By Alina Dain Sharon/JNS.org
Click photo to download. Members of the Gogodala tribe, which claims to be of Jewish origin, in Papua New Guinea. The Gogodala is the latest “lost tribe” examined by the “British Indiana Jones,” Dr. Tudor Parfitt. Credit: Tim Long, Florida International University.
During the 1990s, Welsh professor Tudor Parfitt,
known around the world as the “British Indiana Jones,” discovered evidence that
the Lemba tribe in central Zimbabwe and northern South Africa has Jewish roots.
He identified a genetic element in the male chromosomes of the tribe that comes
from the Kohanim, the Jewish priestly line.
This year, Dr. Parfitt published his latest of 25 books,
Black Jews in Africa and the Americas.
He also joined the faculty of Florida International University (FIU) and led an
expedition to Papua New Guinea to visit the Gogodala tribe, which like the
Lemba claims to be of Jewish origin. Several FIU students and staffers, as well
as two New York rabbis from Kulanu, a Jewish outreach organization, joined
Parfitt on the trip.
Parfitt, who is also launching the Center for Global
Jewish Communities at FIU, which will study remote Jewish communities, spoke
exclusively with JNS.org about his
research into the Gogodala tribe and other Judaizing movements around the
You’ve been doing scholarly and field research in Jewish studies for many
years. What drew you to this topic?
Parfitt: “When I was 18-19 years
old, I did “Voluntary Service Overseas” (VSO), which was the precursor to the
American Peace Corps. Originally I was supposed to go to Vietnam, and then I
was sent to Israel and spent 15-16 months in Jerusalem working with handicapped
people. When I went back to England, I decided to switch from history [studies]
to Hebrew and Arabic. [Later] I went to the Hebrew University, where I had a
fellowship, and then I went back to Oxford and did my DPhil (Doctor of
Philosophy). That launched an academic career in the field of Hebrew and Jewish
Studies. I am from a Welsh family that was very philo-Semitic. My father was
involved in liberating a Displaced Persons camp in which there were many Jews
in the Second World War… so I was very predisposed to being sympathetic to Jews
from a very young age.”
How did you
begin your work with “lost tribes” who claim Jewish origin?
“Ten years after I started teaching, I was asked to
go to the Sudan to write a report about Ethiopian Jews, and according to the
Minority Rights Group, which was the organization that wanted me to go there,
the Ethiopian Jews were being poisoned in the refugee camps on the Sudanese
side of the border with Ethiopia. They wanted me to go there and see if it was
true or not. This was right at the height of the great famine in 1984, and my
visit happened to coincide almost to the day with the Israeli Operation Moses.
What I saw was life-changing for me, seeing these people in a terrible state,
many of whom died.
“While I was there I met an individual who eventually
admitted to me that he was working with Mossad. [He said], if “you just keep
your mouth shut until this is over, I will tell you what the …read more