Black Hebrew Israelites Blind Faith Rational Religion
Black Hebrew Israelites
We were visiting Israel's desert town of Dimona, working on a story contrasting the culture of the “Black Hebrew Israelites” whom we met there with that of their near neighbors, “black Jews,” “Falasha” (that is, “Strangers,” in Ethiopia’s Amharic language), or, as they prefer, “Benei Beta Yisrael” – “Sons of the House of Israel.”
This was a while ago but the memories came flooding back when we saw “On a Religious Quest With a Former Knick” (The New York Times, August 5, 2018).
“They bow to vanity and emptiness and pray to a god who cannot help.”
- Aleinu, in the Hebrew Prayerbook (from Isaiah 45:20)
The piece begins, “When Amar’e Stoudemire is not in training, he spends his time studying the Torah.” Mr. Stoudemire, 35, is a nearly seven-foot tall professional basketball player, an African American with dreadlocks. He was raised in a churchgoing home, he says, but feels “more of affinity for the ancient Hebrews of the Bible than for modern-day Christians.”
He, along with his fellow Black Hebrew Israelites, believe that “African Americans are the true descendants of the biblical Israelites.” They also worship and believe in the Christian god, Jesus. Instead of directing themselves to HaShem, they call him their savior.
One Black Israelite elder whom we spoke to claimed that the group’s then-leader, Ben-Ami Carter, was God too, besides Jesus.
Mr. Stoudemire, the article says, became involved with “a Jesus-worshiping Hebrew Israelite congregation, ‘Israel of God’, where he was baptized in 2013. He’s been studying with Jewish rabbis since around that same time.” Now he wears “two glittering necklaces: one, a Hebrew menorah; the other, a Jesus medallion.”
Meeting with the Ethiopian Jews in Dimona, and – particularly - watching their children interacting with their parents, and other adults, really impressed us. We got a kick out of watching the young boys playing, with their kippahs (caps) flying off, or hanging precariously from their heads, the multiple yarmulke clips they wore not gripping kinky hair too well.
Black Hebrew Israelites are proudly polygamous – one man might have two or more wives – while the Ethiopians live like other Jews, monogamously. The Black Israelite men almost never help with things like washing dishes or changing diapers – while the Ethiopians live like the rest of Jewish Israel.
This was big: When the Black Hebrew Israelites’ children try to ask a question or say something while we talked with the adults, the children get shushed: “Don’t you see we’re talking? Don’t interrupt!” When the Ethiopians’ children try to interrupt, they succeed: the Ethiopian parents (like Jewish parents generally) are extremely child-focused. Children come first.
We had some problems with language with the Ethiopians, but the Americans – the Black Hebrew Israelites, who had renounced their U.S. citizenship, and are determined to stay where they are, in Israel – spoke very lucidly and freely.
Their religion, as the old joke goes about how Jews have a tough time distinguishing between the different religions of gentiles, was “goy.” That is, “of the [non-Jewish] nations.”
Seeing the Ethiopian Jews and their children, we came away thinking: 1) belief in the One God, HaShem, sharply distinguishes people from those who follow non-Jewish faiths; and 2) it seemed obvious, the Black Hebrews were raising their children, inadvertently, to serve the Ethiopians as their "hewers of wood and drawers of water." (Joshua 9:3)
Mr. Benyamin Storchan is a well-regarded archaeologist in Israel. Born in the States, he and his family belonged to an Orthodox synagogue which we know well and regard highly. At 34, conducting digs for the Israel Antiquities Authority, he’s still a firmly religious, shomer shabbos (Sabbath and mitzvah-observant) Jew.
He said something that stunned us, in a recent news article:
“Judaism says the world was created around 6,000 years ago, but I can tell you that 12,000 years ago there was the first farming in Israel,” Storchin says. “How can a man with a kippah (a yarmulke) say such a thing? I have like a split brain.”
