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The Connections Between Judaism and Rastafarianism

Adam Buchwald


Numerous amounts of religious groups have started and developed from experiences which have happened to them in the past. For example, Judaism and Rastafarianism are two religious sects which have been formed from former events which created and helped start these religions. There is also a strong tie between these two religions because they are two groups which have been oppressed and persecuted in the past which helped them unite and become one. Until the nineteenth century the Jews, even though they were white, lived a life which shared the same status of the Blacks. The Jews and Blacks were both subjected to slavery because they were a little bit different. It was also said the first Israelites were black, being the first Jews. Another strong bond between these two groups is the belief of repatriation, which is to return to the country of origin or allegiance, being it Ethiopia (Africa) for the Rastas and Israel for the Jews. Rastafarianism also has and uses a lot of the same beliefs of the Jews. As you can see Judaism and Rastafarianism has strong connections, being it beliefs, events which happened to them in the past, origin, and the worship of one God.
"The Rastafarians emerge as a loosely organized inspirational group (or groups?) of men and women concerned at the plight of black people, especially the plight of those whose ancestors were forcibly removed from Africa to become the slaves of the white man on his plantations in the islands of the Caribbean"(Cashmore, 1). The English takeover of Jamaica in 1660 started the terrible beginning of the African Diaspora. Millions of Africans were stolen off of their continent and were shipped over to the Caribbean where they were fashioned to do slave labor so the Europeans could make money. Over 80 million Africans died in the process of departing to the islands. The slaves were denied any form of religion and were treated like animals. They were also denied food and were made to grow their own food so they could feed themselves. Many years went by till the slaves started to rebel. The 'Maroons' were a group of runaway slaves who started a powerful group of guerrilla warriors who lived in the most dangerous woods in Jamaica. But the Maroons gave in and signed a peace treaty in 1738 and were paid to catch the runaway slaves and became supporters of slavery. It wasn't till 1831 when a huge rebellion took place which finally led to the emancipation of slavery. Samuel Sharpe was the leader of this powerful revolt. An eyewitness to the uprising said,"demonstrated to the Imperial Legislature, that among the Negroes themselves the spirit of freedom had been so widely diffused as to render it most perilous to postpone the settlement of the important question of emancipation to a later period"(Barret, 40). The essence of freedom marked a large turnover of the slaves to the Christian religion, mainly Methodist and Baptist faith. There was also some African religions being practiced such as Ashanti and Kumina. Sam Sharpe, who was once a slave, was a powerful speaker and spoke about the evils and injustice of slavery."Samuel Sharpe was a man whose active brain devised the project; and he had sufficient authority with those around him to carry it into effect having acquired an extraordinary degree of influence amongst his fellow slaves"(Barret, 41). As you can see Sam Sharpe was extremely intelligent and loved by his fellow slaves. He strategy was to start a non-violent revolution, which didn't work and led to mass destruction and burning of plantations. Many slaves were executed after this and also led to the execution of Sam Sharpe. After his death slavery was dead and the people of Africa were finally free.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey, one of the world's most acclaimed Black leaders, contributed a large part to the beginning of Rastafarianism with his philosophy."No other Black man in history was able to understand so clearly the worldwide oppressions of Black people, and no other was in turn perceived by so many Blacks as the one person with the solutions to their problems"(Barret, 66). Blacks all around the world listened to him which resulted in a movement which started in 1914. The Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) which started in Kingston, Jamaica led to world wide following of Blacks. Garvey had millions of followers but the general impact he made on Black consciousness was more important than anything else. His one simple aim was to unite Black people with there homeland, Africa. Garvey explained that all Black people in the world descended from Africans and they should return home. His"Back to Africa"campaign also explained that domination over the Black man had remained long after the shackles had been removed after liberation. Garvey preached that their minds were still affected from years of being subjected to Whites. Programs that were steered to progressive integration of Blacks into white society meant nothing to Garvey. His one goal was to break the White world and restore the dignity in Blacks. Garvey was quoted in the NY Times saying,"We shall organize the four hundred million Negroes of the world into a vast organization to plant the banner of freedom of the great continent of Africa....If Europe is for the Europeans, then Africa is for the Black peoples of the world"(Cashmore, 2). Garvey even bought a steamship line called the 'Black Star Line' to transport people back to Africa. Extreme effort was put into this but unfortunately it didn't work out. Garvey explained to his followers about their rightful place on earth as Gods creation.
The Rastafarian philosophy was created after Garvey had delivered these two quotes,
"Look to Africa when a Black king shall be crowned for the day of deliverance
"Weep Not: behold the Lion that is of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath overcome, to open the book and the seven seals thereof"(5:5-6) (Cashmore, 3).

