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Ephraimites, Two Houses, Joes, Ten Tribes Teachings
10 July 2009, 18 Tammuz 5769
Correspondence with Each Other?
Alyssa Stanton and other black rabbis enter the American Jewish mainstream
One of the first things that six-year-old Alyssa Stanton noticed
when her family moved into a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Cleveland
Heights, Ohio, was a rectangular ornament affixed to the doorpost of her new
home. Her uncle Edward, a "devout Catholic who went to shul [synagogue] on
occasion," explained to her that it was a mezuzah. "He would wear a yarmulke
[Jewish head covering] sometimes," she says,"and he knew a lot about a lot of
things." A few years later her uncle, who spoke eight languages, gave her a
Hebrew grammar book, which she still has.
This fleeting introduction to Judaism set Stanton, the granddaughter of a
Baptist minister and daughter of a Pentecostal Christian, on a journey that led
her to convert to Judaism 18 years later. Stanton, now 45, recently passed
another milestone on her spiritual journey. On June 6 in Cincinnati's historic
Plum Street Temple, she was ordained by Hebrew Union College, the Reform
rabbinical school, making her the movement's first African-American rabbi and
the first African-American woman ordained by a mainstream Jewish denomination.
The path she took to get there was challenging. Her parents divorced when she
was 11, and she moved with her mother and siblings to Lakewood, Colorado, 10
miles west of Denver. In Lakewood's largely white schools, she faced
discrimination. "When I was 12, I was spit on and called the n-word," she says.
"I was chased with sticks one Halloween, and my friends defended me."
There was also her personal search for religion. Her mother is a staunch
Christian who played piano at Zion Temple Pentecostal Church, where her sister
is still the choir director. But Stanton longed for something else. She once
contacted a priest to learn about Catholicism and briefly considered eastern
religions and kabbalah. While majoring in psychology at Colorado State
University, she attended services at Hillel. By the time she was 24, she was
commuting 140 miles to and from Denver each week to study with a Conservative
rabbi, and her search was over. "Once I had the questions answered within my own
heart, I just knew, and I decided to convert to Judaism," she says. "People ask
me if I was born Jewish, and I say, yes, but not to a Jewish womb. I had to make
She converted in 1987. Her mother and siblings quickly accepted her decision,
although, she says, "none are running to the mikvah." But many of her friends
and fellow Jews were suspicious. "It was unusual in that I wasn't converting
because of marriage but because of spiritual reasons," says Stanton. "My
Christian friends thought I'd grown horns and some of my African-American
friends thought I had sold out. And the Jewish community wasn't as welcoming as
it is today, either. It was a very difficult period."
Last year, Gershom Sizomu was ordained by the Conservative movement's Ziegler
School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. A
member of Uganda's Abayudaya community, he returned home to his country to
follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather as chief rabbi.
But unlike Sizomu, Stanton will not be leaving the country or leading a black
congregation. In August, she will assume the pulpit at Congregation Bayt Shalom,
a largely white synagogue of about 60 families in Greenville, North Carolina.
That she has already lined up a job even in tough economic times is noteworthy,
says Brandeis University historian Jonathan Sarna. "Certainly when the first
white women were ordained in the 1970s, they had trouble getting jobs." But with
Barack Obama's election as president, says Sarna, it is no longer "unimaginable"
for someone with black skin to become a rabbi in a mainstream synagogue.
"Suddenly, it doesn't shock us that a white congregation in the South would have
an African-American rabbi."
Stanton's placement comes on the heels of sweeping changes in American Judaism,
which, like America itself, has become more accepting of its minorities. Today,
anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 American Jews are black, according to Be'chol
Lashon, a San Francisco-based organization that seeks to grow the Jewish people
by drawing Jews of diverse backgrounds into the mainstream. Lewis Gordon, a
professor of philosophy who directs Temple University's Center for Afro-Jewish
studies, says of Stanton, "I think hers is a glorious step forward for the
Jewish community, African-American communities of all backgrounds and in the
end, everyone, as humanity attempts to reach out and rise to higher standards."
Stanton may be a new face in the mainstream rabbinate, but black rabbis have a
long history in America. To Gordon, the very notion of a "black rabbi" is a
nebulous modern distinction, particularly as a deeper understanding of genetics
displaces earlier conceptions of race. There are Jews of all stripes, he says,
"who are publicly known as white people but who in older times would have been
known as 'mulattoes' or in some cases, given today's term, 'biracial.'" Thus,
there may "already have been some technically African-American Jewish rabbis."
Most of those identified as "black rabbis" in the past century, however, are
spiritual leaders of black Jewish congregations with Christian roots or
practices. Many fall under the umbrella of the Hebrew Israelite community, a
term that describes blacks who see themselves as the descendants of the ancient
Israelites. The best known is
a Chicago-based cousin of First Lady Michelle
Obama, who leads one of
America's largest black synagogues, Beth Shalom B'nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew
Congregation. Funnye estimates that there are approximately 50,000 to 60,000
Hebrew Israelites in the world, including the 2,500-strong Black Hebrew
community in Dimona, Israel.
