Black Hebrew Israelites

A diverse movement asserting African Americans’ descent from the ancient Israelites.

Religion: Judaism
Founded: Late 19th century
Location: United States

The Black Hebrew Israelites represent a diverse and complex religious movement primarily comprising African Americans who believe they are descendants of the ancient Israelites. Emerging distinctly in the late 19th to early 20th centuries amidst a broader awakening of African American cultural and historical identity, the movement has evolved through various phases and interpretations. Initially, these beliefs were shaped by the unique social and political experiences of African Americans, often as a response to racial discrimination. Over time, several factions within the Black Hebrew Israelite community have developed, each with its own set of doctrines and practices that diverge significantly from mainstream Judaism and Christianity.

The movement broadly encompasses various groups and congregations, rejecting alignment with traditional Judaism and instead drawing from a variety of influences, including Holiness/Pentecostal Christianity, the British Anglo-Israelite movement, Freemasonry, Theosophy, and African American Christianity’s profound connection with the Old Testament Hebrews. Despite this diversity, many within the movement share common beliefs, such as the view that the trans-Atlantic slave trade fulfills biblical prophecy and a distinct identity separate from contemporary Jewish communities.

The largest organized group within this movement, the African Hebrew Israelites, follows the leadership of Ben Ammi Ben Israel. He led a group from the United States to Israel in 1969, believing in a divine command to return descendants of the Israelites to the Promised Land. This group, which practices veganism and other distinct lifestyle choices, has faced significant challenges in Israel regarding citizenship and legal recognition but has also made remarkable contributions to local society and international communities.

Over the years, the movement’s relationship with the Israeli government and broader Jewish community has seen periods of tension and cooperation. While some members have sought formal conversion to Judaism, the community largely maintains its distinct spiritual and cultural identity, maintaining unique observances that reflect their historical journey and beliefs, while also celebrating traditional Jewish holidays.

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