After the Blacks heard that they believed that the king was Haile Selassie (Jah Rastafari), former emperor of Ethiopia, was the leader, messiah, redeemer, and the one and only God. Selassie was also titled as the"Lord of Lords-King of Kings."Jah Rastafari was said to be descended from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheeba and was also given the symbol of"The Lion Of Judah,"the powerful lion who will bring them back to their home in Africa. This theory started Rastafarianism with the three themes of: 1)Merger of African and Christian religions (Help from Sam Sharpe), 2)Marcus Garvey (Garvyism), 3)Ethiopianism-The image of where they were from, Ethiopia = Africa.
From the beginning of Rastafarianism there were many communities and groups that were formed. Leonard P. Howell is credited for starting the first branch in 1935. He also is acclaimed for writing the first Rastafarian bible. The movement never had a central organization or a single leader with any kind of authority. This was because of there philosophy that no person had any privilege, power or special religious domination. All men are totally equal in"human truths and rights."This theory gave the Rastas a saying of"I n I"meaning that all men are equal and there was no"you and I."To be a true Rastafarian you must acknowledge the following 13 theories:
"1) H.I.M. Emperor Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Israel, Conquering Lion of The Tribe Of Judah, 225th descendent of the House of David.
2) One must know and acknowledge the Bible and the teachings of Jah Rastafari above all things.
3) One accepts and holds in reverence the person of His Majesty Haile Selassie as the living manifestation of Jah (God) in the flesh.
4) One must know that the so called death"death"is not an eternal phenomenon, one only sees"death"happening in life-a Rastaman knows not of death but of life everlasting.
5) One seeks after the world of life, Jah Life (The Kingdom of Jah) and not after the material things of this world, for they are only temporary (Kingdom of Babylon).
6) A Rastafarian is a Jew by nature, being a righteous one of principles, dignity and love for God.
7) A Rasta cannot afford to be"color blind."Jah is universal, Jah go and do as he wishes, Jah can take on any color he pleases.
8) All people are of Jah Rastafari regardless of color.
9) A Rastafarian must accept the oath of the Nazarite, such as the forefathers- Moses, Abraham, Issac, Jacob, David, Solomon, Jes-us Christ, and Ras Ta Fari.
10) A Rastafarian must be a man of peace, love and unity, living in harmony with Jah, man, and nature. Living without violence, corruption and envy towards his brothers and sisters.
11) A Rastafarian must accept and observe the laws of the Ten Commandments, which Jah left early mankind, comprising of every prerequisite for a flourishing communal life.
12) It is and should be the will of all Rastafarian to liberate and eradicate all iniquity (evil) from all the world.
13) Repatriation is a must for all Rastafarians. Repatriation from Babylon (western concepts and false teachings) to Zion land, the promised land, African Land. A physical and spiritual repatriation to the land of 'I n I' (our) fore parents, with clean hands and pureness of heart"(Wadadah, 7).
In order to compare the Rastafarian faith with the Judaism faith I am going to explain the becoming of Judaism, then I will expand on the belief that the first Israelites were Black and why the Rastafarian and the Jewish people have so many similarities.
The Ancient Hebrews (now more commonly known as the Jews) are an amazing group of people with a wonderful history . They are a group of people who have never had any sort of power. The land in which they ruled stretched 200 kilometers long and 100 kilometers wide. They were independent for about 500 years of the 1400 years they were living in Palestine. The Jews had a greater influence upon the world than any other nation. The three great monotheistic religions being Judaism, Christianity, and Islam trace their roots through the beginning of Judaism. Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity, was a Jew. Muhammad, the founder of Islam, traces their decent from Abraham, who was said to be the first Jew and an extremely important figure in the descendants of Judaism.
Most Jews are convinced that God has a special place in their history. They see the record of their history as a story of the action of God in the World."This conviction is a very old one and is summed up in the words recorded in Genesis 12: 2-3 where God says to Abraham, 'I will make of you a great nation.....and by you all the families of the earth will be blessed'"(Rattey, 9).
The Old Testament is the book the Jews believe is where they got their history. The Hebrews had many kings. A good example is the history of King David in the second book of Samuel and are known as the 'Chronicles of the Kings Of Judah .' I use this example because it was not till David became king that the Jews finally became strong, united, and masters of the land.