The Hebrew Israelite movement arose in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,
mainly in the Jim Crow South, out of a desire by African-Americans to find a
more authentic identity at a time when they perceived America to be both
Christian and white. The movement's theology was influenced by the widespread
Protestant belief that Jews would have to resettle the Holy Land before the
end-times prophecies could come to fruition. By describing themselves as
descendants of the Israelites, explains anthropologist James Landing in his book
Black Judaism, "the early black Jews made themselves the Jews that would have to
be returned to the Holy Land: therefore an indispensable part of the divine
Many early black Jews practiced hybrid versions of Judaism and Christianity. The
Church of God and Saints of Christ, for example, founded by William Saunders
Crowdy in 1896 in Kansas, still exists. ...Today, led by a descendant of Crowdy,
it has dozens of churches and thousands of adherents across the world, and calls
itself "the oldest African-American congregation in the United States that
adheres to the tenets of Judaism."
As black Judaism migrated to urban centers like Chicago and New York it became
more orthodox, writes Landing, adopting "Jewish cultural practices, rituals, and
ceremony, often accompanied with an anti-Christian bias and the exclusion of
basic Christian beliefs." The Commandment Keepers, a congregation founded by
Wentworth Matthew in Harlem in 1919, became its hub. In 1925, Matthew
established the Ethiopian Hebrew Rabbinical College, renamed the Israelite
Rabbinical Academy in 1970. The school has ordained 46 rabbis, including Funnye,
since its founding.
The self-ordained Matthew saw blacks as the original Jews, but his Judaism
nonetheless had more in common with conventional white synagogues than Crowdy's.
He retained some unusual beliefs, such
as the idea that white Jews are descended from the
a semi-nomadic Turkic tribe based in the northern Caucasus that is said to have
converted en masse to Judaism over a thousand years ago.
the existence of anti-Jewish tendencies that the article seeks to avoid or
downplay. This parallels white Christian Identity and some minority fringe elements
amongst the Ephraimites. editor]
However, he took several important steps, including the rejection
of Jesus. Despite the efforts of his friend Irving Block, a Conservative New
York rabbi, Matthew was denied admission to the New York Board of Rabbis and
B'nai B'rith, and the community remained separate from the world of white Jewry.
Rabbi Sholomo Ben Levy, the current president of the more than half-century-old
International Israelite Board of Rabbis, which Funnye says represents perhaps a
third of all the Hebrew Israelites, recently wrote that since Matthew's death in
1973, "there has been virtually no dialogue between white and black Jews in
Funnye, who has a commanding presence and a deep, resonant voice, has made it
his mission to jumpstart that dialogue. Born to a Methodist family, he flirted
briefly with Islam and was initially drawn to Judaism by Chicago Rabbi Robert
Devine of the House of Israel Congregation. Turned off by Devine's beliefs that
Africans were the real Israelites ...he soon discovered Rabbi Levi Ben Levy of
the Israelite Rabbinical Academy...and after five years of study was ordained in
His initial forays into the American Jewish community were tepidly received.
"The most anti-Semitism that I have faced has come from within the Jewish
community," he wrote in 2003. Funnye responded by redoubling his efforts,
working hard and earnestly to prove his congregation's legitimacy. Like many of
those affiliated with the Israelite Rabbinical Academy, there are eight
synagogues, seven in the U.S. and one in the Caribbean, he prefers the term
"Jew" to "Israelite." Funnye, who describe his congregation as "conservadox,"
underwent a formal conversion to Judaism in 1985 and requires all of his
congregants to do the same.
In April, The New York Times Magazine profiled him, emphasizing his
bridge-building prowess and desire to integrate the Hebrew Israelite community
into the Jewish mainstream.
While "Christian Judaism" remains common among black Jewish synagogues, some
have gradually aligned themselves with the larger American Jewish community. At
the same time, that community has begun to embrace diversity in an unprecedented
Worlds away in Philadelphia's middle class African-American West Oak Lane
neighborhood is a black-Jewish congregation that has only been headed by women.
Indeed, when Hebrew Union College announced that Stanton was to become the
world's first female African-American rabbi, Debra Bowen was bemused. The
63-year-old rabbi of Temple Beth-El has been behind the pulpit since 2001. She
became rabbi when her predecessor, and mother, passed away. Louise Elizabeth
Dailey, the synagogue's founder, had served as its spiritual leader for 50
Born into a Baptist family in Maryland, her father was a minister. Dailey was
working as a housekeeper for a Jewish family in Philadelphia when she recognized
that she had a deep spiritual, and, she believed, historical, connection to
Judaism. She decided to observe the Sabbath on Saturdays and to keep kosher, and
soon began holding weekly services in her living room. When the crowd grew too
large, the group decided to build a synagogue.
