Judaism in Africa
Judaism in Africa is represented mainly by two separate groups of people: Jews from Europe and the Middle East and indigenous Africans who claim Jewish or Israelite descent. Jews from the Middle East arrived in Africa before A.D. 400, settling mainly in North African countries such as EGYPT and ALGERIA. Most worked as artisans, merchants, or laborers. In the late 1300s many Jews fled from Catholic Spain to Algeria, and in the 1600s and 1700s, Italian Jews joined them. However, when Arab leaders in Egypt and Algeria established anti-Jewish policies in the mid-1900s, most Jews left those countries. Today, SOUTH AFRICA is home to the largest population of Jewish immigrants in Africa.
Several African groups claim to be descended from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel or other early Jewish groups. Most scholars believe these peoples were not originally Jewish but picked up elements of Jewish culture and religion through contacts with Christians or Muslims. These groups include the Lemba of South Africa and the Bayudiya of Uganda. The Beta Israel of ETHIOPIA claim to be descendants of Jews who moved to East Africa near the beginning of the Christian era. Although scholars now estimate that the Beta Israel arose in Ethiopia between the 1300s and 1500s, the group has nevertheless been recognized as Jews by the state of Israel. Over 45,000 members of the group have moved to Israel, members of Beta Israel in other African countries have claimed Jewish heritage in hopes of settling in Israel as well.
Many indigenous African groups have incorporated Jewish rituals and practices into their religious systems. Some point to ancient Biblical customs such as polygamy and ritual sacrifice to justify their traditional practices to Western missionaries. Other African groups have customs like those of Jewish cultures, but many scholars view such similarities as coincidental and not as evidence of direct Israelite influence.