013
  12. ^ Afsai, Shai, “R.I. rabbi’s visit to Nigeria helps lessen its Jewish community's isolation”, Providence Journal, 16 November, 2014.
  13. ^ Miles, William F. S., "Among the Igbos of Nigeria During the Festival of Lights", 2011.
  14. ^ Afsai, Shai, "Hanging Haman with the Igbo Jews of Abuja", Times of Israel, 2013.

External links[edit]