Zimbabwean Jews Confirmed via DNA

Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-Chief
Last Modified: 18:11 PM EDT, 08 March 2010

Lemba Minyan

Tudor Parfitt’s remarkable journey to introduce the Lemba tribe to the world began with a lecture in South Africa on the Jews of Ethiopia. After meeting with the tribe, observing their lives and listening to their oral history, he returned to England where he determined that “this would be a wonderful research project.”

Thus began an intense relationship with the Lemba during which he lived with them, gained their acceptance and respect, and was finally able to secure their agreement to DNA testing.

Parfitt’s scientific research generated a great amount of interest in this group of sub-Saharan Africans who claimed they are Jewish. Josh Bernstein, noted explorer, archeologist and Jew, decided to retrace the amazing journey that may have resulted in the Lemba settling in Zimbabwe.  During Josh’s peregrinations he decided to try to decipher the reality between myth and fact regarding the Biblical Lost Tribes of Israel.

Josh encountered many groups around the world who claimed either direct or peripheral descent from the Biblical Jews.  However, it was the Lemba Tribe aka Lembaa, who live in Zimbabwe, Southern Africa,  who proved to be the most intriguing encounter in this quest.

Like the Bene Israel and Cochin Jews of India, the Lemba people did not fit neatly into most peoples’ perceptions of “what Jews look like.” As  previously discussed in this blog, the Jewish diaspora is as varied as the peoples of the earth.  However, in addition to anti-Semitism, racism plays a large part of the discomfort people have with the concept of Jews of Color. The identification of the Lemba as Jews would have probably passed largely unnoticed except for their sub-Saharan ancestry.

Today news sources around the world are loudly proclaiming and tacitly conferring upon the Lemba recognition of their heritage as direct descendants of Abraham because of the efficacy of DNA testing.  It is particularly poignant for me because this news was widely publicized in Israel via The Jerusalem Post, which I hope will begin to ameliorate some of the difficulties faced by Jews of Color in Israel.  Ethiopians in particular and others in general.

For me and other ‘People of the Book,’  it is always satisfying when science lends credence to our beliefs.  It was prophesied to Abraham by G-d nearly three millennium ago in Bereshit 22:17 ~ “That in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven, as the sand which is upon the sea-shore.”

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About Ayanna Nahmias

Ayanna Nahmias was interviewed on Radio Netherlands Worldwide program titled 'The State We’re In,' about her life in Africa and her determination to transcend her past. She started the Nahmias Cipher Report to provide information to readers about life in emerging economies, and to provide alternative insight into the challenges faced by women and children living in these countries. The blog features stories from around the world to inspire other people to persevere and triumph in the face of great adversity. She blogs about current events in emerging economies, international politics, human rights abuses, women’s rights and child advocacy.

View all posts by Ayanna Nahmias

3 Comments on “Zimbabwean Jews Confirmed via DNA”

  1. Sidney Davis Says:

    It would appear that the African Jew Identity phenomenon is the result of a colonial discourse owing to and since the arrival of Christian missionaries and their Bible publishing societies on the African continent. Local and oral indigenous traditions have been heavily influenced by this discourse. There are other scientific rationales that explain the CMH among the Lemba as a close reading of the scientific literature will show that do not necessarily lead to conclusions that have no basis in historical and anthropological facts. Some of this evidence and its discussion can be seen at http://africaisrael.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/africa-israel-hypothesis/.


    • Ayanna Nahmias Says:

      I believe that the major point of this and other articles about Jews of Color, and the Lembaa specifically, is that the Jewish community is not monolithic.

      The proof is attested to by Jewish communities outside of the US – i.e. the Cochini & Bene Israel of India (http://adaniel.tripod.com/cochin.htm) as well as Ethiopians, etc.

      The prevailing view of who is a Jew is restricted to a narrow band of those who look Caucasian/Eastern European, when in fact Jews are Semitic and more closely related to their cousins, Arabs, through Abraham’s son, Ishmael.

      It is an open ended issue, one that provokes discussion and strong sentiment, but ultimately, it is up to the individual to research, should they desire, and come to their own opinion.


      • Sidney Davis Says:

        The Jewish community is certainly not monolithic if for no other reason than the fact that the entire present day Jewish people are descendant from proselytes who have adopted Judaism. Perhaps you have read The Invention of the Jewish People — by Shlomo Sand? So any attempt to claim Jewishness through genetics is a practical impossibility if not an exercise in futility. No one has a genetic sample from Abraham, Isaac or Jacob. The information you will find in my blog will show that Ashkenazi women have the L2a1 haplotype, the most ubiquitous haplotype on the African continent. Could that be a clue to their BANTU origins? It happens to be my haplotype. Its source is Africa. SO, if Jewishness according to halacha is determined matrilineally, tell me…who is a Jew and who came from who?


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