Come and convert our tribe - Jewish Uganda

February 24, 2011
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An Abayudaya man leans forward to touch a Torah scroll during Shabbat services at the synagogue in Nabugoya, near Uganda’s border with Kenya

An Abayudaya man leans forward to touch a Torah scroll during Shabbat services at the synagogue in Nabugoya, near Uganda’s border with Kenya

The story of the Abayudaya, Uganda's largest Jewish community, which is recognised by the Conservative movement, is well-known.

But among the Abayudaya villages, there is one, Putti, which yearns for full Orthodox status.

And earlier this month, it looked as though the wishes of the 200-strong Putti congregation might finally be granted. Two Orthodox rabbis from Israel dropped in to perform wedding ceremonies, teach shechitah and investigate what villagers needed to do to begin the conversion process.

The rabbis, Ari Greenspan and Ari Zivotofsky, also learnt about the history of Putti and how the village functions today.

Rabbi Greenspan said: "The villagers are not 100 per cent halachic, but it was wonderful. I performed five weddings. I took along rings, wrote a ketubah and gave a speech. I also taught the basics of shechitah and how to bake matzot."

The Putti congregation's insistence on Orthodox conversion has meant that they have not received the support that other Abayudaya villages have enjoyed.

The Abayudaya emerged in 1917 after Semei Kakugulu, a local ruler who claimed to be the King of Uganda, took on the identity of a Jew. Over time, various conversions were performed by European Jews.

Enosh Keki Mainah, the leader of the Putti Jews, said: "When Rabbi Greenspan said that we were not 100 per cent halachic, he meant that although we are observant, we have no direct Jewish lineage, and we are not yet accepted by Orthodox bodies in Israel. This suggests that we will have to undergo conversion. The rabbis learned about us from the website [www.thejewsofuganda.org]."

● Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, a member of the Abayudaya community who ran for parliament in last week's Ugandan elections, did not win his seat.

He claimed that vote rigging by President Museveni's ruling NRM party prevented him from winning.

Last updated: 2:18pm, February 24 2011