Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-Chief
Last Modified: 18:11 PM EDT, 08 March 2010
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 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.”
Follow Nahmias Cipher Report on Twitter
- Jewish Voice on a ‘Divine Mission’ to Lemba Tribe of Zimbabwe (jewishvoice.wordpress.com)
- Zimbabwe’s Black Jews (failedmessiah.typepad.com)
- Zimbabwe, of the House of Aaron. Proven Levites. (estherscott1257.wordpress.com)
- DNA Confirms Tribe’s Oral History of Israeli Jewish Ancestry (pacificeye.wordpress.com)
- Tribal understandings: Jewish and Navajo spiritual leaders speak of sacred lands (jta.org)
- Do the Lemba and the Falasha have Jewish DNA? (africaisrael.wordpress.com)