African Hebrew Israelites is a community of African-American descent in Israel. They claim to be the descendants of one of the ten lost tribes of ancient Israel, the tribe of Judah (Esensten par. 8). There are about 3,500 African Hebrew Israelites in Israel, although there are also people in other countries, too, who are connected with the community and identify as Black Hebrews. Although some African Hebrew Israelites consider themselves Jewish, neither branch of Judaism recognizes them as such. The community practices a unique combination of customs and rites that make it different from other communities in the area.
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African Hebrew Israelites are vegan. Many of them are engaged in organic farming (Hillhouse par. 11). The community is highly collaborative and acknowledges the principle of common labor for the common good. African Hebrew Israelites run a chain of vegan restaurants in Israel (Mintz par. 15). The community’s diet is also associated with regular periods of not consuming any salt or sugar or some other products. Also, African Hebrew Israelites do not wear clothes made of synthetic fabrics: they manufacture their own clothes of wool, silk, and linen. The group owns several businesses in Israel focused on crafts and tailoring services.
The issue of personal health is particularly important within the community. It strongly supports healthy lifestyles and encourages its members to exercise regularly. Some exercising sessions are mandatory for all members.
African Hebrew Israelites derive many beliefs and traditions from the Bible. For example, they are polygamous and explain it by referring to the Book of Leviticus (Esensten par. 17). The community is devoted to family values. One of the main concerns within the community is that marrying “outsiders” occurs more and more often within young African Hebrew Israelites (Shani par. 10). There are some traditions associated with childbirth that are also explained by prescriptions from the Bible. For example, when a woman gives birth to a child, she is isolated from other members of the community for a period of 40 days if the child is a boy and 80 days if the child is a girl (Mintz par. 13).
Women are isolated during menstruation, too. This custom partially explains the community’s polygamy: while his wife is isolated, a man needs at least one more woman to handle various housework tasks.
African Hebrew Israelites celebrate Jewish holy days, including Shavuot, the harvest celebration. It features bright costumes and energetic dancing to honor the fertile land. Another distinct characteristic of the community in terms of customs is celebrating the Exodus twice a year. Since African Hebrew Israelites see themselves as descendants of ancient tribes of Israel, they recognize that their people have been in slavery two times: in Egypt during the biblical times and in the United States during the times since colonization until the end of the Civil War (Esensten par. 8). To celebrate Pesach, the community gathers on a mountain at dawn, dressed in traditional robes and dresses, to pray, sing, and burn Seder leftovers in a big fire.
Another celebration dedicated to an exodus is held in May when African Hebrew Israelites commemorate the fact that the community’s founders left the United States in the 1960s. The two-day celebration is known as New World Passover (Esensten par. 11). For the festival, many African Hebrew Israelites come from other countries to join their community. Traditionally, ceremonial meals eaten during the celebration should consist of bitter herbs that symbolize the bitterness of the Israelites’ past and the sweet charoset that symbolizes the joy of living in their homeland.
Esensten, Andrew. African Hebrew Israelites Reenact Exodus in Passover Tradition. Web.
Hillhouse, Joanne C. Hebrew Israelites Striving to Unite the African Diaspora. Web.
Mintz, Zoe. “Who Are The Black Hebrews? 3 Things To Know Since Spiritual Leader’s Death.” International Business Times. 2014. Web.
Shani, Ayelett. Single Mom, Former Black Hebrew, Aspiring Politician. Web.