For forty years the Jews wandered around the great desert in the East dreaming of the green land of Canaan- the land we now call Palestine, or Israel (The Promised Land). Guiding them, encouraging them, teaching them, was Moses, the man who had led them out of slavery in Egypt. When the Jews finally reached The Promised Land they did not forget Moses because he was their great leader who had given them the Ten Commandments, as well as many other laws to guide them in their day to day living. The Jews also never forgot their days of slavery in Egypt."A stranger shalt thou not wrong,"Moses had told them,"for ye were the strangers in the land of Egypt"(Pessin, 11). The story of Passover (The Festival of Freedom), which has just passed, tells the story of Moses freeing the Jews out of the slavery in Egypt and the birth of their freedom. Memories of slavery and Moses were not the only talked about things in the land of Canaan. Another important ancestor, which I talked about before, was Abraham who was considered to be the first Jew. They talked about how he discovered the one God, the Creator of all the world, and how he alone had worshipped the One God. Their memories and worship of one God were the bonds that kept the Jews a united people. When the Jews moved into Cannan some of them started to worship their neighboring Gods of Cannan, as well as the God of Abraham. This broke one of the strongest bonds they had and they began to drift apart and grew weaker. This lead to their Cannanite neighbors conquering and oppressing them. When ever this happened their was a leader to unite them and lead them against their oppressors. This leader was David, which I said before was the king who united the Jews to be the masters of the land of Cannan. The land of Cannan was then split up into two parts, one being the kingdom of the ten northern tribes, being the kingdom of Israel, and the southern one being the kingdom of Judah.
The kingdom of Israel started to see some evil days. For about two hundred years, Israel existed as an independent kingdom, but in the year 722 BCE she was conquered by powerful Assyria. Many of the people of the ten tribes were taken to another land, which led to the ending of Israel. The kingdom of Judah still lived on for more than a hundred years. Then Jerusalem, in Judah, where the famous temple was built, was tormented by the armies of Babylonia, and in the year 586 BCE the city was taken and the Temple was destroyed."Following the custom of other conquerors of his day, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylonia, took a large part of the population to his own land far across the desert. In this way he could make sure that the people he had conquered would not rise and revolt against him"(Pessin, 13). Many Jews came accustomed to living in Babylonia but some of them did not forget their own customs. They continued to worship the God of Abraham and observed the customs they had observed in their homeland and also the laws Moses had given them. They dreamed of going back to their land of green hills and the sound of the rushing water from Jordan. Fifty years passed when the Jews were living in Babylonia when a new conqueror from the East arose. This man was Cyrus. He came with his powerful Persian warriors and finally conquered mighty Babylonia."What the Jews had dreamed of these many years was now to come true, for Cyrus gave them permission to return to the Promised land"(Pessin, 14).
When the Jews had been exiled to Babylonia they lost their land, their temple, their kings and their priests. But they still had the laws of Moses and also the words their prophets had given them. They put all of these writings into books so they would never lose them and also so they would never be forgotten. Five of these books were called the Torah, or the Five Books of Moses. The Torah kept them together so they would not break apart. One of the greatest things taught in these books is how Moses had taught the Jews to love justice and kindness. With all its laws, stories, songs, histories, poems, and teachings of the prophets, this bible became a priceless treasure to the Jews. They read and recite from it over and over again, and also teach it to their children. This Torah is the book that a Jew reads out of when being Bar/Bat Mitzvahed to become a man/women in the Jewish faith. As you can see this is a powerful book that the Jews cherish and live by.
The Talmud is another book I should mention that the Jews read and cherish. I will not discuss the history but more importantly the message that is given. It teaches them how to live in justice, dignity, and peace. It also teaches people how to care for their poor, and for the stranger who came to them for shelter. But the main principle and guideline it has for the Jewish faith is to keep them a 'civilized people in the world of Ignorance.'
