- What is a Hebrew Israelite? extract by Cohane Michael Ben Levi
Israel is a nation of people where those who practice Judaism are members of a religion and not a nationality as such. Jews, on the other hand, are people of various nationalities who have abandoned their own cultures and adopted the religion of Judiasm. One may change his or her religion many times. On the contrary, one may never change who you are at birth, namely your nationality.
It is logically impossible to think of Russian Jews, Polish Jews, Spanish Jews, British Jews, French Jews, Hungarian Jews, American Jews, and even Arab Jews as a single nation. An Israelite is a descendent of the ancient nation of Israel. a Jew is a member of a religion called Judaism which attempts to practice the laws, traditions and customs of ancient Israel. In many instances Israelite culture has been modified in the Jewish religion.
Today the term Jew is erroneously assumed to be synonymous with Israel. This is due in part to the fact that what was strictly a religion has conviently taken on a nationalistic connotation with the establishment of the Zionist movement in Israel. Zionism is a movement which developed in Europe as an attempt to find a homeland for Jews who were being severely persecuted throughout Europe. The word Jew was non existing word among ancient Israelites.
The history of the Old Testament alone would reveal that the "chosen people" were descendants of a man named Israel. As a result, they are called Israelites not Jews. In fact, there is no such concept as a Jewish people in the Holy Scriptures. We find that the word Jew first appeared in the books, 1st Kings, 2 Kings, and Jeremiah in the Old Testament as an incorrect translation of the Hebrew word for Yehudah often pronounced Judah in English.
Thus, the word Jew arose as a derivative from the word Yehudah which identified a particular family or tribe. It would have been insulting for a Danite (one from the tribe of Dan) or a Gadite (one from the tribe of Gad) to be erroneously referred to as being of the tribe of Judah/Yehudah. The tribe of Judah was the last Israelite tribe to go into captivity.
The identity of the descendants of the Biblical Israelites and their divinely appointed purpose would raise some contentious issues which are not merely based upon the personal preferences or idiosyncracies of men. The roots of the dispute are found in the Holy Scriptures and therefore reminds us that the ultimate resolution of the matter also resides with the Holy One of Israel. Moreover, we cannot forget that ancient Biblical geneology is directly related to nations on the earth today.
The struggle of Esau and Jacob in the belly of Rebekah conceptualized what later became a struggle to inherit the land of Israel, the blessing given to Abraham by Almighty God. In 2 Kings 8:20, Edom rebelled against King David's occupying forces winning their freedom and ultimately choosing a king of their own. Yet, while they revolted against Judah's rule, years of a lifestyle under Judah's laws, the Torah, had made an enduring impression.
As the nation of Israel went into obscurity, the Edomites continued to adopt Israelite practices more and more. Obviously they realized the effect of living by great principles of law, from which they were able to build and bind a brotherhood affording them true national unity. Moreover, they came to understand that righteousness, justice and moral living were the keys to the preservation of their communities.
In fact, it was Israel's gradual decline over a number of years, that provided the spiritual vacuum that allowed Edom to assume the Israelite mantle.
While some nations have remained purer than others in terms of mixture and adulteration, others have amalgamated and assimilated to the extent that there is no trace of their ancestral past. For example, the Israelites were slaves in many African and Asiatic territories. In their undone state, they were easily identified. Yet, the name of Israel itself was fading from memory.
When the Greeks and Romans invaded the East, Edomites migrated into Europe and assimilated with other cultures carrying their acquired Israelite traits with them. It wasn't until the 15th century that thier impact on converts became a problem. As a result, in 1492 the Spanish Inquisition became a major campaign against this "Jewish" doctrine of Europe. The persecution and expulsion of Jews from Spain led the way for repeated hostilites against Jews thoughout Western and Eastern Europe.
Spain, Portugal, England, France, Germany, Czechoslavakia, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Russia and so many others each have their own language, sovereign land and culture peculiar to its own historical circumstance. The question therefore arises to the logical thinker as to how there could possibly be a common link in their nationalities through a mere religion, in this case, Judiasm.
The question takes on added significance when one takes into consideration that one cannot find any origin of the religion called Judaism, or Jews in Europe. In fact, Europeans in these places converted to the Jewish faith or religion through their contact with Edomite immigrants.
In light of these facts alone, it would be absurd to think of them as a nation of Israelites originating from Northeast Africa, the land of Israel. It should also be stated emphatically that the Hebrew language is not of European origin. Yiddish, a dialect that arose out of the Jewish ghettoes and is a composite of several languages including German, Polish, and Hebrew, has supplanted Hebrew as the language associated with Israel's true heritage, by Jews and non-Jews alike.
Genesis 36:1- 43 speaks of the seed of Esau mixing with numerous Eastern nations of that day. So the process of intermarrying in Europe was nothing new. The descendants of Edom, or Jews, began to prosyletize among the nations of Europe. Many Spaniards, Frenchmen, Englishmen, Germans, etc. became Jews. Ultimately, as a result of harsh treatment, these converts were forced to migrate from Western Europe, to the remote regions of Eastern Europe, as far as Russia; where a community known as Khazar Jews developed.
We must keep in mind that this was all part of a gradual historical process of Israelites losing their language and culture, while the Edomites who spoke Hebrew and had been forced to practice and live by the Torah, were seizing the opportunity to lay claim to their brother's inheritance. This claim however, could only be made if there was a vacuum left by the original Israelites.
