History of the Jews in the African diaspora

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The history of the Jews in the African diaspora refers to black Jews living in the African diaspora.

North America[edit]

The American Jewish community includes Jews with African-American background, many of mixed marriages. Black Jews belong to each of the major American Jewish denominationsOrthodox, Conservative, Reform—and to the smaller movements as well. Like their white Jewish counterparts, there are also Black Jewish secularists and Black Jews who may rarely or never take part in religious practices.[1]

Estimates of the number of Black Jews in the United States range from 20,000[2] to 200,000.[3]

There are several predominately black synagogues in The United States, such as Beth Shalom B'nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation.[citation needed]


The total number of Jews of Black African descent in France is not known, but there are approximately 250 Black Jews in Paris.[4] Fraternité Judéo-Noire, based in Paris, advocates on behalf of these Black Jews.

Jews from Arab states in North Africa[edit]

The 20th century Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim lands comprised approximately three quarters of Jews from North Africa—chiefly Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. These communities had been identified as immigration targets to Mandatory Palestine / Israel in the 1944 One Million Plan.

Many North African Jews emigrated to Europe, utilizing citizenship granted in the colonial period. Thus some Libyan Jews immigrated to Italy while some Algerian, Tunisian, and Moroccan Jews immigrated to France. Subsequent events, such as the Algerian War for Independence, the 1956 Suez Crisis, and the Six-Day War in 1967, led to the almost complete emigration of the Jews still remaining in Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco. Today the only viable Jewish communities in North Africa are in the island of Djerba and in Morocco.[5][6]

Ethiopian Jews[edit]

Ethiopian Israeli soldier
Hagit Yaso, winner of 2011 Kochav Nolad
Main article: Aliyah from Ethiopia

Individual Ethiopian Jews had lived in the Land of Israel prior to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. A youth group arrived in Israel in the 1950s to undergo training in Hebrew education and returned to Ethiopia to educate young Jews there. Also, Ethiopian Jews had been trickling into Israel prior to the 1970s.[citation needed]

During the 1970s, members of the Beta Israel, a community of Ethiopian Jews, began to immigrate to Israel after Ovadia Yosef, the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, ruled that they were descendents of the Biblical Israelites and that they should be eligible for citizenship under Israel's Law of Return. As famine gripped Ethiopia during the 1980s, several thousand Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel in Operation Moses, but political instability in Ethiopia and Sudan made further immigration impossible. In 1991, when circumstances changed, more than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews were flown to Israel in Operation Solomon.[7]

Absorption of the Ethiopian Jews into Israeli society has been complicated by what some members of the community perceive as racism.[8] According to the Anti-Defamation League, there are few reports of discrimination in Israel.[9] Most Israelis support the Ethiopian Jews, who have received more aid from the Israeli government than any previous immigrant group.[9] One study attributed some of the problems to the model of absorption chosen by the Israeli government. To prepare for the absorption the Ethiopian Jews, Israel adopted two "Master Plans", the first in 1985 and the second in 1991. Like earlier absorption policies, both Master Plans were based on the assumption that the new immigrants were broadly similar to Israel's existing majority population.[10]

The Israeli Chief Rabbinate required the new arrivals to undergo certain conversion procedures, which many of the Ethiopian Jews considered an insult.[9] In 1996, the Magen David Adom destroyed all blood that had been donated by Ethiopian Jews due to fear it might be contaminated with HIV or AIDS. Authorities pointed to the high incidence of AIDS and HIV in Ethiopia to explain the policy.[11]

According to a 1999 report commissioned by Israel's Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, 75% of the Ethiopian Jews living in Israel could not read or write Hebrew. Nearly 50% could not converse in Hebrew. Because the Ethiopian immigrants came from a subsistence economy, they were not prepared to work in an industrialized society such as Israel's.[12] An earlier study by the Brookdate Institute of Gerontology and Adult Development found that 66% of the Ethiopian women and 85% of the Ethiopian men in the city of Kiryat Gat could speak Hebrew.[13]

In 2008, the unemployment rate among Ethiopian Jews in Israel was 18%, nearly three times that of the general Israeli population.[14][15] A 2005 study found that the poverty rate among Ethiopian Jewish families was 60%, compared with 20% among all Israeli families.[16]

In February 2013 Yityish Titi Aynaw became the first woman of African descent to be named Miss Israel.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wolfson, Bernard J. (1999). "African American Jews". In Chireau, Yvonne; Deutsch, Nathaniel. Black Zion: African American Religious Encounters with Judaism. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 33–34. ISBN 0-19-511257-1. 
  2. ^ David Whelan (May 8, 2003). "A Fledgling Grant Maker Nurtures Young Jewish 'Social Entrepreneurs'". The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Retrieved February 8, 2009. 
  3. ^ Michael Gelbwasser (April 10, 1998). "Organization for black Jews claims 200,000 in U.S.". j. Retrieved August 2, 2010. 
  4. ^ "Black Jew Calls for Black Synagogue in France". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. November 10, 2008. Retrieved August 9, 2009. 
  5. ^ Aharoni, Ada (August 2002). "The Forced Migration of Jews from Arab Countries and Peace". Historical Society of Jews from Egypt. Retrieved August 8, 2009. 
  6. ^ Borowiec, Andrew (1999). Modern Tunisia: A Democratic Apprenticeship. Westport, Conn.: Praeger. p. 117. ISBN 0-275-96136-2. 
  7. ^ Brandt, Joshua (December 31, 2001). "Ethiopians finding identities in Israel". Israel 21C. Retrieved August 8, 2008. 
  8. ^ Nash, Onolemhemhen Durrenda; Gessesse, Kebede (1998). The Black Jews of Ethiopia: The Last Exodus. Scarecrow Press. p. 40. ISBN 0-8108-3414-6. 
  9. ^ a b c Wall, Harry. "Ethiopian Controversy in Israel: It's Not Racism". Anti-Defamation League. Retrieved August 8, 2008. 
  10. ^ Fenter, Tovi (1998). "Ethnicity, Citizenship, Planning and Gender: the case of Ethiopian immigrant women in Israel" (PDF). Gender, Place and Culture. pp. 181–182. Retrieved March 25, 2009. 
  11. ^ Sanabatu, Ayanawo Farada (January 25, 2007). "Blood Banks to Accept Donations from Ethiopian Immigrants". Haaretz. Retrieved August 8, 2008. 
  12. ^ "World: Ethiopian Jews struggle in Israel". BBC Online. November 17, 1999. Retrieved March 25, 2009. 
  13. ^ Fenter, Tovi (1998). "Ethnicity, Citizenship, Planning and Gender: the case of Ethiopian immigrant women in Israel" (PDF). Gender, Place and Culture. p. 185. Retrieved April 3, 2009. 
  14. ^ Sinai, Ruth (February 10, 2008). "Gov't Okays Program to Help Ethiopian Immigrants Integrate Better". Haaretz. Retrieved August 8, 2009. 
  15. ^ Salomon, Ido (May 28, 2008). "Unemployment Rate Hits 13-Year Low in 2008 First Fiscal Quarter". Haaretz. Retrieved August 8, 2008. 
  16. ^ Fisher-Ilan, Allyn (March 14, 2005). "Ethiopian Jews Battle Poverty, Prejudice in Israel". Sudan Tribune. Retrieved August 8, 2008. 
  17. ^ http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/12/world/africa/yityish-aynaw-miss-israel-ethiopia/

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