The Black Jews of Ghana who discovered their roots through a vision

Stephen Nartey September 05, 2022
A member of the Jewish community in Ghana/Photo credit: Lincoln Center

Until 1976, the only identity the black Jews residing in the West African nation of Ghana had was that they were a special breed of people who migrated to their present settlement about 300 years ago. 

The Tirefeth Israel community in Ghana’s farming settlement of Sefwi Wiaso believe they descended from one of the lost tribes of Israel. 

Though the black Jew community is unable to back with documentary proof which of the 12 tribes of Israel they belong to, oral tradition handed over from generation to generation had transmitted knowledge of the observation of Jewish customs with regard to the observance of Shabbat, circumcision of their newborns, refraining from eating pork and abiding by the rituals of purity. 

Many lost tribes of Israel settling in isolated communities like the Tirefeth settlement have been linked to the destruction of Israel by the Assyrian empire in 722 BCE. 

The disclosure of the true identity of the Tirefeth Israel community was revealed to one of their members in 1976 and that’s how the community came to the realization of the Judaism customs they have been practicing for centuries, according to the Canadian Jewish News. 

The community in their pilgrimage to their present location settled in the Sahara desert, moved to Niger, Mail, Côte d’Ivoire and finally Ghana. 

Some scholars are of the view that this tribe descended from Jews who were pushed out from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492 and settled in Morroco. As part of their activity in the trans-Sahara trading, they migrated to other parts of Africa over time. 

Archaeological excavations at Jewish cemeteries and synagogues in countries like the Mail and Gambia have confirmed the existence of black Jews and their trading activities. 

The Tirefeth Israel community enjoys religious freedom and practices its customs in rural settings. The community leaders believe they are the only tribe that draws inspiration from the Torah. 

It is the hope of the community to have some of their members go on a pilgrimage to Israel to learn more about their identity and their religious customs. 

Corine Forward, a researcher who authored a paper for Georgetown University in the United States on Jewish civilization and African American studies, said when many think of Jews, they assume they are all whites until she visited the Jewish community in Ghana. 

She said when the Tirefeth Israel found their identity in 1976, they reached out to the Israel Embassy in Ghana which assisted them. Forward said in her research, which was mainly fieldwork, she observed the community identified themselves as Jews. 

According to her, they believe they were descendants of Abraham and that legitimizes their association with Judaism. She said presently the community is learning Hebrew, they light candles, observe the sabbath and celebrate Jewish holidays. 

Her worry is that even though many have confirmed the existence of the Tirefeth Israel community, little efforts have been made into researching them extensively. 

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: September 6, 2022


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