It might be difficult for one to understand the proper categorization or the fact of whether or not the people we speak of today as Jews should be classified as having an ethnic origin or a religious one. However, this can be understood if we recognize how the inheritance of Israel is passed from generation to generation, according to the scriptures and the way Jews portray their religion.
For example, in the Old Testament it is qutie clear that ancestry proceeds through the patriarchial (father's) line. In Judiasm, a Jew is determined by the matriarchial (mother's) lineage. This is in total contradiction to the Hebrew Israelite's heritage and the entire Hebrew scriptures.
The question remains, why the transposition of one people for the other? How could Esau be mistaken as Jacob and seek to asume the blessing? Again, we have to look to the historical, Biblical record for evidence. The historical record finds Jacob (who's name was changed to Israel) and Esau (father of the Edomites) as brothers yet two separate peoples. (Genesis 25:22- 23)
Therefore, it would mean, as strange as it may seem, that Blacks (Israelites) and Jews have a relationship which under present circumstances is quite peculiar. This is especially strange in the light of their historical experiences. The experience of slavery has reduced Israelites to Negroes, while the Edomites have been bleached out of their identity among European peoples.
The prophetic books are rife with examples of Israel's disobedience and backsliding. God's anger was aroused to the point where He determined that for a time, the name of Israel would be no more in the remembrance of men.
Edomites through their adpoption of Israelite culture and practices appeared, at least outwardly, to in fact be Israelites. It was the gradual degradation and cross-culturalization of both Israelite practice and the Hebrew language by the Edomites that led to the coining and eventual use of the term Jew. It is important to understand however, the term only gained popular usage in more modern translations of the Holy Bible by Europeans in the 15th century.
The Edomites of old realized that it was impossible to call themselves Israel when it was crystal clear to people of the ancient world who the original Israelites were.
The spread of Talmudic teachings go back as early as the times of the Greek and Roman invasions of Africa and Asia. This is witnessed through the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds which indicate institutions in Ancient Egypt and Babylon. One can also easily confrm that the original people of Portugal, Spain and other European countries were converted to the Jewish religion by an external influence. Who was it? This is where the mystery lies.
This fact had been cleverly concealed for centuries. Who were the foreigners that taught or introduced Europeans to the doctrine of Torah, Talmud, Mishna, Shulkan Aruk, which is what the Jewish religion is based upon? All historical evidence points to the Edomites.
It must also be understood that this was not merely a conversion to Judiasm by European people, but also a process of intermarriages with Edomite people.
From the time of the Babylonian exile, Edomites embarked on an intense study of Israelite culture. As Edomites mixed among nations and developed the Jewish religion, many scholars evolved who eventually atempted to translate and interpret the Torah.
Through much pondering and debate, various interpretations of Israelite Law arose in the form of books of commentary known as Talmud, the Mishna, the Gemarah and the Shulkhan Aruk. Through these writings Jews attempted to make the ancient eastern biblical heritage more appealing to Western Europeans and a modern world.
One should certainly question how the Black "Falashas" who were being persecuted by the people of Ethiopia have any link or connection with European Jewry. In fact, the anticipated controversy over the issue was the true reason behind the Israeli government's covert operation.
There appeared in lower Manhattan, in New York, a documentary film called "Exile of the Falashas", screen directed by Simcha Jacobovici, and produced by Jacobovici and Jamie Boyd of the New York Times. The film points out that the Israeli government finally admitted that the airlift had actually been going on since 1977. However, it was not until December 10, 1984 that a published statement appeared in the media of Israel reportedly airlifting thousands of Jews from Ethiopia.
The Village Voice boldly posed on its front page a question which stated, "Would the True Jew Please Stand Up?" Apparently there was some confusion concerning this issue in the writer's mind. Perhaps he realized that these two distinct ethnic groups or races could not possibly be one people, Jew, Israelite or otherwise.
All of this merely points to the fact that the media attempted to define the people being airlifted without makeing propler acknowledgment of the fact that we have worn the name Beta Israel (House of Israel) for thousands of years before any form of Jewry existed.
The word Falasha is a word from the Gheez language spoken in Ethiopia, which means foreigner or outcast. It is understood as a deragatory term. As one follows the long track of articles carried through the media, there appears to be some deliberate conspiracy or attempt to confuse some readers.
In much of the media different terms are used to refer to the people airlifted without any real clarification of the usage. For example, in one issue they are called Ethiopian Jews. However, little effort is made to emphasize the terminology Beta Israel which is used by the people and indicate they are Israelites.
This particular community of Israelites provide for the world a three thousand year direct connection with the heritage of Ancient Israel. However, elsewhere throughout the world, little or no attention has been paid to various ways in which other Black people have attempted to identify themselves as descendants of Ancient Israel .
The controversy which surrounds the issue of who are the true people of Israel also raises the question of who is rightfuly entitled to possess the land of Israel, as their sovereign territory?
The fact that Israel was scattered among the nations of the world, and have lost the knowledge of their roots does not erase the fact that the Creator has promised their return. The Creator caused it to happen. He is completely aware of exactly who they are in the earth.
Therefore, there is no need for Israelites, Jews, or anyone else to become overwhelmed about the controversy of the issue. The Supreme One of the Universe cannot be undermined. His Will shall be done.
Excepts from the book Israelites and Jews: The Significant Difference by Cohane Michael Ben Levi