Zimbabwe Harare Lemba Synagogue 

Wednesday 10 July 2019 

In one evening I am in heavenly shock.  To learn from Moderick about the Lemba.  They have circumsicion at 8 years old.  They do as many other tribes—many young boys together. Then they learn the Lemba ways—-including how to shecht (slaughter) in the ancient ways which are the actual laws of kosher slaughter.  They are given three knives, for chickens, small animals like goats and larger animals like cows which they keep for their entire lives. Being brought in to the Lemba tribe means learning how to be a shochet.  This blows my mind.  This is an ancient practice that goes back to beyond anyone’s memory.  The Lemba combine Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in to one holiday.  They choose two goats.  They pour a liquid on their back and the first one to shake it all off (you know goats hate water) has expiated the tribe for their sins.  The second goat is sent away. The first goat is slaughtered and there is a feast to celebrate the new agricultural season. 

The elders of the tribe are living in the countryside where it is possible to be tribal and stay together as a group—oh and by the way—there are 12 tribes!  Moderick and the Harare Congregation are there to be a hub and to be a place of learning.  He wants to train leaders so that they can go out in to the countryside and lead congregations.  Will they accept the rabbinic changes in their practice?  Moderick feels that they need to be in contact with the world-wide Jewish population so that they can ensure that their ancient traditions and new traditions are recognized as valid. He was thinking about whether to align with the orthodox, conservative or reform and said that all you need to be is Lemba. We laughed and he whole-heartedly agreed. That is why the Nusach Project begun by Kulanu is so important—the Lemba have their own unique music.  I gave Moderick a box of CD’s and he is blown away as is his nephew George. George has been driving me around town.  He is a great young man and is being groomed to be one of the leaders. 

Conditions in Zimbabwe are difficult. There is no electricity all day except from 10 pm until 5 am.  The home that I am staying in, an Air BnB has solar and a well so I have water and electricity.—and internet.  But there is huge unemployment and the prices in the market are very high. More on that later. 

Anyway, I am going to teach tomorrow and I am thinking about how to make it work—I will just see where everybody is—I know that Hamlet (who composed all of the Lemba melodies) and Moderick are very high level, but they are happy to review and learn some new angles on prayer.  This is fantastic!

1 comment

  • Rabbi Dina Rosenberg

    Rabbi Dina Rosenberg New Jersey

    How fascinating. Thank you for sharing your journey!

    How fascinating. Thank you for sharing your journey!

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