Cover image for Black Zion : African American religious encounters with Judaism
Black Zion : African American religious encounters with Judaism
Chireau, Yvonne Patricia, 1961-
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xii, 241 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.
Black culture and black Zion : African American religious encounters with Judaism, 1790-1930, an overview / African American Jews : dispelling myths, bridging the divide / Symbolic identity formation in an African American religious sect : the Black Hebrew Israelites / Another exodus : the Hebrew Israelites from Chicago to Dimona / Proximate other : the Nation of Islam and Judaism / Nubian Islaamic Hebrews, Ansaaru Allah Community : Jewish teachings of an African American Muslim community / Remembering Nehemiah : a note on Biblical theology / Theological affinities in the writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King, Jr. / This is the gateway to the Lord : the legacy of synagogue buildings for African American churches on Cincinnati's Reading Road / "Jew" in the Haitian imagination : pre-modern anti-Judaism in the postmodern Caribbean
Reading Level:
1570 Lexile.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E184.36.A34 B53 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Black Zion explores the myriad ways in which African American religions have encountered Jewish traditions, beliefs, and spaces. The collection's unifying argument is that religion is the missing piece of the cultural jigsaw puzzle, that much of the recent turmoil in black-Jewish relations would be better understood, if not alleviated, if the religious roots of those relations were illuminated. Toward that end, the contributors look a number of provocative topics, including the concept of the Chosen People, the typological identification of blacks with Jews, the actual identification of blacks as Jews, the sacredness of space and symbols, the importance of scriptural interpretation in creating theology and self understanding, the dialectic of exile and redemption in communal history, and the integration of ethnicity and religion in constructing group identity. Ranging from the Nation of Islam to the Hebrew Israelites and from Abraham Joshua Heschel to Martin Luther King, Jr., the book sheds light on a little examined but vitally important dimension of black-Jewish relations in America: religion.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Many recent studies of Black-Jewish relations assume that the two ethnic categories are mutually exclusive. Not so, according to the two Swarthmore College historians who edited this absorbing volume. A 1990 national survey found that 2.4% of American Jews--about 132,000 people--identify themselves as black and that 239,000 African-Americans claim some personal connection with Judaism. The ten essays that comprise this collection offer "a suggestive sample" of their varied stories. The most interesting chapters examine the terms in which African-American Jews negotiate their compound identities in the context of a wider culture that is generally unsympathetic. Other essays examine such topics as the theological connections between Judaism and African-American varieties of Islam, the appropriation of abandoned synagogues by African-American congregations and the employment of Jewish stereotypes among Haitian practitioners of Vodou. One may quibble with the selection: a celebratory essay on Abraham Joshua Heschel's relationship with Martin Luther King seems decidedly out of place, and there are two chapters on the Hebrew Israelites, a small sect of black Americans who emigrated to Israel in 1969, but none on the Falasha Jews of Ethiopia, whose cause appeals neither to Pan-Africanists nor to Zionists. However, the book's eclectic nature is also one of its strengths, revealing the great diversity and complexity of modern religious responses to the questions of ethnic identity. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Recent events, e.g., the Million Man March, anti-Semitic statements by the Rev. Louis Farakhan, and African American leaders' sometimes vocal support of Palestinian self-determination, have occasioned a public examination of relations between the African American and Jewish communities, making this outstanding collection timely indeed. Chireau and Deutsch (religion, Swarthmore) have collected well-written essays by qualified scholars and journalists that demonstrate just how nebulous are the boundaries and identities of black, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities. Topics include the various groups that identify themselves as black Jews or Hebrews; the Nation of Islam's rhetoric; the influence of Martin Luther King on Abraham Heschel; interest in the builder-prophet Nehemiah among black leaders; and the appropriation of former synagogues as urban churches. In all, the essays make clear the intensely human and complex processes by which people build their religious identities. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries.--Steve Young, Montclair State Univ., NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The "black Zion" connection of Swarthmore College professors Chireau and Deutsch's title describes the religious interrelationship between African Americans and Judaism, the religion, more than "black-Jewish relations" in terms of alliances, politics, and sociology. This religious relationship is commonly seen in the impact of biblical texts and theology on black Christian traditions and, to a lesser degree, on the emergence of "black Judaism" in urban America. But it is a complex connection not only shaped by sacred texts but also informed by cultural, geographical, historical, and psychological factors. The ten chapters, parsed into three sections of various depth and verve, examine the impact of Jewish beliefs, traditions, and institutions on the emergence of new, African American religious identities. The first part presents a historical overview of the African American religious encounter with Judaism from 1790 to 1930, a chapter on dispelling myths within the American black Jewish community, and two chapters on the black Hebrew Israelites. The second and third parts deal with topical and occasional polemical notes of African American Muslims and Christians and Judaism. By no means an exhaustive survey, Black Zion is an informative and readable source for a little-known chapter in the black-Jewish encounter. This eye-opening, descriptive anthology penetrates the ethnic ghetto and beyond. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. Z. Garber; Los Angeles Valley College

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vii
Contributorsp. xi
Introductionp. 3
Notesp. 10
Part I African American Jews and Israelitesp. 13
1 Black Culture and Black Zion African American Religious Encounters with Judaism, 1790-1930, an Overviewp. 15
Notesp. 28
2 African American Jews Dispelling Myths, Bridging the Dividep. 33
Notesp. 51
3 Symbolic Identity Formation in an African American Religious Sect the Black Hebrew Israelitesp. 55
Notesp. 70
4 Another Exodus the Hebrew Israelites from Chicago to Dimonap. 73
Part II African American Muslims and Judaismp. 89
5 The Proximate Other the Nation of Islam and Judaismp. 91
Notesp. 113
6 The Nubian Islaamic Hebrews, Ansaaru Allah Community Jewish Teachings of an African American Muslim Communityp. 118
Notesp. 138
Part III African American Christianity and Judaismp. 151
7 Remembering Nehemiah a Note on Biblical Theologyp. 153
Notesp. 166
8 Theological Affinities in the Writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King, Jrp. 168
Notesp. 184
9 This is the Gateway to the Lord the Legacy of Synagogue Buildings for African American Churches on Cincinnati's Reading Roadp. 187
Notesp. 201
10 "The Jew" in the Haitian Imagination Pre-Modern Anti-Judaism in the Postmodern Caribbeanp. 203
Notesp. 223
Selected Bibliographyp. 229
Indexp. 237