Ok, first of all: where does “Judaism” say that the world was created around 6,000 years ago? That date – 5,779, to be precise – marks the anniversary of God’s creation of the first true human beings. That is, beings who, just like us, are born with the innate capability to read and write and count past ten.
This is a feature of all true humans, of every nation, race and creed, and it’s unique to human beings. No one before that time had that capability, so it seems. But, since the first true humans – we call them Adam and Eve, of course – came into the world, human history has been on very fast track.
We spoke about this in previous newsletters, about the "Adam Gene“ and a sudden advance in humankind’s capability to process symbols.
Second of all, where does Judaism, and particularly Orthodox Judaism, condemn reason and rationality? Does one have to have “like a split brain” to keep and live the faith of Israel?
There ARE religions where the “faith” involved is blind faith, predicated on accepting nonsense. “I believe because it is absurd” - "Credo quia absurdum," from the Church father Tertullian, in De Carne Christi (c. 203 CE) - is, for instance, an early statement of Christian faith. But faith in the God of Israel and all the Thirteen Principles of Faith that Jews and Ivri and Noahides adhere to isn’t supported by sky hooks or gossamer but solid facts and logic going back to a great collective revelation – a historic revelation - from on high.
To us, the “faith” component is simply one of keeping true to the implications, connotations and incidental teachings that emerge from history, facts and logic. The religion of Abraham and Moses – the “faith” - is historical monotheism: the belief in the One and Only God and Creator of all Things based upon His actions in real time.
Any faith that contradicts scientific fact and reality is cultish. Only the indoctrinated, the blinkered and unthinking, would accept tenets that contradict the principle enshrined in the Torah, that:
Thinking people of every nation should, if they simply look carefully, be able to perceive the greatness and righteousness and the wisdom and understanding of the Way of God. (Deuteronomy 4:6).
God wants only the truth. The Torah is a Torah – a guide, a Path, a Teaching – of truth, as Moses Maimonides (“Rambam,” Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon) pointed out more than 800 years ago.
“It is necessary,” he writes, “to reinterpret any biblical verse that [in its literal sense] can be refuted by proof.” (Guide for the Perplexed, 2:25) As he says,
“[A]nalyze [any biblical] matter with your reason, and it will be clear to you that what is said is said allegorically, figuratively or in exaggeration and what is literal, exactly according to the exact meaning of the [Torah’s] words. And then all prophetic verses will be clear to you and you will achieve and retain a raitonal faith according to what is acceptable to God, because God wants only the truth and He hates falsehood. And then, your views and thoughts will not be so confused as to believe opinions that are not true – even far from the truth – and consider them Torah. The entire Torah is perfectly true when understood properly.” (Guide for the Perplexed, 2:47).
Whether you call it Judaism, Ivri, or Noahism, the wisdom and righteousness and beauty and greatness of our path should be evident to all.
You shouldn’t need any kind of “a split brain” or unreason to follow the Derech HaShem, the Path of God.
After celebrating the happy autumn holiday of Sukkos (or "Sukkot," which is also called "Tabernacles," or "Booths") and all the New Year festivities, the promise of the navi, the Prophet, Zechariah, at the end of the Biblical book of Zechariah, seems pertinent.
Speaking of the future, the next stage of human history, when holiness suffuses even common objects and"the earth shall be full of the knowledge of HaShem as water covers the seas" (Isaiah 11:9, Habakkuk 2:14), the Prophet Zechariah pledges that all peoples everywhere shall join with Israel in celebrating Sukkos - and those nations that don't do it, God forbid, shall get "no rain" (Zechariah 14:17).
As for Egypt, which depends on the overflow of the Nile River instead of rain, if it doesn't observe Sukkos, God forbid, it shall get "plague"! (Zechariah 14:18).
Somehow this recalls to us George Washington’s immortal words: "Do not ask, 'Is God on our side?' Gentlemen, surely it is more important to inquire, 'Are we on God's side?'"
By Michael Dallen
Black Hebrews - what we wrote here before
"Amar’e Stoudemire is On a Religious Quest"
"Can You Dig It?"