Confronting the Black Hebrew Israelites - Anti-Semitic Hate Group Disguising Itself as a Jewish Sect
I remember that night about as clearly as the day I was kicked out of my first Yeshiva. I’ve always been fascinated by my terminally forgetful mind’s tendency to randomly commit to memory the most insignificant events with equal if not greater clarity than the most intense and earth-shattering experiences of my life. Why exactly my brain chose to remember every detail of the interaction I had with a Black Hebrew Israelite outside of the weekly neighborhood “Funk Night” - while forgetting just about everything else “besides for my head,” as my mother would say - has remained a mystery until now.
Anyhow - as my friends and I stumbled out of the bar and onto the curbside, we saw a few black people sitting in and around a red Pontiac G6. One guy wearing a letterman’s jacket had a friendly look to him, so I walked up and said hello. We struck up a bit of a conversation, chatting about the music and some other niceties, until I bent down to pick up a coin that fell out of my pocket and he caught a glimpse of my music note embellished Kippah. Perfectly exhibiting one of the few variations of response to my KIppah that I receive on a weekly basis (less than you’d expect - see my article about wearing a Kippah on the UC Berkeley campus!), he inquired as to what kind of hat I had on my head. I told him that I was Jewish and it was my Kippah - to which he responded, after a moment’s pregnant pause, “I’m a Black Hebrew,” as his smile wavered slightly and his body language made a subtle shift that I remember perfectly to this day, like a socially ambitious high school freshman having his conversation with one of the football star seniors rudely interrupted by the interjection of his old gaming buddy from elementary school who doesn’t realize that their years of friendship are over. But still - subtle enough that I didn’t really notice and continued talking to him with my characteristically charismatic tone of amicable excitement.
Having no idea what it meant to be a Black Hebrew at the time, I mistakenly assumed that he meant he was a descendant of the Beta Israel Ethiopian Jews - many of whom I had met and befriended during my time spent living in Israel. I therefore felt extra motivated to launch into some inspired ranting regarding Torah ideas and Jewish life in general - if I had been a bit less buzzed at the time, I might have noticed that this guy wasn’t reacting with nearly as much excitement as he had shown in our initial interaction. He was basically just nodding slightly every once in a while to show he was listening, but at the same time maintaining a clear distance from me and the content of what I was saying. I finally started to get vibes that maybe he wanted to return and hang out with his friends in the car, so I asked for his Facebook name so I could add him and he could read my weekly D’var Torah posts on Facebook.
But he never accepted my friend request. Because this man wasn’t a Black Jew - he was a Black Hebrew Israelite. And the two couldn’t be any more different.
Black Hebrew Israelite. While many people hear these terms and think of them as an immediate contradiction, my hope is that more people are discovering every day that stereotypes about Jews being exclusively “white” are unfounded. In fact, the notion that Ashkenazi Jews are white is about as erroneous as asserting that South Americans are white because of their partially Spanish ancestry - but that’s another story. Israel is full of literal black Jews - Ethiopians who have been preserving Jewish customs and beliefs in Africa for millennia and have now been brought back into the fold to continue doing so alongside their Ashkenazi, Sefardi and Mizrachi brethren in Israel. There are black Jews, just as there are Asian Jews, Indian Jews, and Arab Jews. We also have those black people who convert to Judaism - another category of fully legitimate Jews.
But don’t get it twisted. A Black Hebrew Israelite is not a black Jew. Rather, they are a member of an increasingly popular pseudo-religious movement reminiscent of the “Nation of Islam” - a system of beliefs that strikes a balance between functioning as a civil rights organization and a trendy alternative to mainstream religion. Kendrick Lamar and Kodak Black are just a few of the black celebrities that have aligned themselves with the Black Hebrew Israelite movement. Black Hebrews, or Black Israelites as they are sometimes called, believe that they are the true descendants of the twelve tribes of Israel and that the Jews are impostors, wicked shapeshifters who maliciously usurped the title and identity of the actual Israelites and have been manipulating global events to ensure that black people remain in a state of constant subjugation, preoccupied with survival and subsequently unable to be concerned with the abstract task of reasserting their “Jewish” identity and exposing the white imposters.
In short, the Black Hebrew Israelite movement is a movement of virulent anti-Semites, who blame all of the problems that have befallen black people and the world on the Jews, just as Louis Farrakhan does in his astonishingly racist treatise, “The Secret Relationship between Blacks and Jews.” If you want to read some seriously triggering material, download that book as a PDF file and give it a go. If you’ve got nearly as much intergenerational trauma as I do, I doubt you’ll able to make it through the first ten pages without wanting to smash your computer or at least write some very angry letters.
So when I met this guy at the bar and thought he was a fellow Jew, and entertained him with anecdotes and pieces of Torah wisdom, I had no idea that the entire time he was either fuming with racist vitriol, or struggling with resolving the friendly individual in front of him with the conspiracy theory driven, hate fueled vision of Jews that Black Hebrew dogma had implanted in his mind. Most likely it was the former - given that he never accepted my friend request, I can only imagine his views towards Jews haven’t changed. I’ll end with a quote from a Neo-Nazi on Reddit displaying the twisted intersectionality between the Black Hebrews and White Nationalists:
“I am not an Israelite or familiar with their doctrine beyond their claiming Hebrew heritage. It would be better for them not to call themselves Jews as the scripture says that those that say they are Jews are not. They are the synagogue of Satan, the seed of the serpent. That star of David, is a high occult symbol in witchcraft. I couldn’t make this s***up if I tried.”
Unfortunately, you wouldn’t have to go to a Neo-Nazi website or social media group to read this type of anti-Semitic insanity. As more and more famous, “woke” black people embrace this increasingly hip doctrine, you might just find it in the next music video for your favorite rapper or gracing the front page of the communist zine your cousin wants you to start reading. They used to hate the Jews for being Jews - now they hate us for being impersonators of “the real Jews.” As people continue forming groups embracing ethnic nationalism at the expense of others, somehow Zionism remains the most concerning to the UN and progressive individuals across the world. May we all respond to these crazy times for Jews by embracing our identity to such a degree that there can be no question that we’re the real deal. After all, I bet you the Black Hebrews don’t know how to shtayg a Blatt of Gemara with Rashi and Tosafot. Or hold an awesome synagogue fundraising gala that weaves Jewish food, values and culture into a multifaceted event that’s fun for the whole family - or sometimes adults only, depending on how much alcohol is being served. And that, my friends, is what it really means to be Jewish.
. Jacob Schwartz regularly writes blog postings for Jewish Values Online.
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I came upon a group called the Black Hebrew Israelites in New York when I was there a couple of days ago and they were talking about how they are the first original Jews and that the whites are trying to replace them. Is this true and do they have any proof like genetics that can see if they are really the original Jews?
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