The Rastafarians believe in educating themselves with the Bible because they believe it was written by and about Black people. The writers of the Bible were Black men."The Israelites about whom they wrote about were Black people. The history thus dug from earth in Africa has borne mute but abundant testimony that the Bible records Us Black People as Israel"(Owens, 31). The people known today as the chosen people are the Black Africans whose history is recounted in the Bible."We are the first nation who stand for right upon the face of earth. The other nations and states of earth have not followed the plan of God, except the black house of Israel"(Owens, 31). In the first chapter of the Song of Songs the Rastas explain how David was black because Jesse and Solomon were also black. These three figures are from a group of chosen people the Bible often talk about. The Rastafarians believe that they are the chosen people, the ancient Israelites, of which the bible tells about for many reasons. One big reason is that their leader, Haile Selassie, was descended from Solomon, who was one of the Ancient Israelites. The reason why the Rastas believe Solomon was black because his grandfather, Jesse, was described in the Bible as black :"Jesse was a Black man-being as there is a saying: You're black like Jesse at the hell-gate"(Owens, 96). Leonard P. Howell claimed the Ethiopians were the Ancient Israelites. As you can see this evidence clearly shows the belief that the first Israelites were black.
"Culture takes in the major and recognized forms of behaviors that are a peoples living tradition"(Cashmore, 6). The Bible states that the cultural beginning started in Africa. Egypt and Ethiopia are the foundation of where the African cultures embarked. There is also a strong connection between God , Egypt, and Ethiopia in the Old Testament. This is also the place where Moses was given the Ten Commandments and led the Jews out of slavery.
The Rastafarian feeling derives much of its strength from the readings of the Old Testament."Their protest against western society makes use of highly selective quotations from the Old Testament and draws comfort and support from the long exile of the Jews in Babylon and their ultimate triumphant return home"(Cashmore, 1). The oppressed people of the islands used the significant message of the captivity of the Jews and their return home as an example of what they wanted to accomplish by returning to Africa. The term 'Babylon' is often used in the Rastafarian dialect as what they see Jamaica as- the land of oppression"Their only avenue of escape is by supernatural means or by seizing the power and creating a utopia for the oppressed"(Barret, 3). The place known as Babylon had a strong impact on the Jews back in the days of the Israelites. It was the Babylonians who took over their land and subjected them to slavery."But persecution did not weaken the Jews. It made them stronger. Like an immovable rock, they stood in the stormy sea of prejudice and persecution. The waves beat against them, but they were not broken. Their spirit, their memories, their hopes kept them alive"(Pessin, 263). After reading that quote I thought to myself about the thought and feeling of the Rastaman. I thought it was the same exact thing that the Rasta believes, that nothing can break him, and everything that had happened to his people in the past made them stronger. The Rastas believe in the day that, 'Babylon will disintegrate and a black Zion will be restored.'
Evidently the Rastafarians and the Jews have innumerable comparisons, but the ones being the most significant are their beliefs, events which had happened to them in the past, place of origin, and their doctrine of repatriation being the most meaningful. Haile Selassie, Jah Rastafari, god to the Rastas, is given the name the 'Lion of Judah'. The 'Lion of Judah' is the root of David, being the figure who united the Jews to become whole. Judaism uses the 'Star of David' as a symbol to show his importance to them. The Rastafarians also use the symbol of the 'Star of David.' Belief in the Ten Commandments is another thing the two groups share, they even have the same forefathers. Judaism teaches peace, love, unity, dignity, and kindness. After learning about Rastafarianism I believe that they too teach the same exact principles to live by.
As I said before, to be a true Rastafarian you have to be a Jew by nature, righteous one of principles and the love for God. I also said that Jews are taught to be civilized people in the world of ignorance. By these two common ideals of good virtue I will conclude in saying that Rastafarians and Jews are so closely related in many ways it is hard to believe that they are not the same religion.


Barret Sr., Leonard E. The Rastafarians. Boston, Massachusettes: Beacon Press, 1997.

Cashmore, Dr. E.E."The Rastafarians."Voice of Rasta. No. 24. Jan-Feb, 1984.

Dimont, Max I. Jews, God, and, History. New York, New York: Signet Publishers, 1964.

Owens, Joseph. Dread: Rasta of Jamaica. Kingston, Jamaica: Sangsters Book Stores Ltd., 1976.

Pessin, Deborah. The Jewish People Book II. New York, New York: Fourth Printing, 1957.

Rattey, B.K. A Short History of the Hebrews. London, England: Oxford University Press, 1964.

Wadadah I, Tzaddi."The Brotherhood of Rastafari."Reggae and African Beat. Page 7. August, 1984.