Jewish Abayudaya tribe in Uganda builds ‘eruv’

Rabbi Seth Mandel returned from Uganda this week, where he helped the Putti villagers build their first eruv.

February 7, 2013 05:20
1 minute read.
Members of the Abayudaya Tribe in Uganda

uganda370. (photo credit: Seth Mandel )


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The village of Putti in Uganda finally has an eruv – a series of strings hung between polls that surround a town.

An eruv is a legal device is used by Orthodox Jews to allow them to carry objects outside on Shabbat, an otherwise forbidden activity. However, the Abayudaya tribe of Putti, which professes to live an Orthodox lifestyle, is not, strictly speaking, Jewish.

Orthodox Rabbi Seth Mandel returned from Uganda on Wednesday, where he helped the Putti villagers build their first eruv. He said that while they are not Jewish and do not require one, they were happy to get it and are actively interested in an Orthodox conversion.

“They don’t believe that they are a part of the Ten Tribes and they aren’t interested in moving to Israel,” he told The Jerusalem Post.

Mandel, an American immigrant to Israel, is the head of the Koby Mandel Foundation, a charitable organization named after his son Koby, who was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist in 2001.

Explaining why he wanted to help a non-Jewish tribe construct an eruv, Mandel said that he “thought it would be very fun to go and see this and that this would be wonderful to see another aspect of life.”

There are some 350 members of the Abayudaya living in the mixed Christian- Muslim town, according to the Putti Village Assistance Organization. Unlike members of other far-flung Jewish communities, such as the Bnei Menashe of India and the Beta Israel of Ethiopia, the Abayudaya do not claim Jewish ancestry.

In fact, they have only been practicing Judaism since tribal chief Semei Kukungulu converted in 1919.

Kukungulu, who was previously a Christian, became convinced of the primacy of the Old Testament, circumcising his sons and founding the sect almost a century ago.

While currently observing Jewish law, the tribe has not converted in accordance with rabbinic tradition. The Abayudaya maintain a synagogue, observe Saturday as Shabbat and circumcise their sons.

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