Dear Forward.com, Hebrew-Israelites, and White Jewish Media in general,
I’m MaNishtana, and I’d like to tell you to stop. Just…Stop.
I was greeted this morning with a link in my newsfeed of an article on the Forward.com website with the headline “Black Jews Gain Wider Acceptance” splashed across my screen.
However, the little thumbnail attached to the picture revealed what I could only assume were outtakes from a casting call for an urban remake of “The Ten Commandments”.
Yes, that was a mean thing I said just now.
But I’m tired. And frustrated. A lot of Black Jews are. And by “Black Jews”, I mean actual ones, not practitioners of an invented pseudo-Judaism cobbled together by opportunists and sprinkled with a light dusting of the Black Church in different clothing.
A friend’s status on Facebook succinctly sums up the frustration of the [actual] Black Jewish community:
“Wow Forward…Way to step outside of your preconceived notions of what a Jew is…Sigh, Hebrew Israelite does not equal black American Jew. The two things are not synonymous. Acceptance of Israelite communities doesn’t mean anything about the greater acceptance of black Jews in America. In fact it says the opposite–it says in order to meet my diversity agenda I will not address or acknowledge the issues facing black Jews actually in the mainstream community (because I assume they’re not there), but discuss the acceptance of a community far out of the mainstream that just happens to be black. Fact…If they were white, they wouldn’t be entertained. Why do discussions of black Jews actually never talk about black Jews?…ugh”
So please, for the love of everything good and decent in Moses’ beard, 1-Hebrew-Israelites, STOP saying you’re Jewish (especially when you’re pandering to the White Jewish camera, because you know damn well when you’re standing in front of your congregants at Temple Bnei Bet El Shalom Adath Congregation of Commandment Keeping Abyssinians, you’d rather die then call yourselves Jewish), 2-White Jewish Bleeding Heart Liberal Overcompensatingly Inclusive Media, STOP picking up anything that’s Black and looks slightly maybe Jewish and calling them us.
Because when you tout these Hebrew-Israelite sects as part of the Black Jewish community—with appellations ranging from “Black Jews” to “Black Hebrews” to “Black Israelites” and ideology ranging from moderate to militant to Messianic—the confusion these entities produced is equaled only by the frustration they cause for actual Black Jewry.
This “Kosher-style”, soul food “variant” of pseudo-Judaism is the realm of such institutions as the Israelite Board of Rabbis, whose website (www.blackjews.org) is a constant source of irritation to African-American/Caribbean Jews, as Hebrew-Israelites are considered “Black Jews” by no one but themselves and a handful of misguided and ill-informed journalists.
Regardless of Rabbi Funnye’s quote, Hebrew-Israelites have nothing to do with Judaism. Period.
Because essentially, Hebrew-Israelites are to Judaism what the Nation of Islam and Five Percenters are to Islam.
They are not Jews. They are not Jewish. They just appropriate parts of it.
Yet somehow, when it comes to Black Jewry, a conversation can’t be had, an article can’t be written, a group cannot be formed, without Hebrew-Israelites being put under our umbrella. But we are not the same, nor do we have anywhere near the same struggle, mostly because the existence of Hebrew-Israelites makes the struggle for the legitimacy of Black Jewry that much harder in the first place
Rabbi Capers Funnye’s presence only serves to obfuscate the issue, as he underwent a conversion in 1985, yet continues to lead and preach Israelite ideology. However, despite his celebrity, he is not a spokesperson for the Black Jewish community. He in fact, does not hold Jewish Rabbinical ordination. His title of “Rabbi” was bestowed upon him by the Israelite Board of Rabbis. Despite, his constant repetition of the idea, “Hebrew Israelite community” and “Black Jewish community” are NOT synonymous.
Of course, with that declaration comes the inevitable question:
“Well isn’t your saying that Hebrew-Israelites aren’t ‘Black Jews’ the equivalent of White Jews asking Jews of Color ‘How are you Jewish’ and denying their authenticity? Aren’t you being equally as divisive towards Hebrew-Israelites as White Jews are towards you?”
In a word? No.
It is no more erroneous or needlessly exclusive to say that Hebrew-Israelites are not Jews any more than it is to say that bats aren’t rodents.
Bats aren’t rodents, by the way, despite what the Joker says about Batman.
Yes, bats share the same Kingdom, Phylum, Class, and Infraclass as mice, rats, and squirrels do (Animalia, Chordata, Mammalia, and Eutheria, respectively), but Order Rodentia is classified by having two continuously growing incisors in the upper and lower jaws which must be kept short by gnawing—a crucial something which are absent in bats. Consequently, bats are grouped under Order Chiroptera (from the Greek cheir meaning “hand” and pteron meaning “wing”) as chiropterans, not rodents.
However, due to external and superficial similarities and a lack of knowledge, bats are endlessly referred to as “flying rodents” or “rats with wings”.
Equating Hebrew-Israelites with Black Jews is no different an exercise in unawareness.
When it comes to Judaism, Hebrew-Israelites are chiropterans. Jews—Black, White, and Other—are rodents.
Wait, no. No no…That’s…that’s not how that was supposed to come out…
Well at any rate–and I’m gonna hurt some feelings with this one–I get why permissive liberal and secular Jewish organizations love to parade Hebrew-Israelites out.
Because there’s this fear that if they exclude Hebrew-Israelites as being Jews because of their lack of normative Jewish practices, that this opens the door for more observant denominations to say that they too, in fact, are not Jewish, since they also disregard normative Jewish practices and interpretations of Jewish law.
However, the flaw in that logic is, regardless of how far flung the practices are vis a vis traditional Jewish law, the Reform and Conservative and even Reconstructionist movements were started by actual Jews. Jews who were Jewish according to any letter of any law. There will always be some percentage actual Jewish-according-to-Jewish-law Jews in those movements and those movements will always be Jewish.
The various Hebrew-Israelite sects–all of them–WERE STARTED BY NON-JEWS.
Being Jewish and deciding to do less doesn’t make one not Jewish anymore. Conversely, being not-Jewish and taking on Jewish practices does not make one actually Jewish.
So please, every White Jewish-guilt ridden and or bleeding heart organization/publication/private citizen/activist, just stop. The Hebrew-Israelite “struggle” isn’t yours anymore than its ours. You have as much in common with them as we do. Which is nothing.
So the next time you feel the need to write a piece on the acceptance of Black Jews, do yourself a favor and write the first ever article on Black Jews that actually talks just about…Black Jews.
And as for you Hebrew-Israelite dudes, do us a favor and stop trying to get on our bandwagon. Because while yes, it’s flattering you want to be us, you caterwauling about not being accepted by mainstream Judaism because you’re Black makes as much since as me complaining that a hospital won’t hire me as a doctor because I’m Jewish when the fact is I’ve never taken the MCATs.
As you were.