Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

Shalom, Nigeria: A Jewish Culture Guide

Although Israel has yet to recognize the Igbo Jews as one of the “Lost Tribes”, the community in Nigeria remains proud and resolute.

By: Sarah Bauder

Published: February 11th, 2014 in Culture » Society » News

And we’re off, to anywhere and everywhere, as we say ‘Shalom’ every week to different global travel destination. World cities, provincial towns, and even the most unassuming of suburbs are infused with Jewish history and culture, some of which is waiting to be discovered.

For the pious follower, the curious traveler, or the intrepid adventurer, we’ll unearth the best of what to do and where to go. Be it an emerging subculture, a historical landmark, or simply a triumph of art in any form, Jewish experiences are found around the world; and likely as well in your backyard.

It may be in the destination, the journey, or the company, but there is much to uncover and celebrate near and far, so hurry up and get going.

Shalom, Nigeria

The historical documentation of Judaism in Nigeria (Africa’s most populous country) has caused much debate. There are ethnic groups within Nigeria, that for centuries have shared traditional practices with that of Judaism. The Igbos are the third largest ethnic group in the nation, comprising an estimated 20 to 50 million people. Within this group, there is a prevalent belief that the Igbos are descendants from the tribes of Israel. Igbo Jews in Nigeria, refer to themselves as “Benei-Yisrael”.

According to their oral traditions, Igbo Jews first migrated to the region from Syria, Libya, and Portugal in the mid 8th century C.E. An even older tradition states that their ancestors migrated from ancient Israel into Eastern Africa sometime in the 6th century B.C.E. Despite the dearth of quantifiable historical evidence, the similarities betwixt Igbo Jews and Judaism as a whole, is enough to warrant a substantial amount of interest and study.

Photo credit: Shai Afsai/Times of Israel

Although no official census has been undertaken, there are believed to be between 3000 to 30,000 Igbos practicing some form of Judaism in Nigeria. There are approximately 26 synagogues of various sizes located throughout the country. Of those, Jews residing outside Nigeria founded two synagogues. The majority of Igbo Jews reside in Igboland, their ancestral region in Nigeria. A smaller number also live in the capital, Abuja. Three synagogues are located in the capital city. Some of the Igbo traditions that are analogous to mainstream Judaism include circumcising male infants after eight days, observance of kosher food restrictions, mourning the dead for a week, separating the sexes during menstruation, just to name a few.

Find out more about Nigeria’s Jewish history on page 2!

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