The mystery of the 10 Lost Tribes of Israel has fascinated people through the ages. Explorers claim to have discovered evidence of the “lost tribes” all over the world, from Australia to Siberia, but few if any such claims have been backed up by solid evidence. But now a provocative possibility about the whereabouts of one of the tribes has emerged–and it’s 4,000 miles from Israel–in Southern Africa. This documentary retraces the amazing journey that the Lemba people claim they made centuries ago. It stretches from the heart of modern South Africa to the ancient stone cities of Zimbabwe…and then onto the shores of the Mediterranean and the city of Jerusalem. And the evidence for this journey is more than anecdotal.This documentary discovers, recent DNA studies point to the Lemba’s true origin in the Middle East.
Some Jewish communities in Africa are among the oldest in the world, dating back more than 2700 years. African Jews have ethnic and religious diversity and richness. African Jewish communities include:
Sephardi Jews and Mizraḥi Jews living in North Africa, including Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Sudan and Egypt. Some were established early in the Diaspora; others after the expulsion from Iberia in the late 15th century. Since the early and middle decades of the twentieth century, the vast majority of them have emigrated, chiefly to Israel and France, with substantial numbers also emigrating to Argentina, Brazil, Canada and the US. Small but active communities remain in Morocco and Tunisia.
The South African Jews, who are mostly Ashkenazi Jews descended from pre-and post-Holocaust immigrant Lithuanian Jews.
Scattered African groups who have not maintained contact with the wider Jewish community from ancient times, but who assert descent from ancient Israel or other connections to Judaism. These include:
Groups who observe Jewish rituals, or rituals bearing recognizable resemblance to Judaism. Although there are a number of such groups, the majority of world Jewry recognize only the Beta Israel of Ethiopia as historically Jewish.
Groups such as the Lemba, many of whom practice Christianity but have preserved some rituals and customs believed to be Jewish in origin. This group has also been found to have genetic traits in common with other Jewish groups, bolstering their claims to ancient Jewish ancestry. Latest DNA testing on the Lemba by the South African Medical Journal (SAMJ) tested both South African Ashkenazi Jews and Lemba for the extended Cohen Model Haplogroup (CMH). Although the 24 individuals, (10 Lemba,14 SA Jews) were identified as having the original Cohen Model Haplogroup, only one SA Jew harboured the extended CMH. This study does not support earlier claims of their Jewish genetic heritage.
Although not all African Jews are religious, some of their practices are Orthodox.
The most ancient communities of African Jews known to the Western world are the Ethiopian, Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews of North Africa and Middle Africa.
Largely unknown in the West until quite recently are communities of the African Jews such as the Lemba (located in present-day Malawi, Zimbabwe, and northern South Africa). Some among the Igbo of Nigeria, the Annang/Efik/Ibibio of Akwa Ibom State and Cross River State of Nigeria, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea) claim descent from East Africa and Jews in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya and Egypt, which were trading partners from ancient times.
In the seventh century, many Spanish Jews fled persecution under the Visigoths to North Africa, where they made their homes in the Byzantine-dominated cities along the Mediterranean coast. Others arrived after the expulsion from Iberia. Remnants of longstanding Jewish communities remain in Morocco, Tunisia and the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla. There is a much-diminished but still vibrant community on the island of Djerba in Tunisia. Many Jews from North Africa emigrated to North America in the early 20th century. Since 1948 and the civil war to establish Israel, which aroused hostility in Muslim lands, most other North African Jews emigrated. They went to Israel, France and Spain.
Of the seventh century immigrants, some moved inland and proselytized among the Berber tribes. A number of tribes, including the Jarawa, Uled Jari, and some tribes of the Daggatun people, may have converted to Judaism. Ibn Khaldun reported that Kahina, a female Berber warlord who led the resistance against the Arab invaders of North Africa in the 680s and 690s, was a Jew of the Jarawa tribe. With the defeat of the Berber resistance, none of the Jewish communities was initially forced to convert to Islam.
In 1975, the Israeli religious authorities and government recognized the Beta Israel of Ethiopia as legally Jewish. Hundreds of persons who wanted to emigrate to Israel were air-lifted under the leadership of Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Significant immigration to Israel continues into the 21st century.