Soc.Culture.Jewish Newsgroups
Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

URL: www.scjfaq.org/faq/13-01.html
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< Sect. 12 TOC Q13.2 >

Question 13.1:
What are the different racial and cultural groups of Jews?

Answer:

The Jewish religion is practiced by people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, as a result of the continual process of conversion to Judaism. Thus, Jews today are a mixture of descendants of converts as well as direct descendants of ancient Israelite Jews. You cannot determine who is a Jew based solely on name, racial characteristics, or any other physical characteristics (including circumcision, for much of the male general population undergos this procedure).

Among North American Jews, individuals of Eastern European Ashkenazi heritage are predominant, although before the late 1800's, individuals of Sephardi origin (i.e. Jews who settled around the Mediterranean basin at the time of the diaspora) were more common.

Other groups of Jews include the Arab and Yemeni Jews. In fact, there was a Jewish kingdom in Yemen in the early Middle Ages under the rule of Dhu Nuwas. There are also Jews of Persian origin. The larger groups of non-Caucasian Jews include the Jews from Ethiopia.

Other Jewish communities include the Kaifeng Jews of China (now mostly assimilated). Until 1960, there was a community of cave-dwelling Jews in southern Libya. A community in Burma claimed to be Jews, and rumors and legends abound about African, Native American, and other tribes claiming Jewish ancestry. There are also Jewish communities in India.

A 20th-century convert community, the Abayudaya Jews, exists in Uganda, Africa.

Jews may be white or black. No one knows the skin color of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We do know that there was some mixing between the Jewish and the Hamatic nations. Some biblical scholars believe that Abraham was half-Chaldean; there is some evidence that the Chaldeans were black. The point of this: to reiterate what was said at the beginning of this answer: You cannot determine who is a Jew based solely on name, racial characteristics, or any other physical characteristics (including circumcision, for much of the male general population undergos this procedure).


The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

[Got Questions?]Hopefully, the FAQ will provide the answer to your questions. If it doesn't, please drop Email to questions@scjfaq.org. The FAQ maintainer will endeavor to direct your query to an appropriate individual that can answer it. If you would like to be part of the group to which the maintainer directs questions, please drop a note to the FAQ maintainer at maintainer@scjfaq.org.

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© (c) 1993-2002 Daniel P. Faigin <maintainer@scjfaq.org>