Rabbi Capers Funnye from Chicago has been declared “black chief rabbi” by the International Israelite Board of Rabbis, a US-based umbrella body for black Jewry.
Rabbi Funnye, who converted to Judaism, is a cousin of US First Lady Michelle Obama, and is expected to assume his position in the autumn.
The community has branches in the Caribbean, South Africa, Uganda and Nigeria as well as the United States.
Rabbi Funnye is the spiritual leader of the Bet Shalom Bnai Zaken Ethipoian Hebrew Congregation and the only black rabbi on the Chicago Board of Rabbis.
The position has been vacant since 1999, when Chief Rabbi Levi ben Levy died.
The new incumbent aims to build closer ties with the Ethiopian Jewish community that was moved to Israel. He met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a previous visit to Israel.
Black Hebrew Israelites are not recognised by the mainstream Jewish community unless they undergo a certified conversion.