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Igbo Jews

Igbo Jews

Igbo Jewish Community presented with a plaque.
Regions with significant populations
Igbo; Hebrew as a liturgical language
Related ethnic groups

Igbo Jews are members of the Igbo people of Nigeria who practice Judaism.


  • Migration theory 1
    • Historical scrutiny 1.1
  • Contemporary outreach 2
  • Religious practices 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Migration theory

Certain Nigerian communities with Judaic practices have been receiving help from individual Israelis and American Jews who work in Nigeria, outreach organizations like the American Kulanu, and African-American Jewish communities in America. Jews from outside Nigeria founded two synagogues in Nigeria, which are attended and maintained by Igbo Jews. Because no formal census has been taken in the region, the number of Igbo in Nigeria who identify as Jews is not known. There are currently 26 synagogues of various sizes. In 2008 an estimated 30,000 Igbos were practicing some form of Judaism.[1] Others have cited a more conservative figure of 3,000 to 5,000 Igbo practicing Judaism.[2]

Historical scrutiny

An early (and widely influential) statement of this point of view came from an Igbo man, Olaudah Equiano, a Christian-educated freed slave who remarked in his autobiography of 1789 on
"the strong analogy which... appears to prevail in the manners and customs of my countrymen and those of the Jews, before they reached the Land of Promise, and particularly the patriarchs while they were yet in that pastoral state which is described in Genesis — an analogy, which alone would induce me to think that the one people had sprung from the other." For authoritative support, he gives reference to "Dr. Gill, who, in his commentary on Genesis, very ably deduces the pedigree of the Africans from Afer and Afra, the descendants of Abraham....[3]

His essay has since been discarded as speculation. Critical historians have carefully reviewed the historical literature on West Africa during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They have clarified the diverse functions (quite aside from questions of validity) which such histories served for the writers who proposed them at various times in the colonial and post-colonial past.[4][5]

Knowledge from sources broader and more self-critical than the Biblical — from contemporary historians, archaeologists, historical linguists, and other scientifically based disciplines — have argued against these claims. There is no doubt that Jews were present in Saharan trade centers during the first millennium AD,[6] but the proposition that Jews were directly involved with Igbo-speaking peoples in ancient times is controversial.

Contemporary outreach

A Western rabbi, Howard Gorin, visited the community in 2006[7] and members of "Tikvat Israel", a Jewish community in the West, supported those in Nigeria by sending books, computers, and religious articles.[8] In addition to Rabbi Howard Gorin, visitors have included Professor William F. S. Miles, Dr. Daniel Lis, filmmaker Jeff L. Lieberman, and journalist Shai Afsai.[9]

The main concern of Igbo Jews is how to be part of the wider Jewish world, according to the spokesman of "Gihon Hebrews Synagogue" in Abuja, Prince Azuka Ogbukaa. In 2013 the American writer Shai Afsai invited two of the Igbo Jewish leaders, Azuka Ogbukaa (Pinchas) and Elder Ovadiah Agbai, to Rhode Island in the United States.[10] Afsai wrote: “Their 12-day visit has helped solidify a budding relationship between the Rhode Island and Abuja communities. Now that we know each other a little better, we may consider what further joys and responsibilities this relationship entails”.[11]

This visit of the leaders led Rabbi Barry Dolinger of Rhode Island to go to Nigeria with Afsai in 2014, with musicologist Roil Ggarhs also joining them.[12]

Religious practices

Religious practices of the Igbo Jews include circumcision eight days after the birth of a male child, observance of kosher dietary laws, separation of men and women during menstruation, wearing of the tallit and kippah, and the celebration of holidays such as Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. In recent times, the communities have also adopted holidays such as Hanukkah[13] and Purim.[14]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Afsai, Shai. Nigeria's Igbo Jews August 25, 2013.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Rabbi Returns to Nigeria for 3-Week Mission", Tikvat Israel Congregation (Rockville, Maryland), 13 February 2006.
  8. ^ "Tikvat Israel ships scripture to Nigeria", Tikvat Israel Congregation (Rockville, Maryland), 11 January 2006.
  9. ^ Afsai, Shai, "Igbo Jews of Nigeria Strive to Study and Practice", 2013.
  10. ^ Maliki, Anthony, “Igbo Jews to host leading American Jew”, Daily Trust, 18 February, 2014.
  11. ^ Afsai, Shai. "Abuja’s Igbo Jews pay a visit to Rhode Island", The Jerusalem Post, 23 October, 2013
  12. ^ Afsai, Shai, “R.I. rabbi’s visit to Nigeria helps lessen its Jewish community's isolation”, Providence Journal, 16 November, 2014.
  13. ^ Miles, William F. S., "Among the Igbos of Nigeria During the Festival of Lights", 2011.
  14. ^ Afsai, Shai, "Hanging Haman with the Igbo Jews of Abuja", Times of Israel, 2013.

External links

  • Hebrew Karaite Community Igbo Bene Israel
  • Re-Emerging: The Jews of Nigeria
  • Kulanu
  • Packing for Nigeria
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