would you mind elaborating on the hebrew israelite thing?
I think instead of me speaking over black Jews, it’s probably best if I let them explain exactly why the failure to call out Hebrew Israelites is harmful. On that note, this is the article I previously mentioned by blogger MaNishtana, who is a black Orthodox Jew:
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.comwebsite 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.
I have a vague idea that opossums have pretty close ancestors going pretty far back into prehistory. Do you maybe have some Words about my many-toothed, trash-eating associates? Or ancient marsupials in general, maybe?
All living mammals belong to one of three clades, based on their methods of giving birth to their young. Members of the clade Prototheria, or “monotremes”, lay eggs; members of Eutheria, or “placentals”, carry their fetal offspring in their uterus until they are fairly physically developed before giving live birth; and members of Metatheria, or “marsupials”, give birth to live young at the fetal stage and carry them in an external “pouch”. While Prototheria is a very old and primitive group of mammals, Eutheria and Metatheria are believed to have emerged at around the same time.
The oldest known member of Eutheria is Juramaia, a tiny shrew-like animal that lived in China approximately 160 million years ago. How Juramaia gave birth to its young is unknown; the internal reproductive organs used to classify placentals and marsupials do not typically fossilize, forcing paleontologists to classify extinct mammals based on their skeletal similarities to modern mammals. However, as all living members of Eutheria are placentals, Juramaia was likely a placental as well.
The oldest known member of Metatheria, Sinodelphys, also lived in China, but lived about 35 million years later than Juramaia (although currently undiscovered older members of Metatheria are believed to have existed). At the time of this writing, Eutheria and Metatheria are believed to be sister clades that share a common ancestor, one which predates both Juramaia and Sinodelphys, likely dating back to the Early Jurassic period. Sinodelphys bears an extraordinary resemblance to a modern-day opossum—a ratlike animal that lived in trees, hunting insects and other small prey. Again, however, it may not actually have been a marsupial; it may have given birth in some other way, but possessed skeletal features that place it within Metatheria regardless.
Based on the location of Sinodelphys’ fossils, Metatheria is believed to have originated in China, but eventually spread through all the continents of the world. However, shortly after the extinction of the dinosaurs, metatherians died off on all continents except South America and Australia.
The reasons for these metatherian die-offs are not entirely clear. It was once thought that they were outcompeted by eutherians, but metatherians frequently coexisted with eutherians that occupied similar niches. (Between you and me, this also strikes me as a bit of anthropocentrism – paleontologists assuming that eutherians, the mammal group to which we coincidentally happen to belong, became dominant by virtue of being naturally “better”.)
Whatever the reasons for their extinctions elsewhere, metatherians did exceptionally well in South America. The dominant carnivores in South America, from 65 to 3 million years ago, were the sparassodonts – large marsupials that convergently evolved to resemble big cats, such as Thylacosmilus, pictured above. They competed with the borhyaenids – marsupials that resembled hyenas – as well as terrestrial crocodilians and “terror birds”.
Meanwhile, about 23 million years ago, a different group of marsupials emerged. Small and unassuming, they lived in the trees, high above their clashing macropredatory cousins. They belonged to the order Didelphimorphidae, and they were the first true opossums.
Three million years ago, volcanic activity formed the Isthmus of Panama, connecting the two continents and allowing animal and plant life to transfer between the two. Most South American marsupials went extinct – again, for reasons unclear. The opossums, however, transferred northward, and became incredibly successful, thanks to their adaptability and ability to eat almost anything. Today they range from Costa Rica to Canada, in both rural and urban environments. While their strange South American relatives may be gone, it seems that opossums are here to stay.
Also known as the eastern tree hyrax, the southern tree hyrax is a species of hyrax (a group of rodent-like mammals more closely related to elephants than rodents) which occurs in temperate, sub/tropical dry, and lowland forests in parts of southeastern and south Africa. As evidenced by their common name, southern tree hyraxes exhibit arboreal behavior and are primarily nocturnal. Like other hyraxes, D. arboreus is herbivrorus feeding on a range of plant matter.
Mounted specimen on display at Harvard Museum of Natural History
Reconstruction by Roman Uchytel
When: Pleistocene (~2.6 million to 16,000 years ago)
Where: South America
What: Toxodon is another one of the large herbivorous animals that roamed over South America. Charles Darwin purchased the skull of the first Toxodon known to the Old World during his journey on the Beagle. This skull was sent back to England were Sir Richard Own described it and named the animal Toxodon - ‘bow teeth' based on the curving nature of its gigantic molars. Soon complete skeletons of this amazing animal were known. The first interpratations reconstructed Toxodon as a semi-aquatic animal, much like the modern hippo, but later studies of the limbs and teeth of speciemens show this was incorrect. Toxodon was more the analogue of today’s rhinos than a hippo, a fully terrestrial animal with teeth well adapted for grinding tough plants in somewhat arid environments. Some Toxodon specimens have been found associated with arrowheads, showing that the first people to emigrate into South America had contact with these animals, and appear to have hunted them.
Where does Toxodon fit into the tree of life? Like its contemporary Macrauchenia (which you can see in the background of the reconstruction), its relationship to living mammals is uncertain. It falls into the larger clade of Notoungulata, literally Southern Ungulates, but the placment of this group within placental mammals is highly uncertain. They maybe have a close relationship with animals in the group Afrotheria but research in mammalian systematics is only beginning to be able to evaluate that, and other hypotheses. So what is Toxodon? We just don’t know.
…largely considered to be the first placental mammal Eomaia was a small Mesozoic mammal that lived in early Cretaceous China. Eomaia probably acted in a similar fashion to modern insectivores as it most likely was terrestrial and fed on insects. Unlike most Mesozoic mammal fossils which are only known by their teeth Eomaia is known from a complete fossil and is noted for its complex teeth and two layers of fur. Based on the remains of this complete fossil biologists are lead to believe that Eomaia was ancestral to all placental mammals, with females sporting a primitive placenta that allowed them to birth live young.
When: Late Miocene to end Pleistocene (~10 million years to 10,000 years ago)
Where: Throughout North America
What: Megalonyx is a giant ground sloth, that grew to roughly 8-10 feet (~2.5 to 3.0 meters) long. They are the genus of giant ground sloth most closely related to the living two-toed sloth Choloepus. Sloths originated, and most of them diversified in South America, moving northward during the great American interchange, but Megalonyx is a major exception. Its ancestors reached North America millions of years prior to the massive migrations of other South America taxa; via island hopping. This relatively early arrival allowed it to spread throughout the northern continent. Megalonyx is the only species of sloth to have reached as far north as Alaska and the Yukon. It was common in many of the lower 48 states. Like many ground sloths, Megalonyx went extinct at the end of the last glacial period.
A more recent historical note about Megalonyx; this genus was the first fossil from the Americas to be described, and the person who did so was none other than Thomas Jefferson. He proposed the name Megalonyx for the genus, based on first material recovered - the gigantic claws. Later this genus name was formalized and a species named in his honor: Megalonyx jeffersoni (this species is the state fossil of West Virginia). Jefferson was very hopeful that living Megalonyx would be found in the uncharted west, he told Lewis and Clark to be sure to be on the look out for this beast and report back when it was discovered.