Abayudaya synagogue in Uganda
Abayudaya synagogue in UgandaReuters

The Abayudaya community of Uganda is one step closer to being recognized as Jewish by the Israeli government.

The community are not Jewish according to Halakha (Jewish law), as they converted in the early 2000s under the auspices of the US Conservative Movement, which does not follow traditional Jewish law.

However, they have been openly identifying as Jewish for years, and maintain many Jewish practices. A number of them have been actively seeking to convert to Orthodox Judaism as well.

In a letter to the Israeli Conservative movement, the Jewish Agency said the Abayudaya are a “recognized” community, Haaretz reported Tuesday.

Such recognition means the Ugandan Jews are allowed to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return.

There are some 1,500 Abayudaya spread among several Ugandan villages. Their community's name means "People of Judah" in the Luganda language.

They do not claim descent from ancient Jewish tribes, instead the community began something of a spiritual journey towards Judaism in the early twentieth century. 

In a letter to Rabbi Andrew Sacks, director of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement in Israel, the Jewish Agency said it has recognized the community as Jewish since 2009 and also recognizes the authority of its rabbi, Gershom Sizomu.

Sacks told Haaretz that the Ugandan Jews have faced difficulties obtaining visas from Israel’s Ministry of Interior for study programs in the Jewish state.

JTA contributed to this report.