Sunday, March 7, 2010

Lemba's of Zimbabwe claim Jewish ancestry


In many ways, the Lemba tribe of Zimbabwe and South Africa are just like their neighbours.

But in other ways their customs are remarkably similar to Jewish ones.

They do not eat pork, they practise male circumcision, they ritually slaughter their animals, some of their men wear skull caps and they put the Star of David on their gravestones.

Their oral traditions claim that their ancestors were Jews who fled the Holy Land about 2,500 years ago.[...]


  1. Fascinating stuff.

    Still, the religion/culture remarks pretty much cover it all.

    We shall save the Ashkenazi/blue eyes conversation for another time.

  2. Move them to the west bank and someone will be sure to make it hunky dorry.

  3. They keep finding "Jews".

    India, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe...

    Hey, before you know it, it will turn out 95% of the world is Jewish.

  4. what is more relevant to halacha: the genetic evidence, or their oral traditions?

  5. The Conservative have been embracing these kinds of African tribes for two reasons, dehaynu that it's the politically correct and Liberal feel-good thing to do for "underprivileged Blacks" and because they are desperate to shore up their numbers no matter who the interlopers are.

    They sent a delegation to Uganda where another tribe claims to be Jewish and brought some of them back to be students at JTS & UJ where they have started to graduate them as "rabbis".

  6. I see they don't have payot. Maybe they are litvish?

    Seriously, they may come from that part of the world and the same gene pool, and may have even started out Jewish (doubtful but possible), but they also may have become Christian along the way, and the women are not Jewish so none of them are Jewish today.

    This brings up a question: If a Jewish woman "converted" to Christianity two thousand years ago, isn't her straight matriarchal line still Jewish? So Christian women who can trace their ancestry (through their mothers) to that time are really Jewish, aren't they?

  7. Pichol:

    what difference does it make if it is 30 years or 2000 years, halacah doesnt recognise a dilution in the female gene, does it?

  8. Eddie,

    It makes no difference of course. I just found it interesting that just as there are people who are not Jewish who claim to be Jewish by descent, there may be lots of Jews by descent who fervently deny their Jewishness.

    As an aside, I'm not sold on the fact that we can prove that a person is Jewish through genetics. I'll stick to matrilineal yichus.

  9. The book, TEN LOST by Sender Zeyv, has quite a bit on the Lemba tribe, footnotes in the book distinguish the fact from the fiction. Actually Daas Torah is off a little in his account. They don't claim to come from E"Y, only from Senna, a destroyed city in Hadaramut, Yemen. As to some other commentators, their female line is definitely not jewish, only Bantu. But there may be some credence in their male line being Jewish! They have a high percentage of Cohane Modal Haplotype!

  10. See the book TEN LOST. Most comprehensive account of the Lemba.

  11. pichol:

    The issue is addressed by the gemara and elsewhere: There does become a point where a meshumad is no longer given the benefit of yisrael af al pi shechata yisrael hu. Naturally, just what that point is can be a source of great difficulty. A frequently-quoted source on this topic is R' Aharon Lichtenstein's article on "Brother Daniel" in Judaism and the followup letters in that publication. I lack the background to judge the analyses there, but that should give you enough to get started on a very fascinating topic.

    Joseph: Let's not overstate the case. Even if there are a dozen more undiscovered "minor Jewish tribes" with the population sizes of the Ethiopians or the B'nei Menashe of India, their numbers are nowhere near enough to swamp current "established" Judaism. Our mesorah certainly establishes that there was a large percentage of our nation that was lost - why is it so horribly inconceivable that some of them maintained vestiges of Judaism throughout the golus?

  12. efrex - 95% was used with a bit of exageration. Nevertheless, vestige or no vestige, after intermarrying for hundreds or thousands of years (even assuming there is a shred of evidence that a few of them may have some historical Jewish blood), there is zero assumption of a kosher straight line maternal Jewish decent.

  13. efrex said...
    The issue is addressed by the gemara and elsewhere: There does become a point where a meshumad is no longer given the benefit of yisrael af al pi shechata yisrael hu.

    Thank you for the source. I plan to look at this, just because it seems so interesting.

    The question on my mind is whether the children of a meshumad would not be considered Jewish if indeed this situation met the criteria for cutting off the meshumad, or if it considered inflicting the sins of the avos on the bonim and kares v'arriri would not apply.

    Thanks again.


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