Jewish worshippers gather at a makeshift synagogue established by the Jewish Agency for Israel for Ethiopian Jews in Gondar, Ethiopia, in 2012.

Interview Edith Bruder “There is not only one way to be Jewish”

Edith Bruder, historian, anthropologist, and research associate in the Middle-East department in the Oriental and African Studies of the London University, looks after the path of numerous Jewish communities in Africa and all over the world in her last book, Juifs d’ailleurs, diasporas oubliées identités singulières. Omitted, rediscovered, and increasing each day, those communities underline the multifaceted nature of Judaism, often reduced to its primary orientations.


By Dounia Ben Mohamed


Edith Bruder-DR


Why did you write this book?


There are few or even no publications, especially in French, explaining the global history of Jewish diasporas in regions far away from the Orient, Asia, and Africa. With this book, I want to tell this history.


The African Jewish communities’ history still is unrecognized. Nevertheless, they played a significant role in the continent’s history…


Today, we know very well the history of Jewish from Northern Africa, of Sephardi Jews and Falash Mura. But indeed, the existence of Jewish communities in Sub-Saharan Africa has been unsuspected until the 20th century. It is only from the 1980s that those communities proclaimed being descendants of Jewish communities installed in Africa since ancient times. I focus my researches on those communities since 2000, and I wrote two books about it, one published in the US, the other in France.


Are there still tangible pieces of evidence of this historical presence of Judaism in Africa?


Jewish communities from Sub-Saharan Africa can trace their ancestry back to the ten lost tribes of Israel that they would be descendants of. So we must take an interest in the Bible, for example, when Isaiah prophesies that after their dispersion, the tribes get into exile into Kush’s kingdom, which means Africa. Out of this prophecy, other biblical passages mention a jew presence in Africa. Those passages sound like oral traditions of African Jewish communities.


Far from stopping, this history lasts and evolves with new self-appointed Jewish communities, among others? 



Actually, except for the Beta Israel in Ethiopia, which has been officially recognized by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, African communities are self-appointed. But it does not prevent those communities from getting a favorable response from numerous religious authorities in Israel and the US, which are taking care of spiritual training.


What does this Jewish presence in Africa teaches us about what you call being jew “somewhere else differently”? 


It teaches us that there are probably not only two ways of being Jewish, namely Ashkenazi or Sephardi. In addition to African Jewish communities, this book presents Jewish communities in India, China, hybrids Jewish identity, and many others.


Relationships between Israel and Africa also evolved from practically nothing during Arab–Israeli conflict when many countries supported a pro-Palestinian cause. They are now more opened and diversified, with, for example, the African tour of Benjamin Netanyahu. What impact on African Jewish? 


Jews from Africa spontaneously express a spiritual attachment to Israel, its successes, and the pioneer spirit of its early stage, without any judgment on the politic against Palestinians. Their concerns are being accepted as Jewish, even if not each one wants to do their Aliyah.


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