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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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< Q13.7 TOC Q13.9 >

Question 13.8:
What about the black jews in South Africa?


This group lives in a region in the north of S.A. known as Venda. Apparently early Jewish traders in S.A. found that certain Africans in Venda practised kashrut and other Jewish practises, and historical records of the Boer republics mention black Jews.

There are supposedly 300,000 such Jews in S.A.; they claim to be descendants of a group of Yemenite Jews who migrated south and intermarried with the locals. Supposedly, there are similar groups all along the east coast of Africa. Of particular interest are 40000 members of the black Lemba people. Like the Abayudaya, these people are keen to learn more about Jewish laws and practices. These claims of the Lemba are documented at

On the other hand, there is a book about this group (called the Lembe') called Voyage to the Invisible City. The author, Tudor Parfitt lives with them, studies them and sifts through the early records of the area, and concludes (over their objections of course) that their "jewish" traits come from Islam, not Judaism. They appear to him to be a mixture of locals, Hindus from India (they have lots of ancestor worship mixed in too) and Islam (they circumcise at 13 not in the first few weeks). He originally concluded that there is little likelihood that they have any real Jewish ancestry.

Recently, Kohen Madol Haplotype testing has been performed among the Lemba; these tests have proven the Lemba to have the highest concentration of the gene marker than any known halakhic Jewish group. This is reported in an article titled "Decoding the Priesthood" by Peter Hirshberg and Jane Logan, in Jerusalem Report (May 10, 1999 issue). According to this article, the Lemba have the same proportion of the gene as "Western" Jews and a remarkably high frequency among their Buba clan, a senior clan parallel to our Cohens.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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© (c) 1993-2002 Daniel P. Faigin <>