Under Dailey, the congregation wasn't interested in becoming part of the white
Jewish world. Back in the 1950s, "people of color who practiced Judaism were
painted in a very negative light," says Bowen, who recalls that publishers
refused even to send prayer books to the congregation.
Since Bowen took over, Beth-El has deepened its connections to the
broader Jewish community. About four years ago, the synagogue was able to order
siddurim directly from the publisher for the first time. And earlier this year,
the synagogue received its first Torah from Israel, something that it had
previously been unable to obtain due to questions about its authenticity. "I
feel like the times are changing, that Jews are finally ready to accept us and
the fact that Judaism is not monolithic," says Bowen. "There are different ways
to practice Judaism. The commonality is that we believe in one God, and there
are too few of us to spend time fighting each other."
Bowen believes that because her mother and her ancestors were Jewish, there is
no need for her to convert. Like Funnye, she prefers the word "reversion." "We
don't use the C-word," she says. "We practice teshuva. You study, you make a
declaration that you want to return to your heritage, and then you go to the
mikvah. If you are a man, you have a circumcision." Bowen compares conversion to
"being adopted. It means that you're a Jew, but not a real Jew because you don't
have the DNA," she says.
In addition to the conversion issue, there are those who question whether her
ordination is valid. Traditionally, smicha, the transmission of rabbinical
authority, was passed from one rabbi to another, following the model of Moses,
who brought Joshua before the Israelite community and ordained him. Today, most
rabbis receive smicha from rabbinical schools, but it is only recently "that the
formal processes of ordination, mimicking what is done among the Christians in
their seminaries, have made their way into Judaism," says Temple University's
Gordon. Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis points out that "the effort to
professionalize the rabbinate was very important, because in the 19th century,
there were ,many people who carried the title of rabbi but who neither had the
knowledge nor met the standards to be rabbis and who brought all of Judaism into
In addition to Bowen, other African-Americans have become rabbis in the
traditional way. Rabbi Eli Aronoff, a longtime member of Temple Beth-El who
leads Temple Beth Emet, a multicultural and multiracial congregation that holds
weekly services at the historic Sixth and I Synagogue in Washington, DC, was
ordained by the renowned Orthodox rabbi and mohel, Morris Shoulson, of
In our view the only
legitimate Rabbis are Orthodox and they are the only ones qualified to make
conversions or otherwise decide what the Law requires. Most (if not all) of the
cases mentioned above concern Reform or Conservative branches of Judaism that
have no real authority. Nevertheless they do represent a social phenomenon. In
many ways the Afro-American "Jewish" experience is parallel to that of the
From: omar verduzco
Subject: Comment on Marsha's email
If I may I would like to comment on Marsha's email. As a christian I had my DNA
tested and found out that we may have Israelite ancestry on my father's side, from the
information that I have gathered I found out that my ancestors went from the
British Isles to the Basque area of Spain and then to Mexico. Well after this
discovery I was left with the question "now what". I listen to Israel National
Radio and that's where I heard of the Noahides, so I left Christianity and I am
now a Noahide. I am no expert on Tanach, and please forgive me if I'm wrong but
I do believe that this will be a vehicle that Hashem will use to bring back the
lost ten tribes. So if I may, I would like encourage Marsha to look into the 7
laws of Noah. Again please forgive me Yair and Marsha if I am out of line, I am
just trying to be helpful.
We are not sure what you meant by Israelite ancestry determined by DNA.
Perhaps you found similarities with the DNA of Jewish families?
This may indeed be evidence of ancestral connection.
Most Jewish DNA in Spain is that of Marranos and the most typical Marrano
feature is an R1b type similar to that found amongst Gentiles in Britain and
amongst the Irish.
We posted the e-mail of Omar as an exception, to remind everyone that the Bnei
Noach Movement exists and that frequently Bnei Noach also hold opinions
concerning their ancestry similar to those of the Brit-Am Ten Tribes Movement
There is a definite overlap.
Personally we do not see Bnei Noach as a solution though for some it may provide
an answer. The Brit-Am Ten Tribes Movement seeks to emphasize the fact of
Israelite ancestry and ultimate reconciliation between Judah and Joseph. Bnei
Noach on the other hand appears to be designed for gentiles in general.
We hope not to hold further discussion on this matter since it
involves religious and theological concepts that we wish to avoid.
Correspondence with Each Other?
From: Gayle Chatterton
Re:NJF-5 response to K Lost Israelites still feeling lost. I feel the same way
however I have no family members who see the truth re Lost 10 tribes. How can I
communicate with K? Perhaps thru email support we can have some fellowship.
We began the feature:
It was hoped that this would provide a starting point for those Brit-Am
subscribers who wished to get to know each other to do so.
Unfortunately it has not taken off.
Perhaps in the future it will do so?
Perhaps something else is needed?
We do not post the e-mail addresses of our correspondents in most cases due to
certain incidents and repeated requests not to do so.
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